andBeyond Mnemba Island: Barefoot Dream Island off Zanzibar’s coast
It takes about one and a half hours from Zanzibar’s airport near Stone Town to the northeast of the main island of Unguja. andBeyond picks us up in the modern and well-air-conditioned SUV, especially on the unpaved last third of the track, we appreciate the comfort of the vehicle.
Shortly afterwards we reach the surprisingly busy beach of Kigomani. Countless fishermen are coming towards us, many vans and minibuses are standing in the blazing sun. “All day trippers who want to take a look at the most beautiful island in the world,” Kito tells us with a grin and points out to the Indian Ocean.
Less than three kilometers from the beach is the most exclusive private island in Africa: Mnemba Island. Surrounded by a surreal sparkling lagoon, the various shades of blue change into the radiant white of the sand and lose themselves in the lush green vegetation. Even from a distance, this postcard backdrop will make your heart beat faster.
- Mnemba Island with Zanzibar’s main island in the background
Since there is no jetty, we board the white speedboat from andBeyond out of the knee-deep water. “Karibu sana” – welcome! The crew has already stowed our luggage and now takes our flip flops. You would not need any shoes on Mnemba anyway. Barefoot luxury is the magic word.
Arrival on the celebrity island Mnemba Island
Only 10 minutes later, the captain already throttles the engine, at the beach there are seven employees and wave to us beaming with joy. The team at andBeyond Mnemba Island Lodge knows exactly how good hospitality works. Our butler Mkombe hands us cold towels and a delicious welcome drink.
Nothing is left to chance and yet everything is pleasantly relaxed, relaxed and harmonious. No wonder that the high-priced island idyll is also very popular with celebrities from all over the world. Angelina Jolie is said to have recently checked out, Paul Mc Cartney, Liam Neeson and Naomi Campbell are among the regulars.
And it is rumored on Zanzibar that Bill Gates even bought the small island after his first visit many years ago. Of course, the mentioned day trippers do not get any of this. They are mostly in search of dolphins who lose themselves around the island. Or their rattling wooden boats heading to the offshore reef, one of the best diving and snorkelling areas in East Africa.
However, going ashore is taboo for them. This privilege comes only for the overnight guests on Mnemba Island, which are spread over the twelve bandas of plaited palm fronds and local woods in the midst of the small tropical jungle. A maximum of 20 people, including a maximum of 2 children, will be taking up the island at the same time to ensure their high exclusivity.
Pure luxury – without air conditioning, without pool, without shoes
There are always at least twice as many staff as guests. Most of the staff we will never get to see during our four nights on Mnemba Island, they work in the background on an unforgettable holiday experience. It is a perfect service symphony, which should deliberately remain invisible in large parts.
The pure facts, the written words about the Mnemba Island Lodge (website) may not do the island justice. So it could be surprising in the super-luxury segment that there are no windows or doors. No air conditioning and no pool. But these very aspects make the island one Barefoot Eco-Chic Lodge with real Castaway character at the highest level.
A hint of “no news, no shoes”, as we may know from Gili Lankanfushi or Soneva Fushi in the Maldives. But even puristically focused on the essentials – the absolute peace of mind, balance and relaxation. And who needs a pool if an unimaginably crystal-clear lagoon like a gigantic bathtub is only 60 steps away from your own bedroom?
In fact, in many moments we have the feeling that we have landed on our very own private island. Only rarely does it happen that during the day we meet another couple walking on the beach or bathing in the sea. The island is well visited, but the good and opaque distribution of banda mentioned bungalows ensures a maximum of privacy.
The open bandas on Mnemba Island
Each of the bandas is exotic and rustic enough to accommodate Robinson Crusoe Feeling completely fair. But it is equally elegant and luxurious to ensure an absolute feel-good atmosphere. Behind the semi-open sleeping area with celestial-cozy double bed is an open wardrobe, a covered intermediate area leads back into the half-open, large bathroom.
We want to be completely honest, we had to deal with one or two doubts prior to arrival. In particular, with the question of whether we can sleep at up to 28 degrees night temperature without air conditioning at all and whether there will not be a lot of flying animals in our bedroom without windows and doors?
But after the first night we can say with relief: Hakuna matata, no problem. The sound of the sea, the gentle breeze from the Indian Ocean and the pleasantly quiet ceiling fan in the four-poster bed make for our own surprise for perfect sleeping conditions. In any case, the high humidity in the evening is usually gone and we are also sitting wonderfully for dinner under the open sky.
