Fanjove Private Island Lodge is located on the remote Fanjove Island 20 miles off Tanzania.
Fanjove Private Island Lodge: Our full report
Brand new for 2013, Fanjove Private Island Lodge is part of the Songo Songo Archipelago, 140km south of Dar es Salaam, in the Indian Ocean. Less than a kilometre long and with only six bandas, this is one of only two private-island experiences in Tanzania (the other being the very expensive Mnemba Island). The island was previously uninhabited, save for some local fishermen who used it as an occasional fishing base. This is the first time tourists have had the opportunity to stay and explore its beautiful beaches and wildlife.
The people who set up Fanjove Lodge, are the same team behind the excellent, but very simple Lake Manze in the Selous, and Mdonya in Ruaha, and the ethos and ideals which encompass these two camps are easy to see on Fanjove too. The whole lodge is designed to be in keeping with its surroundings, and as far as possible, things have been left wild.
The six bandas at Fanjove Private Island Lodge sit spaced out on the south-east coast of the island. Each has their own separate sandy path leading away from the main area and the clever angling means that even with the doors wide open, all you see is the vegetation, sand and sea beyond – you could very easily forget there was anyone else on the island! Each very spacious two-storey banda is designed to look like a dhow (a traditional African boat) sail, with the peak of the roof facing seaward, receding into the vegetation behind. All have wooden beams and floors and a vast makuti thatched roof, with windows positioned periodically so you can you open or close them depending on the heat and breeze. The front ‘door’ of each banda is split into three sections which each open and close independently of each other; two doors on either side can be fully opened and secured to the side of the banda, while the central flap is raised and lowered much like a sail would be, with a rope-pulley system that you can secure. We loved the flexibility you have to choose how open to the breeze you’d like to be – sleeping with the doors completely open so you can listed to the sound of the sea just 20 metres in front was a remarkable experience.
Standing centrally in each banda is a big four-poster bed swathed in a mosquito net. Next to the bed, are two solar-powered reading lights crafted from driftwood. Behind the bed, are some shelves and hangers to store your clothes, and there is also a large trunk where you can lock away any valuables. On a small writing desk, they’ve left some mosquito repellant for guests to use, as well as a small torch and some bottled water. The large en-suite bathroom is at the back of each banda. There is a single sink with cold water and a mirror, and a big rain shower with hot-and-cold running water. The toilet is tucked around the corner out of sight.
At the very front of each banda, in the peak of the frame and up some steep wooden steps, is a mezzanine level with a simple mattress – perfect to get a better view of the sea. Again, the front here can be opened or closed by the rope-and-pulley system.
The airy, spacious and simple main areas are similar in style to the bandas. A small dining area under the makuti thatch is used on windier days, but dining usually takes place on the beach. A small lounge area houses some wicker sofas on the sandy floor – the perfect place to read a book, or just gaze out to the sea.
For many people, simply sunbathing and swimming in the crystal-clear waters will be more than enough to fill their time. However, there’s of activities for those who want to be a little more active. Guests are free to explore the island as much as they want; it takes around an hour and a half to circle the island. When the tide is in, you’ll have to walk inland, but when the tide is low, you can walk along the beach. There are certain areas, which are clearly marked with signs, that are of significant spiritual importance to the local residents and guests are only permitted here when accompanied by a member of staff.
For keen kitesurfers the winds that blow between June and August provide the perfect conditions. They only have one a small beginners’ kite and can’t really offer any tuition, but guests are welcome to bring their own equipment.
Kayaks are available at no extra cost and are a great way to circumnavigate the island, especially from November onwards when the water is generally flat and calm.
Fanjove can offer very simple fishing trips just offshore. For guests who’d like to do some serious fishing, the lodge can arrange for a Kilwa local to come and take people out. However, this comes at quite a hefty charge of around US$900.
At low tide many sandbanks are exposed and the lodge can arrange for a dhow trip to take guests out and set up a picnic lunch on one of the temporary islands for about US$50pp. – We’d suggest combining this with snorkelling on some of the further out reefs to make the most of the journey.
Finally, the untouched waters surrounding Fanjove contain a plethora of life. The lodge is still in the process of discovering the best diving spots, but sightings of sweetlips, black triggerfish, parrotfish, pufferfish, scorpionfish and barracuda are common.
