Meliá Zanzibar review: Tanzania’s relaxing full stop
Known colloquially as the Spice Island, Zanzibar is a far cry from the Tanzanian mainland. Not only does the surrounding Indian Ocean feel a constant, soothing companion, but there’s a marked shift in pace, character and landscape. The air is hotter and thicker, brightly coloured lines of laundry dance in front of sun-bleached huts and people meander along roadsides with the kind of slow, relaxed stride that would enrage big city dwellers.
Of course, contrary to common assumptions, Zanzibar isn’t in fact an island, but a collection of them. Most visitors will find themselves on Unguja, the largest and home to the region’s main airport and its capital, Stone Town. Despite holding the bulk of Zanzibar’s some 1.3 million population, there’s still a sense of low-key tranquillity and for those seeking respite, solitude is not hard to find amid the island’s immense beaches and pockets of untamed jungle.
Meliá Zanzibar lies on the North Eastern shoreline, roughly 45 minutes’ drive from the airport. On the way, the great plantations for which the island is famed roll out from the arterial roads into the distance, the scent of cinnamon seeming to hang in the air – whether in reality or just a figment of the imagination stirred by the romance of the place.
It’s a sizeable operation and once through the main gates golf buggies glide past, ferrying guests around the grounds. A recently cracked and hotel branded coconut serves as welcome drink and swiftly sets the tone. With many arriving fresh from safari or other high-octane activities on the mainland, it prompts a long exhale and a wilting of the shoulders. Even from reception, the arresting cyan ocean is already in view.
The resort is generally divided between the older, original development and The Level, a recent addition with a more lavish and design-led feel. An all-inclusive stay, the latter represents its own ‘tier’ and features an exclusive-use clubhouse with swish restaurant, bar and infinity pool, as well as direct access to the neatly kept Gabi Beach.
The Level’s beach pavilions are impeccably presented and blend luxury with charm. Large bedrooms open onto private terraces and separate dressing rooms are a welcome touch, perfect for stowing disorderly suitcases and sand-caked sandals. In style, they draw heavily from the surroundings, with dried palm roofs and an abundance of wood, as well as jolts of pattern in the rugs and artwork.
Of course, being such an expansive property there are rooms to suit most means, and the main complex includes standard double rooms, private villas and a host of options in between. While they may not be as newly minted as The Level’s pavilions, they’re nonetheless comfortable, with four posters and colonial ceiling fans. Some villas even feature roof-mounted swinging seats with uninterrupted views across the water.
In the bar and restaurant offer, Meliá Zanzibar plays to its strengths, making the most of its rarefied setting. Guests can dine on seafood with their toes in the sand at the Gabi Beach restaurant, where a private dinner with a specially devised menu can also be organised at an additional cost. The Jetty bar and restaurant meanwhile, stands proudly stilted above the Indian Ocean, a roped walkway leading diners off-land. While the broadly international menu gets a thumbs up, it’s arguably the blood red moonrise that is the main attraction, The Jetty being the best spot from which to take in the impressive natural wonder. As night falls, here a DJ holds court over a pocket-sized dancefloor and guests of all varieties are encouraged to let their hair down and cradle a cocktail as the hot sea breeze wafts through.
Beyond eating, drinking and sleeping the resort offers various activities to keep guests occupied, from a spa with its own pool to a tennis court that can be booked for use free of charge. For those keen to venture further afield, Zanzibar is celebrated for the quality of its coral reefs and a day’s excursion on a traditional dhow, with the likes of Safari Blue, can be booked via the resort, which includes snorkelling in the Menai Bay conservation area, an opportunity to wander one of the many picturesque sandbanks and a gentle lap of the mangrove lagoon. A seafood barbeque and exotic fruit tasting is thrown in for good measure.
Zanzibar is, for many visitors, the full stop on a wider Tanzania trip, something Meliá knows, with its urban property in Arusha and Safari-focused stop in the Serengeti. But there’s little doubt it’s the right one. For those bone tired after market tours and mountain walks or long game drives and small plane hopping, a few days – or longer – bathing in the tepid waves and languishing on the white beaches is quite the tonic. The Swahili phrase hakuna matata is something visitors will hear and read regularly while in the country, and while it’s most famously translated as ‘no worries’, the more literal meaning is said to be, ‘there are no problems here’. After a few nights at Meliá Zanzibar, it’s easy to see why they put it on the tee-shirts.
Stay at Meliá Zanzibar, all-inclusive from $400 (£307), while prices at The Level start at $650 (£500). www.melia.com. +255 774 444 477