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Chumbe Island

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Posted by  Simba Tuesday, 31 October 2006 14:33

Chumbe Island

Chumbe Island


Accommodation on Chumbe Island is - in many aspects - something really special. It's what Robinson Crusoe could only have dreamt about!

The beautiful eco-lodge on Chumbe Island - ZanzibarFirstly, the bungalows themselves are so brilliantly designed that they provide both privacy and a sense of freedom of living in the open (see "Eco-bungalows" for more information). Many of our clients find these bungalows exceptionally romantic (honeymooners love them), but any individual with a passion for natural beauty will find these bungalows captivating beyond measure. All bungalows overlook the sea and it takes just 30 seconds to stroll from the comforts of your bungalow hammock to feeling the warm tropical ocean lapping at your feet. All bungalows are equipped with double or twin beds in the sleeping area under the palmthatched roof, self-contained bathrooms with hot & cold shower, large living rooms, equipped with handmade furniture and decorated with African art and colourful fabrics... (and very comfortable hammocks).

Since there are only seven bungalows, the island never gets crowded, even when we are fully booked.

Eco-lodge on Chumbe-Island - ZanzibarThat - secondly - makes sure that our team find the time to give you all the service and attention that you deserve on your peaceful and relaxing holiday away from traffic, phones, TV, faxes, loud music...

Thirdly our prices include everything except alcoholic drinks. All the food, soft drinks, snacks, park fees, park ranger services like forest walks, guided snorkeling on the reef (with all equipment provided), scheduled boat transfers back and forth to the island, etc... everything is included. And, if you're not quite sure about your snorkeling skills: our experienced rangers provide excellent tuition.

Last, but not least, dining takes place under the impressive roof of our visitor's centre, which overlooks the sea between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania. Our chefs provide an abundant supply of mouth-watering dishes that are a mixture of Zanzibarian, Arabic, Indian and African tastes and satisfy both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.


One of the beautiful Eco-Bungalows on Chumbe Island - Zanzibar, TanzaniaBeing a Marine Protected Area (MPA) the focal aim of the Chumbe Island Coral Park Project is to preserve Chumbe Island's exceptional environment. Therefore we have built accommodation based on the state-of-the-art of eco-architecture and eco-technology. So - What is so special about these Eco-bungalows?

As there is no ground water source in the rocky substrate of the island, each bungalow collects its own freshwater supply from rainwater (captured from the specially designed expanse of roof) during the rainy season. This rainwater passes through a complex filtration system and is stored in spacious underground cisterns (under each living room). The water is then hand-pumped (by either Ali, Juma or Yussuf on the Chumbe Team) through a solar-powered heating system into hot & cold-water containers for the shower and hand basin in the bathroom.

The used water from showers and basins is filtered through particulate filters, ending in specially sealed plant beds so that no polluted water will seep into the Reef Sanctuary. These beds are planted with species that are demanding in water and nutrients, and therefore easily absorb any remaining nitrates and phosphates.

To deal with sewage we have also installed composting toilets. These eco-toilets prevent sewage (from septic tanks) seeping through the porous ground into the Reef Sanctuary, (as this would lead to pollution of the fragile reef ecosystem, encourage algae growth and finally kill coral communities and organisms depending on them). Instead, human waste is quickly decomposed to natural fertilizer when mixed with compost (aerobic composting) in the compost chamber. To ensure the experience for the client is the same as with any regular toilet, specialized designs have been implemented with wind powered vent pipes and gradient storage so that it feels no different to using a regular toilet; except that composting toilets need no flush water at all, thus they also effectively economize on water.

Lights are powered by photovoltaic panels on the roof that provide ample environmentally friendly 12V energy for normal usage.

The open design of the bungalows, with minimal barriers to the open air, allows for maximum through-draft for cooling of the bungalows; a form of natural air-conditioning. To enhance this louvres are in place that can be lowered or closed depending on the desired temperature.


Other features of operations on Chumbe that ensure minimal disturbance to the environment include:

  • Organic soaps produced by a local women's co-operative in Zanzibar are provided for guests. In the process of purchasing supplies, non-organic products are avoided (i.e., plastic bags) and any unavoidable non-organic waste produced by the island is removed and incinerated in a specialised incinerator constructed by the project on the main island Unguja.
  • Drinking water is provided by advanced filters (made in Switzerland) located on the island. These effectively clean readily available tap water from Unguja, avoiding the need for mineral water in plastic bottles (which are still available for purchase, but are not readily encouraged, as plastic bottles are a problematic environmental hazard recently introduced into Zanzibar).
  • The walkways, nature trails and beach areas are not artificially illuminated at night. This protects feeding and breeding patters of nocturnal animals, and also helps preserve and view one of the most stunning attractions of Chumbe Island: the rare giant Coconut Crabs (Birgus latro). Instead, individual solar powered torches are provided for all guests that recharge each day for use each night.

