Baraza Resort & Spa, Zanzibar hotel review
With the government of Zanzibar ramping up its efforts to make this semi-autonomous archipelago off the Tanzanian mainland an exclusive tourist enclave, the luxury properties in The Zanzibar Collection are well positioned to be go-to destinations. One of them, Baraza Resort & Spa, is a boutique getaway that offers fine food, striking design and a chance to escape day-to-day life in this East African paradise of white sand beaches and turquoise waters.
Traveller: C. James Dale
Room: One Bedroom Villa
Address: Bwejuu Beach, South East Coast, Zanzibar
Date: October 2019
Best for: Travellers looking for a secluded tropical island vacation that guarantees they’ll have ample down time, while also getting a sense of Zanzibar’s promising future and rich past.
The Signature factor
The feeling of being a guest at a royal retreat. The bliss of floating in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The sheer enjoyment of sipping drinks under bright stars and feasting on cuisine laced with influences from Africa, Arabia, India and Europe.
Baraza Resort and Spa strives to be like a former home of the rulers of the Omani Sultanate, which controlled Zanzibar for much of the 18th and 19th centuries. The white-painted buildings, featuring those iconic keyhole arches that are staples of Islamic architecture, are accented with gold-coloured materials and pieces, ornate metal light shades and intricately carved wooden chests and bureaus. In some corners, you’ll spy large bowls filled with cloves, one of the crops that gave Zanzibar the nickname of ‘spice island’. A long rectangular pool with cabana daybeds and loungers sits in the middle of the property, just a stone’s throw from the ocean. The lush and well-manicured landscaping surrounds 30 one- and two-bedroom villas, all of which come with plunge pools. The resort is a popular rest stop for travellers returning from safaris in Serengeti National Park or elsewhere in Tanzania.
Once you enter the imposing front gates, you are transported to a different world and time, thanks in large part to the captivating architecture and design. The resort is a feast for the senses: bright green gardens with pops of pink and other coloured flowers; gorgeous white buildings; the heavy, humid air; the shimmering Indian Ocean in the distance. Upon arrival, guests are escorted to the lobby, which feels like an open air, palatial living area. During the quick and easy check-in process, guests sip a refreshing, bright-red drink: hibiscus flower boiled in water, sweetened with sugar and chilled. Then they’re free to enjoy the property and get into the relaxed vibe by hanging poolside and ordering drinks, reading in a lounger facing the ocean or exploring the shore at low tide.
Our One Bedroom Villa was an amazing hideaway, with gold coloured curtains and brass features contrasting with white walls, linens and towels. Keyhole arches are cut into some walls and a large wooden cabinet keeps the TV nicely hidden. There are plenty of areas to lounge, with comfy chairs and some walls morphing into benches that are covered with cushions. The canopy king bed is supersized and there’s also a daybed off the living area that’s a perfect place for kids to sleep and play. The walk-in closet is spacious and the bathroom is bright with a deep tub. Outside, there’s a terrace with a sofa, another daybed (great for reading and napping) and a private plunge pool. As with the rest of the resort, the design is cohesive and stays on point.
The presidential villa, also known as the Royal Beach Two Bedroom Villa, takes the Baraza experience to the next level. In 254 square metres of living space, guests have two master bedrooms, which come with bathrooms, dressing rooms and terraces. The warmly appointed living room opens out to a plunge pool (larger than those in other villas) and a stunning view of the sea. Other features include a small kitchenette, outdoor daybeds, an outdoor dining area and self-contained accommodation for a maid or butler.
On my plate
Baraza is an all-inclusive resort that does a commendable job keeping guests well fed with à la carte and buffet options featuring some exceptional food. Our first meal was a dinner in the Sultans Dining Room on one of their ‘spices’ theme nights and I was struck by how the buffet was so well-curated and thoughtfully laid out. One smiling chef stood at a cooking station whipping up omelettes stuffed with tandoori chicken and paneer tikka. Elsewhere, you could fill your plate with lightly spiced dahl, chicken tikka masala and curried fish. Again, the setting itself fit with the overall theme of the resort, with nice pop-up touches here and there, from a simple circular bar cart to a sparkling wine station at the entrance to the ice-cream corner in the dessert area. Overall, I found the food and beverage quite good and it worked like a well-oiled machine. Meals rotated through three different locations and the buffets always felt complete without being overwhelming. Each morning, we looked forward to breakfast in the breezy Livingstone Terrace. And if we were peckish during the day, we were able to order food, from pizzas to mezze platters. At night, we’d sit on cushions at Dhahabu Bar & Lounge sampling local spins on classics, such as gin and tonic and whiskey sour, while musicians played. The highlight was definitely the lunch we had at a private table overlooking the ocean. The starter was a remarkable crab and avocado salad and the main course was cigale, or slipper lobster, which I found more enjoyable than regular lobster. For dessert, we had a decadent chef’s special: a to-die-for dark chocolate coffee cake.
Highlights from the mini-bar
We arrived to a giant plate of fresh fruit: mango, pineapple, passion fruit and more. Water and sodas are complimentary, as are local beers (I found myself enjoying the Kilimanjaro brand). The mini-bar has a small selection of spirits and wine (sparkling, white, red) that are not included in the cost of your room.
