I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in Zanzibar, the famous spice island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania. You can read my trip reports here:
Today: Review of &Beyond Mnemba Island (Zanzibar, Tanzania)
If you have ever harbored the secret wish of finding yourself the sole inhabitant of a beautiful tropical island, but without the effort of having to lift a finger to fend for yourself, &Beyond Mnemba Island is just the place for you. This romantic, private hideaway is an award-winning barefoot beach paradise just off the northeast coast of Zanzibar, that accommodates a maximum of 24 guests at a time. Guest relax and unwind in the exclusivity of their own stretch of beachfront, where twelve beachside bandas peep out onto unblemished sands from the dappled shade of the casuarina pine forest and overlook the Mnemba atoll (a scuba diver’s delight). From snorkeling, swimming, ands kayaking to massages on the beach, to doing nothing at all, &Beyond Mnemba Island has something for everyone.
&Beyond Mnemba Island features in my top 10 lists of the best luxury hotels in Tanzania, the best luxury resorts in Zanzibar, the most exclusive, private island retreats in the world and Africa’s most astonishing beach retreats.
Have you ever stayed at Mnemba Island? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more info below my YouTube video):
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- &Beyond Mnemba Island Lodge is situated on a tiny tropical island, just 2 km (1,2 mi) off the north-eastern coast of Zanzibar in the turquoise waters of the warm Indian Ocean. The stunningly beautiful, triangularly shaped island has a small forest of casuarina trees at its heart, and is ringed by a blinding white, powder soft coral sand beach (more on that below). Offshore, the island is surrounded by an atoll of breathtaking coral reefs, which offer some of the best snorkeling and diving in Africa (and that’s saying something). The island feels like a deserted castaway paradise since most of the low-rise pavilions are tucked in the tropical foliage and not visible from the beach and since the private island accommodates a maximum of 24 guests at a time.
- Getting to the hotel is not difficult but involves a bit of fun adventure. Guests are welcomed at Zanzibar International Airport near Stone Town on Zanzibar’s main island of Unguja, and whisked away by the resort staff in a luxurious jeep for a 90 minute drive through tropical island scenery. The last 20 minutes are on an unpaved, bumpy road which ends at a magnificent deserted beach. Idyllic Mnemba Island looms at the horizon as the hotel staff together with several porters assists guests for a short walk across the beach to an open ski boat, which makes the journey to Mnemba across the bay in less than 15 minutes. As there are no jetties, departures and landings are directly to and from the beach and involve some wading. Transfers are included in the room rate.
- &Beyond Mnemba Island is renowned as one of the most exclusive private island resorts in the world. It’s without any doubt the most astonishingly beautiful beach resort of Africa (not taking into account the Seychelles, which are located much further away in the Indian Ocean) and offers a level of barefoot luxury and rustic exclusivity unparalleled on the entire African coastline. Because of its privacy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the castaway island has been (and still is) the playground of celebrities like Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Naomi Campbell, and Tom Cruise. Bill Gates is the lodge’s most famous repeat guest and rumor has that he is the private owner of the island. IMHO, &Beyond Mnemba Island is on pair with those 3 other world-famous private island resorts, Laucala Island (Fiji), North Island (Seychelles) and Soneva Jani (Maldives).
- The island features a simple layout, with a central area of communal facilities from where sandy paths lead to the 12 thatched roof accommodations (or bandas, as &Beyond calls them). The communal areas are located in a small forest clearing set back a few steps from the beach, and comprise an open-sided dining room, an airy lounge with bar, a PADI certified dive center, a lovely library, and a curio shop. The decor of the communal areas echoes the rustic feel of the bandas, with a simple but beautiful design that blends well in the spectacular natural surroundings. Plush white sofas line the sandstone walls, a well-stocked bar sits in front of a beaded glass curtain, and elaborately carved wooden doors from Stone Town manifest the cultural roots of Zanzibar. At night, soft lighting is enhanced by handcrafted lightshades.
