I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in Zanzibar, the famous spice island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania. I will publish my trip reports over the coming weeks:
- Review: Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class from Vienna to Dar Es Salaam
- Review: Park Hyatt Zanzibar
- Review: Essque Zalu Zanzibar (today)
- Review: &Beyond Mnemba Island
- Review: Hideaway at Nungwi Resort & Spa
- Review: Condor B767 Business Class from Frankfurt to Zanzibar (via Mombasa)
- Review: KLM B777 Business Class from Dar Es Salaam to Amsterdam
Today (February 7, 2018): Review of Essque Zalu Zanzibar (Tanzania).
- Location: Google maps
- Hotel website: Essque Zalu Zanzibar
- Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Classic Travel
Essque Zalu Zanzibar is an intimate ocean-front property nestled in a natural cove on the north-east coast of Zanzibar. Guests can choose from 40 individual suites and – if you need extra space to spread out – 8 villas all with picturesque views over the lush tropical garden or the ocean’s turquoise blue waters. All suites offer a luxurious-styled space crafted from local materials, adorned with native artwork and housed under a traditional pitched makuti roof. Offering an added dose of opulence, the villas come complete with kitchens, private swimming pools and their own personal butler. Though Essque Zalu Zanzibar sits on the ocean’s edge, there’s no beach here. Instead, a long jetty extends over the water, where guests can descend and swim at high tide. Beach lovers can take solace in the nearby Nungwi Beach, consistently voted one of the top beaches in the world.
Essque Zalu Zanzibar features in my top 10 lists of the best luxury hotels in Zanzibar.
In this review (more info below my slideshow & Youtube clip):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
*** Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Tanzania with my online Tanzania travel guide ***
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Essque Zalu Zanzibar enjoys a remote, ocean-front location on the northeastern tip of Zanzibar, approximately a one hour drive from the island’s Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ), in the picturesque village of Nungwi. The resort sits above a natural rocky cove overlooking a ridiculously clear, turquoise lagoon, at least during high tide (since most of the lagoon and its stunning colors disappear during low tide, exposing several tidal pools). Although the resort is flanked by the village and a neighboring resort, you won’t notice any of that and the settings feels delightfully secluded.
- The resort makes a stunning architectural impression upon arrival. Behind the entrance gate – which features red figures inspired by paintings of French artists Matisse – you’ll find the fabulous lobby, which is topped by the highest traditional Makuti-style roof in the archipelago. The shell-structure of the roof, which is composed of lofty thatch and an artsy network of tree trunks on the inside, is reminiscent of Sydney’s Opera House, which clearly inspired the design. The communal areas (e.g. lobby, restaurants, etc …) feature a modern, stylish, and African-chic design, with undulating walls, locally inspired artwork, and wood carvings for which Zanzibar is famous.
- The resort features a simple and convenient layout. The lobby space beneath the enormous roof houses a small reception and concierge area in the front, with a large open-plan space in the back, which house the main restaurant (The Market Kitchen), a boutique shop, and a bar. The lobby gives way to a small square with a magnificent boabab tree at its center and the massive pool area, with the suite accommodations spread across one side of the pool while the villas, the spa facility and a small gym are located one the other side of the pool. A long jetty over the turquoise lagoon connects the pool area with a second restaurant, a bar, and a few lounge areas.
- One of the hotel’s greatest features is the two-level, infinity-edge pool which gives the visual impression to float in the blue Indian Ocean. The upper level of the pool is mainly used by small children, while the larger lower level (with small waterfall) is popular with teenagers and adults. The pool features a central whirlpool tub and multi-colored underwater lighting makes it especially attractive at night. The pool is surrounded by plenty of comfortable loungers, some of them located in shaded huts, some of them located on platforms jutting out in the pool. The pool, which is filled with salt water, overlooks the sea on one side and the soaring lobby roof on the other side, the latter lending the pool area a village-like ambience.
- Guests can choose from 40 individual suites, all with picturesque views over the lush tropical garden or the ocean turquoise blue. All accommodations are set in flourishing gardens, with the most expensive rooms enjoying an ocean front location. During my visit, I stayed in a one bedroom ocean suite, which was housed in a standalone bungalow with thatched roof. The suite had a lovely furnished outdoor patio with views of the ocean, although it wasn’t very private (because of a walkway next to the terrace). On the inside, the air-conditioned suite featured a fairly large living area (with a sofa that could be turned into a bed for a 3rd guest), a separate bedroom with a handcrafted four-poster bed in Zanzibari style, a large dressing room, and an airy bathroom with two sinks, a shower and a toilet. The room decor was simple but tasteful. Standard amenities included free WiFi, a personalized minibar, and a flat-screen TV with premium satellite channels.
- If you want to splash during your stay or if you are traveling with a large party, Essque Zalu also offers 8 villas (so-called ‘Residences’) with 3 to 4 bedrooms, which are by far the most generously proportioned accommodations in Zanzibar. All villas feature their very own private plunge pool, dining room, a private spa, spacious living room and fully equipped kitchen. As expected, the Residences also boast either a terrace or balcony, with exquisite views, upon which to laze. A dedicated butler is also available for those staying in a villa, to satisfy your every whim, from assisting with your unpacking, preparing your favorite beverage to planning your desired experiences.
