As part of my multi-week trip to Zanzibar, I spent a few nights at the Residence Hotel in Zanzibar’s south-west coast. Located near the town of Kizimkazi, The Residence is a beautiful resort complex spanning 66 villas.
The Residence Zanzibar was built in 2011 as part of the Cenizaro hotel chain which also has similarly luxurious five star hotels in Mauritius and the Maldives.
Having just stayed at the absolutely stunning Zawadi Resort in the east coast, I must say that overall I was not so impressed with the Residence Hotel. It was not a bad hotel by any means, but I think for a five star experience and for the prices that they command, I expected more.
In addition, make sure to read my comprehensive guide on traveling Zanzibar if you are planning to visit!
Getting to the Residence
The Residence is located in the southwest corner of Zanzibar near the town of Kizimkazi. It is roughly 1 hour from Stone Town’s airport by car.
The road leading from Stone Town to the Residence is quite good as are most of the main roads in Zanzibar. However, there is a long dirt path that leads to the Residence from the main road. This allows for full privacy and exclusivity but be prepared for a 15 minute drive along dirt roads. I’ve traveled all over the world and this doesn’t bother me of course, but if you are not used to unpaved roads, this will surely be annoying.
There are no other resorts, restaurants, houses, or any structure around the hotel allowing for ultimate privacy.
The Resort of The Residence
The Residence property is huge. Spanning 32 hectares, the resort includes multiple common use facilities, a large comprehensive spa, a comprehensive gym, a tennis court, a huge infinity pool, a water sports center, and two different restaurants.
It’s a full encompassing resort and it’s clear they don’t encourage or expect you to leave the premises during your time here.
Check In process
Upon arrival, I was slowly greeted by one of the staff members. The reception area was beautiful. The open space had modern finishes and a beautiful direct view of the garden leading to their famous infinity pool.
The staff member offered me a delicious welcome drink that had mango, pineapple and ginger before taking my passport away. The process dragged on for some time, to the point that I finished my drink and no one had returned. Ten minutes or so later, someone finally came back to give me my passport back and tell me the room was not yet ready.
I did arrive early for my stay (11:30 or so), but I was visiting during Coronavirus times and the hotel was running at 40% capacity at best. I was surprised and unimpressed that they couldn’t have a room ready for me at noon.
They told me I could wait at the bar while the room was ready. They couldn’t even offer a complementary drink for the wait.
Bicycles to get around the resort
One of my favorite parts of The Residence were the bikes they offered their guests to get around the resort. Being such a huge property, to walk from the beach to the tennis court for example would take 20 minutes.
The Residence provides all their guests with bicycles free of charge. These red Dutch style bikes are great for a bit of exercise and to quickly zip around from place to place. Of course, if you don’t fancy biking around a resort during your big trip, then the staff will be more than happy to drive you anywhere you want via the golf carts.
The Tennis Court
The Residence has a full sized tennis court for your use. Located in the back of the resort, the Tennis court was a nice addition to have. During normal times, you’ll have to schedule a time to use the courts as I’d imagine other people would be keen to do so.
I would recommend going in the morning hours before the sun rises too much. After 8am or so, the sun becomes unforgiving.
The famous Infinity Pool
The outdoor pool at the Residence is without a doubt its crowning achievement. All of the pictures you’ll see online of the resort will focus on the pool. I can’t blame them. This 30-35 meter long infinity pool is the ultimate FOMO inducer. Take one look at the pictures and you’ll instantly be drawn to the resort.
I must say that this pool was very impressive. The infinity pool looks out at the beach and ocean making it the perfect place to enjoy a sunset drink. A section of it is also completely surrounded by glass allowing you to take some very cool pictures indeed.
I spent most of my time here as with 25% resort capacity, I had the pool to myself at times.
The Food at the Residence Zanzibar
There are two restaurants at the Residence offering a wide variety of foods and drinks.
