10 Days in Zanzibar

August 10, 2014

Part 2: Stone Town to Matemwe (4 days)


Leaving Stone Town en route to the beaches is when you really feel you started your vacation in Zanzibar and in our case, the first stop was Matemwe, a 45-minute drive from Stone Town. By booking directly with our hotel, we were able to get free transportation from Stone Town to Matemwe, saving $50 each. We had a couple of hours to kill before our ride so we headed to the Darajani Market to get some fruit and water for the journey (more on the market to come later).

Matemwe is a tiny village on the west coast of the island with a long, broad and beautifully bright white sandy beach. There are a number of resorts dotting the beachfront but overall, this is a very laid back place where you’ll recharge your batteries. The beach also doubles as a bicycle highway and you’ll see many locals riding up and down the beach. The beach is so wide so this won’t bother you at all (aside from the children who’ll try and sell you the odd souvenir). As beautiful as Matemwe beach may be (and it is), it is very tidal and so it is used by locals to harvest seaweed. Seaweed farms dot the shallow waters and depending on the tide, you’ll see locals as far out as 100 meters from the shoreline tending their farm.

  • Villa Kiva Resort, Matemwe Zanzibar

Where To Stay?

We checked into the Villa Kiva resort for a three-night stay in Matemwe. A successful selection of beach resorts will really impact your stay in Zanzibar so invest some time to find the right one. Villa Kiva was an excellent choice and it turned out it had only opened for business just recently. The resort is quite small with just a few 2 story bungalows. It is maintained to the highest standard by the manager Gabriella and the group of local staff from the village. A tropical garden surrounds a fresh pool in the front of the main house, which also serves as an open dining room with ocean views. There is a small sanded area with beach beds and a gate which leads out to Matemwe beach which is simply spectacular. We stayed in the top floor of the Africa House bungalow, with not much sea view unfortunately but the room was huge, clean, had good air conditioning, contained a small living room in the back and there was good wi-fi in the main house.

  • Villa Kiva Resort, Matemwe Zanzibar

Breakfast is excellent with fresh passion fruit juice and eggs of your choice. For lunch, you can order a-la-carte from the kitchen at reasonable prices ($5-12) and treat yourself to a great cocktail. Afternoon tea and freshly baked cookies are served poolside as well but the real treat is dinner. A delicious 3-course meal is served poolside every night and I mean a gourmet dinner usually with an Italian flavor, probably inspired by Gabriella, the manager. You do get a few water bottles every night in your room (which is cleaned twice a day) but if you don’t fancy paying a few dollars during the day for water, bring a few with you from Stone Town.

And now for the beach … During the day, it is a spectacular contrast of white, turquoise and blue while at night, millions of stars light up the black sky, the most impressive star show I have ever seen. Matemwe beach is a picture postcard beach dotted with tall palm trees, fishing boats here and there and the odd hammock.

  • Matemwe Tropical Beach Zanzibar travel

There isn’t much happening here so just relax. Don’t expect to get a good swim here despite what you might hear. Matemwe beach is very tidal with the reef breaking 500 meters away (don’t bother venturing out there in low tide, there isn’t much to see). Even when the water seems to be OK, the reef is full of small corals and thousands of sea urchins so I wouldn’t really recommend swimming, definitely without sandals.

But on the bright side of things, the beach is so long that you will enjoy a stroll in any direction where you’ll get to see the locals wandering about and also find better swimming spots where the sand extends further into the shoreline.

  • Matemwe Tropical Beach Zanzibar

As for diving, Matemwe is perfectly situated close to Mnemba Island, whose reef is one of the finest diving spots in Zanzibar and whose beach is home to one of the most expensive resorts in Africa. There are plenty of dive sites here along with drift dives if you fancy. One Ocean Dive Centers has a branch in the Matemwe Beach Resort, a few steps north of Villa Kiva and is a reputable dive center. Their dive packages are reasonably priced (2 dives for $110) and snorkelers can join as well. I had to take a refresher course in the pool as I didn’t dive for over a year which set me back $35 but was overall well worth it. The dive boat’s departure time varies according to the tide but the ride gives you an excellent view of Matemwe beach and we even saw a turtle swimming by. As for what you see under the water, well that is spectacular.