- The hotel’s rocky shore has no permanent beach but instead overlooks a tidal beach, which completely submerges during high tide. However, direct access to the sea remains possible during high tide via the long wooden jetty which stretches out over the lagoon. The jetty is a real bonus to the resort: not only does it offer access to the sea and several facilities (a restaurant and bar), it also offers stunning views of the Zanzibari coastline and – despite the resort’s orientation towards the east – guarantees terrific sunset views.
- There are two different dining options at Essque Zalu: The Market Kitchen is a deli-style restaurant housed under the enormous Makuti-thatched lobby roof and serves a cosmopolitan fair (e.g. crisp salads, cured meat, delicious pastas). It is a bright space with a quote from Virginia Woolf on the wall: ‘one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well‘. The Market Kitchen is also open for breakfast, which is served as a buffet of cold and hot items in addition to a small à la carte selection. The hotel’s second restaurant is set at the end of the jetty on a breezy platform above the sea, and serves light lunches as well as more formal three course dinners with a menu focused on fresh fish and seafood.
- Essque Zalu Zanzibar also offer three bars, each with a distinct character. Besides the pool is a lovely bar which serves a wide range of cool coctails, refreshing fruit shakes, and light snacks. Close to the lobby, you find the casual Baobab Bar, which is built around a magnificent baobab tree, which offers enough cooling shade perfect for a drink during the day. Across the jetty restaurant is a small shisha lounge where you can casually kick back with a drink and watch dhows sail by as the sun sets.
- The resort’s well-equipped spa represents a natural holistic sanctuary surrounded by the beauty of Zanzibar. It features 6 different treatment rooms (in addition to one outdoor sala near the pool) and provides a wide range of traditional and modern Africology treatments, involving organic oils and butters. Guests can indulge in rituals like ‘Jozani Rain Forest’, African potato body wrap or the resort’s signature ‘Maasai Ritual’. The latter is a two hour ceremony of bodily and sensory pampering, where you visit a series of huts, experiencing a foot massage, full body scrub and massage, and an African facial. The spa also features a fitness centre, sauna, and an aromatherapy steam room.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Essque Zalu is a 5-star hotel that offers a sophisticated design on one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in Zanzibar. Yet, before considering a stay here, you need to know the following issues:
- As mentioned above, the resort does not have a permanent beach, but rather a tidal beach which completely submerges during high tide. If you want a beach holiday, you may feel disappointed when staying here. That said, you can always take a taxi or walk along the shore (by making use of the tidal schedule) to nearby Nungwi beach, which is one of the world’s most stunning white sand beaches.
- The whole island of Zanzibar is under the influence of the Indian Ocean tides, caused by the effect of the moon’s gravity against the mass of the ocean. The difference between low and high tide is dramatic, especially on the east coast of Zanzibar, which is protected by a large coral reef. During high tide, the lagoon in front of the hotel features a stunningly beautiful color, but during low tide, the lagoon completely dries up, creating a large area of shallow tidal pools. Swimming is possible at high tide, but not at low tide, although it is still possible to swim between tides from the hotel’s jetty, that has steps into the ocean for easy access.
- The food is good but not as excellent as one would expect for a five-star hotel at this price level. The breakfast is somewhat below standards for a hotel of this kind with a limited choice buffet and no fresh fruit juices. I enjoyed the dinners at both restaurants, but for the price tag, I would have expected fine dining, although it was more of a decent bistro fair.
- The staff is very friendly and polite. However, the service is very slow, sometimes frustratingly slow. At the restaurants you sometimes find yourself chasing waiters because they seem either too busy or disorganised. On one occasion, I waited at least an hour for food, and the staff had the order wrong on two other occasions, which made dinners not as relaxing as they should be. It also frequently took 30 minutes to get a couple of drinks, when no-one else was being served, which put me off from trying to order more things.
- The traditional Zanzibari bed, made from carved wood, was visually impressive, but the mattress was quite firm and the pillows rather small and thin. Although I know that sleep comfort differs from person to person, I did not sleep well, and I would recommend the hotel to upgrade their beds and linens.
- Location: 8/10
- Design: 8/10
- Pool: 9/10
- Rooms: 7/10
- Food: 7/10
- Breakfast: 7/10
- Spa: 8/10
- Service: 9/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall experience: very good 8/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Essque Zalu Zanzibar, whether it’s booking a room at the cheapest price or receiving complimentary VIP perks (e.g. upgrade, breakfast, resort credit, etc …).
- Save money: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Classic Travel (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and daily dinner at the Market Kitchen or at The Jetty restaurant).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Zanzibar is located just south of the Equator off the coast of Tanzania.
The best time to visit the archipelago is from June to October during the long, dry season, when most days are sunny and substantial rainfall is fairly unusual. Another popular time to visit Zanzibar is during the short dry seasons from January to February when dry weather prevails although humidity is picking up.
The worst time to visit Zanzibar is during the main rainy season, or the ‘long rains’, which last from March to May. Daily heavy tropical downpours (mainly occurring in the afternoon) are the norm and can ruin a beach holiday. During November and December there’s another rainy season, the so-called ‘short rains’, but these are much lighter, less frequent and less reliable than the main rains with short.
HOW TO GET THERE
Essque Zalu Zanzibar is located approximately a one hour drive from the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ) in the coastal and picturesque village of Nungwi. Transfers can be arranged for a fee. Click here for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to/from Zanzibar.