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Park Hyatt Zanzibar hotel review

Like other places in Africa, Zanzibar gets under your skin in a hurry. There’s something about spending time in this archipelago that feels so utterly exotic and romantic. A semi-autonomous territory that is part of Tanzania, Zanzibar sits in the Indian Ocean and exudes colourful charm. Located on the main island, Unguja, Park Hyatt Zanzibar helps guests tap into the vibe from the get-go with its Western-African-Arab influenced architecture and design, its entrancing views and its flavourful food.

The facts

Traveller: C. James Dale
Room:  Park Deluxe King (ocean view room with private balcony)
Address: Shangani Street, Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Date: October 2019
Best for: Couples or families looking for a luxury, seafront foothold in the heart of historic Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you can step back in time as you wander the narrow streets, grab a bite or browse boutiques and hole-in-the-wall shops.

The Signature factor

No one has a better piece of real estate in this part of Zanzibar than the Park Hyatt. The front of the red-roofed, white-walled hotel faces a quiet square, with its entrances defined by distinctive horseshoe or Moorish arches. The other side of the property boasts sweeping views of the beach and ocean from a long outdoor sitting area that includes a pool. It feels less like a hotel and more like a palace or a mansion, the perfect place to hide away or from which to wander off and explore Stone Town.

The concept

After the Park Hyatt took over this property, it opened its doors in 2015. The hotel is spread across two buildings, one of them a UNESCO World Heritage structure known as a Mambo Msiige, which in Swahili roughly means “not to be copied or imitated”. It was constructed in the mid-19th century by Sheikh Salim bin Bushir bin Salim al Harthi, a wealthy Swahili tradesman from a prominent Omani tribe. The architecture and interior design reflect Zanzibar’s African and Arabic influences, with those distinctive archways, carvings in wood and metal chandeliers (stainless steel with shaded golden coating).

First impressions

Most guests arrive via the airport, which is about a 20-minute drive away. Down the main road you pass shops, schools and humble dwellings. And given an estimated 99% of Zanzibar’s 1.3 million residents are Muslim, you can’t miss the mosques that dot the landscape. Members of the Catholic community worship at the venerable St. Joseph’s Cathedral, located in Zanzibar town, while the Anglican Church of Tanzania oversees the historic Christ Church in Stone Town. Your drive to the hotel will take you through the narrow, winding streets of Stone Town until you arrive at a square. Walk up a few steps and you enter the lobby, which is airy and filled with light thanks to its soaring ceiling and the glass pyramid that sits on top of the roof. A chic aesthetic flows through the property, from the common areas to the rooms, with white contrasting with splashes of colour or the light brown of wooden doorways and furniture. Some floors in the older part of the hotel are lined with Persian rugs, while the first-floor terrace has a few chairs, along with views of the pool and the sea. An abundance of windows and glass doors at the back of the hotel helps put the focus on the bustling beach, the azure waters of the Indian Ocean and the other tropical hues.

The room

The hotel has 67 guest rooms, including 11 suites. Our Park Deluxe King room featured a large canopy bed and a gorgeous bathroom with a sliding wooden door that allowed us to soak in the deep tub while the sun streamed through the glass doors, which led onto a private balcony. Black and white photographs decorated one wall while teardrop-shaped metal chandeliers hung in a corner. The room was a good size and included a small table and a few chairs, plus plenty of space to store clothing and luggage. It was lovely to sit on the balcony in the morning and watch the beach come to life, with fishermen repairing boats and young people splashing in the sea as they took swimming lessons.

Top suite

Guests have two amazing options if they want to sleep in style. The Royal Residence is in the older part of the building and spread out over 400 square metres, featuring two king bedrooms and one room with a twin bed. The large living area sits on a huge Persian rug, with paintings and other local artwork filling the walls. Similar touches to our room are found here, from the exposed wooden beams to those metal chandeliers and charming wooden ceiling fans. The Royal Residence has a 12-seat dining room, kitchen and is accessed via a private elevator. In the other part of the hotel is the 450-square-metre Zamani Presidential Suite, which has great views of Stone Town and the Indian Ocean. The ‘wow’ factor here is the sprawling outdoor terrace and garden, an area that includes an outdoor shower.

