When it comes to beaches, I’m spoiled; not only did I grow up in Santa Cruz, a mere five-minute walk from the Pacific, but I also spent a week with my family in Hawaii nearly every June until I graduated from college. After that, my glimpses of the ocean were somewhat sporadic, but I later made up for that by spending three months exploring the coasts of Brazil, which boasts some of the most perfect beaches I have ever seen.

Now that I live in London, I travel as frequently as possible but am pretty much always beach and sun deprived. Therefore, when I was considering where to go for my winter escape/belated post-NYC marathon trip, I knew that my destination had to be warm and within reach of the ocean.

E and I both tend to get antsy if we spend too many days lying around, so our initial idea was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and then recover in Zanzibar. Cut to mid-November: We had just completed the marathon, and the last thing we wanted to do was climb the highest mountain in Africa. So we decided to save our adventure fix for later in the year and go straight to the beach!

As you can see from my photo album, our trip was, all things considered, fantastic. We stayed at Anna of Zanzibar, a relatively small, all-inclusive hotel on Bwejuu beach that perfectly satisfied my craving for somewhere private and luxurious yet low-key. With only four villas, and thus a maximum of 8-10 guests, the hotel was very peaceful. There was also plenty of space to wander around and relax, including the main guest house with bar and lounging areas, the pool and poolside lounges, comfy beach chairs and endless stretches of sand. With such an intimate, laid-back set-up (no front desk, concierge, telephone, restaurant etc.), E and I could pretend that we were simply spending a little time at our Zanzibari winter home! *sigh*

I was particularly impressed by the impeccable service we experienced. Everyone was so friendly and accommodating – a real shock coming from London! We could eat on our private veranda, the beach, the main veranda, by the pool or wherever else we desired at any time we wanted, at a beautifully set table and served by one (or sometimes all) of our three waiters. Best of all, every meal was an intimate, leisurely affair – I can’t tell you how nice it was, for once, to sit down to a meal with E for an hour or more, three times a day, and simply enjoy our food, the views and each other, without feeling rushed to finish or distracted by phone calls/emails/whatever else (we had taken a vow to unplug for all eight days)! Such a healthier and more enjoyable way to eat – made me realize how badly I need to do this more often in my daily life.

Breakfasts were made to order off of a large menu and usually consisted of fresh juice, tropical fruit, and coffee, and for me, an omelet, banana bread and bircher muesli. We were then approached a couple of hours before the next meal to choose from the day’s three-course lunch or dinner menu. The food was very good, but I found some of the options to be too heavy for my taste – thankfully, if I wanted to alter a dish or request something not on the menu, it wasn’t a problem. Some of the food I enjoyed included fresh grilled fish, masai spiced steak, goat stew and chicken tagine with various types of salads, sauteed vegetables, rice and banana dishes, and ginger ice cream, pineapple flambé, crepes and banana fritters for dessert. Three massive meals a day (but no snacking or processed foods), combined with exercise and tons of sleep resulted in me actually losing weight – that never happens on vacation!

As for the beach, Bwejuu was beautiful but not quite as pristine as others I have seen. There were piles of seaweed across the sand and in the water, and the sea urchins and coral also restricted where you could swim. Because of our timing and/or a bit of bad luck, the tides were not extremely favorable to swimming during the day (or running in the morning before breakfast) until our last few days, and we also experienced unusually strong winds, which forced us indoors on a few occasions. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed ourselves, particularly once the wind died down and the tides shifted towards the end of our week.

My full set of photos describes the trip best, but it’s worth mentioning a few highlights:

Day 1

Touchdown Nairobi airport at 6am, East Africa Time: In my sleep-deprived state, I simply remember squat toilets and an endless narrow corridor lined with shops, all selling overpriced M&Ms, booze and cigarettes.

8am flight to Zanzibar: The pilot announces that because there is no traffic, he will give us a bird’s eye view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Guess we didn’t have to climb it afterall!

We arrive at Anna of Zanzibar just before noon and are warmly greeted by our host Michael, a German who has managed the hotel for several years. We luck out and score the best villa right on the beach.

We immediately change into swimsuits and nap in our comfy beach chairs, getting up for meals and the occasional walk or swim, and ending our evening reading and relaxing in our mosquito-proof four poster bed until we pass out. That pretty much sums up nearly every day!

Day 2

We wake up at 9am, having slept for 12 hours. Best. Sleep. Ever.

After more lounging in the sun, the tide finally recedes enough that we can go for a run – at the hottest point in the day! Not wanting to ruin the little progress I have made on the tanning front, I come up with the perfect outfit – visor, tube top, bikini bottoms and running shoes. I don’t look ridiculous, not at all…

There’s nothing more liberating than running half-naked on a beach – until the locals start yelling “jumbo” at you as you pass by (I soon find out that they are saying “jambo” – or hello in Swahili). I maintain a good pace until I change directions and battle the ferocious wind at half my easy pace. I grew up running on the beach, but this is a very different ballgame!

The wind forces our beach dinner to the main veranda, but we don’t mind as we seem to have the entire hotel to ourself.

Day 3

After more sunbathing and reading, we break up our day with a sailing trip – sadly the tide ends up being too low to get very far, but it’s fun while it lasts! We nearly crash into this poor fishermen three times, and the last time he looks like he’s about to throw something at us but instead proudly shows off an eel he has caught before proceeding to bang it on the head with a big stick.

We decide to attempt another run in the late afternoon, this time aiming for 90 minutes in the hopes that it will be cooler/less windy. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and I discover the hard way that running after two big meals in tropical conditions is too much for my body to handle…

Two more couples arrive today – who do they think they are, invading our winter home like this?!