- &Beyond Mnemba Island features 12 rustic palm-frond bandas, tucked away in the tropical foliage and facing the gently rolling waves of the Indian Ocean. Each banda is composed of an open-sided veranda (with a foot basin to rinse your sand-soaked toes every time you enter the banda), a spacious bed room with a four poster bed swathed in mosquito netting, an elegant dressing area, and a covered walkway leading to a shuttered ensuite bathroom with two sinks, a toilet and a shower behind a huge glass-beaded curtain. Each banda is floored in rattan, cooled with whirring fans, and thatched with palm leaves. Zanzibar is famous for its intricate detailed woodcarvings and the scrolled headboards adorning the beds are created by some of the Island’s most skilled artisans. Each banda also has a private sala on the beach, featuring traditional Zanzibari loungers, a table, ceiling fan, personal bar, two day beds and a shower.
- Of course, the prime reasons to visit &Beyond Mnemba Island are the magnificent sugar white beach that surrounds the entire island and the ridiculously clear lagoon that stretches out as far as the eye can see. One of the most pleasant things to do on the island is to stroll on the fine coral pearly white sands, while listening to the sounds of gentle waves lapping the shoreline and gazing across miles of glistening ocean with fifty shades of blue, green and turquoise. At high tide, a small part of the beach on the island’s northern side submerges under water (making it impossible to walk around the island), but at low tide, a stunning sandbank (probably the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life) appears, making it possible to walk for a mile on the purest white coral sand. The beach of &Beyond Mnemba ranks among the finest and most pristine in the world, and (un)fortunately, only the lucky few will ever set foot on it.
- &Beyond Mnemba Island and the surrounding Marine Conservation Area boasts some of the most pristine, unspoilt and healthiest coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. The azure blue clear waters provide unsurpassed visibility for both snorkelers and scuba divers. For those wanting to take it easy, the house reef – where the coral reefs drop into the deep open sea – lies around 20 meters (65 feet) off shore, with boats and snorkeling guides available to take guests to more remote reefs. If you are a scuba diving enthusiast, the island is a paradise, with two dives daily, led by experienced dive instructors, included in your stay (please note that a valid diving certificate is required). Be prepared to encounter neon-tinted fish, such as the blue potato grouper, the indigo Napoleon fish, the deep red cubera snapper, and the green blocked turtle. Divers around Mnemba may also encounter the world’s largest fish, the gigantic whale shark.
- For a tiny island, &Beyond Mnemba Island boasts a lot of wildlife. Green turtles are regular visitors to the island: females come to nest on the pristine beach with the hatchlings emerging around 55 days later. Green turtle laying season is year-round with a seasonal peak in February and March – and is something truly wonderful to witness (the staff will even wake you at night upon request if baby turtles are spotted struggling out of the nest and making their way to the water). The tiny suni antelope roams the forest in the centre of the island and the recently introduced and highly endangered Ader’s duiker may also be spotted. The latter is the rarest antelope species in Africa; there are between 300 and 600 Ader’s duiker remaining in the wild, with around 15 of these found on Mnemba. And the rich biodiversity of the coral reefs surrounding the island is enhanced by a resident pod of bottlenose dolphins, which are regularly spotted by visitors (and which were there to welcome us upon arrival as you can watch in my clip).
- Gastronomy is a big deal on Mnemba Island, and – as you would expect from the &Beyond brand – food is delicious, refined and fresh. Baskets of lobsters, crabs, yellow fin tuna and prawns sail into Mnemba daily on traditional ngalawa outriggers, so expect a lot of mouthwatering seafood on the menu. Breakfast is served in the privacy of your banda or in the dining room, and includes Danish pastries, roasted honey muesli, home made jams, fresh fruits, and perfectly poached eggs Benedicte. The three-course lunch is often served on large wooden carved Zanzibari platters heaped with delicious mezze. Romantic candlelit dinners are served – weather permitting – on the beach, with the waves lapping gently at your feet. Although a fixed menu is always suggested, the island’s catering team is very flexible to cater for individual needs.
- With a two-to-one ratio of staff to guests, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that service on &Beyond Mnemba Island is impeccable. The superfriendly and very knowlegable staff – including the management – is there to welcome you on the beach upon arrival and will wave you goodbye when you reluctantly have to leave the island (with a bag full of life lasting memories). A butler is appointed for each banda, and he/she will go to great length to make sure that your holiday exceeds your wildest expectations, from delivering tea at your front door at dawn and filling the fridge with drinks of your choice, to bringing sundowner drinks and snacks to your beach salsa at sunset or organizing private beach picnics.