On my plate

The hotel has a few places to choose from when it comes to dining, but we had most of our meals at the Dining Room. In the morning, the breakfast buffet is rolled out, blending Western, Middle Eastern and Indian options. Alongside cereals, eggs and pancakes sit bananas in coconut, kachori, chapati and lamb kofte. And given this is a Muslim-majority destination, take note that you’ll be getting beef bacon and other non-pork options when it comes to meat. As for seating, take a table outside near the beach so you can enjoy the breeze and the views. Before you sit down, grab a freshly opened coconut, which you can have seasoned with spice essences (I went with cloves and cinnamon), yet another reminder of why Zanzibar is known as Spice Island. 

There’s no shortage of flavours on the dinner menu, which includes an amazing cold mezze selection (hummus, babaganoush, labneh, fattoush), along with a delicious chicken butter masala and a tasty vegetable biryani. My favourite meal, though, was a dinner I had down the street at the Park Hyatt-run Beach House Restaurant & Bar. Located in a former private residence in Stone Town, it’s a laid-back place with couches and cushioned chairs, plus a verandah that’s the perfect spot for watching the sun sink into the Indian Ocean. Later, with a thin moon hanging above the horizon and Venus shining bright in the sky, we picked selections from their extensive gin map, purportedly the biggest on the island. The Sunset G&T was made up of Henkes Gin, passionfruit juice, cardamom extract, hibiscus and tonic. Also nice, the Saffron Gin with lime peel and lemongrass. I strayed off the gin map once to try a Zanzibar old fashioned, put together with homemade aromatic bitters. As for the food, the menu weaves together Omani, Indian, Portuguese and British influences, which means you’ll be tempted in equal measure by the spiced kisiwa curry (incredible) and the fish and chips (top-notch).

I wish I could take home…

…some of the art from the pop-up gallery the hotel has set up in a small courtyard in between the Mambo Msiige wing and the Zamani Residence. The works by local artists feature Stone Town scenes, the iconic dhow boats and some of the faces of Zanzibar.

Spa life

The menu reflects its location, with treatments such as the 150-minute Zanzibar Spice Journey (still in development at the time of my visit, but now available) and the 120-minute Africology Potato Body Experience, which begins with a full-body exfoliation and body wrap that melts into the skin and ends with a massage. I chose The Spa Signature Massage, an aromatherapy treatment guided by a therapist whose pressure was relentless yet relaxing. The spa suite, one of three on site, had a high ceiling with white walls and exposed wooden beams. Light sounds from the street – from birdsong to a call to prayer – drifted in and mingled with the spa music. I felt as though I was hidden away in a small room off the winding walkway of a medina.

Staying in

Many guests enjoy having food and drink at The Library and Veranda or the Living Room. The pool is also a good spot to relax, have a cocktail and watch the activity on the beach. Locals flock to the area to sit, chat or work out, with some digging a small track in the sand so they can run loop after loop. You can also seek shelter in the shade of the hotel’s 200-year-old mango tree, which still yields fruit that’s used for juice, jam and cheesecake.

Stepping out

Given the Park Hyatt Zanzibar is in the heart of Stone Town, most guests opt to explore their surroundings when they step out. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, Stone Town is a charming place. Narrow streets and laneways wind through buildings made from coral rag and lime mortar featuring those famous Zanzibar doors, some of which are intricately carved slabs of wood that, in some cases, can be affixed with brass knobs that were said to prevent elephants from crushing the doors (but likely were just displays of wealth by residents). Walk on and you’ll pass by shops selling clothing, beadwork and all manner of items. You might find yourself wandering by the market, where locals shop for vegetables, fruit and meat, along with items for the home. Nearby, we popped into a school and the young students sang for us.