The main restaurant is located next to the common pool overlooking the beach. The Pavillion is the other restaurant located nearer to the reception lobby. The main restaurant serves a buffet style dining experience with different themes every night while the Pavillion is an a la carte style restaurant serving Mediterranean fare.
The Pavillion was closed during my visit as COVID-19 ensured the capacity was very low so I spent my entire time eating at the main restaurant.
The food was pretty standard at the main restaurant of the Residence. You’ll find your typical buffet style food with a slight Indian or African flair. I booked my stay on a half board basis which included breakfast and dinner. Lunch was separate and no drinks were included.
Breakfast included your standard fruits, cold cuts, juices, cereals. There are containers for bacon, sausage, chapati, eggs, beans etc. They had a comprehensive omelet making station as well as a dedicated station for crepes/waffles. The crepes and waffles were quite delicious when made fresh.
For dinner, my first night included an Indian themed dinner with meat and seafood options. The second night was mostly seafood including grilled calamari, octopus, fish and the likes. Overall, I found the food to be good but not great. There wasn’t much that stood out to me and I think the presentation of the food left room for improvement.
For lunch, I ordered a prawns curry which was probably the best thing I ate the entire stay. Of course, the one thing I pay extra for was the best thing!
One thing that did really annoy me was them trying to charge me for water at dinner. They told me upon check in that water was included (which of course it should be in a place like this). I ordered a bottle of water at dinner and they had the audacity to try and charge me $5 for it! Of course, I told them this is unacceptable and they quickly removed it but the fact that they would successfully swindle people for free water is a huge negative.
The weather and beach on the west side
The Residence is located on the west side of Zanzibar. Why does this matter you ask? Yes, it does allow you to see the sunset which can be stunning. However, I would only be able to make this point because I stayed in so many other parts of the island.
In Zanzibar, the wind blows east to west. Being a tropical island, the clouds normally start on the east side of the island before making their way west. The high winds are also on the east side which means a cloudy morning on the east side quickly becomes sunny due to the strong winds.
These clouds make it over to the west side where The Residence is and don’t move as much throughout the day. This means that on a cloudy day, the weather at the Residence stays cloudy most of the day.
Having stayed in Paje right before the Residence hotel, it was sunny almost every day. On days that it rained in Paje, it cleared up earlier than in other parts of the island. While staying at the Residence (even though it was only a few days), it would be sunny in the morning and then remain cloudy for most of the day until the sunset.
It’s not that big of an issue obviously and I think if you only stayed at the Residence while visiting Zanzibar, you would never notice. However, having stayed in Zanzibar for over a month, I was already looking forward to going back to the East side of the island.
The Beach at the Residence
The beaches on the west side are not as beautiful as the east side. This is of course no fault of The Residence. However, if you’re expecting those iconic multiple shades of turquoise Zanzibari ocean, the west side will not offer it. There is simply too much coral and seaweed on this side for the water to be so stunning.
Swimming in the ocean at the Residence is also not so great because of the seaweed and sea urchins. The best beaches on Zanzibar are definitely in Paje in the southeast, Matemwe in the northeast, and Nungwi in the far north.
The rooms at The Residence Zanzibar
The rooms at the Residence are as large as they are luxurious. There are 66 villas in total including:
- 34 Luxury Garden Pool Villas with one bedroom
- 13 Luxury Ocean Front Pool Villas with one bedroom
- 11 Prestige Ocean Front Pool Villas with one bedroom
- 5 Frangipani Garden Pool Villas with two bedrooms
- 2 Frangipani Ocean Front Pool Villas with two bedrooms
- 1 Presidential Villa with two bedrooms
The rooms are all built in the same style. The only difference is size, amount of bedrooms, and proximity to the ocean. All the rooms come equipped with a private 8m by 3m plunge pool. The ocean front pool villas are one level behind the beach affording you views of the water. The garden pool villas are further back into the resort and no view of the ocean will be had.
