Discover the fantastic things to do on your holiday in Zanzibar and our Matemwe guide.
The verdant isle of Ungujua, the archipelago’s principal island commonly referred to as Zanzibar, is a green gem that lies some 50km off the coast of East Africa. Zanzibar has for many centuries been a destination for travelers and traders due to its position within the Indian Ocean’s trade wind cycle. In addition to the aquamarine beauty of Zanzibar’s coastline, its labyrinthine capital, Stone Town, is an exceptional heritage site. Arab, Indian and 19th century European houses, as well as mosques, churches and temples all attest to the influences on which Zanzibar’s unique culture draws. The island’s historic wealth was based on the trade of cloves, slaves and ivory under the Omani Sultans of Zanzibar who ruled (at least nominally) until shortly after Independence from the UK in 1963. Today Zanzibar is increasingly open to the interest shown by travelers drawn to its fascinating heritage, stunning beaches and marine life.
The restored Jodhani Gardens on Stone Town’s waterfront come alive at night with an array of cheerful vendors serving snacks and refreshments to visitors and locals alike against the imposing backdrop of the 17th century Omani-built Old Fort. Stone Town’s merchants and shops, often half hidden in side alleyways, offer an array of Zanzibari and East African products, including fine local carvings and spices as well as a growing choice of small clothes boutiques. Cafes and restaurants serve an array of local and international food, including Italian and Indian cuisine.
Stretched out along Unguja’s (the main island in the archipelago) stunning northeast coast lagoon of tropical Zanzibar, Matemwe has emerged in recent years as the island’s low-rise, chic beach destination far from major hotel developments. About an hour’s drive from Stone Town out in the shamba (countryside) Matemwe’s is largely a place of fishing and seaweed farming.
The village has retained a strong community ethos with few inhabitants hailing from elsewhere. Chickens, goats and ducks roam free during the day while at night bush babies are about. Groups of inhabitants sit outside on their benches in the shade and chat away much of the day. There is no great sense of rush. And why should there be? They live in tropical paradise after all. The recent arrival of exclusive, low-rise villas and small hotels catering to the international travel market has expanded the village’s economy since the early 2,000s, providing hospitality employment and opportunities for local artisans, famers and entrepreneurs. With the population having a high proportion of children who play outside their homes or down on the beach, the village has a distinctly youthful feel to it. Having maintained its authenticity while welcoming hospitality businesses along its beach, the Matemwe’s future appears promising. With each relative contributing in different ways, whether in cash from their job at a villa or hotel, or as the family’s fisherman, goat herder or fruit grower, family members share what they have with each other for the greater good.
Undoubtedly one of the best beaches in Zanzibar, Matemwe Beach promises a paradise beach holiday. The beautiful, palm-fringed beach is of pure white sand and stretches for miles along the stunning lagoon. This is the place to come if you are looking for a relaxing beach holiday in Tanzania, away-from-it-all. Fishing dhows punt up the lagoon at dawn on their way to Miuni channel and then on out past Mnemba Island. At dusk they sail back, their lateen sails unfurled in the afternoon breeze. One can walk for miles in both directions along Matemwe’s majestic beach only occasionally coming across other people. A near continual shore breeze affords natural air conditioning throughout the year.
Matemwe is the best place to stay in Zanzibar if you like to dive or swim with dolphins – just a 30 minute boat ride will take you to some of the most spectacular underwater landscapes in the Indian Ocean.
Whether you’re looking for relaxation or adventure, you’ll be spoiled for choice for things to do in Zanzibar. The tropical island paradise promises a wealth of interesting activities, from exhilarating pursuits like kite surfing and diving, to breathtaking snorkeling and swimming with dolphins, and the spice tours and architectural wonders of historic Stone Town.
Matemwe offers a wide variety of marine activities on the broad and protected northeast coast lagoon including kayaking and kite surfing courses with our partner Zanzikite (www.zanzikite.com). For guests yet to try this exhilarating new sport combining aspects of sailing and boarding, we offer first timers a complementary introductory lesson with trainer kites on the beach. It will beat anything you tried in the park! For advanced kiters we also offer unique accompanied down wind trips (with a support boat following behind) that make the most of the prevailing, cross shore trade winds. Our resident kite instructors, including Juma (who happens to be Zanzibar’s current kite surfing champion), are happy to design individually tailored down wind trips for you from a variety of starting points along the northeast coast lagoon.
Mnemba Atoll, just off-shore, offers some of the most spectacular diving and snorkeling anywhere in the Indian Ocean. Its renowned coral reef and piercing turquoise shallows are of exceptional natural beauty and are home to a staggering abundance of exotic marine life, including playful wild dolphins. If you don’t have a PADI diving certificate you can happily snorkel in the far-reaching shallows around glorious Mnemba. For those who do have their PADI or wish to study for it, our partner dive centre, One Ocean Dive Center (www.zanzibaroneocean.com), provides excellent diving & snorkeling for all levels, and has a decompression chamber at hand. For a truly unforgettable experience, consider one of our dolphin boat safaris around Unguja island, with lunch on a piercing white sand bank, with afternoon snorkeling for the more active.
Saluting the sun as it rises over Matemwe’s lagoon is an experience to cherish. The great expanses of fine white sand and rose dawn hues mirrored in the shallows all the way to the reef, afford stunning vistas to early risers. Our all-natural, recently opened three-storey high tree house deck offers the most far-reaching views of the lagoon anywhere in Matemwe. For yogis, runners and walkers alike, the exceptionally fresh and pure Indian Ocean air is a pleasure to breathe.
To experience more of Zanzibar’s rich culture we can organize shopping and cultural visits to Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site whose architecture is unparalleled in East Africa in its richness and diversity. As you stroll along the narrow alleyways past an array of artisan and curio shops of the old town you will come across an exceptional variety of structures from arabesque palaces to Anglo-Indian municipal buildings that reflect the diverse influences underlying Swahili culture, with a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements. A spice tour is highly recommended.
To see Zanzibar’s wildlife on land we will happily organize bespoke, half day or day-long excursions from Matemwe Bandas for you to see chameleons, lizards, exotic, rate birds, beautiful Zanzibar butterflies, blue monkeys and the endangered, red Colobus monkey, in their protected tropical forest habitat at the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, where rich mangrove forests stretch into the Chwaka bay.
For those interested in experiencing the vibrant and welcoming village life of our local fishing community, we are very happy to walk our guests around Matemwe to meet some of our friends and the relatives of our team who all live in the area.
Just being in Matemwe, with its relaxed atmosphere and beautiful scenery, will make you relaxed, but our massage therapists will help to loosen tense muscles, and after experiencing your massage and with the view from our tower, you will feel like you are floating!