These are some of the features that make Chumbe Island the globally recognized leading example of true ecotourism to be found anywhere in the World.

Chumbe Island has been awarded:

Independent Environmental Award from the International Hotel and Restaurant Association (IH&RA)

*** WORLD WINNER 2001***
Ecotourism Destination Award of the Condenast Traveler Magazine,

*** GLOBAL 500 LAUREATE 2000 ***
Outstanding Environmental Achievement Award of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Selected to represent Tanzania at the EXPO2000 World Exhibition, Hannover, Germany,

*** GLOBAL WINNER 1999 ***
British Airways TOURISM FOR TOMORROW Award

*** FINALIST ***
Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2001 and 2004

Award presented at the EXPO2000, Hannover Germany, where Chumbe was selected to represent Tanzania

Harpers Abroad November 2003 supplement, Harpers & Queen


Lots of activities are waiting for you on and around Chumbe Island. (Make sure you bring enough time with you!)

The whole of Chumbe Island is a nature reserve and you may explore its beauties either under the competent guidance of our park rangers or at your leisure.

Snorkel through our unique shallow water Reef Sanctuary or explore the Forest Reserve and historical monuments. Take an excursion out SCUBA diving the nearby reefs, or perhaps just allow yourself a lazy day watching dhows and outrigger boats go by ....

Reef Sanctuaries

Amazing diving experience at the Reef Sanctuary on Chumbe Island, ZanzibarSince the park was gazetted, having been recognised for its immense beauty and bio-diversity, there has been almost no fishing or un-authorised anchoring in the Chumbe Reef Sanctuary. The reef remains in a pristine state (which nowadays is sadly rare in the world).

The reef crest, encompassing a spectacular array of hard corals, is shallow (between 1-3m according to tides). Therefore snorkelers can see all those wonders of the underwater world normally only accessible to divers. If you swim up to the reef ridge the view opens up a world of breathtaking sights. Shoals of barracuda taking advantage of the abundant prey living on the reef glide by and if you are lucky you may get a chance to see the playful dolphins cruising in and out of the abyss. Each snorkeling excursion provides new discoveries for guests and with each visit you are unlikely to be disappointed!

With negligiblefishing intrusion for so many years, the marine wildlife has become very unconcerned about those few humans moving around. The diversity of fishes is unbelievable and their tameness very natural. To watch out for:

  • batfishes who have developed the habit of following snorkelers at close range all along the reef (out of curiosity?).
  • our resident hawksbill turtles regularly spotted feeding on the reef. If you imitate the slow flapping movements of her front flippers with your arms while keeping your legs still, she may allow you to accompany her for a long time without showing signs of disturbance.
  • lobsters peeping out from under corals, trying to investigate your presence with their long white feelers.
  • large bluespotted stingrays, apparently believing they are invisible when hiding under a thin layer of sand.
  • Oscar, the 1m potato grouper living in one of the caves, about 5m deep. He is too old to trust humans, so be patient if you'd like to spot him.
  • large, colourful parrotfish wandering about the reef and nibbling on the algae covering the corals with a very audible scratching sound.
  • many more fishes, nearly than 400 species in total; groupers, angelfish, butterfly fish, triggerfish, boxfish, sweetlips, unicornfish, trumpetfish, lionfish, moorish idols ... to name but a few.

All of these sites can be seen by snorkelling through this pristine shallow coral refuge and although SCUBA diving within the Chumbe reef sanctuary is not permitted (except for research and filming activities), it is still possible to enjoy diving on the nearby reefs. See the SCUBA diving section below.

Scuba Diving

Are you interested in diving the beautiful coral reefs off Zanzibar?

For qualified divers (PADI Open Water at least) we can arrange dive excursions from Chumbe Island to visit neighbouring reefs.
The excursion consists of two dives with the lead dive operator in Zanzibar (One Ocean Divers), on reefs off the west coast of Zanzibar, exact location weather dependent.
Departure time from Chumbe Island is 8am, and you will be picked up by One Ocean Divers at Mbweni Ruins. You will return to Chumbe Island around 4pm.
The excursion also includes all transfers, all your dive gear as well as lunch. 

