We love luxurious holidays in distant places here at House of Coco. However, when relaxed beach-chic luxury is paired with strong community sustainability efforts, we also take notice. On a recent trip to Zanzibar, our travel-writing duo, Eulanda and Omo Osagiede stopped in Paje to explore the South East coast.
The south eastern coast of Zanzibar’s main island, Unguja, is renowned for its powder-soft white sand beaches, dancing palm trees and turquoise-blue waters; a true representation of the island nation’s reputation for paradise-like beauty. After three days exploring Zanzibar’s West Coast including the historically famous Stone Town, we headed east from Zanzibar Town, along the East-West artery which runs through Tunguu and Jozani Forest, towards Paje on the east coast.
While most of the road is smooth tar, a significant stretch of it was under construction during our visit. As is typical in Africa, regardless of the disruption this project clearly caused, life carried on albeit shrouded in a haze of dust. Away from the tourist enclaves, we watched rural life happen all around us: hijab-clad girls walked to school, dala dala (local buses) shuttled commuters back and forth and the odd cow-drawn cart sauntered past. In Zanzibar, everything is Pole-Pole (slowly slowly).
We soon arrived in Paje, a small fishing village sandwiched between Bwejuu and Jambiani situated on this incredible stretch of East African coastline. Although there are a number of lodgings in the area catering to various categories of budget and comfort; not all of them offer direct access to the ocean. For this reason, we were excited to stay at Hakuna Majiwe (translated from Swahili to mean ‘a place without stones’); a small, privately owned beach lodge built directly on Paje’s coastline.
Already fascinated by East African culture, our excitement heightened when our private transport pulled up to Hakuna Majiwe’s reception to be welcomed by a group of Masaai who exchanged curious stares mixed with wide smiles upon sighting us. We later found out that these men were not real-life mannequins dressed up simply to impress the guests. Non-native to Zanzibar, these handsomely dressed men were real Massai who moonlighted as security guards for coastal hotels and resorts in Zanzibar in between herding seasons. Several colourfully dressed staff members in dashiki print tunics, enthusiastically greeted us with warm smiles and fresh coconut water. The warm welcome set the tone for the rest of our visit to Hakuna Majiwe.
Zanzibari Design Meets Simplicity
In its early life, Hakuna Majiwe catered to a mainly Italian clientele preferring packaged, all-inclusive holidays. These days, and now under new management, it offers a wider range of accommodation options including bed & breakfast, half-board and full-board and is more suited to the higher, mid-market range.
We were ushered to one of the air-conditioned, beach-facing 18 deluxe-double bungalows on the site, equipped with a four-poster Zanzibari wooden double bed, retractable mosquito nets, a walk-in wardrobe, all wooden furniture with clean lines, and a basic en-suite bathroom. Several features in the room had a distinct Arab-African fusion. Additionally, the wooden floor, thatched roof and traditional vidaka plasterwork added a nice connection to local Zanzibari culture.
Dining at Hakuna Majiwe
Already hungry by this time, following a quick refresh, we made our way to the appropriately named Tradewinds Restaurant located in the centre of the property. As we walked in, the wide open feeling gave us the impression that we were in a dhow (sail boat) with the high ceiling forming a huge mast and the cool sea breeze blowing freely through the restaurant. The space was airy, decorated in a recurring theme of warm neutrals, paired with a chic array of East African printed pillows, and traditional furniture styles. In one area, fishing lines decorated with seashells hung from the edges of the thatched roof. The shells gently clinked together, beckoning the full attention of our gaze to the Indian Ocean. Our eyes slightly squinted from the stunning white sand of the beach. Directly opposite of that view stood a well-stocked bar and a large speaker, hidden by carefully placed palm foliage. We imagined dancing all night long to Afrobeat music on the rich wooden floors, protected from the strong Indian Ocean breezes by the restaurant’s low thatched roof. An outside barbecue pit also hinted of a great venue for a private party.
