Matemwe Retreat

Matemwe Retreat: Our full report

4 private villas
Traveller's rating
Good (89%) From 9 reviews
Not suitable for children.
1st June to 31st March

Matemwe Retreat is one of the most exclusive lodges on Zanzibar, arguably the ultimate in private luxury. Located on the east coast, across from Mnemba Island, it has just four spectacular villas. Each villa has its own rooftop plunge pool and access to a beach that is exclusive to guests at Matemwe Retreat.

Constructed of stone, using local materials wherever possible, the villas at Matemwe Retreat are tastefully designed, combining clean, modern, minimalist elements with characteristics of more traditional Zanzibari style. Natural colours help to make them feel warm and relaxed, and the use of beautiful fabrics and reclaimed dhow wood adds plenty of character.

There are four villas, ranged south to northand about 50 metres apart, along the low cliffs past Matemwe Lodge: Nuru, Zamzam, Safina and finally Leila.

As you walk in through the ornate Zanzibari door, you step onto a spacious, open-sided deck area. Here there is a comfortable lounge with a private cocktail/breakfast bar and your dining table. There's a Zanzibari-style day bed further along.

In the bedroom, a kingsize bed with crisp, high-quality sheets and full-room-height mosquito net takes centre stage. Louvred doors keep the room cool, aided by air conditioning and a fan. The louvred doors with adjustable slats lead give you have the choice of allowing the sea breeze to pass through, or sleeping in air-conditioned seclusion.

The bathroom, like the bedroom, is painted in warm natural colours, with twin washbasins set in a maritime-motif plinth, a shower, and a sunken bath that overlooks the Indian Ocean through more louvred doors.

At the back of the bedroom, a spiral staircase leads up to the roof terrace and another shaded lounge area with day bedd, sunloungers and a delightfully cool plunge pool. The views across the lagoon to Mnemba Island are stunning.

Although the villas are wonderful, it is the service at Matemwe Retreat that makes it such a special place to stay. Guests have a personal butler who brings breakfast to the veranda every morning, takes your requests for lunch and dinner (there are always a couple of choices for each course, but you can make other requests, too), and stops to find out what you'd like to organise for the day – whether it be diving, a walk, or a bottle of Champagne on the deck. The butler can be called from the room phone by dialling 9.

Lunch and dinner are usually served on your private deck. For a more sociable atmosphere, it's just a five-minute walk down throught the grounds to Matemwe Lodge, where you can also relax by the bar or pool and socialise with other guests.

Crystal-clear water makes for great swimming from the private beach at mid tide. When the tide goes out, it is generally too shallow for swimming, but the exposed inter-tidal zone can be a fascinating place to walk. In fact, a free reef walk is included for all guests, guided by Asilia staff from the Matemwe Lodge watersports centre.

Other activities, including diving and kayaking, can be organised by your butler in conjunction with Matemwe Lodge. Guests staying at Matemwe Retreat have access to the full range of facilities at Matemwe Lodge; these include the pools, bar and restaurant and also the Sea and Spice Spa. You can also arrange guided visits to the local village, hire bicycles to explore the coastline, or go on a number of different island excursions.

Our view

We love the villas and service at Matemwe Retreat, and it's absolutely perfect if you want total privacy and solitude. However, more gregarious visitors should know that there are absolutely no public areas here at all. If you want to mix and be sociable, it's a five-minute walk through the shady gardens to the main Matemwe Lodge where you'll find the restaurant, pools, bar and other facilities.


Location: East Coast Zanzibar, Zanzibar

Ideal length of stay: At least 3 nights

Directions: It takes around 35 minutes to fly to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam, and then it’s a further hour by car to Matemwe Retreat. Please note that, depending on your driver's final approach to the retreat, the last few minutes may be through Matemwe village on a narrow, bumpy track. It can make for a poor first impression, alleviated quickly after your arrival.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Asilia

Staff: Ross and Gina Owen are the managers.

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Matemwe Retreat are usually served on your private deck, though you can choose to eat instead on your roof terrace. Dining is very private and you will decide daily with your butler on the dishes for lunch and dinner, and when you'd like to eat.

