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Few place names conjure up such evocative visions as Zanzibar; from pure white sand beaches, Swahili culture and ruined Arab palaces, to unspoilt coral reefs and exotic food. The reality does not disappoint. Some of the most interesting and best places to stay in Zanzibar are simple barefoot luxury lodges with tons of character and natural beauty but relatively basic facilities. Most people spend a night or two in Stone Town and then head to one of the picture-postcard beaches for some serious down-time.
Although luxury hotels with all the amenities are beginning to move in to the island, generally you're paying for a remote unspoilt location or romantic setting. Zanzibar has not yet lost its soul to the vagaries of commercial mass tourism so go now and enjoy it at its real, very real, unspoilt best.
Best places to stay in Zanzibar for affordable beach life
For an affordable introduction to luxury beach life, Zanzibar style, the Pongwe Beach Hotel on the island's East coast is excellent. It owns the surrounding land so a deserted beach is guaranteed.
Another quiet budget resort popular with honeymooners and families alike is Shooting Star Lodge.
Fishermen and women will enjoy the Matemwe Bungalows where fishing expeditions with the locals are a highlight. The bungalows and villas look out over the reefs of the Mnemba Atoll.
Best luxury places to stay in Zanzibar
One of the best-known and certainly one of the most luxurious places to stay in Zanzibar is the Mnemba Island Lodge. Wake up in one of the romantic thatch-sided suites built on wooden platforms over the white sand and spend days having your every whim tended to by your own personal butler. Beloved of celebrities - a Hollywood salary helps.
Another lovely if fairly pricey retreat is The Palms. That the beach is white and perfect goes without saying and the comfortable accomodation is a mix of colonial and local styles.
Best places to stay in Zanzibar - Stone Town
The closest thing to a hotel in our list is probably the Zanzibar Serena Inn in Stone Town. Reminiscent of an African Colonial Country Club it has white walls, dark wood furnishings and views over the Indian Ocean.
Also in Stone town is former tea house the Beyt al Chai. It's a down-to-earth budget option full of character.
For an equally authentic taste of Zanzibar in Stone Town, 236 Hurumzi is a rambling former palace with a great rooftop bar.
Best Hotels in Zanzibar
Beyt Al Salaam 10 rooms from $111Stone Town, Zanzibar
Charming, tranquil budget hotel in a former tea house. Beautiful bedrooms decorated in a fusion of Arabic and African style with four poster beds and rich colours. A relaxing lounge, great restaurant. and a host of other facilities such as spa, scuba course and banqueting.Value chic - A beautifully renovated tea house on Kelele Square, central Stone Town, with chic Zanzibari-stlye decor and wonderful seaviews.Lively - Hip and happening.Full of characterSeaside - Ideal for a seaside holiday.
Emerson on Hurumzi 24 rooms from $165Stone Town, Zanzibar
A taste of the real Zanzibar at this rambling Stone Town palace. Rooms full of typical Zanzibari furniture and antiques, and have verandahs that overlook the rooftops and the Indian Ocean beyond. Fabulous roof top bar and restaurant. A Zanzibari romance.Local markets - Stock up on fabrics, shoes, spices and other gifts in the network of alleyways.Great walks - Explore the maze of alleys, shops and stalls of this Unesco-recognised town.Sailing - Rent a boat and sail to one of the nearby islands.Restrictions on children - Children cannot be accommodated at the hotel.Recommended by - I Escape
Pongwe Beach Hotel 16 rooms from $160Pongwe, Zanzibar
Sixteen cottages sprawled through gardens in a gorgeous sheltered cove. Traditional lime walls and woven palm thatches on the beach. An affordable introduction to paradise on Zanzibar's east coast. Beach life at its best.Exclusive offer - Beach offerSwimming Pool - Infinity PoolFishing - Hand-line fishing equippment is available on site and game-fishing can be arranged.Kayaking - Head out on the waves in the complimentary Kayaks.Full of characterRecommended by - I Escape
Shooting Star Lodge 16 rooms from $170Sansibar, Zanzibar
Quiet, reasonably priced resort on a glorious beach. Private bungalows boast balconies with great sea views. Pure white rooms with ornately carved four-poster beds. Lively bar and great restaurant. Spa facilities for ultimate relaxation. Friendly and attentive staff. The ideal laid back beach hotelTotal relaxation - Embrace the slow pace of life- relax and rejuvenate in the spa, unwind on your private terrace and listen to the ocean.Beach Life - Make the most of the white sands and turquoise seas with snorkelling, diving, sailing, fishing and beachcombing.Families - Comfortable family rooms, plenty to occupy children with and a laid back atmosphere.Sailing - Take a local dhow or ngalawa cruise to the nearby reef and explore from above the water!
Next Paradise Boutique Hotel 20 rooms from $180Pwani Mchangani, Zanzibar
Next Paradise provides an authentic Africa experience in a breathtaking environment. Spacious rooms, elegantly decorated with hand carved wood furniture and precious oriental textiles. Set along a white sand, palm-fringed beach, offering views of the Indian Ocean. Romantic and idyllic.Views - Each room has a wonderful view of the seaRomantic - Idyllic settingOutstanding locationSeaside - Ideal for a seaside holiday.
