Zanzibar has been one of my favorite destinations to travel in East Africa. While staying on the island for the greater part of a month, I decided to treat myself to the ultimate in luxury at the Zawadi Hotel in Dongwe. I met travelers at Zanzibar Sunrise in Matemwe that told me they were staying at this boutique hotel in the south that looked absolutely incredible. Few days later, I decided I needed to join in as well.
Located in the southeast of Zanzibar, Zawadi (which means “gift” in Swahili) sits on the Michamvi Peninsula known for its incredible sandy beaches and intense contrast between low tide and high tide (more on that later). Having only 12 villas, Zawadi is perhaps one of the most luxurious boutique hotels out there. If you’re into the big resorts with 100+ rooms, this is not your place (best to stick to Nungwi in the north).
Having just stayed in the craziness of Nungwi, I spent a few nights at Zawadi to absolute paradise bliss. Like the Park Hyatt Maldives, there are those special places in the world where you feel an immediate pull and Zawadi was one of those places.
In addition, make sure to read my comprehensive guide on traveling Zanzibar if you are planning to visit!
Getting to Zawadi Hotel
Zawadi Hotel is located in the southeast of Zanzibar Island. It’s located in between Dongwe and Pingwe town on its own private stretch of beach. It’s really isolated from the rest of the Zanzibar which you would expect from a resort of this caliber.
From the airport in Stone Town, it’s roughly 60-70km and will take just over 1 hour to reach this resort. I think a fair price to pay for this transfer would be roughly $40-50 so if you’re not pre-booking your transfer and planning to brave the taxi ranks at the airport, make sure to settle on prices well in advance. Of course, Zawadi can book your transfer for you too but I did not take that option since I was coming from Nungwi in the north (a two hour trip!)
The common grounds of Zawadi
Zawadi hotel is located in one of the most picturesque parts of Zanzibar. The southeast of Zanzibar is known for its long stretch of white sand, and a reef that extends hundreds of meters out. Zawadi hotel is perched on an idyllic clifftop overlooking the ocean.
The common areas are incredibly inviting and more than spacious enough for a resort of this size. Having only twelve villas, you have countless options to relax. I stayed here with only two other couples and it felt like I had the resort to myself at most times. I can imagine that even at full capacity, this place still retains its air of tranquility for those that want their private time.
The reception at Zawadi
After driving about 15 minutes from Paje, I was greeted by the welcome sign outside of Zawadi Hotel. There’s two large gates guarding the premise but once you enter, it’s nothing but luxury. A roundabout filled with bougainvillea flowers greeted me before arriving at the reception area.
The staff were eagerly waiting for my arrival and helped me with what few luggage pieces I had. A fresh coconut was waiting for me upon arrival which was just what I needed having driven two hours from Nungwi. The resort manager on site was an absolute joy to talk with and made sure my experience was top notch all the way.
There is a small gym at the reception with free weights, one chest fly machine, as well as some cardio equipment. It was small but had enough weights for me to ensure I could work up my appetite for all the meals coming my way.
The different buildings of Zawadi
As you walk from the reception towards the pool, the first thing you’ll notice is the stunning view directly in front of you. This is the money shot view in my opinion which features their infinity pool overlooking the incredible Indian ocean in front.
Surrounding you are the two main buildings of the resort. The building on the left is the lounge/sundowner room and the right is for dinner service. Both buildings are built in the traditional style with huge makuti roofs and incredibly high ceilings. The inside features African inspired modern furniture with stylish square edges and a warm gray theme. Each building has floor to ceiling windows so to not hinder the important stuff, aka the views of the ocean.
Each building is incredibly inviting and I ended up working most of my day from the lounge room with its comfortable couches and coffee tables.
To the right of the pool is the main outdoor dining room which is used for breakfast and lunch. This building is built in the traditional Makuti style but features complete open air which is perfect on a nice sunny day while eating the equally delicious food.
The house farm
One of the most unique parts of the Zawadi hotel was their personal farm that is on site. The hotel grow a lot of their vegetables and herbs on site. Of course, Zanzibar is known as the spice island there are no shortage of produce.
However, certain things don’t grow in Zanzibar that might appease the palate of Westerners so they decided to grow much of it here as opposed to importing. Oregano, Basil, Rosemary for example are not common spices used in Zanzibar but were grown on their farm to be used for our meals.
They also have various animals including chickens which produce all the eggs that are used for breakfast and the various desserts. It was cool to see this tropical farm to table experience in real life!
The ocean views at Zawadi
What really gives Zawadi the wow factor for me are the absolutely breathtaking views. Whether it’s from the rooms or from the main pool, the views of the ocean are just breathtaking.
Because Zawadi is elevated from the beach, you get a slightly aerial view of the ocean which allows you to soak in all the different shades of turquoise as the tides come in.
