“A Luxurious and Romantic Stay in the Sultan’s Palace of Zanzibar”

I know when we read these reviews we still had a lot of questions about Baraza, so I apologize in advance if this review is a bit long, but hopefully it clears up some questions.

First and foremost, if money is absolutely no object for you, then Mnemba Island is definitely the most luxurious and top end place to stay on Zanzibar. It’s not a put-down of Baraza at all to say that Mnemba Island is better – for 3 times the price, I would certainly hope it is better. How it can be 3 times as good is beyond me however. If you value your dime at all, and have better uses for that extra $2,000 per night, then Baraza should be at the very top of your list.

I’m not sure where the “cheap” furnishings were – we never saw any. Perhaps I should clear up that this is a $900/nt beach resort and not a real Sultan’s palace – the furnishings aren’t solid gold or antique, they just look like it. If you want those things, then you should look to Dubai or something, you won’t find that here, and never for this price. You can see from our profile that we stay at some pretty nice places, and we were very impressed by the look and feel of Baraza. It is very much like you see on the website, except the website doesn’t show you half of it.

LOCATION – Baraza is located on Bwejuu beach on the SE coast of Ujunga Island (the main island of Zanzibar – Pemba Island is also part of Zanzibar). It takes about an hour to get there from Stone Town, halfway along the way you can stop to see the Red Colobus Monkeys, found only on Zanzibar – the road goes right past. Bwejuu isn’t much of a town, so all the resorts in the area are all-inclusive, including Baraza. Next door to Baraza is The Palms and Breezes, all run by the same company. You can ride a bike into Bwejuu down the beach if you want to at low tide.

BEACH – The beach at Baraza, like every beach along the East Africa Coast, is very tidal due to the coral sea floor which has very little elevation difference between the shoreline and the reef. This means as the tide goes down even a bit, horizontally it goes way out there. When it is low tide, you can’t really swim – the watersports center will give you reef shoes and you can tidepool or walk out to the reef, walk the beach, ride a bike along the beach, or they’ll set up a nice little place for you to have lunch or dinner on the beach. Bwejuu is nice in that there are very few beach boys, which means you can actually walk the beach without Beach Boys harrassing you at every turn (just a little bit).

There is a fair bit of seaweed in the water, some of which is left on the beach when the tide goes out. It’s not much, nothing to get excited about, but there is some, and the beach is natural, not combed with a tractor like in the Caribbean. The visibility of the water right at shore is not great, but it is better where they run their snorkeling trips. The water in the afternoons was ridiculously warm – the warmest we’ve ever felt, literally like a warm bath. At high tide, the beach is very swimmable, and the large sandy beach means that you don’t have to worry about sea urchins when you’re swimming at high tide, unlike most places on Zanzibar. It is relatively calm and enjoyable. The beach below the tide line is very smooth and soft.

At the high tide line, there is a small retaining wall. On top of the retaining wall is where all the chairs and umbrellas are. There is a sandy beach up top, nice and white but a bit corally – not powder like in the Caribbean. The villas each have a reserved umbrella, table and chairs so no fighting for space. The whole area is beautifully decorated with palm trees, feels very tropical. We stayed at Matemwe after this, and the beach in Matemwe is very similar to Bwejuu, also similar to Diani Beach in Kenya for those who have stayed there. Same issues with the tide in Matemwe, a bit less seaweed, mostly the same.

PROPERTY – Baraza is built in a Sultan’s Palace-style which is very original and very cool. The entire place feels totally luxurious. The grounds are gorgeous, filled with Bougainvillea blooms, palm trees, and orchids, feels very tropical. There is a swimming pool that has perfect temperature, a kids club, a spa, and a watersports center that does kitesurfing, windsurfing, snorkeling, kayaking, hobie cats and beach volleyball, and they do reef walks daily. There are a few restaurants, but only one is open at a time, plus they serve some food to you on the beach. One bar is also open at a time, but both this and the restaurant are plenty since there is always a nice selection and variety of food. There is a small business center as well. It is a small property, with only 30 villas, which keeps it intimate. It is billed as a family resort, but it is very romantic and is perfectly suited for couples and honeymooners. During our visit only one family with kids was there – and the kids were pre-teen. No babies or anything like that. If you have kids though, there are family villas which are perfect and a kids club.