Cost: US$125 per person, all inclusive.
If you would like to join a dive excursion, please let the island management know the day before. A minimum of two people is required.

Nature Trails

Enjoy the Nature Trails on Chumbe Island - ZanzibarWhen the tide is very low it's possible to walk all the way around the island, exploring the rock pools where juvenile fish and a myriad of crabs, shellfish, starfish, oysters and other invertebrates exist in the ever-changing environment of the intertidal. At spring tides, upon reaching the north point of the island, take the time to bask on the exposed sandbar providing over a km of pristine beach (but don't forget to turn back before the tide changes and the sandbar is absorbed back into the ocean). At the south point discover the amazing variety of starfish and explore the small islets where you may be fortunate enough to find Roseate Terns nesting and Fish Eagles battling for territory.

Discover the footpath leading down into a large intertidal pool overgrown with mangroves and shaded by huge baobab trees, where the seawater rises and falls with the tides and where you may observe many creatures adapted to these conditions.

Forest Reserves

A network of nature trails crisscross the southern part of the virgin coral rag forest that covers about 90% of Chumbe.

The bedrock of the island is made up of an impressive substrate of fossilized coral. You can still see the skeletal structures of corals and giant clams - a gentle reminder of the passage of time. More staggering still is the coral-rag forest. You would be forgiven for thinking it a rainforest at first, before closer inspection reveals that on Chumbe a highly specialised plant community has developed that survives without any groundwater. Instead some of these remarkably adapted trees depend on capturing moisture from the humidity in the air while others are able to store away months' supply of water during the rainy season. You will notice leaves that are either fleshy and waxy, or fold up during the heat of the day to reduce transpiration, and spiky euphorbia thrusts forth wherever it can get a stronghold. The dense canopy keeps the scorching sun out of the forest where aerial roots tangle and compete to form the incredibly dense matrix of this special forest habitat. To watch out for:

  • the birds hiding in the thicket. Our bird list consists of 64 species including the Mangrove and Pied Kingfishers, Fish Eagle and Peregrine Falcon.
  • the hermit crabs that busy about searching for new shells to adopt as their homes. Notice the early morning mosaic of trails across the sand where they have been exploring the beach while you sleep.
  • the exceptionally shy Ader’s Duikers (Cephalophus adersi), the rarest antelope in the world. Under threat of extinction in its endemic Zanzibar, where less than 500 individuals remain; CHICOP, in collaboration with the Zanzibar Forestry Department, undertook the translocation as part of a program to protect this species, making Chumbe home to the only Ader’s duiker sanctuary.
  • observe the rare giant Coconut Crabs (Birgus latro). They can reach up to 45 cm in diameter!! These magnificent invertebrates roam about at night and are able to climb palm trees to reach their sought-after coconuts.
  • identify the best examples of petrified stone corals and giant clams that are 15,000 years old, in the rocky lunar landscape on the eastern side of the island where salt sprays from the sea prevent vegetation.

Historical Monuments

You can also climb the 131 steps to the top of the Chumbe Lighthouse, built in 1904 by the Sultan of Zanzibar and the British. From the top you can enjoy the breathtaking view of the turquoise seas between Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar, still plied by dhows unchanged for a thousand years. For early risers, reaching the top of the lighthouse at sunrise is a spectacular way to start the day, as the sun appears over the land mass of Zanzibar (Unguja) island, turning the ocean a deep orange and flecking the scenery with spectacular hues. With the arrival of morning the breeze picks up as if on cue, to billow the sails of the flotilla of dhows departing from their village moorings to set sail for the working day.

The lighthouse was fitted with a gas light in 1926 which still works today and this historic monument has featured in the annals of historic manuscripts (one infamous story being the wartime encounter between the battleships 'Koenigsberg' and 'Pegasus' on the 20th September 1914 ....)

After a day of exploration and discovery, dine under the huge palm thatched roof stretching over the ruins of the historical lighthouse keeper's house converted into a visitors' centre. This spectacular structure has kept the enclosed ruins intact, and offers tranquil views across the ocean. Next door nestles the beautifully elaborate small mosque, built for the lighthouse keepers nearly 100 years ago. The mosque is one of the only Indian-style mosques in Zanzibar, and it is still in use today by the team on the island.

Contact Details:

Chumbe Island Coral Park Ltd.

P.O.Box 3203, Zanzibar/Tanzania
Tel & Fax +255-(0)24-2231040, Fax (UK) +44-(0)870-1341284
Project Manager: +255-(0)777-413582

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