Pongwe Beach Hotel is an intimate 12-chalet island retreat built on the rocks of an enclosed bay on the north-east coast of Zanzibar. Easily reached by tarmac road, the hotel with its beautiful white beach is situated 45km from Stonetown.
Zanzibar, or Unguja as it's known by the locals, has some of the world's most beautiful coastlines, and Pongwe Beach Hotel is built on one of these. The resort is ideally hidden from the more populated resorts in the area, creating a pleasant sense of isolation.
As most of Zanzibar is surrounded by coral reefs, the setting is ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving. The reef is approximately 1km off-shore from Pongwe - creating beautifully calm waters. These are ideal for swimming or exploring, especially seeing that the hotel offers snorkel gear free of charge. The staff can also organise snorkelling and scuba trips to the nearby Mnemba Atoll where you can expect to see many coral species, marine life and perhaps even a turtle or two. For those new to the sport, the hotel can also organise an open water Padi course.
Game fishing is a popular pastime at Pongwe and they even have their own traditional wooden long boat to transport you to, and beyond the coral reef. On a good day you can expect to hook anything from tuna to marlin, barracuda or king fish.
If all of this sounds like too much trouble, you can always retreat into the shade, find yourself a comfortable hammock and a cocktail'and enjoy the peace and quiet. The hotel is ideal if you're after an escape from life's stress and worries ' here you can guiltlessly do as little as possible while taking in the tranquil surrounds.
Apart from simply lounging in the cool breeze, a great Pongwe pastime is to take a ride across the island on a motorcycle or a 4x4 jeep ' especially if you're after beautiful ocean views and romantic sunsets.
The hotel itself is more like a guest house than a hotel, allowing for great service and a relaxed atmosphere. Even during peak season you won't find the place overcrowded by tourists and hawkers.
Pongwe opened in 2003 as the brainchild of an Englishman called Val. Val's past experiences range from delivering milk, operating a beer cellar and more appropriately, working at well-known hotels in central London. His hospitality experience is quite evident in the way Pongwe is run.
The rest of the team are equally interesting and highly skilled in their respective fields. Phillip Craven the Full-time Manager is passionate about the place. He's very approachable and always available for a chat or some advice on the local activities. Ali, the Zanzibarian Manager is also the local celebrity game fisherman, with an impressive catch of a 200lb marlin as his best so far. Lastly there's Khatib, the Head Barman who's had many years of experience. He really knows his stuff and can list over 40 cocktails by heart!
The hotel has a lounge and bar area as well as a restaurant, all housed under a great big thatch. The meals are beautifully prepared and delicious. Lunchtime is especially fun as the staff set a number of tables on the beach, creating a beautiful al fresco setting.
Pongwe Beach Hotel is an exclusive island retreat for those who seek solace and relaxation, away from the commotion of city life. You won't find tons of activities and entertainment here, but instead beautiful beaches, cool shaded sanctuaries, delicious cuisine and great diving, swimming and snorkelling. A real soul-food destination!
The rooms at Pongwe Beach Hotel are traditional beach cottages surrounded by pretty gardens - most overlooking the ocean. There are ten of these cottages, each with traditional Zanzibarian bed, Terrazzo floors and hand crafted doors. The rooms can be divided into seven large double/twin rooms and three smaller twin rooms.
The bathrooms are en-suite with Moroccan style walk-in showers (no baths). All the beds are fitted with mosquito nets, and ceiling fans keep the rooms cool. Each room has its own private terrace with great views of the beach and gardens. These are also the ideal setting for an early morning breakfast.
Some of the rooms are stand-alone units, while others come in groups of two or three. The walls are lime-washed in the traditional fashion, while the roofs are made of palm thatch that helps to keep the rooms nice and cool.
Dining at Pongwe is really good. The chefs, Freedie and Zaran, were trained by a highly skilled consultant chef who spent some time in the Dorchester Hotel in London and the famous Lucas Carton in Paris. The standards are therefore quite high and you can expect delicacies such as crab and king prawn combined with fine local dishes.
To give you an idea of the quality of the food, our starter consisted of fresh crab with tomato and avocado, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and honey dressing. The main course was a large tuna steak piled on a bed of roasted vegetables and for desert we had Crème Brule and a fresh tropical fruit salad – all presented beautifully.
The restaurant is situated under a large thatched roof which also houses the lounge and bar. Breakfast and dinners are usually served here, while lunch can be enjoyed on specially set tables on the white beach.
The bar is well stocked with beers, coldrinks and cocktail ingredients – great for a sundowner of pre-dinner drink.