After four intense days on safari, we were overdue some dedicated relaxation. I arrived at luxury resort Essque Zalu Zanzibar intending to do very little for a week bar basting on a sunlounger with a pile of fat books and a constant supply of big gay cocktails. And that’s exactly what this hotel is designed for… partly because it’s so mindblowingly stunning that you probably wouldn’t want to leave but mostly because, well, you can’t: there’s not really anywhere you can easily go. This is where the question mark comes in after ‘paradise’ – but more on that later.
First, the insanity that is Essque Zalu Zanzibar. If you follow my Instagram you’ll be familiar with my penchant for infinity pools and my God did this place give good pool. As you walked in from the lobby (itself an architectural masterpiece) two glittering slabs of intense blue water unfolded out to the turquoise sea. It was a high impact welcome to the hotel, and coupled with the delicious Baobab juices we were handed on arrival and the many glamorous-looking tanned couples wandering around, we were appropriately impressed (read open-mouthed gawping).
I like big books and I cannot lie
Afore mentioned big gay cocktail
Highly recommend this book – and this was the ideal place to read 1000+ pages!
Bake in tin foil for five days until evenly browned.
Ice cream for lunch every day… with all the toppings from the self-service ice cream bar
Well, the pictures speak for themselves!
So here’s the but… Essque Zalu Zanzibar lies on the north east coast of the island, about an hour and a half in a car from Zanzibar International Airport. It’s not a scenic drive. Naively I was expecting the whole of Zanzibar to be some sort of white sandy palm-lined paradise but the reality is that over half the population live below the poverty line and around 12% of children have acute malnutrition. We passed huts with roofs ranging from tin sheets to non-existent, mangy livestock and groups of skinny kids chasing chickens across the dirt roads. Police officers stopped the car several times and the driver had to negotiate with them to pass (he told us later that they were asking for bribes, a regular thing). The hotel itself is stuck bang in the middle of a rubbish heap, behind a pair of enormous gates manned by security guards. I realise that luxury tourist resorts like Essque bring much-needed money to the island but it’s disconcerting to be sipping a $20 cocktail just metres from a family whose monthly income barely equals that (the average annual income is $250 USD). Aside from this, the distance from the hotel to any bars, restaurants or activities meant walking anywhere at all wasn’t an option. Stone Town was over an hour in a horrendously overpriced cab and not worth it; the one nice photo I have, far below, is misleadingly pretty. The town had all the negatives of somewhere like Marrakesh without the magic and vibrancy. Perhaps it would have been different if we’d paid for a guided tour but we were hassled by beggars pretty much the whole time and saw very little worth stopping for.
There were a few bars along the beach but these were attached to other hotels and seemed to be pretty empty most of the time. We did pay for a half-day excursion snorkeling, but again that was expensive and a good 45 minute car ride away. All in all, as wonderful as the first few days doing sweet FA by the pool were, by day four we were feeling pretty claustrophobic. The other guests at the hotel were 80% other couples (it was literally honeymoon Disneyland) and this took away from any impression that you were getting a personal experience. The staff were also very full on; for those used to luxury butler service this would probably be fine but I personally got quickly irritated by people running over to pull out my chair for me every time I sat down. The added frustration was that they couldn’t get their heads around Pete’s dairy allergy, totally unable to understand that he couldn’t have butter (see our final night ‘personalised’ private dinner menu, of which Pete could eat nothing! There was also at least one couple ‘celebrating a beautiful evening’ every night… so not really that personal.)
The breakfast was, for me, AMAZING – all kinds of fresh fruits, yoghurt, breads, conserves, pastries and cheeses – but aside from the fruit there was very little Pete could eat. This was particularly annoying as we’d just come from the tiny Selous camp where the owners catered for his allergy brilliantly, without any fuss.