Mnemba Island Lodge: Our full report
The term 'barefoot luxury' might have been coined for Mnemba, a formerly uninhabited island just over 2km ...... off the north-east coast of Zanzibar. Ringed by a mile (1.6km) of soft, powder-white coral sand, where turtles come to nest, this 12-hectare (30-acre) private island has at its heart a tropical forest that is home to nothing more dangerous than butterflies and cute suni antelope. Offshore, the island is surrounded by the Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area, whose coral reefs offer some of the best snorkelling and diving in Tanzania.
The island is often referred to as Mnemba Atoll, although this isn't technically correct as an atoll is a ring of old coral reefs enclosing a shallow lagoon – whereas Mnemba is still a true island surrounded by reefs. Green turtles are regular visitors to the island; females come to nest on the pristine beaches, with the hatchlings emerging around 55 days later. In the forest, Mnemba is home to two species of antelope, the spaniel-sized suni antelope and the endangered Aders’ duiker; there are thought to be just 300–400 Aders’ duiker left in the wild, with around 25 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.
Mnemba Island Lodge (formerly Mnemba Island Club) is the height of exclusivity. Eleven very private bandas, constructed from hand-woven coconut palm and local timber, overlook the beach from the forest's edge. These bandas, or chalets, are large, airy and very open-plan: expect to find a few crabs scuttling across the immaculate mkeka-mat floors. Furnished simply, but very tastefully, each banda has a huge bed, wooden furniture, and lots of comfortable cream sofas. In front of the bedroom is an open-sided lounge with soft seating and low tables, complete with a stack of board games such as Scrabble and backgammon. The minibar is stocked with a range of beverages, and include a recipe for a ‘dawa’ (a Zanzibari cocktail of vodka, lime juice and honey).
A palm-covered walkway leads to your stylish timber en-suite bathroom, with twin sinks and a large rain shower whose shower curtain is crafted from Kenyan glass beads. From each banda a sandy path leads down to the stunning beach, where you can find a shaded seating area and a couple of private sunloungers.
In a small clearing set back from the beach, the open-sided lounge and dining area have been beautifully designed, echoing the feel of the bandas. Curvaceous cream sofas line the low walls, a well-stocked bar sits in front of a beaded glass curtain, and soft lighting is enhanced by handcrafted lightshades by Cape Town designer Heath Nash. In the evening the lounge comes alive as guests gather to share cocktails before dinner.
Mnemba's cuisine is predictably excellent, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and the flexibility to cater for individual needs exceedingly well. Candlelit dinners on the beach are the norm and fresh seafood commonly features on the menu. The service is superb, and guests are really made to feel special. Your personal butler is on hand to bring sundowner drinks and snacks to your banda, and Mnemba’s head chef will check in with guests on a regular basis to discuss the day’s menu and see if they have any specific culinary requests.
Tucked behind the lounge is a small curio shop selling a selection of clothing and locally produced jewellery. When we last stayed in July 2017, this included a new collection of Tanzanite pieces, a striking blue gemstone that can be found only in Tanzania, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.
There's a first-class PADI dive centre on the island and up to two dives per day are included in the cost of your stay if you are already qualified. You can of course also learn to dive here. Other activities include snorkelling, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, fly fishing and dhow cruises. The dive instructors are highly knowledgeable about the marine life around Mnemba, as well as the birds and animals found on the island. They can happily chat to you about the turtle-breeding project and show you the nesting sties.
Guests can easily snorkel out to the azure blue waters of the house reef, which lies around 20 metres off shore, but there are also several diving and snorkelling sites that can be accessed by boat. The island's fringing reefs and coral gardens, however, are not private, and dozens of boats from Zanzibar's east-coast hotels bring their guests to these shallow seas for snorkelling and diving; this includes around Mnemba’s house reef. While these visitors are not permitted to land on Mnemba, their presence, sometimes close to the shore of the little island, inevitably detracts from its hideaway exclusivity.
Mnemba Island Lodge is highly involved in several communities on the main Zanzibar island and they run a number of excellent projects. Working with nearby schools, they have to date built eight classrooms and have renovated a further ten. Children from Zanzibar regularly visit the island, too, giving them the chance to learn about conserving the coral reefs and to participate in turtle hatchings.
There's nowhere we know that's quite like Mnemba. There are very few places in East Africa where you can enjoy your own private island, with such stunning beaches and pristine marine life (although access to the reef is not limited to island guests). The service is exceptional, the food exquisite and everything runs like clockwork. It’s not cheap, but with lots of space, first-rate food and service, and one of the best beach locations in Africa, it is very good. If you're looking for a top-end destination for a super beach holiday in an exclusive setting, then it would be hard to beat.
Country manager: Zanzibar
- East Coast Zanzibar, Zanzibar
- Ideal length of stay
- We recommend at least four nights on Mnemba Island, but most visitors stay longer.
- From Zanzibar Airport it’s a drive of approximately 60 minutes to Muyuni Beach, from where you will be met by a speedboat that will take you to Mnemba Island – a transfer of approximately 10 minutes.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- The food at Mnemba Island Lodge is outstanding. The dishes are highly inventive and each is beautifully spiced and seasoned; on our most recent visit, in July 2017, they were some of the best we have tasted anywhere on Zanzibar! The lodge sources many of the ingredients on Zanzibar, and the menu always features locally caught fresh fish and seafood. Each day Mnemba’s chefs produce different menu suggestions; they offer a highly personalised service and the chef will discuss your individual preferences with you and see if you have any specific requests.
Mealtimes and locations are very flexible. Breakfast can be served either in your own private banda, or in the central dining area. We were treated to a platter of tropical fruit, sticky brioche buns, natural yoghurt, kiwi purée, local honey, lemon curd and a selection of seeds and nuts. This was followed by hot waffles with cherry compote and whipped cream! The chefs are very happy to cook an English breakfast with eggs, sausages and bacon if you prefer.