History is also on the agenda with tourists drawn to the Palace Museum, the late 19th-century former residence for the family of the Sultan of Oman, and the late 17th century Old Fort, the oldest building in Stone Town. Also worth a visit is the Christ Church Cathedral’s slave-trade heritage centre, which sheds light on the brutal and cruel practice that began in the 15th century and continued until the late 19th century. A happier destination is the former home of late rock star and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, who was born in Zanzibar in 1946 (and was named Farrokh Bulsara), along with the Freddie Mercury Museum.

After spending hours walking around, we were ready for a change of scenery and we turned to the hotel to arrange a sunset dhow cruise. The afternoon we went wasn’t that windy, so it wasn’t much of a sail. But the sun was bright and the breeze was warm as we set out from the harbour, sparkling wine in our hands and a spread of fruit, cheese and crackers in front of us. As the sun melted into the horizon, the crew talked us through the surroundings, pointing out Grave Island, which is not loved by locals who worry about ghosts given some British soldiers are buried there. Then there’s Prison Island, where slaves were once detained but is now home to giant sea tortoises that can live up to 300 years. Another member of Zanzibar’s vibrant ecosystem captured our attention as we headed back to shore while fishing boats made their way out to sea: the flying foxes that filled the sky at dusk, darting in the air on their way to search for their evening feast of fruit.

The accolades

  • 2019 Best Stone Town Hotel – Zanzibar Tourism Awards
  • 2019 Top 10 Luxury Hotels, Tanzania –TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards
  • 2019 Top 10 Hotels, Tanzania – TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards
  • 2018 Best Stone Town Hotel – Zanzibar Tourism Awards
  • 2018 Best Branded Hotel – Zanzibar Tourism Awards
  • 2018 Certificate of Excellence – TripAdvisor
  • 2017 Best Leisure Hotel in Tanzania – Jumia Travel Awards
  • 2016 Best Hotel Interior Tanzania – International Property Awards
  • 2016 Best Hotel Interior Africa – International Property Awards

Celebrity sightings

The Park Hyatt is a popular destination for New Year’s Eve celebrations, but it’s also frequented by famous entertainers from Africa. You may catch sight of the King of Morocco, who has stayed at the hotel as he renovates a property in Stone Town. His chief engineers and other members of the project team bed down at the hotel on an almost weekly basis. Other VIPs include actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson.

Insiders’ tips

If you can, make use of Hyatt’s best rate guarantee. If you find a better rate, they’ll match it and then give you the choice of an additional 20% off or 5,000 World of Hyatt Bonus Points. The “elite” members of the World of Hyatt loyalty program may be eligible for complimentary room upgrades, early check-in or late check-out and free breakfast.

Green thumbs up?

As with many global hotel brands, going green is a slow process. The Park Hyatt Zanzibar is trying to cut down on plastic waste by using glass water bottles, sterilising them and reusing them again. They also have their own reverse osmosis system to treat water used in the sinks, showers and laundry facilities. The property has energy-saving systems in place, including sensors on balcony entrances that shut off the AC when the doors are open. Staff tell me they tried growing food, but that it became a little too complicated, though they still cultivate some herbs. They’ve got a small composter to divert some organic materials from their waste stream. They admit more can and will be done.

Room for improvement

The pool area, while quaint, needs more space and more loungers. And while it’s great to be able to observe daily life on the beach, guests may feel as though they are on display for the assembled crowd. In a perfect world, the pool would be one or two floors above the beach. Perhaps part of the glass separating the pool from the beach could be frosted?

If only…

…the rooms were more soundproof, at least our ocean view room. Music that’s sometimes played late into the evening can filter in through the windows. Early in the morning, young people take swimming lessons in the ocean, a cacophony that will surely wake you from your slumber.

Final verdict

Zanzibar’s main island, and Stone Town in particular, doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to luxury accommodations, but that doesn’t make the Park Hyatt any less special. It’s a standout property with a lot to offer in terms of rooms, food, surroundings and so much more. Anyone passing through Zanzibar, on the way to a Tanzanian safari perhaps, or going there for a vacation shouldn’t hesitate to book a night or two.

Where to find Park Hyatt Zanzibar

The hotel is roughly eight kilometres from Zanzibar International Airport (ZNZ), about a 10- to 20-minute drive depending on traffic.

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