ENTERTAINMENT – This is a quiet, relaxing place. There is no nightclub, casino, entertainment team, or anything like that. There was a mellow band playing one night that some people were dancing to (Caribbean style), and another night a Swahili troupe came in to do four dances in about an hour, that was about it for nightlife. The bar is open until midnight. This is a place to relax and get away from it all, and maybe socialize with a very few people at the bar at night, not a party place by any stretch of the imagination. The watersports center and tour desk should keep you occupied when you’re not lounging on the beach though.

ROOMS – The villas at Baraza are huge and gorgeous. They are beautifully decorated, wonderfully romantic, and super spacious. Our ocean-front villa was equipped with a full view of the ocean, a private plunge pool, a flat-bed on the porch that was sooo comfortable, patio furniture, a separate nook with a flat-bed inside, a separate bath and shower, a wonderfully comfortable bed with mosquito netting, air conditioning that worked perfectly, a flat screen tv with cable, internet access, and a mini-bar. It was huge – 1600 square feet (148 sq m). There are telephones, irons, ironing boards, hair dryers, a desk for working, a sofa, and a separate wardrobe.

If you’re wondering if you should do Ocean Front or Ocean View, for sure do the Ocean Front. We did and were happy we did. The Ocean View ones are in the next row back, and do have ocean views, but only in between the Ocean Front villas. The view is much more luxurious from the Ocean Front, though you can always walk out to your private reserved umbrella and chairs to get a better view. Sultans View villas are the family villas – views are of the grounds (the pool area), while Garden view villas have minimal views.

The only complaint we had with the rooms was the “conditioning shampoo” was terrible, and there was no separate conditioner. For this level of room, they need to do better. Small thing, but if you want to buy some from the kiosk, they want $16.00 for a bottle.

COMMUNICATIONS & BUSINESS – There is little or no cell phone or mobile broadband access on the property – very intermittent. There are phones in the rooms, but you have to call the front desk to have them place a call for you and call you back. There is wired ethernet in the villas – I believe it is free, but they charge you $15 per day if you want a cable, so if you have one bring it and give it a shot. They even set us up with our own wi-fi in our villa which was unexpected but great. It was not super fast but workable – we were even able to call on Skype for half of the days. Top speed was about 300 kb/sec. Too slow for videoconferencing or YouTube, frustrating for file transfer. There is a business center that is small and they charge a whopping $10 per 20 minutes for internet usage. They did not charge us for printing. There is a small desk for working, but it’s not big enough for 2 people.

FOOD – Breakfast and Lunch is always buffet. Dinner was buffet two nights and set menu two nights. We do not like buffets, but for buffets these were pretty good. There was a wide choice of food, and always at least 10 different cooked-to-order entrees available. For breakfast, they offer champagne or bloody marys, cooked-to-order eggs, omelettes or waffles. For lunch, there is usually a Tandoori station, a Pizza station, a stir-fry station, a pasta station, a salad bar and a few items like sandwiches. The tandoori and stir-fry stations had different offerings each day. You can order food on the beach, but it’s limited to a few items like sandwiches, salads, or pizza. The sandwiches and burger were pretty good – the pizza was bad.

For dinner, they had theme nights two nights. One night they set us up with a private poolside set menu dinner that was romantic and lovely. If the tides cooperate, you can also do a private lunch or dinner on the beach, very nice. Ask them though because they only do it upon request or for special occasions.

The first day was Indian Night I think – most of the food was Indian (the Naan Bread here is great, so is the Chiapati), it was just okay. The second was Swahili Night and it was really good, especially the pilli pilli shrimp – and fun to try some new things. The set menus were five-course and mostly good. Overall, the food here was hit and miss, but usually at all-inclusive beach resorts the food is almost exclusively miss, so I think that was pretty good.

SPA – The spa services are done by a Thai lady and an Indonesian lady and they do a really good job at the massages. The facials are just putting various creams on you, so really a waste of money, not recommended. The Sultan’s Bath is special for couples, you get a plunge pool covered with orchids and bougainvilleas before your couples massage. Not cheap, but very nice.