For lunch we enjoyed a starter of arancini stuffed with mozzarella and accompanied by crispy onions. For the main course we had perfectly cooked lemon and herb chicken with a creamy coconut sauce, a local kachumbari salad and freshly baked bread; this was rounded off with delicious homemade Amarula ice cream.
Dinner is normally served on the beach surrounded by storm lanterns, which create a lovely atmosphere. We started with a fresh watermelon and cucumber salad, which was followed by jackfish, cashew nut and coconut curry with fragrant jasmine rice, poppadums, and a mango and chilli salsa. For dessert we had a scrumptious spiced chai panna cotta with a berry purée!
- Dining style
- Individual Tables
- Dining locations
- Indoor and Outdoor Dining
- Further dining info, including room service
- Drinks included
- All tea, coffee, soft drinks, house wines, local spirits and local beers are included. If you wished to order a bottle of champagne or premium wine or spirits, these would be at extra cost.
The tap water is drinkable, and bottled water is supplied in the bandas.
- The ultimate Zanzibar honeymoon beach retreat, Mnemba Island Lodge is on a pristine, private island with superb accommodation and excellent food & service. Enjoy island strolls and snorkelling trips. It's a romantic, exclusive and luxurious paradise.
- See ideas for Honeymoons
- Beach holidays
- Mnemba Island Lodge is the ultimate remote, exclusive beach retreat. It's relaxing and laid-back, with high standards that are delightfully understated. It is costly, but the beaches are stunning and it will a fabulous beach holiday in Tanzania.
- See ideas for Beach holidays
- Diving & snorkelling
- Mnemba Island is surrounded by some of Zanzibar's best coral reefs, making it a great location for diving and snorkelling in Tanzania. Guests at Mnemba Island Lodge have immediate access to this spectacular reef – just a step off the shore.
- See ideas for Diving & snorkelling
- The peace and serenity of Mnemba Island Lodge provide an idyllic setting for a very relaxing beach retreat. Try yoga on the beach, take a dip in the Indian Ocean and unwind with a massage in the privacy of your own beautiful beach villa.
- See ideas for Wellbeing
- Located on a private island, Mnemba Island Lodge is the height of luxury and exclusivity. It’s the quintessential “barefoot luxury” experience complete with first-rate service and food, and excellent snorkelling and diving.
- See ideas for Luxury
- Attitude towards children
- Mnemba Island accepts children over the age of 12.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Special activities & services
- There are no special services for children, although Mnemba offers a highly personalised service and the staff will happily provide child-friendly activities such as nature walks through the forest or trips to see the dolphins. Whilst babysitting is offered please note that this is not by professionally trained babysitters.
- Two of the bandas are interconnecting, making these a good choice for families.
- Generally recommended for children
- Although Mnemba welcomes older children, we feel that the atmosphere at Mnemba is generally more suited to adults, and there are no facilities such as swimming pools or TV rooms to keep them occupied during ‘down time’.
- There's usually a limit on the number of children on the island at any one time. Unless, of course, you book the whole island...
- There is some cellphone phone reception on the island. Broadband WiFi is available in all the bandas and communal areas.
- TV & radio
- There is a TV at the dive centre which is mainly used for diving courses.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Mnemba’s water is provided by a high-end desalination plant.
Mnemba: Conserving 2,000km of African coastline.
Part of the Zanzibar archipelago, Mnemba Island is one of three luxury private islands owned by &Beyond (the other two being off the coast of Mozambique). Oceans Without Borders was born to initiate and support marine conservation projects between all the islands, thus helping to conserve the 2,000km of coastline along which the islands are found. The projects fall into two categories: community development and monitoring and research.
In 2005, the Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area (MIMCA) was established with the Zanzibar Department of Fisheries and local fisherman. It is a protected area with specific areas for tourist activities and fishing, with a daily fee for usage that is in turn used for community projects. A key objective is education, in order to ensure fisherman are using sustainable fishing practices: reducing shallow water net fishing to lessen the impact on the coral and increasing fishing for larger species further out, in lower numbers. The reefs are continually monitored by the Oceans Without Borders team, as well as whale migration routes across the whole Oceans Without Borders region.
A number of species are monitored and protected on the island itself. Mnemba is one of only a few protected nesting sites for the green turtle, listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. The nests, eggs, hatchlings and mothers are monitored by &Beyond staff with data shared across various research organisations and government departments.
Ader’s duiker is the rarest antelope in Africa and the island has undertaken a successful breeding programme, with the population increasing seven-fold since their introduction in 2005. There is also a breeding programme for the endangered suni antelope, which has been so effective that over 300 have been translocated to improve numbers in parks elsewhere.
With similar work being carried out on the other &Beyond Mozambique islands, a significant area of the East African coastline is under continued protection.
See more great sustainability projects in Zanzibar
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- The diving instructors are fully qualified first aiders and are competent to handle minor medical problems. For anything more serious a doctor from the main island is a ten-minute call away, and there are hospitals in Stone Town.
- Dangerous animals
- Low Risk
- Security measures
- The island is guarded by policemen and security guards who are on duty around the clock.
- Fire safety
- There are fire hydrants in each banda and also in the communal areas.
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- Full Laundry Service - Included
- There are no safes in the bandas, but guests may store valuables in the safe in the office.
- Accepted payment on location
- Mnemba Island accepts all major credit and debit cards including Mastercard, Visa and American Express. They also accept cash payments in US dollars, GB pounds, euros or Tanzanian shillings.
Other lodges in East Coast Zanzibar
Alternative places to stay in this same area.