Community comes first — but not second to style — at Zanzibar's chic, green, and socially aware Zuri Zanzibar.
ZANZIBAR — Zuri Zanzibar, a buzzy new eco-resort with major style vibes, opened its doors this past July. As the first Design Hotel in Zanzibar, much has gone into the tropical-chic aesthetic of the lush, beachfront micro-universe. Part of Zuri Zanzibar's singular style was designed by the impressive British/Czech design firm Jestico + Whiles. Feeding off cues from the unspoiled natural surroundings, the resort's 55 grass-roof villas and bungalows are clustered throughout the property in the manner of a traditional African village, while facilities like a dreamy yoga pavilion, a fragrant spice garden, and a sharp-edged infinity pool are the stuff of Instagram dreams.
Whiling away the hours on the resort's private beach studded with thatched umbrellas and stylish blue-and-white striped towels is the activity of choice for most guests, including this one. Unlike other beachside properties in the area, Zuri's Kendwa Beach is unaffected by the massive tidal fluctuations that render most of Zanzibar's beaches unusable during low tide.
But Zuri Zanzibar's African-cool atmosphere is more than just cosmetic: It's also considered. Both ecologically and socially responsible, there's more to this hotel hotspot than its very pretty façade.
In addition to its heavy-hitting design credentials, Zuri Zanzibar's look was very much shaped by its community collaborations. Chako Zanzibar, a women-led social enterprise that up-cycles decorative items from paper and glass waste, created key interior elements, like Afro-modern light fixtures made from bottles in Peponi Bar and modish, multicolor paper beads that act as curtains in villa bathrooms. The rooms also have outdoor showers, which are always a nice touch, even if they're not yet the best option for bathing (or whatever you'll want to do under the water). Because the property is new, the vegetation needs a little more time to grow before it will provide adequate privacy.
Much of the hotel's furniture is by Dhow Furniture, a company that creates wooden pieces from old Zanzibari sailing boats called dhows. Such local infusions create a cool but relaxed vibe in communal spaces like the al fresco library, which is filled with art books and hanging chairs battered about by the breeze zipping off the Indian Ocean.
The hotel's pure, natural in-room toiletries line is by Seaweed Co. Zanzibar, a socially minded, eco-beauty brand that employs female seaweed farmers. The fresh-scented products, which have notes of green orange, coffee, and cinnamon, are housed in refillable containers — and not single-use plastics. They also make a natural — and surprisingly effective — bug spray, which will come in handy at twilight while sitting among the trees at the poolside Maisha bar. Though it won't help ward off mosquitos, don't miss Zupirnha, a Zuri twist on the caipirinha, made with cachaça, lime, fresh ginger from the resort's spice gardens, and slices of Tanzania's tart and tangy green oranges.
With the goal of being as ecologically responsible as possible, Zuri is implementing a desalination plant that uses reverse osmosis and ozone technology to supply its own water and not use the water resources of the local Kendwa village. Eventually, the property will bottle its own water in reusable glass bottles.
The waste management system will follow suit, turning the hotel's standard sewage into usable water for irrigation. Also, the unique Evening Breeze cooling system — a sleek, space-age canopy that discreetly hides under the beds' mosquito nets — reduces electricity usage. Falling asleep to the discreet hum is strangely hypnotic. The rooms are also outfitted with fans.
With 90 percent of the staff from Tanzania — and 65 percent from Zanzibar — Zuri's long-term initiatives are focused on people.
The hotel has implemented a tourism and hospitality training program directed at young adults from the local villages, as well an environmental education program where students from nearby schools are taught about ecotourism via excursions to the Chumbe Island Coral Park. Zuri also works with HIPZ (Health Improvement Project Zanzibar), a charity aimed at providing medical care to those in rural areas and Blackwell's, a British book supplier, with the goal of establishing a library in Kendwa's Kilindi Primary School.
Throughout the grounds, this community spirit is on display. The staff — from the bands of gardeners to the Maasai Mara security detail — are nothing short of sunny and welcoming. You'll hear "hakuna matata,” the Swahili phrase meaning “no worries” (and made famous in The Lion King) more times than you can count.
Old Soul All Over
Beyond the resort, the small village of Nungwi is about a 45-minute walk away and displays the everyday realistic side of island life. Local children kick around dusty soccer balls; small shops and restaurants with hand-painted signs offer basic amenities and snacks like mitai, soft donut twists covered in sugar.
About an hour's drive away near the airport is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Stone Town. With a deeply tragic history as a slave-trading port, a visit to the Christ Church Cathedral and former slave market site is an important and moving stop. Other must-sees are The House of Wonders, so called because it was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity, and the Palace Museum, which brings to life the lavish lives of the sultans who once ruled the archipelago.
You won't escape a trip to Stone Town without seeing the name and vestige of Freddie Mercury. The singer was born here, and the town is quick to claim the Queen frontman as their own — and to use his name and face to hawk everything from cheap souvenirs and CDs to bars and hostels.
Plan Your Trip
How To Get There
Zuri Zanzibar is about an hour's drive from Abeid Amani Karume International Airport. Though it's possible to drive and car rentals are available from Stone Town, a taxi or private transfer is recommended.
As Zanzibar is 100 percent Muslim, tourists should cover up shoulders and knees when visiting small villages and Stone Town.