Day 4

After a relaxing morning, I decide it’s the perfect time to try barefoot running! E grabs his Vibrams and we run for 20 minutes on the sand at an easy pace. I somehow manage to dodge all of the rocks and shells that are scattered across the beach. What a great experience!

We take a break from the beach with an excursion to the historic Stone Town, about an hour’s drive from our hotel on the other side of the island. It is at least twice as hot there without the strong breeze, and since we are in a predominantly Muslim country, I am melting underneath my long dress and coverup.

We meet our guide in the main market, where we encounter various fish and meat stalls. The stench, accompanied by thousands of flies, is overwhelming. I ask our guide how anything can possibly keep in the heat for so many hours – “Oh it’s fine, very good meat” he says. E and I both give each other a look, and I know we’re each praying that what we’ve been eating does not come from here. We later learn that Michael buys his meat and fish elsewhere – but only after implying that he gets it from the market and seeing our horrified faces!

By contrast, the fruit and spice market is amazing – the sheer number and sizes of the bananas on display is mind blowing. The “long” banana is nearly as long as my arm, no joke.

Stone Town itself is chaotic but fascinating – we wander through the maze of narrow streets, learning about the history and architecture while dodging motorcycles and fending off the aggressive shopkeepers. We end our tour with a sundowner at Africa House (a former British club), watching the locals practice capoeira on the waterfront as the sun sets.

We nearly die several times in head-on collisions during the drive home – Michael wasn’t kidding when he said that African drivers are “a bit special.”

When we arrive back at the hotel, all of the other guests are gathered at the bar. It’s Michael’s birthday, so he has organized a small party and outdoor seafood BBQ, which I sadly can’t enjoy given my shellfish allergy. A giant lobster hangs off E’s plate and stares at me while I pick at my kingfish, which was cooked on the same grill. I grasp my epipen in one hand and my fork in the other…

As we finish dinner, Michael’s local friends arrive and a band starts to perform several hours worth of cover songs, primarily from Lionel Richie’s greatest hits but not leaving out classics such as “Celebrate Good Times” and “Sexual Healing.” Some of the waiters are doing an interesting African (?) dance – E and I sneak away just after a group starts to do the electric slide…

Day 5

I wake up and FREAK out as I discover that my legs, arms and parts of my back and stomach are covered in red bumps. It turns out that I have heat rash (although I don’t find this out until later on)! Needless to say, I spend most of my remaining days in the shade – huge bummer, but it works out well today since it is so windy that we can’t be outside without eating sand.

We read in the main house all afternoon, with the day’s excitement including watching one of the hotel staff climb a palm tree to get me a coconut (I LOVE fresh coconut water), and spotting a monkey walk by our window. Kiki and Mr. Bean, the two inseparable hotel dogs, chase the monkey up one of the trees, where it remains for the rest of the afternoon. I manage to snap a picture of the monkey peering down at me!

Day 6

The tides have finally improved, so that it’s actually possible to go swimming during the day. Yippee! We take a long walk in the late morning and find a small but lovely swimming (more like dipping) spot.

I decide to attempt, perhaps stupidly, another late afternoon long run. Yet again, I start to feel very ill, but I somehow push through 7 miles, distracted from my discomfort by a herd of unattended cows and donkeys hanging out by the water, some random dogs chasing me and nipping at my calves, and an impromptu kick of a soccer ball as it hurls towards the ocean (I’m only mentioning this because I’m very impressed with myself for kicking it in the right direction). Ah, the joys of running in Africa.

Day 7

Another night of 10+ hours of sleep. Heavenly. It’s incredible just how much better I sleep when electronics are not taking over my life.

It’s our second to last day, and the tide is finally favorable to morning running. E and I are up early and do a 30min steady run. Even at 8am, it’s hot and humid, and the wind on the way back makes keeping up my 8-8:15 min/mile pace very challenging! Thankfully, our hard work is rewarded by yet another delicious breakfast on our veranda.

It’s also finally less windy – perfect weather, in fact. Michael informs us that this is the typical weather 11 months of the year – but of course it is, because we’re about to leave!

E and I set up camp in a different set of beach chairs, and finally figure out how we can both comfortably sit in the hammock at the same time. We don’t/can’t move for hours once we get into position! Thankfully, James/Siegbert/Dennis bring us drinks so we don’t have to go anywhere, until dinner (although maybe we could’ve had dinner in there too…)

Day 8

The weather is awesome – I enjoy another short, early morning run on the beach. As much as running has been tough here, I will kind of miss it! That said, running in crisp weather sounds very appealing…

We luck out again in terms of our villa and are able to stay there and enjoy the hotel facilities until we head to the airport at 3:30pm. Normally checkout is 10am, but the villa’s next occupants don’t arrive for another day and Michael is very generous!

We go for another long beach walk, enjoy our last ocean-view meal, and get stuck in the hammock for a couple of hours before it’s time to pack up and leave.

Sadly, our journey home is not quite as timely and efficient as we had hoped. The flight from Zanzibar is delayed nearly two hours, and then further delays in Nairobi prevent us from taking off until 1am. We finally get back to London around 9am the next day, desperate for another vacation!

All in all, a wonderful and relaxing getaway. Although Bwejuu didn’t quite rank among my top beach destinations, I’d highly recommend the hotel. If I could do it again, I would consider shortening the beach time slightly and starting the trip with a safari on mainland Tanzania. That said, E and I needed all eight beach days on this occasion – and I certainly could use another eight right now!

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