The waters ringing Zanzibar appear as a spectrum of blues, running from pale ice to indigo. Mnemba Island rises out of them, a sandbar of dazzling white that is fringed with palm trees. After a ninety-minute drive from Stone Town to the northeast edge of Zanzibar, past miles of clove and cinnamon plantations, you arrive at a small beach where fishermen set off on their dhows, or sailboats, to prowl the Indian Ocean, as they have for centuries. The sight of their muscled bodies pulling sails and hauling nets is mesmerizing. ?Take off your shoes,? said the boat captain who ferried us to Mnemba, which sits less than three miles off of the mainland. ?You won?t need them here.? We hopped off the boat and waded in the warm Indian Ocean up to the beach and walked in bare feet to our room, one of ten cottages, or banda, made entirely of woven palm leaves.
Named one of the three most romantic islands in the world by Cond? Nast Traveler, Mnemba has developed a cult following among choosy travelers. The private island draws celebrities and the mega-wealthy like Naomi Campbell and Bill Gates and yet there is nothing flashy or fancy about it. In fact, ?Pretension Protected? could be its motto. The ten beach bandas resemble Robinson Crusoe refuges, and rarely will you see guests dressed in more than a bathing suit and t-shirt. A straw beach bag, with straw hats and kikois, African sarongs, come with each room and make up the island?s unofficial uniform. Most guests (men and women) wear these simple striped wraps tied around their waists to dinner. Built almost entirely of island materials, the banda has floors, walls and ceilings woven from leaves. By leaving a gap between the walls and the roof, ocean breezes flow through the bandas for natural cooling. There?s solar generated power only and no locks on any doors, but a lock box in each room. The bathrooms are reached via a covered walkway from the banda and feel only slightly more protected than an outdoor shower. In front of each banda is a thatched shelter with a day bed. The epiphany: how little one needs if you are in a truly beautiful place with caring people. The breezes, the views, the warm water, the fresh fruit, fish and lobsters that arrive daily by boat conspire to remind you that less really can be much more.
At low tide, you can walk all the way around Mnemba, which is not quite three miles in circumference. Most people find they are so relaxed here that a beach walk counts as an activity, though twice daily dives are offered as is kayaking, fishing, windsurfing and massages. (For those who do not already possess a diving license, courses are available.) The island and its surrounding coral reefs have been declared a marine reserve and more than 430 species of fish have been documented in these waters. One day my husband did get up early to fish but he was back by breakfast with multiple wahoo, one that we had grilled for our dinner. (Dinners are served at private tables on the beach by torchlight.) Turtle season runs from April to August so on your way to breakfast you may come across tracks from a turtle nester or even tiny hatchlings. Humpback whales pass through between July and September and dolphins and whale sharks are often sighted. This is where Bill Gates reportedly spent his honeymoon. It may be one of the only places he can truly do nothing. During our stay, we met a woman from Paris who comes twice a year for two weeks to read. ?Once you?ve found paradise,? she said. ?You have to return.?
Who Should Stay
Anyone who loves beaches and their traveling companions and wants to spend most of their time relaxing.
Indagare Info: &Beyond?s funds for community sustainability has provided windmill supplies to area villages, supported marine conservation and built classrooms for two schools. A local orphanage is supported through sales of photographs in the gift shop and community visits can be arranged for guests.
Tip: The lodge closes April and May when the rains can be persistent.
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