And we’re back, with two more beaches!
My third visit to Zanzibar was in mid-March, and I ventured further southeast, to Michamvi, which is on a peninsula jutting out of the east coast. About 75 minutes from the airport, Michamvi Sunset Bay Resort faces west onto Chwaka Bay, one of the few places where you can get a real sunset! It’s run by a South African guy and a German woman, and employs mostly locals. I think I was the only English-speaking guest, the first night, as there was a big group of older German tourists who came with the Tui tour company, and a couple of smaller family groups, also German. Some of the other lodges and resorts immediately nearby were either shut down for the impending rains or simply abandoned for lack of business. It was hard to tell!
Accommodations: Twenty air-conditioned rooms are set in an arc of two-story buildings facing the pool and the beach. I had a second-floor room with a balcony that was spacious and comfortable, but a little tired around the edges. It is due for a fresh coat of paint and tile, and indeed, the proprietor said they planned to do some updates when they closed for the rains. Personally, I prefer cabana style lodgings to hotel room style, but the price was good, so I wasn’t too bothered.
Food and service: A month later, the food isn’t very memorable, but it was perfectly fine, and the staff were very friendly, particularly the trainees who served me! I also have to put a plug in for my quick rescue! I went out on the balcony to hang my swimsuit before dinner, and the door clicked shut, and locked behind me. My own key to the room was in the lock on the exterior door, so neither I nor the staff could get in that way. Instead, I flagged down a waiter, who go the proprietor and a maintenance man and a ladder. Thankfully, he climbed up with a pair of pliers, popped the latch and let me into the room, sparing me an ignominious descent down the ladder.
Beach/Activities: The beach is a long bay coastline of lovely white sand that is completely rock and coral free. It is extremely soft and collapses underfoot. I wasn’t sure if that was because of the crab tunnels or the tide!
A few kayaks are available, as is a pool. The typical Zanzibar excursions for snorkeling and boating, to Jozani forest, to a spice farm or to Stone Town, are all possible for a cost. But when I go by myself, I am most interested in lounging and maybe meandering. Michamvi is a public beach, but was not crowded, and I was assured that it was perfectly safe to wander up and down the bay by myself. For me, walking the beach and watching people come and go by was the best part. I had a lovely Saturday morning solo photo safari to a mangrove grove.
Cost/Value: The price was about $112/night, with breakfast included. Lunch is a la carte, and a set menu or a buffet for dinner. For me, this was a pretty good deal, but cocktails at the beach bar or wine with dinner did add up. I would stay there again. The charm and the character of the surroundings were great.
I’ve already written about getting to Mafia Island here. Transport costs would probably be about the same as Zanzibar, if you consider cost relative to time driven, but Mafia is smaller, so you’re not going as far! My observations of local culture were pretty brief, coming and going, but the adherence to Islamic dress seemed a bit more relaxed. The island seemed calmer and lower key, overall, with so many fewer people.
A pretty basic hotel can come across as rustic and charming when accompanied by a low price and excellent customer service. Or it can be just basic and disappointing. Unfortunately, our experience was closer to the latter. Disappointing on most fronts, though it is hard to distinguish in some cases whether the deficit is from the management or the fact of low season, or both. We were 4 guests out of maybe as many as 10, but we didn’t see that many at dinner. You’d expect a little flexibility or special attention at 25% capacity. The 4 of us and 2 other guests arrived on the same flight, yet the hotel sent one vehicle. Darned lucky we didn’t have serious baggage, because we were crammed in like sardines!
Accommodations: Our room was reasonably cute, but tiny, and a closer look revealed pretty cheap materials. The mattresses were hard and unforgiving, and it took several hours to get a second set of towels. The bathroom was small and dark. As with Michamvi, the proprietor told us they were planning to do some renovations during the rainy season closure. The main lodge has several lounge areas and a restaurant under an airy roof. It is set back a distance from the water and overlooks a large green space and two paths that go down to the beach.
Beach/Activities: The beach made a somewhat grubby and debris-strewn impression, but I also think that the unusual mix of distinctly black and white sands made it appear grayer and dirtier than it was. Plentiful loose leaves in the water and beds of seagrass in the shallows among the boats made it rather unattractive for swimming. The lounger cushions were grimy-looking and the beds themselves sagging twine. The on-site dive shop had closed for the rainy months, which takes away a great deal of activity, and left their poor pup to scrounge attention. Overall, the beach felt much less forlorn the second day when there were a few more people around. The excursion we booked with Ndimbo were great, but he was not associated with the hotel.
Food and service: The quality of the kitchen was extremely variable, from a pitifully ragged and small piece of salty fish and kachumbari salad for lunch when we arrived to a quite tasty octopus stew later that night. Between the restaurant and the beach bar, a bunch of beverage options were not available (ice, juices, soda water, popular varieties of beer), and despite paying the full board rate, non-alcoholic drinks were not included. A small snack and pizza menu was available between mealtimes.
Cost/Value: The full-board rate was $115 per person, per night, if double occupancy, or $95 with a Tanzanian resident discount. The lodge is inside Mafia Island Marine Park, so you also stop at the gate to pay an extra tax of $24 per person per night including VAT. Nothing like paying tax on your tax, eh? I wouldn’t begrudge the extra tax of the sake of preserving the environment, but I would definitely choose a different lodge if I went back to Mafia.