When I was planning our recent safari-based trip (see SHOMPOLE, KICHWA TEMBO BATALEUR, SINGITA FARU FARU CAMP) I already knew from experience that going on game drives is really hard work; you actually need to recharge afterwards to make the trip feel like a holiday too.
I decided to book 5 days of chill out time at the end of safari to enjoy another side of Africa. In the Said family’s case, our preference is always proximity to water so my mission was to find two idyllic beach resorts.
I did my research and came up with two standout retreats that could logistically work in five-six days. A private island experience (MNEMBA) would add a sense of space and true isolation, while a jet-set resort near Mombasa would offer by-the-beach chic (see ALFAJIRI).
I originally only chose Alfajiri because the property goes out of its way to welcome children: I knew they could easily cater for my young daughter, Zoe. The romantic isolation of Mnemba Island was marketed more toward honeymooners and couples looking for a complete getaway.
But plans changed when we did something that we don’t recommend, which is change our mind while actually in Africa. It is logistically so complex to reroute a journey that involves the collaborative effort of so many small, on- the-ground operators .I realised after several wonderful but taxing camp experiences that we were “safari’d out” (5-6 DAYS is just about enough safari for most people). I am such a beach lover that I knew we would enjoy not one, but two kinds of experiences by the Indian Ocean! Luckily I was already staying at an AND BEYOND property (see KICHWA TEMBO BATALEUR) and the superbly efficient manager there, Niall Anderson organised the switch from our next planned safari destination (Ngorongoro Crater Lodge) to their island paradise (Mnemba), both properties managed by AND BEYOND.
The island is a 20-minute boat ride off the coast of UNGUJA, the main island in the archipelago of Zanzibar in TANZANIA. It is quite easy to fly into ZANZIBAR, either directly, from NAIROBI in Kenya, or DAR ES SALAAM in Tanzania, or in our case, from ARUSHA, a small hub in Northern Tanzania for light planes from smaller remote places.
We were excited to fly into a mysterious new region we knew so little about. I knew that the spice markets, strong Muslim cultural influence and World Heritage Site - STONE TOWN would be just the kind of layered and fascinating experience we would like (see THINGS TO SEE & DO in this story) - a great place to explore after our down time on the island…
As we flew over the triangular peninsula of Stone Town, the cluster of low-rise cream buildings and ochre rooftops was a great aerial preview to this charming old merchant town’s eighteenth century architecture, right by the edge of the startlingly blue Indian Ocean.
Even in a small place like Zanzibar, security is taken seriously. There was quite a wait, considering we were on our own charter plane.
PLEASE NOTE: I converted my KENYAN SHILLINGS into TANZANIAN SHILLINGS at the airport. There are no cash ATM’s at the airport,… I am told there are two in Stone Town, but not always reliable: this is one place where you need foreign currency to convert. There are a number of change bureau’s in Stone Town to convert currency to local Shillings.
The AND BEYOND rep, ABBAS MUSSA KHAMIS welcomed us with that lovely African warmth and accompanied us on the 1 ½ hour journey to the jetty, in a 4-wheel drive warning us about bumpy roads ahead. The roads were indeed rough, which we took in our stride at first.
We passed through villages and were often held up by the DALA mini buses that, along with motorbikes, people rely on for transport. But all this started to wear thin about halfway into the journey when those rocky dirt roads turned into a spine shuddering obstacle course! After being on safari for 6 days we were so over arduous physical days and started to question why we were even going through this !
Never fear, said Abbas. He told us of a previous couple who had stopped the car and called their travel agent in New York for a strongly worded conversation about… how can you send us somewhere no matter how good, when the journey there verges on the unbearable. He said, a few women have cried, some couples have fought, some people curse, …but just hang in there a little while longer, ITS WORTH IT!!.
Just when I was about to throw in the towel and have one of my famous, “This is just not doing it for me” mini-meltdowns, thank God we saw blue waters ahead, as if in a dream sequence…
Porters were waiting on the beach to carry our luggage to a small boat that transfers one to the island. All of a sudden things were looking up and the adventure and sense of excitement beckoned again!
With no jetty you wade out (depending on the tide). Ideally you should wear shorts or a skirt and flip flops or reef shoes to walk across the coral-embedded sands. It was very gracious and gallant to see Sheira and Zoe being lifted into the boat by the porters to keep their clothes dry.
After a short 15-minute ride across calm turquoise waters we passed amazing handmade DHAU wooden fishing boats whose primitive beauty, silhouetted against the afternoon sun made for a picture postcard scene. We had finally arrived at MNEMBA ISLAND.