It was designed as a getaway for a member of the 1980s pop group ABBA, but has since been turned into a luxurious eco-friendly beach getaway that costs around $1,000 a night including meals, drinks, and activities.
While I had never heard of Kilindi before, I found that it might be the most perfect romantic getaway hotel I've ever seen. Each guest stays in a private villa overlooking the beach with its own pool, can dine on excellent food anywhere in the hotel (including your villa), and has a private butler who makes sure your stay is exactly what you want it to be.
I've always wondered what it would like to live inside the dreamworld of one of the stars from ABBA, the Swedish pop group megapopular in the 1980s that eventually inspired the hit musical Mamma Mia.
Okay, you caught me. I've never wondered that. But after spending a few nights inside the beachside villas designed for Benny Andersson, one of ABBA's members and now a film composer, I can say I dream about it now. The man had impeccable taste.
Located on Zanzibar, a stunning archipelago off the coast of Africa, Elewana Kilindi Zanzibaropened to swanky travelers in 2009 with the idea of turning the all-inclusive beach vacation on its head.
Each guest stays in one of 15 eco-friendly villas that combine Swedish minimalism with Arabic architectural shapes. Meals are served up from a daily menu by German-Italian chef Lucas Wollman featuring local seafood and flavors inspired by Zanzibar's history of African, Arabic, Asian, and island influences. Each guest gets his or her own butler, who is on call at all times. The entire 50-acre property is made up into a lush tropical garden and sits on top of clear turquoise waters where locals still work to harvest seaweed.
For those looking for the beach honeymoon destination of their dreams, look no further. I think I've found the platonic ideal, so long as you can afford the approximately $1,000 a night it costs to stay there.
Kilindi is on Zanzibar, an archipelago off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean better known as the "Spice Islands." For hundreds of years, Zanzibar was at the center of the spice trade, where it was a leading producer of nutmeg, cloves, saffron, cinnamon, and vanilla. These days, Zanzibar is better known as a tropical vacation spot.
While the south is dominated by the main city, Stone Town, and the airport, the north is full of gorgeous beaches — think powdery white beaches and turquoise waters — and resorts.
When I flew in last February, I drove the 90 minutes north to Kilindi, a boutique hotel considered by many to be the most beautiful Zanzibar has to offer. When I arrived, I immediately noticed the plants and flowers that had overtaken the property.
While Kilindi is considered a boutique hotel, it's probably unlike any luxury hotel you've been to. There is a central building for dining and amenities, but guests stay in their own private villas.
There are fifteen "pavilions" for guests to stay in. The curved dome buildings look like, in the words of travel writer Graeme Green, "a mix of Gaudi, Scandinavian and Arab influences."
Each pavilion has three levels. The first is the bedroom pavilion, which includes a four-poster king-size bed surrounded by a mosquito net. At one end of the bedroom are three wooden doors that open onto a balcony overlooking the ocean.
Shortly after arriving, I found a handwritten letter thanking me for staying at Kilindi. The hotel is big on service. Each villa has its own dedicated butler, or "guest ambassador," who handles everything from meals to laundry to special requests.
Each room comes with fresh coffee — Tanzania is well known for its excellent coffee beans — as well as teas, and fresh juices and fruits brought each morning.
The villas, and the hotel at large, are designed to be "open-to-nature." Each part of the villas is open and filled with plants so it never feels like there is a clear distinction between inside and outside.
That openness can have some slightly weird, whimsical effects, like the bathroom which is its own open dome with no door. It's cleverly designed so that you can't see the toilet unless you are in the bathroom, but you could wander in on your spouse accidentally.
If you are the one using the bathroom, however, you have a nice open view.
Everything at Kilindi comes in twos, which is little surprise. It's meant to be a romantic getaway, not a family vacation spot. No kids younger than 16 are allowed.
The third level of the pavilion is the relaxing area. There is a private plunge pool and a pergola to provide shade.
But unless you are used to the harsh African sun, you might be spending a lot of the day in the shade, like I did. There's a covered pavilion with day beds, an eating area, and lounge chairs. The furniture is earthy, but simple, like most of the property.