I stayed in an ocean front pool villa for my stay. This room, along with the garden pool villa and the prestige ocean front pool villa are a whopping 100 square meters each. Each room is adorned with wood furniture with a satin finish including desks, tables, and closets. I found the wood finish to be a bit outdated and not the most aesthetically appealing.
Each room is divided into a bedroom and a living room. The bedroom is spacious and features a very comfortable king sized bed overlooking the pool and ocean. The bathroom is also huge and comes with a nice bathtub and outdoor shower. The only difference between the Ocean Front Pool Villa and the Prestige Ocean Front pool villa is that the bathtub faces the ocean in the latter. Nothing else as far as size and amenities goes.
The living room features a mini fridge, a TV, and a large couch. I didn’t really understand why the living room needs to be so big. The TV is not a smart TV so you can’t really use it for anything of meaning. It would be better if it was just one large open room in my opinion.
The outdoor pool
Each villa features a beautiful outdoor pool accompanied by lounge chairs and tables. Measuring 8m by 3m, this pool is more than enough for two people. The water temperature is similar to the temperature at the main pool and is the perfect way to cool off on a hot day.
Lack of Privacy in the rooms
While the room is incredibly spacious and the private pool is amazing, overall privacy is lacking. I stayed in an ocean front villa and indeed my villa was facing the beach. However, the beach is also publicly accessible by all the other guests.
I could see the beach chairs but anyone sitting at one could look at me too. There were hardly any people there when I was staying at the Residence so this wasn’t an issue. However, in normal times, expect not to have much privacy in your pool.
Huge plastic waste
One of my biggest dislikes about the Residence was their reliance on plastic bottled water. Water is provided complementary which is nice, but they only serve it to you by way of 500ml water bottles.
Given how hot and humid it is in Zanzibar, you should be drinking gat least 6 of these bottles a day. This produces incredible amounts of plastic waste. In comparison, the Zawadi resort provided me with stainless steel water bottles and a water dispenser in the room. Matlai did the same thing. This is how we should be operating in 2020 and beyond, reducing waste as much as possible.
If anything, they should just start providing water bottles in the 1.5L size.
Housekeeping comes twice a day
As standard with most higher end places, house keeping comes twice a day. The first will be some time in the morning to perform the standard daily cleaning.
The housecleaning comes again in the early evening to provide turn down service in which they will let down your mosquito nets, spray bug repellent, and close your doors.
The housekeeping was generally good however, I was annoyed that they always came while I was in the room. They should have better monitoring services where they could monitor that I was eating my breakfast for example and would perform the house cleaning before I returned.
Summing up my stay at the Residence
Overall, I had a good stay at the Residence. The staff were courteous, welcoming, and nice for the most part. However, I just think for the price this hotel charges, it is not worth it.
While the main pool and the villa pools are absolutely gorgeous, I just feel that the rest of the rooms and resort are a bit dated. It’s surprising the resort was built in 2011 because it feels like a lot of the furnishings are from a time much longer ago. A lot of the furnishings appear quite worn and overall, there is just a lack of character to the rooms. The rooms lacked privacy from the rest of the resort and I just felt like it wasn’t as premium as they make it out to be.
- Main pool is stunning
- Villa pool was very nice to have
- Gym was large and comprehensive
- Cocktails were good and reasonably priced
- Love the bicycles
- Huge bathrooms
- Service (couldn’t even bring a table out to the beach)
- Food quality and diversity (best thing we ate was the lunch coconut curry)
- Living room too big (lack of smart TVs meaning you can’t do anything in the living room)
- Bed was comfortable (however the mosquito net is too opaque meaning you can’t enjoy the views
- Plastic Water bottles
- Wanted to charge water at dinner
- Outdated furnishings – sunbeds look worn
- Lack of privacy if there is high occupancy
- Beach isn’t as stunning as east side (clouds, weather etc.)
- Music at dinner was too loud for me
- Check in process took too long, also room was not ready despite the resort being at half capacity
- Housekeeping inconsistent
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