Best times for views
Like the rest of Zanzibar, the difference between low tide and high tide are very stark, especially as the reef extends hundreds of meters out into the ocean. During low tide, you can see the sand, corals, rocks, and seaweed all exposed in the sunlight.
As high tide approaches, the water slowly trickles giving the shallow sand a light shade of aqua which contrasts beautifully against the deeper water and its darker shade of aqua. Because of Zawadi’s elevation, you can see all of these colors on full display whereas a resort that is beach level can’t appreciate it as much. It’s like sending a drone 30m into the sky!
This was by far my favorite time to soak in the views (one to two hours after low tide). The tides change every day but Zawadi always left a sheet of paper in my room telling me what time low tide and high tide were the following day so I could always plan accordingly.
The restaurant and food at Zawadi
Zawadi operates on an all inclusive model. The resort is located in its own area so there are no restaurants within walking distance. Don’t worry, you will not want to leave anyhow. The food and drinks at Zawadi was incredible and definitely one of the highlights of the stay.
Three meals are served: Breakfast is between 7:30am-9:30am, lunch is 12:30 – 14:30, and dinner is 19:30 to 21:30. The times are generally flexible as well. If you’re planning a dive where times coincide with lunch, they won’t forget about you and have your lunch waiting upon your return.
The food is all ordered off a set menu, a la carte style. Breakfast started off with the standard fruit platters, pastries, and eggs of your choice, and pancakes/French toast. They also have pork bacon which is rare in Zanzibar as it is a Muslim island. All the while, it’s served with your choice of fresh juices. If you want to get the party started early, they will of course make you a mimosa as well.
Lunch is a three course affair with different options for starters and mains. Dinner is a five course meal again with different options to choose from. Normally, there is always a seafood, a meat, and a vegetable option to accommodate for all preferences. In addition, if you don’t like the options offered, you can even request a special option within reason. I decided to stop eating Octopus recently which was part of the lunch menu. Instead, I asked for prawns and out came some of the most delicious huge tiger prawns I’ve ever had.
The food is quite high end, incredibly tasty, and I would compare to an almost Michelin type of experience. The chefs are professionally trained and know how to make refined cuisine with local twists.
Zawadi being an all inclusive experience means you can drink to your heart’s desire. They offer an extensive cocktail menu with twists on classics like the coco lada which is a sort of pina colado served in a coconut. Wine, beers, bubbly are also on offer at all times of the day. I didn’t see the different liquors they had available but their bar seemed well stocked enough for most people’s needs.
Every day, I would have wine with my lunches. They had a healthy selection of delicious wines from South Africa which was very welcome since I’d pretty much only drank flavorless Tanzanian beer for the past few weeks.
After descending into a food coma from lunch, I did some calisthenics from the beautiful deck on my room overlooking the ocean so I could rally in time for the sundowners. Around 17:30, I would head towards the pool where I’d enjoy various cocktails in front of the pool, as well as some tasty snacks. Three or four cocktails later, I would have my dinner where I would drink yet more wine from South Africa.
All in all, let’s just say the food at Zawadi was incredible and I was never hungry once. In fact, I had never been better fed. The food was so enjoyable that I made sure to hit the gym once a day so I could maintain a solid appetite for the food and drinks that would ensure.
The villas at Zawadi
The villas in Zazadi are pure bliss. With only 12 rooms in total, Zawadi is the ultimate in intimate boutique style experiences.
The villas are located on both sides of the resort. Each villa are incredibly spacious at over 100 square meters each. Each villa is surrounded by a beautiful manicured garden filled with bougainvillea flowers that reminded me of my time in Greece. As this resort was created by divers, each villa is aptly named after the Swahili version of various fish. My room was Chewa, which is the Swahili word for grouper. It was meant to be as one of my favorite fish is the Napoleon Wrasse!
Each villa is adorned with a large spacious outdoor private terrace equipped with lounge chairs, a hammock, and an outdoor hot tub! The hot tub which has beautiful views of the ocean was the perfect place to relax in privacy away from the main crowds.
From the deck, you have unobstructed views of the Indian Ocean at your doorstep. The perfect place to watch the water change colors as the tides change.
The inside of the villa
The rooms are of the utmost luxury. Built with traditional makuti rooftops, each villa is 100 square meters with extremely high ceilings allowing your more than enough space to stretch out. The bathroom alone is the size of most Manhattan studios with an open shower and bathroom that faces out at the ocean.
The resort is also created with the environment in mind. In the room were Zanzibar Collection branded water bottles that are yours to keep along with a water dispenser. I absolutely love this concept of not promoting waste. From water bottles to straws, no plastic is used at this resort which is very welcome for a diver like myself.
