Mnemba Island Lodge

Mnemba Island Lodge: Our full report

Rooms
11 bandas
Traveller's rating
Excellent (97%) From 7 reviews
Children
Ok for 12+
Open
21 May to 7 April

The term 'barefoot luxury' might have been coined for Mnemba, a formerly uninhabited island just 2.5km 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.

Our view

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.

Geographics

Location: East Coast Zanzibar, Zanzibar

Ideal length of stay: We recommend at least four nights on Mnemba Island, but most visitors stay longer.

Directions: 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: Fly-and-Transfer

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

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

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.

Further dining info: Yes

Special interests

Honeymoons: The ultimate Zanzibar honeymoon beach retreat, Mnemba Island Lodge is on a tiny, pristine, private island with superb accommodation and excellent food and service. Enjoy strolls around the island, spectacular snorkelling and sunset dhow cruises. It's a romantic, exclusive and luxurious paradise.

See more ideas for Honeymoons in Zanzibar

Beach holidays: Mnemba Island Lodge is the ultimate remote, exclusive beach retreat. It's simple, relaxing and laid-back, with very high standards that are delightfully understated. It is costly, but the beaches are spectacular and it will be one of your best beach holidays in Tanzania.

See more ideas for Beach holidays in Zanzibar

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. While many hotels in northern Zanzibar bring visitors here to snorkel and dive, guests at Mnemba Island Lodge have immediate access to this spectacular reef – just a step off the shore.

See more ideas for Diving & snorkelling in Zanzibar

Luxury: Located on a private island, Mnemba Island Lodge is the height of exclusivity – and in some ways the most luxurious beach retreat in East Africa. It’s the quintessential “barefoot luxury” experience complete with first-rate service and food, and excellent snorkeling and diving.

See more ideas for Luxury in Zanzibar

Children

Attitude towards children: Mnemba Island accepts children over the age of 12.

Property’s age restrictions: 12+

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.

Equipment: Two of the bandas are interconnecting, making these a good choice for families.

Notes: 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...

Infrastructure

Power supply: Generator

Communications: 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: Other

Water supply notes: Mnemba’s water is provided by a high-end desalination plant.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

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.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Included

Money: 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.

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