Even in terms of insects we can give the all-clear, because during our stay (mid-February) is from annoying pests really little to see and the well-impregnated mosquito net provides at night for extra security. As everywhere in the tropics, we discover a few cute geckos, especially on the outer walls go prey and thus of course make their contribution.
In the front area of each Banda there is a large open veranda, about 30 meters towards the beach is our private relax cabana with many comfortable seating, an outdoor shower and mini bar. And before it goes over the bright white sand directly into the Indian Ocean, stands behind the view protected by our private sun lounger with bamboo sun canopy.
All bandas lie under shady palms and kaleidoscopic Kasuarina trees that make Mnemba Island seem like a dense jungle. An island like from a picture book. Snow-white sand over which small crabs whiz – always on guard against some herons and other seabirds.
Dream beach, exciting underwater world and lots of rest
There is hardly a sharp stone, no sea urchins or other dangers in the sandy bottom. No cosmetics are needed for that, so there is no crew pulling rakes through the sand, as we have come to know on many Maldives islands. Only in the early morning and late afternoon, a daily changing employee with a wicker basket makes his rounds around the island to collect washed-up plastic driftwood.
Perfect conditions for bathing, like you will not find anywhere else on Zanzibar. And within swimming distance is a fabulous coral reef with thousands of colorful fish. If you do not want to go on a maritime exploration tour on your own, you can relax in the Boat House Several times a day join the guided snorkeling trips, also two dives per day are included in the price.
Since the lagoon in front of the island is public, we recommend especially the early morning hours and the afternoon, since the boats with day trippers start around 14 o’clock the return to the main island. By then, the coral reefs will be completely exclusive to and beyond guests. It is also the best time to meet undisturbed dolphins – with a little luck even snorkeling or diving!
Otherwise, the daily routine is completely dedicated to relaxation and enjoyment. Mnemba Island is a true tropical island dream, especially for couples. In romanticism and enjoyable togetherness not to be outdone. Every day the staff comes up with small and big surprises to inspire us.
- Sandbank in front of Mnemba Island at low tide
Culinary highlights in the middle of the Indian Ocean
The days for us begin just as relaxed as the evenings end. We renounce the offered wake-up service, after all, the sunbeams kiss us sometime from the dreams. Mkombe has meanwhile provided a tray with coffee and biscuits for us on the veranda unnoticed – a great start to the morning.
We do not let us take it, directly from the bed first again our feet in the fine sand immerse and with our coffee to the sea to stroll. Hach, what a heavenly place! Just a short walk away is the main area of the Mnemba Island Lodge, Here we find ourselves daily for breakfast and lunch – whenever we want it.
On a blackboard are the menu recommendations of the day written, Seafood is obviously one of the priorities. However, South African cook Stacy discusses possible adjustments personally with each guest and takes great care of individual preferences or intolerances. Do not feel like lobster today? Appetite for a fresh tuna steak? Vegetarian? Everything no problem at all.
The culinary services are exquisite and absolutely tailor made. And Mkombe usually even knows our wishes before we even pronounce them. He is a real gold piece of the lodge, unobtrusive but extremely attentive. He works like many coworkers already for many years on the island, on whose east side the staff in the evening likes to come together for a round of beach football.
Breakfast is an appealing compilation of fresh fruit, numerous jams and Zanzibar honey, yoghurt and cereals, home-made juices and daily changing specials. Of course, any egg dishes and special requests are no challenge at all for the team.
We also have lunch here in the open restaurant, mostly with our feet in the sand. Theoretically, you could order all dishes in your own Banda, but a little sociability has not hurt anyone yet and so remains the main area of the lodge, with an open restaurant and the adjacent chill-out bar, sort of the social meeting place on Mnemba Island.
This applies all the more in the evening, when around 19:30 o’clock all guests for a small Come Together with the entire staff in just that bar for an aperitif. Anyone who prefers the cozy togetherness, finds plenty of opportunities for retreat, but we find it very interesting (and appreciate these moments from various Safarilodges) to learn more about some employees and other guests.
Be it the somewhat extroverted senior couple from Switzerland, the newly arrived honeymooner from California, junior manager David or instructor Steve. It is a beautiful setting to exchange about the sweet idleness on Mnemba Island or any travel experiences from all over the world.
Sunset? Check. Boat trip? Check. Dolphins? check.
Before the sociable coexistence, we let the days end but very romantic on the beach. Every evening at sunset, Mkombe places two chairs perfectly aligned in the sand, places our favorite drinks and delicious snacks on a small wooden table, leaving us completely to the enchanting magic of this island.