Each villa offers top of the line skin care service products from conditioner to skin lotion. Of course, I’m probably not the best person to go to for skin care products because shampoo just has to say shampoo on it for me to use.
The villas have an enormous oversized king bed that is probably enough for two separate couples. The memory foam mattress ensures that your sleep will be of the highest quality. The mosquito nets are beautifully designed and turndown service is offered every night while you have your dinner. There is plenty of attention to detail in the rooms and is decorated beautifully.
Each room has a stocked mini bar with beers, wines, and soda. These drinks are of course complimentary and re-stocked every day. I already drank my heart out at meal times so I’m not sure how anyone can finish this mini bar. Nevertheless, the wine was perfect for me to enjoy from the private hot tub outside watching the waves crash into the beach.
The Staff at Zawadi
I’ve stayed at some incredible properties in the world and while you will always experience the pinnacle of opulence, it is the staff that make it most memorable.
Zawadi is no different. The property is absolutely stunning with the most refined touches, the food is delicious, and the ocean is beyond picturesque. However, the staff here are its biggest asset and elevated the experience to something even more.
Every morning, I was greeted with smiles, “Jambo”, and a genuinely warm experience that made me feel so welcome staying at their property. The waiters all knew me by name and within the first day knew what little things I liked. They knew I loved spicy food and bought me a side of pili pili with every meal without even asking.
Walking along the beach at low tide
As with this part of Zanzibar, the beach is very long and wide which means low tide and high tide have a huge contrast. At high tide, the water comes all the way up to the resort leaving you with about 10 meters of beach. In low tide, the water goes back hundreds of meters.
At low tide, it’s possible to snorkel at the nearby Blue Lagoon famous for its clear visibility and schools of fish. It’s a quick swim from the beach at Zawadi. The currents will carry you to the blue lagoon in fifteen minutes. The reefs are very colorful here and there’s plenty of parrotfish and other reef fish in the area.
In addition, I walked along the beach all the way down to the town of Dongwe where Zawadi’s sister resorts are located including the Palms, Baraza, and the Breezes hotel.
The other Zanzibar Collection hotels
Zawadi is part of the Zanzibar Collection hotels. Zawadi is the newest and most modern of the portfolio. I visited the other resorts so you can have any idea of what to choose from.
The Palms is the next closest thing to Zawadi. It’s a boutique style hotel with six large and intimate villas facing the beach. Baraza next door is another high end luxury resort that has larger villas available for families. Breezes is the largest of the four with 70 different rooms. It’s also the cheaper option but still maintains that very premium feel.
All in all, the other three resorts are of course nice, but they do not compare to Zawadi. I think Zawadi is in its own class and own world when compared to just about any other hotel on the island.
If you’re looking for the ultimate honeymoon destination or couples getaway, look no further than Zawadi.
Scuba Diving with Rising Sun
Zawadi was founded by avid diving enthusiasts. It’s not a specific dive resort per se, but if you’re keen to dive (like myself), they will take care of you.
The dive shop, Rising Sun Divers, is located at the Breezes resort (one of the other hotels in the Zanzibar collection portfolio).
The unique thing about diving at Zawadi is they have found a sort of diving paradise in front of their resort on the southeast side of the island. Most of the the diving in Zanzibar centers around the much overrated Mnemba Atoll and the area around Nungwi. Paje and the area in the souteast is more of a kitesurfing haven so diving down here stays somewhat unknown.
In fact, the coral reefs and fish life in the southeast are absolutely out of this world. Having just dived in Mafia Island weeks prior as well as visiting Mnemba Atoll and Tumbatu island in Nungwi, I wanted to see more of Zanzibar.
Safe to say, this is the best diving near Zanzibar by far. The coral reefs are incredibly vibrant and healthy with stunning visibility much of the year. As soon as I dropped into the water, I could see 25m to the bottom.
I’ve not seen such vibrant soft corals for a long time. Everywhere around me were coral balmys in the best of conditions. Schools of yellow snappers, triggerfish, and groupers circled around us constantly. There are also a ton of macro delights like nudis, frogfish, leaf fish, etc.
There are also little to no other dive boats out here because no one really knows about these reefs which is probably why they’ve been able to stay the way they have been.
The dive shop at Rising Sun is also top notch. From the staff to the dive professionals to the equipment, this was an amazing experience. In fact, I would only exclusively dive in the southeast of Zanzibar in the future because it was miles above anything else I did!
A special resort for your travels
I very much enjoyed my stay at Zawadi (as you can probably tell from reading this). It’s as beautiful as it is tranquil, with few other options in Zanzibar to match it (if there are, please let me know).
If you’re the type of traveler that’s looking for luxury, intimacy, beautiful views, and a secluded vibe away from the clouds, then look no further than staying at Zawadi!
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