SERVICE – The resort overall is well staffed, well run, and extremely friendly especially if you are friendly first. There were several slips in service during our stay that were very frustrating, but in the end it seemed that the managers really cared and tried to make it right. The staff in the restaurants was excellent throughout. The grounds are immaculately maintained except they need to spray more often for ants – there were lots of them crawling around all the time, but not a big issue – and during dry season some of the grass can get brown. The whole resort is expertly maintained, it looks like brand new, and so do the villas. Housekeeping was excellent.

Some reviews have mentioned a butler. There is not a butler – except maybe for the Presidential Villa. There is the usual staff setup as any other resort. There is a “villa host” who, after coming from safari where there are often butlers, people probably confuse with a butler, but really he’s just a guy to show you your room, and if you have any problem you can call the front desk and complain to him and he’ll take care of you – basically like a shift manger at any hotel.

The beach and poolside service was so bad it was comical. We had a full day of laughs reminiscing about the various events of the day. The problem is that only one person is covering the whole beach and pool during parts of the day, and that person is always a trainee who tries hard and is friendly but doesn’t really know what he’s doing and doesn’t speak much English. The bar was located at the far end of the resort from our villa, so it took about an hour for the guy to walk all the way back to the bar and back to us, and he didn’t know how to take more than one order at a time, so service was little and far between, but well intentioned. The trainees are all very young, and the cultural and language differences are challenging, but part of the charm. We made a few suggestions to the manager regarding this, so hopefully they will make some adjustments.

Our villa host made a range of mistakes every time he was involved it seemed, though he was quite pleasant and professional. The front desk staff was very nice in person, but struggled on several occasions. The managers made themselves available if needed, were very professional and pleasant and introduced themselves when we arrived.

POLICIES – The hotel requires payment up front to hold your room via wire transfer or credit card. If you choose credit card they’ll charge you 5%, which is about $50 per day of your stay. While you are there, all your treatments and extras are billed in Shillings, but then they tell you when you check out that you can only be charged in USD if you use a credit card. Of course, they give you a bad exchange rate (1430:1 instead of the going rate of 1490:1, a 4% difference, and the only ATM is in Stone Town an hour away so you’d better have enough cash. We were basically robbed of about $30.00 at the end of our stay, kind of a rude way to end an otherwise very nice stay, and when I pointed this out to the manager in charge, they were quite unresponsive about it. Think about it if you plan to use the spa or watersports. They do not charge an extra fee beyond that however.

I think that about sums it up. Baraza was not perfect, but they seemed to be trying to make it so. It was unique, romantic, beautiful, and luxurious – we only wish they didn’t interrupt our pampering by making us get up to go get our food all the time, and it seems they could include room service in the price. Service was enthusiastic and helpful throughout – always eager to please, always seeming to be grateful that you chose to stay with them. They just need to work on their beachside service – add some more staff out there, have someone there other than a trainee, and perhaps utilize radios or the handkerchief-on-the-pole method, and put another small bar at the other end of the property so the guy doesn’t have to walk so far.

I would stay at Baraza again in a heartbeat, and I would recommend it to anyone. Lovely place.

Traveler photos
Traveler photos of Baraza Resort and Spa, Zanzibar courtesy of TripAdvisor
This photo of Baraza Resort & Spa is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Traveler photos of Baraza Resort and Spa, Zanzibar courtesy of TripAdvisor
This photo of Baraza Resort & Spa is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Traveler photos of Baraza Resort and Spa, Zanzibar courtesy of TripAdvisor
This photo of Baraza Resort & Spa is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Traveler photos of Baraza Resort and Spa, Zanzibar courtesy of TripAdvisor
This photo of Baraza Resort & Spa is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Traveler photos of Baraza Resort and Spa, Zanzibar courtesy of TripAdvisor
This photo of Baraza Resort & Spa is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Traveler photos of Baraza Resort and Spa, Zanzibar courtesy of TripAdvisor
This photo of Baraza Resort & Spa is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Traveler photos of Baraza Resort and Spa, Zanzibar courtesy of TripAdvisor
This photo of Baraza Resort & Spa is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Traveler photos of Baraza Resort and Spa, Zanzibar courtesy of TripAdvisor
This photo of Baraza Resort & Spa is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Reviewed November 11, 2010