One evening, we are instead led to the boathouse, where a traditional dhow awaits us for a private sunset sailing tour with chilled Sauvignon Blanc. And it probably sounds like a cheesy novel that after a few minutes our boat is accompanied by numerous dolphins, before the sun disappears in enchanting colors on the horizon.
Up to this point, we do not yet know what exactly awaits us for dinner. Because every evening the staff tries to provide variety with changing locations. Only one thing is clear: There is no dress code even for dinner. Barefoot in summer dresses or shorts turns out to be only acceptable, but as the most prevalent dress code.
For example, after a walk along fairy lights and torches, we suddenly find ourselves Forest Dinner in the middle of the jungle again or experience on the final evening a dreamlike Beach Dinner with the sound of the sea in the moonlight in the middle of the beach. Everyone gets their own menu, Julia with vegetarian options, for me always without paprika.
Mkombe is always discreetly in the background and yet alert with a big smile to help when our plates are emptied or our glasses could handle a refill. Overall, the service of andBeyond Mnemba Island Lodge is not only spotless, but also totally focused.
- Forest Dinner on Mnemba Island
Thus, unnoticed by us are the signals to the housekeeping, for example, during our meal times to refill the minibar or perform the turndown service for the night. We always see only the finished result, but not the many efforts in the background. The staff floats almost silently and gracefully over the island.
And suddenly the telephone rings at 3 o’clock at night …
Only on the second night, the staff with this credo is not quite so accurate. How fortunate! Because the sympathetic young South African David, who as the vacation replacement of the actual manager couple on Mnemba Island has the shots, fulfills his promise and rings us in the middle of the night from sleep.
It is 3 o’clock in the morning and it takes us a moment to assign the unexpected sound to our phone. “Hi Alex and Julia, we have a turtle in front of banda 9! Feel free to join us! “So, a large sea turtle has hauled ashore for oviposition and we are invited to witness this event. We grab our cameras and hurry out through the darkness to the beach.
Mnemba Island is one of only two protected places in Zanzibar, where the endangered green sea turtles can still come ashore unmolested. Unfortunately, the beautiful animals are still hunted and poached today, cooked in soups or processed for fashion accessories. andBeyond has been raising awareness and protection of animals for many years.
- After almost 3 hours we go back to the ocean
Meanwhile, up to 40 turtles a year come ashore on the small island of Mnemba Island to lay their eggs with more than 100 eggs. Although the hatching of the many mini reptiles is certainly breathtaking, this night of oviposition with all its facets is no less impressive for us. We are close to it – an absolutely unforgettable experience!
Speaking of animal surprises, two rare dwarf antelope species have been planted on Mnemba Island, the Suni antelope (musk hogweed) and the endangered Arders Duiker. Both species have developed very well on the island, beyond hunting and predators, and are also among the many conservation success stories of andBeyond.
Several times a day, the sweet but very shy antelopes appear on the sandy paths in front of our Banda or hurry through the scrub in the interior of the island. In the meantime, the population has grown so stably that the first animals could be returned to their original habitats on the main island of Zanzibar.
Our conclusion to andBeyond Menmba Island Lodge
It’s hard to rely on Mnemba Island at all, as the island is not only one of the most extraordinary luxury resorts in Africa, but in some ways even a lifestyle. Any serious thoughts are delivered with your own shoes before the arrival and from this moment on it means above all: switch off, relax and enjoy.
already well known to us as the operator of various luxury safari lodges, the company operates some of the finest accommodations in breathtaking wildlife such as the Kruger National Park in South Africa, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater on mainland Tanzania. But with the Mnemba Island Lodge, the company proves that it can adapt its great philosophy of unforgettable experiences, high-class service and unobtrusive luxury even on a small dream island.
In fact, some framework data (and also the price) are reminiscent of Hideaways in the Maldives, of which resorts like Soneva Fushi or Gili Lankanfushi with their Slow Life Barefoot Concept initially ridiculed in the industry, but have long been among the best luxury hotels in the world. Because the combination of informal atmosphere, lots of privacy, exquisite cuisine and outstanding staff ensures the perfect deceleration. A refuge from the daily threat of high-tech burnout.
All this also applies to Mnemba Island, whereby we only felt like on our own little private island with only a maximum of 20 other guests. In addition, the most beautiful sandy beach of all Zanzibar lures. Whether as the culmination of a safari on the mainland or even as a completely independent journey (for example in combination with the capital Stone Town), the andBeyond Mnemba Island Lodge is an unparalleled and in every way fantastic choice for travelers on budget. A paradise for couples!
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