Chumbe Island

On any tropical vacation, my favorite way to spend a lazy day is snorkeling. In pursuit of leisure, I learned of Chumbe Island, a tiny slice of paradise only eight miles from Zanzibar’s west coast. Chumbe Island is known for having the most ecologically diverse and pristine shallow-water coral reef in all of East Africa. Seeing it with my own eyes sounded like an experience I would remember forever; so I asked Zenji Zanzibar to arrange a day trip for me. (Note: even though I reserved it in advance, the trip wasn’t actually confirmed until cash was paid!) From Stone Town, I took a 10-minute taxi ride to a hotel in Mbweni Ruins that originally built as a Catholic mission to provide education to freed slaves. At Mbweni, my fellow passengers and I waded through tide pools and seaweed to begin a smooth 45-minute boat ride to paradise.

Chumbe Island_1

From a distance, the first thing you notice about the island is the lighthouse built during the British occupation; it offers a great view if you’re up for climbing 131 steps to reach the top. A mosque, originally built for the lighthouse keeper, also remains, but is presently used for storage.

Chumbe Island Coral Park, Ltd. (CHICOP), the nonprofit that manages this private island, has won numerous awards for tourism, environmental conservation and sustainable management; plus, it offers some of the “greenest” lodging on the planet. The state-of-the-art facilities were designed to be carbon neutral, using rainwater catchment, vegetative greywater filtration, solar-powered water heating and electricity and composting toilets. They even have wi-fi which is also solar-powered. However, to enjoy Chumbe, you’ll have to be one of the “lucky 14” since there are only seven double-occupancy bungalows on the whole island. Fortunately, even the day trip included the use of a private bungalow! Its open air shower was stocked with organic cinnamon-scented soap and lemongrass-scented shampoo. So rapturous! (I must have really needed a vacation.)

Every staff member I met was kind, cheerful and hospitable. They walked us through the daily schedule of activities, which included 12:00 pm snorkeling; 1:30 pm lunch; and a 3:00 pm nature hike. Around 200 coral species live in Chumbe Reef Sanctuary—90% of the hard coral species ever recorded in East Africa. Nearby waters boast nearly 400 species of fish, critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles and dolphins. On the island, the Closed Forest Reserve is home to over 50 species of birds and other endangered animals such as the Ader’s duiker and coconut crab.

After a delicious lunch, I found a cabana called “Jahazi View” to call my own. It’s obvious that the resort designers dotted the island with benches, cabanas and lounge chairs in a way that allows guests to choose community or seclusion. Amazing.

I’m already hoping for a return trip!

Chumbe Island_2

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