Zanzibar, Mindful Luxury in Paradise
A story by Rachel Warrilow

If paradise exists, it resides in Zanzibar - or Unguja, to use the official Swahili name. Located 35 kilometres off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa, the island is framed with long utopian beaches of fine white sand lapped by the turquoise Indian Ocean. Over 700 species of colourful fish navigate the coral reefs - from powder blue tangs and striped lionfish to green turtles and reef sharks.

Lying six degrees south of the equator, the largest island in the eponymous archipelago enjoys tropical heat all year round with two monsoon seasons. Between July and September is the best and driest time to visit: the warm ocean is crystal clear for swimmers, snorkellers and divers who might even catch a glimpse of migrating humpback whales and their calves.
The Palms
In the dense green rainforests, troops of red colobus monkeys leap in the treetops, using branches as trampolines, rarely descending into the thick brush where the Zanzibar leopard once roamed. Clove, nutmeg and cinnamon trees recall a time when Unguja was a key trading port between the Arabian Peninsula, Europe and India, and better known as one of The Spice Islands. Like the spices it produces, Zanzibar is an intoxicating mix of cultures and ethnicities, most evident in the pulsing heart of Stone Town, the historic quarter of Zanzibar City, the capital on the western coast.

Labyrinthine alleyways twist and turn throughout the former trading centre and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Narrow streets lined with grand merchant houses and busy bazaars bathe in the scent of spiced tea and warm chapattis. Motorbikes push through the crowds as the call to prayer echoes throughout the city, summoning worshippers to one of the fifty mosques. Reddish coral stone buildings add warmth to the chaos. The charming mishmash of architectural styles tells a story of Stone Town’s rich and complex history: carved wooden doorways illustrate the Indian influence; Arabic carvings signal that Zanzibar was once the capital of Oman. Persian, European and African traditions merge to create a unique Swahili landscape that has moved beyond historical subordination. Once ruled by the Omani Sultan and colonized by the Portuguese and the British, the islands are now an autonomous part of Tanzania and Zanzibar has its own government.

Tourism arrived during the 1980s, a relative newcomer to Zanzibar, replacing the spice and raffia industries. Today, the island’s raw energy and magic have not been lost. Visitors are still enchanted by the outstanding natural beauty and vibrant culture: Zanzibar is paradise, found. Despite its remote location, the island is only 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time which eliminates the problem of jetlag for many nationalities. And even if the flight is long, the refined luxury resorts offer pure relaxation, escapism and a unique African experience. Travellers seeking to disconnect from the digital world can enjoy the finest service and accommodation in the most staggeringly beautiful spots, immersed in nature and authentic experiences. Select resorts are deeply rooted in eco-consciousness with a strong focus on sustainability, inviting guests to delve into the Zanzibari culture while appreciating luxury more mindfully.
                                             Zawadi Hotel

Bwejuu beach is a 12-mile stretch of dazzling white sand on the south-eastern coast. Local fishermen glide into the Indian Ocean on traditional wooden ngalawa, leaving the palm-fringed shores behind them. Women in brightly coloured khanga collect seaweed, one of the island’s key exports. Low tide uncovers the lagoon floor where starfish sit in small pools of warm water. Waves break over coral reefs as the tide rises again. The rhythm of life is slow in Zanzibar, running on extra-slow Swahili time. The Zanzibar Collection pioneered luxury travel here almost twenty-five years ago to share these dreamy surroundings with the world. A group of four award-winning hotels offering sumptuous luxury, The Zanzibar Collection provides personalized experiences for its guests while protecting the local environment and community: 60% of their staff are from local villages on the island. Their ethos is to “leave an impression… make a difference”, and this is at the heart of these family-run slices of paradise.

Zawadi Hotel and its oceanfront villas sit on a clifftop framed by lush greenery, tall palms and sweet frangipani, overlooking the white sand, turquoise waters and beyond. Guests receive first-class, discreet hospitality at this peaceful, luxurious retreat where it is truly possible to disconnect. Three kilometres away from the other resorts in the Zanzibar Collection, Zawadi Hotel embodies a profound sense of tranquillity. Sujit Shah, Director of Sales and Marketing, explains that this is the beauty of Zawadi Hotel, which opened in 2016: “You can sit on your huge terrace and look out at the Indian Ocean and see five shades of blue in ten minutes; to do nothing is a gift.” Recognizing the importance of the ocean as a resource, the Zanzibar Collection employs a marine biologist who delivers an educational program to staff. Guests can join the reef walks to learn about the delicate balance of the tidal lagoon ecosystem, and snorkelling safaris offer the opportunity to witness the diverse marine life first-hand. In line with eco-responsibility, Zawadi’s carefully designed gardens save 50% of the water for irrigation; and a section is devoted to a wide range of organic fruit and vegetables, which are served seasonally with locally-sourced seafood and spices.

A forty-minute walk south along the beach, the 5-star Baraza fuses opulent Arabic, Swahili and Indian design with wholehearted Zanzibari hospitality, welcoming everyone, including families with children. Sitting pretty on Bwejuu beach, often included in the World’s Best Beaches list, Baraza Resort has a stunning setting with safe, shallow waters. Luxury oceanfront villas with plunge pools, private dining areas and terraces feature carved archways, handcrafted furniture, and regal interiors evoking the era of the Sultans. “In 2003, this majestic palace was designed to reference the island's Arabian influence”, says Shah. Many objects are handcrafted by local artisans using traditional techniques passed down through the generations, supporting local craftsmen and women in generating income for the local community. 
                           Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa
                                            Zantour Finest
Tulia Zanzibar Resort
The third resort in The Zanzibar Collection is The Palms, seven African-style villas in verdant surroundings. The perfect place for relaxing by the private pool or luxuriating in the spa, the dedicated staff provides meticulous service, “It's your own beautiful private home, but the minute you are thirsty, your favourite drink is served”, says Shah. Guests can embrace cultural activities that promote the local culture, which is integral to the island's identity. For example, the art of palm weaving, Swahili cooking classes, or Swahili lessons under the palm trees while sipping traditional tea— “a way to take something home with you”, explains Shah. Discreet visits to the nearby village allow guests to meet the locals and learn about their daily lives.