The food here is very good, with naturally includes lots of fresh seafood. Because you can order more or less what you like (meat, fish, shellfish, pasta, vegetarian options, fresh veg and salads) you always feel you're eating what you really want to eat. Breakfast always includes plenty of fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juices and whatever cooked options you'd like. Lunch and dinner are three courses, but you can opt out as the mood takes you. When we stayed here, we really enjoyed the fresh produce, great shellfish and zingy flavours that our cook came up with.

For dinner one evening we started with a beautifully spiced carrot and cumin soup with a selection of freshly baked breads. This was followed by line caught white snapper with lemon, rice and seasonal vegetables. We rounded up our meal with a decadent chocolate fondant with home made ice-cream!

Dining style: Individual Tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Drinks are included, except Champagne and premium imported wines and spirits.

Further dining info: Yes - most of the meals are brought to your room for private dining.

Special interests

Honeymoons: Matemwe Retreat is perfect if you want the intimacy, seclusion and luxury. The service here is highly personalised and you will feel truly spoilt. It’s a great destination for an unforgettable and very romantic Zanzibar honeymoon.

See more ideas for Honeymoons in Zanzibar

Beach holidays: Many guests at Matemwe Retreat will stay in their villa, but a short walk away, the Retreat’s private beach usually has crystal clear water and, at high tide, it’s great for swimming. Relax on the beach or snorkel with the PADI dive centre.

See more ideas for Beach holidays in Zanzibar

Luxury: Matemwe Retreat offers a private and exclusive beach experience. Each luxury villa comes with its own personal butler who is on hand to serve your favorite drinks and meals to the private veranda and will help to plan every aspect of your stay.

See more ideas for Luxury in Zanzibar


Attitude towards children: No children under 12 are allowed at Matemwe Retreat.

Property’s age restrictions: 12+

Special activities & services: Matemwe Retreat does not offer any special services for children.

Equipment: None

Notes: Families with children under 12 can stay at Matemwe Beach House.


Power supply: Mains Electricity

Communications: There is cellphone reception and free Wi-fi.

TV & radio: There are no TVs at Matemwe Retreat, but Matemwe Lodge can always make a plan when a big game or other event is on.

Water supply: Borehole

Water supply notes: Unlimited jugs of drinking water are provided, from bottled water brought to the lodge in bulk. The local water supply for the taps, pumped from a subterranean cave, is actually very good and cleansed by an $80,000 water plant.


Unified efforts for turtle conservation

Unified efforts for turtle conservation Considered one of the most exclusive lodges on Zanzibar Island, Matemwe Retreat combines the efforts of staff, locals and guests to bring positive changes into the fragile environment. The turtle conservation programme is perhaps the leading light of Matemwe’s sustainability efforts.

Under this initiative, Matemwe Retreat relocates nests found on at-risk sites on their own beach, where they are monitored until the turtles are ready to enter the sea. Those hatchlings that are too small, weak or malformed are taken to the Mnarani Marine Conservation Centre who keeps a watchful eye over the baby turtles until they are ready for release. So far, the centre has rescued over 200 turtles and 1000 hatchlings from fisherman’s nests.

Additionally, to involve the local community, the lodge offers rewards for fishermen who bring turtles that are injured by boats or caught in nets. Local villagers are too rewarded for the safe hatching of a healthy nest. As for tourists, each guest of Matemwe Retreat contributes a $5 conservation charge per night to the development of the programme and can also witness the conservation centre’s yearly turtle release. Furthermore, the lodge actively encourages guests to visit center, as the 100% of the entrance fee goes back to the conservation efforts.

In February 2018, the staff at Matemwe Retreat and some of their guests attended to witness the release of over 60 turtles.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: There is a first-aid box for minor illnesses and injuries at the neighbouring Matemwe Lodge, and staff are trained in first aid. For more serious medical problems, Matemwe has contact with a doctor who lives an hour's drive away.

Dangerous animals: Low Risk

Security measures: There are discreet security guards on site 24 hours a day.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers outside the rooms.


Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: Included

Money: Matemwe will change US dollars.

Accepted payment on location: You can pay for any extra charges at Matemwe in US$, GB pounds, Euros or Tanzanian Shillings cash, or by credit card. You can use Visa, Mastercard and Amex for no surcharge – though the use of a card for a cash advance carries an 4% surcharge. There are no ATM’s up on this part of the coast.

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