Snorkelling and diving are both possible here. Off-shore snorkeling is free for guests, and a small charge (rates vary depending on how long and how far you want to go) if you want to take the boat out to sites slightly further away.
On our last visit in June 2013, a single dive cost US$50 and a double tank cost US$70. Diving is really only possible from November to March, when the trade winds change and bring calm waters and low winds. Outside these months, the choppy waters mean diving isn’t really feasible.
Our viewWe were incredibly taken by Fanjove’s beautiful white beaches, abundance of wildlife and privacy, which is increasingly harder to find on mainland Zanzibar. The lodge is simple, but well done – anything more luxurious would feel completely out of place on the island. Don’t come expecting manicured lawns and swimming pools, instead enjoy exploring the rockpools and cliffs exposed at low tide, and watching the birds and crabs rest on the beach when the tide is high. This is a really exciting addition to Tanzania’s coastline which allows guests to have a relaxing private-island experience, without the hefty price-tag that usually accompanies such an experience.
Ideal length of stay: Stay here for 4–7 days so you can properly relax.
Directions: Reaching Fanjove Island is an adventure! Songo Songo Archipelago is a 20-minute flight from Mafia (about 40 minute’s flight from Dar es Salaam). You then hop onto a little scooter with a cart for a quick ten-minute drive to the shore where you board a boat to Fanjove. The crossing can vary depending on the wind and the tides. From June to October, the wind is higher and the seas can be a little rough and choppy. They were just in the process of buying a speedboat on our last visit (June 2013) and so this should make the crossing much simpler and cut the journey time to around 30 minutes. You may be required to wade out to the boat a little if the tide is out.
Owner: Essential Destinations
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Breakfast at Fanjove consisted of a fruit salad, followed by toast, pancakes and eggs cooked to your liking. There was also fresh coffee, tea and a delicious passion fruit juice.
Lunch and dinner are, predictably, seafood based. Lunch is a little lighter and on our last visit we enjoyed a fish salad to start, followed by fish, squid and vegetable skewers served with chips and salad, followed by fruit for dessert for those who wanted it. On another day, we enjoyed bruschetta to start, followed by a main meal of squid pasta.
Dinner started with a coconut, fish and squid soup served creatively in a coconut shell,followed by fish curry with rice.
On the whole we thought the food here was excellent. There was certainly plenty of it, and the seafood, combined with the slight Italian slant given by the managers, meant there was always a good combination of familiar food combined with some more inventive recipes!
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks cost extra. A soda costs about US$1.50, while a gin and tonic will cost around US$3.
Honeymoons: With only six bandas on the whole island, Fanjove Lodge offers a private-island experience without the hefty price tag – ideal for honeymooners on a budget.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Tanzania
Beach holidays: Fanjove’s untouched beaches and exposed sand banks at low tide make it a beautiful spot to relax.See more ideas for Beach holidays in Tanzania
Birdwatching: From November onwards, Fanjove receives hundreds of migratory birds to the island, which will be a fascinating site for any keen birder.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Tanzania
Attitude towards children: Fanjove welcomes children.
Property’s age restrictions: There are no specific age restrictions.
Special activities & services: There is plenty of room to put extra beds in the rooms, but there are no specific child-orientated activities.
Generally recommended for children: There isn’t a great deal to do on the island, so it tends to lend itself slightly more to adults.
Notes: There are steep steps in the bandas to reach the mezzanine level so care would need to be taken with younger children. There are also strong currents in the windy season (July–October) making swimming potentially dangerous and children would need supervision at all times.
Power supply: Solar Power
Power supply notes: Battery charging can be done in the main area.
Communications: There is good cellphone reception on the island, but no WiFi or internet for guests to use.
TV & radio: No
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The lodge has a basic first-aid kid and oxygen tank. For emergencies, the lodge is linked with Coastal Aviation, who would fly to Songo Songo to collect guests and transfer them to Dar es Salaam.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: On our last visit (June 2013) they were in the process of building a police post on the island where two policemen will be stationed. Currently, they have askaris (guards) patrolling at night.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the bandas, dining and kitchen areas.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Laundry is available at an extra cost. It is handwashed and line dried.
Money: There is a trunk in each room that can be locked, you just need to ask for a padlock.
Accepted payment on location: Fanjove Lodge currently only accepts cash; they prefer US dollars or Tanzanian shillings.