I wish I could take home…
…some of the big decor pieces. In particular, the carved wooden chests that look like they have a story to tell. The owners source items from Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town, Oman and India. The resort’s boutique, Baraza Bazaar, has offerings in a similar vein when it comes to style.
The design of the Frangipani Spa fits with the overall aesthetic of the resort. Guests are escorted to canopy-covered daybeds in an opulent but dark relaxation room. It was a beautiful sunny day outside and we found ourselves longing for a bit more natural light. But the low lighting, combined with the music, proved to be very calming. Then came the 75-minute Frangipani Signature Massage. The therapist was quite skilled, using long and deep strokes to work out the kinks. After, guests are guided back to the relaxation room, where they’re served chamomile tea with bits of diced mango floating in it. Truly tasty! Our one issue was the spa pool. We didn’t get a sense from the staff about who was welcome to use it. Had we known we could have a soak, we would have brought bathing suits and enjoyed the spa setting a little longer.
Head to the pool after breakfast. Grab a pair of water shoes and go walking way out on the shore at low tide. You’ll see small fish, sea urchins aplenty and the odd starfish. When the tide comes back in, book a sea kayak or sailboat and head out on the water. Baraza also has a tennis court and a gym. And if you want to zone out and stream music or videos, you should know that the Wi-Fi is strong throughout the resort. Baraza offers different talks during the day, including an introduction to Swahili, which is an official language in Tanzania alongside English. Guests looking to further immerse themselves in the local culture should inquire about the Baraza Swahili Experience.
One activity worth considering is the snorkeling outing, a morning trip that is just the right length of time. Guests leave around 9am and are driven to a reef access point up the road next to the Zawadi Hotel, the stunning adults-only property that’s also in The Zanzibar Collection. The expanse of the Indian Ocean unfolds in front of you as you walk down steps to cross the hot sand to access a concrete jetty that is exposed at low tide. Then it’s a short boat ride to the reef. Once we hopped in the water, we were immediately surrounded by what appeared to be a school of sergeant major fish. Later, we spied a stonefish snoozing on the seabed and swam above a group of squid. After navigating dying coral in the Maldives and parts of Southeast Asia, I was happy to see the reef at this site looked relatively healthy. My one complaint about the snorkelling trip, however, was that it felt a bit crowded, with about a dozen boats from different hotels hanging around the same spot. This could be avoided if you opt for the full-day snorkelling trip.
And if that’s not enough stepping out for you, it’s also worth noting that because Baraza is part of The Zanzibar Collection, guests can also walk to the sister resorts Breezes Beach Club & Spa Zanzibar and The Palms, Zanzibar to shake up their scenery and have a meal (part of the all-inclusive deal).
- 2019 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards: Hall of Fame, ‘Top 25 Luxury Hotels –World’, ‘Top 25 Luxury Hotels – Africa’, number one luxury hotel in Tanzania
- 2018 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards: ‘Best Hotels in the World’, fourth best luxury hotel in Africa, number one luxury hotel in Tanzania
- 2018 CNN Traveller ‘Top Hotels in Africa’
Baraza has hosted some boldface VIPs, including philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Queen guitarist Brian May, rapper Black M, dancer Nakul Dev Mahajan, footballer Mamadou Sakho and Crystal Hefner, the model and widow of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
The best spots at the pool, those covered cabanas with double bed size cushions, go quickly. There are only four of them, and one day I saw a family of four using two, so get there early to lock down yours. There are also a number of loungers around the pool, with some shielded from the sun by a shade canopy.
Green thumbs up?
The Zanzibar Collection has a lot going on when it comes to sustainability, including a focus on using local products in the kitchen and the spa. It also has its own sewage treatment plant, which allows for black and grey water to be used to irrigate the gardens. In addition, the company uses a reverse osmosis purifier to make bottled water for the restaurants and bars. Plastic bottles are still used in the rooms, but the empty ones are recycled as flower pots for use in the nursery garden and as construction material for sheds and other structures. The hotels hold beach cleanups and also regularly host a marine biologist, who gives educational talks and checks on the coral reef. The Collection’s biggest green effort is the solar field it is building on land between its resorts and the main road. When the facility is finished, it will produce enough energy to power all four hotels in the group. On the corporate social responsibility (CSR) side of things, The Zanzibar Collection has helped build a maternity and neonatal clinic in the nearby village of Bwejuu, along with providing medical supplies and further support for health care, clean water and education.
Room for improvement
We only spent a few minutes in the kids’ club, which is filled with board games and a variety of toys. But it wasn’t a place I would have wanted to linger. It felt a bit dark and a number of the toys were broken. Around the resort, I also didn’t get a sense of what was on offer for kids who visited the club – perhaps a note in the rooms would help. Plus, the club is not supervised, so children who go there must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
…rooms had ceiling fans. It would eliminate the need for AC for much of the day and help guests feel cool while still being able to enjoy the warm tropical weather.
We wished we had booked another day or two at Baraza Resort & Spa, and it is always a good sign to leave a hotel wanting more. It left us curious about their other properties and dreaming of a day we might return to Zanzibar again in the future. It was the perfect after-safari retreat for us, one that allowed for just the right amount of rest, relaxation and fun.
Where to find Baraza Resort & Spa, Zanzibar
The hotel is a one-hour drive from Zanizbar’s Abeid Amani Karume International Airport and it can arrange return transfers.
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All images courtesy of Baraza Resort & Spa