Chapwani Private Island 11 rooms from $176Chapwani Private Island, Zanzibar
Charming eco friendly lodges on a private island just off Zanibar. Rooms are simple but stylish, overlooking the beach and the vibe is laid back. Freshly caught fish is the restaurant's speciality. Great for families & perfect for a spot of post safari "R&R".Swimming Pool - Saltwater PoolFishing - Excellent fishing nearby.On the beach - In front of the hotel.Recommended by - I Escape
Zanzibar Serena Inn 51 rooms from $358Stone Town, Zanzibar
A stunning hotel reminiscent of a colonial country club. White washed walls, crisp linen, dark wood furnishings. Each room has a private balcony with beautiful sea views. Multiple dining options specialise in Swahili cuisine and seafood. A great spot for seaside family fun or romantic breaks.Romantic Break - Romantic suites offer fourposter beds and private hammacks, in the evening dine under the stars listening to live Taarab music.Beach Life - Right on Stone Town's seafront with a range of beach side activities from dolphin swimming to snorkelling and diving.Sights nearby - Explore the narrow lanes of Stone Town the only functioning historical city in East Africa.Seaside - Ideal for a seaside holiday.Recommended by - Small Luxury Hotels
Chumbe Island 7 rooms from $506Zanzibar
Magical Robinson Crusoe-style eco lodge on Chumbe Island. State of the art, environmentally friendly bungalows provide simple but comfortable accommodation. Candlelit beach dining with excellent cuisine. Ideal for honeymooners and nature revellers alike.Eco break - Fully protected coral reef sanctuary, forest reserve and eco-lodge, pioneer in marine conservation and eco tourism.Back to Nature - Forget your gadgets and be brought back to nature with an entire island to roam, encased by white sand beaches.Great walks - Head off on an intertidal walk from the island's north point to south observing the marine life, fish eagles and roseate ternsDiving - The scuba-diving in the reefs outside the sanctuary (it is forbidden inside) is utterly spectacular.Recommended by - I Escape
The Palms 6 rooms from $715Zanzibar
Six luxurious villas and a sophisticated restaurant with a relaxed feel and terrific location. Rustling coconut palms, white powder sand and the warm waves of the Indian Ocean combine to create a stunning recluse for the discerning traveler.Sailing - Try sailing in the Indian Ocean this holiday, we offer daily lessons to experience to sport and hiring for the more experienced.Cooking classes - Cooking classes are organized regularly where guests learn to prepare some classical Swahili dishes.Swimming Pool - Each villa has a private plunge pool, and all have acces to the main pool overlooking the sea.Restrictions on children - Children older than 16 years are welcome.Recommended by - Kiwi Collection
Mnemba Island Lodge 10 rooms from $744Mnemba Island, Zanzibar
Exclusive private island and haunt of celebrities. Thatched-sided bandas sit on stilts along the beach with stunning views out to sea. A personal butler attends to all ones needs. The coral reefs make for excellent diving. The ideal spot for a romantic getaway.Honeymoons - Think candlelit dinners under the stars, longs walks along pristine white sand and secluded lodges with plush fourposter beds.Beach Life - Make the most of this private tropical island paradise, with snorkelling, fishing, beach combing and whale spotting.Diving - Mnemba Island has its own dive center which provides a range of activities for all levels of skill.Kayaking - Paddle the turquoise seas in a two man sea kayak, the perfect way to explore the coast.Recommended by - Kiwi Collection
Fundu Lagoon 18 rooms from $750Pemba, Zanzibar
Remote stylish tented beach resort. Safari-style tented rooms with private balconies and plunge pools. A large infinity pool and spa specialising in African techniques make for complete relaxation. An excellent restaurant and three bars. The ultimate getaway for honeymooners and beach lovers alike.Hideaway - Leave your shoes and gadgets behind and settle into the laid back island lifestyle where your only decisons are sea or pool?Honeymoons - A tranquil couples retreat with secluded villas, private coulpes dining on the beach, tandem massages and sunset cruises.Diving - The resort has a fully equipped PADI dive centre, and some of the worlds best and most unspoilt reefs.Great walks - Take a low tide stroll along the beach and spot the herons, ibis, egrets, parrots, and ghost crabs.Recommended by - I Escape
Matemwe Lodge 12 rooms from $802Matemwe, Zanzibar
Eco chic villas with thatched roofes perched above a white sand beach. Individual bungalows and villas with private balconies and hammocks looking out to sea. A secluded spot offering total relaxation and intimacy for honeymooners. Plenty of sea activities, from big game fishing to scuba diving.Beach Life - Right on the most beautiful beach, overlooking the Indian Ocean, with diving, snorkelling, kayaking, swimming and beachcombing.Honeymoons - Tranquil, laid back and wildly romantic- swing on your double hammock, sip cocktails and dip in your private plunge pool.Diving - The on site dive school, Dhow Divers, offers outings for both beginners and experienced divers on nearby the Mnemba reefs.Sailing - Sail on the hotel dhow or with a local fisherman on his ngalawa and hopefully spot some whales and dolphins!Recommended by - I Escape