By Rima Suqi / September 14, 2011

One of the first things you’ll notice upon arrival at Mnemba Island, besides the ridiculously perfect turquoise waters and beyond stylish lounge area, is the sound. Layer upon layer of melodic cooing courtesy of doves, for there are hundreds of red-eyed doves that populate this tiny island.

A private island resort, Mnemba sits in the Indian Ocean off the northeast coast of Zanzibar that can be circumnavigated on foot in about 20 minutes. The area has long been a favorite of divers and snorkelers, as the island itself is surrounded by a ring of coral reef, and hundreds of fish can be seen simply by floating on the ocean’s surface just a dozen feet off-shore. What makes this place incredibly special as a resort property is that they’ve stripped away all the over-the-top things commonly identified with “luxury” leaving one with a more authentic experience of the true luxury of nature and environment without electronic distractions. Each of Mnemba’s 10 “rooms” is really a free-standing, indoor-outdoor, small home made by locals of mostly local materials, down to the woven reed mat walls and floors.

Each has an outdoor seating area, mosquito-net-draped four-poster beds, and a short footbridge that leads to the bathroom. There are no panes or screens in the windows, no proper door or locks (your passport and wallet are locked up in the office for the duration of your stay), no air conditioning, no telephones, and no televisions. There are no tubs (in theory you’ve got a gigantic oceanic soak a few yards out your door), but there are gorgeous showers with “curtains” made of turquoise-colored recycled glass beads and hair care and gels made in-house of all-natural ingredients.

A true barefoot resort, there are also no proper sidewalks and only a couple of wooden walkways. I removed my shoes upon arrival and didn’t put them back on until I was forced to leave a couple days later. What do you need shoes for? Certainly not for beach walks, snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming with dolphins, dining on the beach, or sipping a sundowner on a wooden sailboat. And definitely not for an in-room Thai massage (or lymphatic drainage, reflexology, African face and scalp massage…you get the idea).

The day’s menus, prepared with produce grown by one of the resort’s butlers and poultry raised by a local women’s group, is written on a chalkboard every morning, and at breakfast the chef visits each table to personally go over any special requests or concerns.

Mnemba & Beyond, as a corporation, emphasizes “Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife, Care of the People” as one of its core values, and this holds true at Mnemba as well as at the company’s Safari lodges. Most of the staff at its lodges, this one included, are from the local villages. Mnemba & Beyond partnered with the Zanzibar government and the local fishing communities to have the atoll and its surroundings proclaimed the Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area—while they do purchase local fish, they’re not reef fish. The island is the last protected nesting site of green turtles in Zanzibar, with as many as 30 nests discovered every year. It is also home to the Aders Duiker antelope, an endangered species that is successfully breeding here.

On the community level, the lodge provides fresh fruits and vegetables to a local orphanage, and has built a windmill in a nearby village that now pumps water to 1,000 residents, these are just a few of its good deeds. Prior to learning all of this, I had already come to the conclusion that Mnemba was the most perfect beach resort I had ever visited. Add this extra heaping of heart and you have the definition of paradise.

Rima Suqi
Rima Suqi

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