We booked a Safari with &Beyond (formerly CC Africa) and Zanzibar was the last stop before heading back to the United States.
After being at 4 different "camps" -- Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, Klein's Camp, Serengeti Under Canvas, and Ngorongoro Crate Lodge, this was totally different.
I cannot add much more than the previous review by Skibummer (London), that review was right on!
There are only 3 retreat bungalows north of the Matemwe Bungalow property. They are managed by the same company.
These three "small houses" (we stayed in the middle house called "ZamZam") are more upscale and newer than Matemwe Bungalows.
We are mixed on this property as I would really rate it a 3.5. However, the private Butler, Kassim, and the food was excellent.
The layout and amenities are great, including the sun deck on the roof and small pool, however, the property is getting dated. Hence, we downgraded our rating.
Also, it rained very hard one night and water was literally pouring into the bedroom from the spiral staircase that leads to the roof top deck.
Our last day was shot as all the cushions were wet. Even the couch on the deck got soaked. We showed the manager the water damage and he said he would fix it when they close for rainy season.
If you want 5-star luxury, go to the exclusive Mnemba Island which is leased (for 100 years) by &Beyond (formerly CC Africa). This is a small, exclusive island that caters to the rich.
At the time of our booking, Mnemba Island was $2100 per night (per couple) so we opted for the $2600 (per couple for 3 nights/all inclusive) at Matemwe Bungalows. This is no drop in the bucket but a better alternative.
Since I don't want to repeat what other trip advisor reviewers said, here is an excerpt form our travel journal:
Zanzibar was terrific and at the same time depressing. I guess we weren't prepared for what we witnessed - widespread poverty and dilapidated infrastructure.
After a very long and bumpy ride through poverty stricken villages, we checked into our hotel which was a freestanding Arabic and Indian-influenced bungalow.
The breeze off the ocean was refreshing and the views of Mnemba Island and the blue-green reef were breathtaking.
The bungalow was charming with rustic sea-faring decorations and a large hammock on the deck. We even had a roof top deck complete with a small "cocktail" pool.
The sand on the beach is powder white and is as fine as flour, but due to the coral reef offshore, there is not a standard "beach" that we would compare it to in the States, hence ocean swimming here is not an option.
From our deck, we could see the many dhows (hand carved boats used for centuries on Zanzibar) sailing out with the sunrise, with men pushing them along with poles. It certainly made us feel like we were watching a movie from the 17th century.
We decided to take a tour of Stone Town, a UNESCO world heritage site/city. It cost $72/ per person for a half day tour.
The traffic and bustle in Stone Town is mind-boggling, and our first stop was the (primitive) market. We walked amongst the hundreds of open-air stands selling fruits, vegetables, spices, meat, and fish.
We asked our guide if we could take pictures in the market and he said, "yes, no problem." Cathryn snapped a photo of one man in the meat market weighing meat and he exploded.
It was quite a scene as our guide tried to calm him down. We didn't really know what the commotion was about, but we stood with heightened senses as we were in the midst of many sharp knives and an extremely angry man.
Our guide did a great job of calming him down and diffusing the situation.
There was one old man sitting on the countertop who, with the nod of his head, seemed to pacify the situation and allow us to move on.
What we discovered later was that the man wanted money. He saw that we were with a guide who we had obviously paid money, so he knew we should have some to give him.
Some of the African tribes are very particular about having their picture taken, and this man tried to exploit that fact to extort money from us.
We did not have to pay anything (nor would I have), and what took five minutes to us in a dark and rank- smelling market, seemed like an eternity.
With that part of the tour behind us, it got much better. We saw the site of the Anglican church constructed on the site of the old slave market as a tribute to the end of the slave trade on Zanzibar.
Visiting the church was a moving experience where the symbols of the old market were done in a very tasteful and respectful manner.
We also saw the slave quarters where they were held before being placed on the whipping post. It is a painful sight, and it is easy to see how many of them died from dysentery, suffocation, and starvation.
After the slave market, we visited the Arabic buildings on the Western side of Stone Town. We saw the Sultan's living quarters, the grand assembly hall (now called the Palace of Wonders), and Old Fort, a fort built to protect against attacks by the Portuguese.
The rest of the time was spent relaxing in our bungalow and feasting on the fresh catch of the day. We even had rock lobster one night which was delicious.
It rained the last day and with 85% humidity, and no air conditioning, we were ready to head home.
Overall, the Matemwe Bungalows are nice. If you want to relax and not leave your bungalow, then it is great. If you are active, then I'd skip Zanzibar (not including Mnemba Island).
It is not the Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton - it is more rustic and slightly dated and the island needs to rejuvenate and catch up to become a desired future destination. Knowing what we know now, we would have skipped this leg and opted to extend our Safari.
I agree with the other trip advisor reviewer about the 6% charge to use your credit card at the resort. What a crock! We booked the tours and bought some items in the gift shop and had to pay 6% for using our credit card.
By the way, you can negotiate for a slight discount for items in the gift shop. And, the (free) internet is the fastest we found in Tanzania.
Regarding tipping, bring plenty of low denomination US Dollars ($20, $10, $5, $1) for tipping at each camp/location. We tipped the Butler at this property.
Also, throughout Tanzania we were able to use US Dollars. We went to Barclay's ATM after arriving to get Shillings. This was a benefit on Zanzibar.
The laundry service is good although it took an extra day to come back to us. Pack light, you don't need a lot of clothes.
If you want to see more photos or need additional information, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy your trip!
PS - I saw a bush rat near another retreat bungalow but never saw one in our room although there were droppings each morning. I cannot say they were rat dropping, it could have been the lizard that frequented our bathroom. Anyway, a bush baby made a visit one night but they are harmless (although quite loud).
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Enjoy your own private tropical escape at Matemwe Retreat. The four elegant villas that make up the retreat are set high in the palm trees with uninterrupted Indian Ocean views. With its secluded location and dedicated private butler, the retreat is considered one of the most exclusive choices of accommodation on Zanzibar Island. If you are looking for pure escapism, these villas - which combine the spirit of Zanzibar with the highest standards of comfort - were designed for you. The private plunge pool, personal bar and spacious roof terrace with day bed and loungers are so appealing that we would not blame you if you relaxed in your hidden sanctuary for your entire holiday. Echoing the white sand beaches and the changing turquoise hues of the tropical waters, the fully air-conditioned Matemwe Retreat villas are a reflection of their tranquil island surroundings, filled with locally produced materials and furnishings. The ground floor of each villa features a private bar area, cool and airy double bedroom with king-sized bed and en-suite bathroom with double basins, shower and a sunken bathtub with impressive views of the sparkling ocean. Outdoors, impressively comfortable and very private lounge areas invite you to make the most of the tropical climate.The rooftop deck with sparkling blue plunge pool offers panoramic Indian Ocean views. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Matemwe Retreat, Asilia Africa Hotel Matemwe
- Matemwe Retreat, Asilia Africa Zanzibar Island