Further southeast, Paje is an endless stretch of bright white sand leading into the warm waters of the turquoise lagoon. Nestled in over four hectares of exotic gardens, Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas and Spa is an eco-responsible luxury resort that blends with the natural environment as a mark of respect. Natalia Niznik and her father discovered the unique spot on a family holiday when Paje cast a spell on Niznik because it was “very quiet, very natural, with no big hotels; just one kilometre from the nearest village”. An avid kitesurfer, her father recognized the location as “one of the best kitesurfing spots in the world”, according to Niznik. Eight years ago, Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas and Spa was born: a 5-star business owned by Natalia, who is Sales Director, and her father, and run by luxury hoteliers Relais & Châteaux. “What is luxury nowadays?” she asks. “Serenity, privacy and space.” As a result, each of the 11 villas, crafted with natural materials using traditional techniques, have 1500 square meters of exotic gardens, including a “private pool, shielded from neighbours and a private entrance to the pristine beach.” Niznik and her family are very focused on “mindful luxury”, making huge efforts to honour the “slow life” of Zanzibar, and to “show a mark of respect to the culture” where “we are guests”.

“My favourite experience is to kayak or paddleboard alone on the quiet ocean first thing in the morning to watch the sunrise”, says Niznik. Transparent kayaks and paddleboards enhance this blissful experience—luxury kitesurfing is on offer for the more adventurous. In addition to offering the highest quality accommodation and service in one of the most breath-taking places on earth, Zanzibar White Sands aims to give guests an authentic experience of the island, alongside 5-star relaxation. An in-house tailor can create any garment using the traditional kitenge fabric in just 24 hours so that guests can take a piece of Zanzibar home with them. Local artists, painters, singers, dancers and singers come to the hotel to share their art forms with guests. Niznik’s favourite project is with local women who produce the resort’s beauty products, like soap, shampoo, and conditioner, using seaweed harvested on the beach nearby. Mwani in Swahili, seaweed is one of the island’s key exports, although crops are dwindling due to climate change. Local women wade the water, tending to their seaweed farms—seedlings strung between sticks held by ropes in the shallow waters. Once harvested, dried seaweed is ground into a powder and mixed with other natural ingredients, like lime and coconut. Niznik describes how White Sands guests can visit the site, meet the women and learn about their work and their connection to the ocean, “creating a relationship to the products they are using, what they are using and the people who have made it.”

An hour's drive west through the Jozani Forest and northeast, the Tulia Zanzibar Resort is an oasis on a private stretch of Pongwe, an alabaster arc. Renowned for five-star hospitality in a romantic and relaxing setting, Tulia hosts honeymooners, couples and families. General Manager Lukáš Šinogl reveals that “We really focus on the romantic and relaxing experience of our clients. We won the award for The Best Luxury Romantic Beach Resort in the World for two consecutive years (2020 and 2021).” Luxury seafront villas with traditional woven roofs offer privacy and sumptuous luxury, with lush gardens festooned with tropical flowers and plants. Guests can recline on day beds or enjoy the first of unlimited yoga lessons on their private terrace before cooling down in the infinity swimming pool or jacuzzi. After a complimentary massage at the spa, cocktails and champagne are served beneath a jewel-toned sky, before films are screened at the outdoor cinema or there is an observatory to study the stars.

On top of outstanding beauty, Tulia offers sustainable solutions, such as a farm where fresh fruit, vegetables, spices and herbs are grown by local farmers who harvest their crops in soil produced from the resort’s waste. Šinogl explains how, “At Tulia, we are doing many things beyond the "causal" hotel business. We have our own farm with our own vegetables, chicken and ducks. We built it based on agriculture permaculture principles” which makes farming more responsible by restoring the soil and conserving water. Guests can enjoy the delicious dishes prepared by the chef who uses this fresh produce from seed to plate, accompanied by fish from local fishermen. Tulia also makes efforts to support the local community: “We organize bike tours to the neighbouring village and all the money goes to the education of the unemployed villagers. This teaches them about agriculture and permaculture and graduates have a 90% employment success rate”, says Šinogl.

For in-depth knowledge and insider tips, ZanTours Finest is the leading destination management company on the island with over 20 years worth of experience curating bespoke itineraries with the most unique experiences. Offering tailor-made safari holidays in Tanzania—around 30 minutes away by plane— or any bespoke African adventure for even the most discerning, ZanTours Finest understands how to craft a once-in-a-lifetime trip with exclusive accommodation, gastronomic extravaganzas, and personalized service for every kind of traveller. From a private guided tour of the bustling capital of Stone Town to a sunset cruise on a traditional dhow, ZanTours will ensure a stream of memorable adventures.

Pristine beaches, unlimited sunshine, bountiful nature—this elusive island paradise has it all. For mindful luxury and pure relaxation, Zanzibar is like nowhere on earth.
Rachel Warrilow
Rachel is a writer with a professional background in literature, travel and fashion. After growing up in the Middle East, Rachel has travelled extensively - living in Japan, Australia and the UK - seeking experiences that continue to shape her writing. Rachel currently lives in Mallorca, Spain.