“Karibu Sana!” the friendly barman greeted. He had a smile almost as wide as the East Coast of Zanzibar itself as he took our drink orders. Soon, we were sipping expertly mixed local Dawa Zanzibar (a blend of local spirit and fresh citrus fruits) and Pina Colada cocktails while checking social media updates on the free Wi-Fi, which only seemed to be available in the restaurant.
By this time, the afternoon tide had come in and the gentle waves provided a soothing soundtrack to our lunch of seafood kebab and Zanzibar seafood curry. Keeping with the culinary traditions of Zanzibar, we were pleased with the blend of spices and fresh of ingredients used to prepare the food which was a fusion of Swahili and international options, including tender, well-seasoned and succulent chicken.
The South East Coast of Zanzibar is popular for its water and wind sports and this part of the country typically attracts kite-surfing and diving enthusiasts. However, our trip was during the off-peak season when a number of operators close for a break or scale back on activities. Although we had mostly dry weather throughout our stay, with the changing conditions a constant threat, we declined offers to go snorkelling in the barrier reef which runs parallel to Zanzibar’s eastern coast.
From Hakuna Majiwe, we opted instead for self-guided inter-tidal walks after breakfast, watching the locals hunting for fresh seaweed far into the horizon while being careful not to step on marine life floating around in the tide pools. In the evenings, light from a full silver moon beautifully reflected on the ocean giving the impression that we could walk to the water’s edge and get on a heavenly path towards the moon. Sunrises were an even more spectacular affair, with the sun’s pink rays turning orange then golden yellow as they bid the night’s shadows farewell. Being able to step right onto the beach from our lodge to witness Mother Nature’s orchestra was such a pleasure.
To get a better understanding of the local area, we headed into Paje village to visit the local Seaweed Centre; a modest, but influential business run mostly by women who farm their own seaweed, and produce beauty and spa products with infusions of Zanzibar’s many spices. We learned about the effects of global warming and how warming ocean currents threaten the livelihood of these subsistence farmers.
Chris and Gladness Besmehn, the warm, dynamic and experienced couple who have recently taken over management of Hakuna Majiwe were keen to emphasize the character of their property during busier periods. Visitors can expect traditional Masaai dance performances and dancing during peak season. A wide range of activities for those not content with sunbathing, massages, and relaxation include: snorkelling, lunches on sand banks and kitesurfing. Excursions to Jozani Forest to see the distinct red colobus monkeys and visit the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre and local spice farms can also be arranged.
Most notable are Hakuna Majiwe’s sustainability efforts. Although Zanzibar doesn’t have an official national recycling program, we were also told about Hakuna Majiwe’s plastic bottle recycling scheme. The bottles are collected and sold to a Stone Town business owner, who then sells them to companies overseas to be reused. The proceeds go directly to a staff welfare fund. Additionally, in a time where destination properties constantly hire non-locals, Hakuna Majiwe seeks to invest into their community by hiring a sizeable amount locals as staff members.
Recently refurbished and with aspirational expansion plans already underway, we got the impression that Hakuna Majiwe are clearly seeking to establish themselves as a location of choice in the competitive hotel industry along Zanzibar’s south eastern coast.
Visitors to Zanzibar who seek an affordable, less busy, more intimate and authentic beach experience will find Hakuna Majiwe and the south eastern coast an agreeable choice. Combining sand so soft and white with a hearty welcome, and enthusiastic service by the entire staff, we found this to be truly a place without stones.
Direct flights to Zanzibar are operated by a number of carriers. We chose to fly from Dubai to Zanzibar via Qatar Airways, with a unintended stopover in Doha. If your flight is not direct, make sure you have at least two hours before your connecting flight departs. Upon arrival into Stone Town, transfers can be arranged either directly with Hakuna Majiwe or through local tour operators. The drive from Stone Town to Paje can take up to an hour, depending on traffic and weather conditions.
Double Rooms with a sea view are approximately £487 for a 3 night stay. Excursions vary on the nature of the activity. For further information, or for booking, please visit Hakuna Majiwe.
Dreaming of Zanzibar? Read more about this stunning country in our upcoming vol. 6 print issue!