- &Beyond Mnemba Island operates on an all inclusive plan. The room rate includes the following:
- Three meals daily
- Soft drinks, house wines, local brand spirits and beers, teas and coffees and refreshments on lodge activities
- Water sport (scuba diving – 2 dives per day – full PADI certification required, snorkeling, kayaking, flyfishing, sundowner dhow cruise, and stand-up paddle boarding)
- Emergency evacuation insurance
- Return transfers between Zanzibar and Mnemba
- The lodge is operated by &Beyond, not only one of Africa’s most exclusive safari companies, but also one of the world’s most experienced operators of luxurious holidays in wilderness areas. &Beyond was established in the early nineties in the Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Kwazulu Natal Province alongside rising international demand for ecotourism and wildlife experiences, and in the belief that, through business enterprise, wildlife conservation could be placed on a sustainable economic footing. From 1995 &Beyond (then known as CC Africa) continued to expand its portfolio of superior safari lodges and moved into Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, and later Botswana and Namibia, where it manages some fabulous lodges such as Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge (Botswana) and Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (Tanzania). In 2006 it extended its touring expertise into India with growth in the sub-continent taking it into Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal. South America was added to &Beyond’s portfolio in 2015, adding Chile, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador to &Beyond’s experiential travel offering.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
- The island is all about living in balance (and in style) with the spectacular natural environments. However, the island is very unique in the way that it lacks some facilities you mostly encounter at other ultraluxe hotels. There’s no swimming pool (but who cares when you have the world’s largest swimming pool – a mesmerizing lagoon – at your feet) and no spa center (treatments are given in the intimacy of your banda). The bandas don’t feature multitech technology such as TVs or telephones nor do they feature airconditioning (sea breezes cool down the open-sided bandas to comfortable temperatures at night, although it can occasionally still be very hot).
- Although Mnemba Island is privately owned and only accessible to guests, the reef just offshore is open to everyone. Each morning, several boats bring tourists staying at one of Zanzibar’s east-coast hotels to the reef for snorkeling. While these tourists are not permitted to land on Mnemba, their presence, sometimes close to the shore of this tiny island, inevitably detracts from its hideaway exclusivity. However, the good news is that by noon, all boats have left and you will have paradise all for yourself.
- The island is a nesting place for a large number of doves, so due to the open design of the bandas, expect to be waken up early morning by the cooing sounds of these birds (be sure to bring ear plugs). The nesting doves also attract a large number of crows with matching noise levels. But again, staying at Mnemba is all about living in harmony with nature and the animals that surround you. Also, don’t be surprised to encounter harmless creatures such as curious tiny geckos and crawling crabs on your shower floor.
- Although food is terrific, I was a little disappointed by the desserts. The only dessert option during lunches and dinners was ice cream, which was a contrast with the otherwise highly inventive and beautifully spiced starters and main dishes.
- The journey by road is long and hot, but the twenty minute boat trip at the end of it is both relaxing and comfortable. You may have to wade in the ocean to catch the boat or from the boat to the island so it is advisable to wear shorts en route.
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 10/10
- Pool: no pool
- Rooms: 10/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: no spa
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall experience: exceptional 9,5/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like &Beyond Mnemba Island, whether it’s booking a room at the cheapest price or receiving complimentary VIP perks (e.g. upgrade, breakfast, resort credit, etc …).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Zanzibar is located just south of the Equator off the coast of Tanzania.
The best time to visit the archipelago is from June to October during the long, dry season, when most days are sunny and substantial rainfall is fairly unusual. Another popular time to visit Zanzibar is during the short dry seasons from January to February when dry weather prevails although humidity is picking up.
The worst time to visit Zanzibar is during the main rainy season, or the ‘long rains’, which last from March to May. Daily heavy tropical downpours (mainly occurring in the afternoon) are the norm and can ruin a beach holiday. During November and December there’s another rainy season, the so-called ‘short rains’, but these are much lighter, less frequent and less reliable than the main rains with short.
HOW TO GET THERE
The lodge collects guests at Zanzibar International Airport or Stone Town. The journey to the island is made up of:
- 90 minutes road trip (the last 20 minutes are on an unpaved, bumpy road)
- 10 – 15 minutes boat ride in an open ski boat
As there are no jetties, departures and landings are directly to and from the beach and involve a little wading. Please note that boat transfers are weather dependent.