After our amazing time getting up close and personal with wild animals in Kenya (read about that trip here), Julian and I flew to Zanzibar for a few days of culture before our beached out bliss.
Ever since I was young, the name Zanzibar has always sounded so exotic and conjured up images of streets filled with spice traders and intrepid adventurers arriving on dhows with billowing sails. In reality, the traders and adventurers were actually on the hunt for gold and power and Zanzibar was, at one time, East Africa’s main slave-trading port.
Today there are no slaves but the waves of Swahili, Portuguese, Omani, and Chinese traders who passed through the island over the centuries have left their cultural mark. This is most evident in Zanzibar’s capital, Stone Town, where elaborately carved doors, forts and ornate traders’ houses reflect layer upon layer of its past heritage, all weather beaten by the sea breeze.
UNESCO protected, Stone Town is a bustling and colourful place of lively local life, all a bit worn around the edges.
Spending a day here, we enjoyed getting lost in the narrow alleyways where children played and doorways opened up to little stalls selling everything you can imagine.
I sat on a step at “Jaws Corner” watching local men chat.
These children sat next to me and wanted their picture taken.
They were so sweet I couldn’t say “no” and no payment required!
Down at the waterfront fisherman brought home their morning catch. Whilst the market was full of traders proud of their produce.
From Stone Town we headed north. Despite there been fine beaches on the mainland and a number of luxury hotels, Julian and I wanted something a little bit more secluded. We took a rather bumpy and pot holed road up to the north of the island and then waded out to our waiting speed boat. 10 minutes later we arrived in paradise.
Mnemba Island: Unpretentious barefoot luxury. In fact, Julian and I took off our Birkenstocks on the speed boat ride over and didn’t put anything back on our feet (except flippers) until we left.
As our speed boat arrived the welcoming party came out to greet us. We were introduced to our Butler, Makombe, who took us under his wing. First stop our home for the next 6 nights. Tucked into the shade of the pine and palm trees was our chic, airy and totally private banda. Built of local timber and handwoven coconut matting there was an enormous bed with muslin mosquito nets, a stylish bathroom linked by an open air palm-covered walkway, outside seating area with squidgy arms chairs and a further sitting area (perfect for breakfast), with the most mesmerising view over powdery white sand so bright we needed sunglasses.
As soon as Makombe left, we ran across our own stretch of beach out into the sea, so clear there was no need for a swimming pool on the island.
The house reef just off the shore could be reached without a boat, which was perfect for a leisurely post lunch snorkel. Whilst the pristine dive sites, which the Mnemba Atol is famous for, were a mere 10 minutes away by speed boat. With the journey itself a real highlight as we were able to swim alongside a pod of frolicking wild dolphins which frequented the waters off the island every day. A truly magical experience and number 4 ticked off our Bucket List.
After a day of water based activities and sunbathing, Makombe would arrive with our favourite drink and set up chairs and a table in just the right spot for us to enjoy the spectacular sunset.
Everything was so flexible. The chef chalked up what he is thinking of cooking that day, but would prepare something completely different if you wanted and was very obliging when we fancied lobster and chips!
The island is the only protected nesting site for the endangered green turtle in Zanzibar and if the mother turtle comes ashore in the middle of the night to lay her eggs, you have a little sign which notifies the staff that you want to be woken up. The island staff look after the hatchlings to give them the best chance of making it to the ocean.
Mnemba Island is all about being at one with nature and the person you travelled with. It’s a place to kick back and totally recharge your batteries in privacy. Even when full you will share the island with just 20 other guests and then, I can wager you won’t see anyone else except down at the beach bar for pre-dinner drinks.
The saddest thing about our stay was leaving. We said goodbye to Makombe and as the speed boat gently pulled away from the shore, we were waved off by the wonderful staff. Mnemba Island – definitely a place we will return to.
If you’d like to tick some items off your Bucket List, either in Kenya, Zanzibar or elsewhere, please do get in touch and let me help arrange your trip of a lifetime. I’ll ensure you have a stress free, seamless travel experience from the planning stage right through to when you return with lifelong memories.
[All photographs by Julian and me]