Set on 50 beautiful acres, Kilindi feels like a botanical garden. The walk to the restaurant takes a couple of minutes, but it's a serene walk through lush trees, hibiscus flowers, and other plants.
The central building has the same design aesthetic as the villas. Everything is airy and open so that you never really feel fully inside or outside.
One of the hotel's core concepts is that guests should be able to have whatever they want, wherever they want. If you want to eat your breakfast at the beach, your butler will make that happen. If you want to eat every meal in your villa, that's okay, too.
For my first breakfast, I ate at a table outside the restaurant, overlooking the pool, the property, and the ocean. While Kilindi's food is not quite at Michelin star-levels, it has some standout dishes, like its lobster eggs Benedict which comes with succulent lobster meat brushed with a soy-citrus glaze.
After breakfast, I was given a reusable water bottle that I was encouraged to fill at water stations around the property. Kilindi has many eco-friendly features, like roofs that collect rain water for the many plants.
Though the hotel sits on the ocean, it also has a pool. Painted in a calming sky blue, the pool has a stunning view overlooking the beach.
The upstairs of the main building is a seating area with couches, board games, a library, and Moroccan lamps. It seemed like a peaceful place to spend a rainy day, but I don't think most people use it.
The main building struck me mostly as a calming place to pass through on the way to the restaurant, the pool, or back to the villa.
One of the chief pleasures of the hotel is simply walking around the grounds and admiring the nature. Monkeys, birds, and lizards can be found all over the property. I spotted this tiny chameleon as it crossed the path in front of me.
The best part of the property is the beach. Many Zanzibaris that I spoke to told me that Kilindi has the best beach on the island.
When I walked down the path to the sand, I saw why. The forest stops just at the beach's edge, where there are numerous shaded day beds near the water.
The beds are soft and comfy with sheer white sheets providing protection from the sun.
Shortly after sitting down, a Kilindi bartender brought over a freshly cut coconut. You can order just about anything you want at the beach, but I was only looking for hydration.
By lunchtime, I was ready to take a break from the sun. Even under the shade, the sun peeks through. I headed up to the villa and asked the butler to serve lunch there. It's a simple, but ridiculous kind of luxury to have fancy meals wherever you want on the property.
Lunch is kept simple by Kilindi chef Lucas Wollman ... if, that is, a three-course lunch could ever be considered simple. I started with tropical octopus salad.
My main was grilled fish of the day with french fries. While the fish tasted fresh, it didn't have a lot of flavor.
If you were following the foreshadowing in this article, you would have noticed that I said the butler will even get your laundry done for you. I did in fact get two weeks worth of laundry cleaned. It was done in only a few hours.
In the afternoon, the sun begins to set into the ocean in front of Kilindi, spraying the entire property in rays of golden light. It's worth coming down to the main property to see.
The beach looks even more magnificent at that time of day as well. It's the perfect time to borrow a stand-up board or kayak from Kilindi and take it out on the water.
In the middle of the day, I watched locals harvest seaweed in the low tidewaters. But by the afternoon, the calm waters reach nearly up to forest, leaving a small sliver of beach to enjoy.
With the waters warm and still, it's a perfect time to take a dip. I found myself marveling at how the view of beach is a mesmerizing gradient from white sand to turquoise water.
After the sun set into the horizon, it was time for dinner. While I could have had dinner up at the villa, I thought it would be more interesting to eat at this table, with the view overlooking the boats.
While the breakfast and lunch menus stay the same, the five-course dinner menu changes daily and includes French, Asian, Arabic, and Zanzibari influences. I started with a tom yum prawn soup with soya noodles.
For my main, I had the chili roasted cashew nut catch of the day with classic Zanzibari sides like cinnamon rice, green papaya, and tomato and cucumber salad. Dessert was a decadent brownie brightened by a mango cheese parfait.
What did I think of Kilindi? After staying two nights, I don't think I've ever been to a more simply and beautifully designed hotel in such a perfect setting. It is the platonic ideal of a romantic beach getaway for me.