Water visibility is excellent and you’ll see a huge variety of soft corals, hard corals and tropical fish. The guides are excellent and a Swahili lite lunch is even served on deck between dives. The water though can have a strong current so our second dive was more like a drift dive, which was a little scary but nonetheless provided a pleasant feeling of weightlessness. An unexpected treat awaited us on the return as we had to be dropped off about 30 km’s north of Matemwe due to the tides and be driven back by bus. We ended up landing on one of the nicest beaches I have ever been to, truly picturesque. We wished we could have stayed here longer.

  • Tropical Beach Zanzibar

Any regrets?

  1. Matemwe beach is a picture postcard beach but not amazing for swimming. There are only a handful of beaches in Zanzibar suitable for swimming and this is not one of them.
  2. On the other hand, it is a real place for relaxation and unpretentious. We wish we had more time to spend here just to relax and to do more diving.


    1. Hi Kate

      It was pretty random and the diving folks didn’t tell us the name. I remember there were a few empty stalls and locals, so I’m guessing there’s a market there on some days. I’m sorry I don’t remember more, as it was one of the prettiest beaches I’ve seen. If you really want to know, as the guys at One Ocean Diving for the name.

  1. Thank you for such great info. Just wondering about the best way to manage money while on the island? Did you carry a mixture of dollars and local currency? Travelling next month 🙂

    1. Hi Rebecca

      I had a few hundred dollars just in case but at the airport, I took out local currency. There’s also an ATM in Stone Town. If you won’t be heading to Stone Town, maybe take more USD with you as the ATM in the airport ‘could’ be out of service or not have enough cash. You can use your credit card in all the major hotels / dive centers, but that’s about it. Have a great time! So jealous!

  2. Hi,

    I am planning for a 7 day trip to zanzibar in march with my girlfriend. I wish to see the island as much as we can and last 3 days for diving ) can you help us with a itinerary and low cost/ decent hotel ideas please.

    please email me on chrish@asdubai.org

    Thank you so much

  3. Avichai, great info and well written. It has been very helpful in planning for our family’s summer trip to Zanzibar. תודה

    1. Shalom Hadas!
      Glad you found this useful and thank you for taking the time to comment. Have an awesome time with the family in paradise!

  4. Thank you for your great blog!
    I’m currently planning a trip for me and my partner is September. We have 5 full days on Zanzibar, 3 of which we will use to go on a PADI diving course, but I can’t make up my mind between Matemwe, Nungwi and Kendwa! I’m currently leaning towards Matemwe, but I’m a bit worried it might be too quiet for us? We have no interest in full moon parties and clubbing, but do like a bit of looking around shops and having a drink in a bar with ambience, so not sure if that is available in Matemwe? I’m worried Nungwi might be too far on the other side of the spectrum :s. Please let me know your ideas!

    1. Karibu Charlotte!

      That is indeed quite a dilemma. Matemwe does not have much of a nightlife scene at the time I visited nor were there village shops you could stroll to. It is a quiet place though there are 1-2 bars along the beach at some of the resorts (walking long distances on the beach at night is not recommended in unlit areas). In Nungwi, what you could do is sleep where I slept (Ras Nungwi). It is away from the busy Nungwi scene and the resorts can arrange taxis at night if you want a bit of action. During the day, you can actually walk to the village and back. Hope this helps. If you do happen to use booking.com to book your accommodations, consider doing so via this specific link and if you have more questions, shoot them my way >> https://goo.gl/VdQM9O

  5. “At the airport, you’ll be hinted by the porters to give them some money in return for your bags” Can you explain better this situation? How much money? Thanks

    1. Hi Sara

      This may or may not be the case but it did happen during my visit. Basically, the airport has no mechanical belt that takes the bag from the check in counter to the plane. There are porters at every counter and they take your bags to a loading area. When you finish the check in, they’ll approach you and ask for a tip. Be sure to have a few 1$ bills handy.

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