Zanzibar is one of the most picturesque islands in the world. If you’re planning a trip soon and want to know which hotel offers the best value for money in return for top-notch luxury, then Riu Palace may be the one for you’ve been looking for.
Having spent a week at this gorgeous resort, here’s our personal review on why Riu Palace Zanzibar ticked all of the boxes on our list.
What makes Riu Palace Zanzibar stand out from others?
Aside from being located on the best-looking beach, offering beautiful hotel grounds and some of the most amazing buffet food you will ever have, Riu Palace has got a lot going for itself.
Whether you prefer fun or relaxation, this hotel has managed to cater to a wide range of people.
Up until recently, Riu Palace Zanzibar was an adult-only resort.
The smart move to change this to appeal to those with families has meant that Riu Palace Zanzibar has opened itself up to a portion of the market they were missing out on previously.
Even with a global pandemic, they are managing to remain fully booked on all counts thanks to this decision, along with new direct flights to Zanzibar from Eastern Europe.
Riu Palace is located in the north of Zanzibar Island which is known for its beautiful crystal clear beaches and upscale accommodation options in comparison to the east.
It is the furthest north it can get from the airport and if you’re planning on getting out of the resort regularly it’s worth knowing how long it takes to get to points of interest.
Distances from Riu Palace Zanzibar (by taxi):
- Matemwe Beach: 30mins
- Stone Town: 1hr
- Airport: 1hr 10mins
- Jozani Forest: 1hr 10mins
- Paje Beach: 1hr 10mins
- Jambiani Beach: 1hr 15mins
If you definitely want an all-inclusive holiday, then in terms of variety and quality of food we promise you that you will not be disappointed with Riu Palace!
We don’t ordinarily like to do all-inclusive as we prefer to eat locally and soak up the culture of places we visit.
However, we had already spent some time around Zanzibar and were ready to sit back and enjoy being held captive in luxury.
It is probably the most well-organized hotel in Zanzibar in terms of efficiency and timings for serving meals and delivering drinks.
The 24-hour all-inclusive package at Riu Palace offers:
- Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner – hot and cold buffet with live cooking stations, fresh fruit and juices, assorted desserts
- Optional à la carte dinner at three restaurants
- Snacks 24 hours a day
- Beverages – local, imported, and printed branded drinks throughout the hotel. Regularly stocked minibar
- Stand-up paddle surfing, pedaloes, kayaking, and snorkeling equipment
Our Food and Dining Experience
Food is a big deal for us. One of the main reasons we chose to stay at Riu Palace was based on the reviews we had read about how happy people were with the buffet meals and live cooking stations.
Every night has a slightly different theme and there is no scrimping on the variety of food on offer.
On one night, the buffet restaurant was serving grilled lobster which we were not aware of until we were walking in for dinner.
We could see people with two or three servings on their plates, convinced that there wouldn’t be anything left by the time we got there.
How wrong were we!
The staff at the restaurant kept the food coming at all times and there was no shortage of any of the popular dishes.
Although staying at Riu Palace is not cheap, we were slightly confused at how they could manage to serve up hundreds of lobsters during a buffet dinner!
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À la carte
There was also the option of à la carte meals from a selection of three restaurants.
We experienced Krystal Fusion Restaurant and the Steakhouse, both of which were lovely meals but lacked the atmosphere of the buffet evenings (we never thought we’d hear ourselves say this!)
You need to book these restaurants in advance and we were surprised on arrival that very few people had taken up the offer of à la carte meals which are included in the all-inclusive package.
It didn’t take too long for us to realize that everyone had the same idea.
The buffet at Riu Palace is sooo good, that à la carte is not actually necessary here!
From the reviews we had read online before arrival, people had complained that they were unable to get a table at the à la carte restaurants.
However, had they been able to compare it with the offerings at the buffet restaurant, we suspect they wouldn’t have too much to complain about.
Unless you fancy getting dressed up, you’re on honeymoon, or simply prefer being wined and dined, personally, we can say the culinary experience in the buffet restaurant far outweighs the à la carte options.
Another great area that Riu Palace is nailing are their all-inclusive drinks offering which includes premium branded drinks. You can essentially request any combination of spirits and mixers as many times as you desire.
All staff at the resort were extremely friendly and helpful and never kept us waiting long before refilling our drinks.
The following is their current drinks menu which will give you some idea as to the variety of available options.
Now, we are not ones for getting involved in daytime resort-based activities, but Ali, the person that rounds everyone up for a game of water volleyball, is incredibly good at his job!
On his first approach, our natural instinct was to politely decline, however, we volunteered and ended up having so much fun!
The big burly Russain guys and glamourous girls seemed far less intimidating after a playful game or two!
If you would rather have a chilled-out experience there are plenty of areas to bathe during the day other than the main swimming pool.
There is evening entertainment at the resort which is ok depending on what sorts of things you like. At no point does it get loud or too lively, it’s more of a chilled-out experience with live music on a large stage.
There are other options to head out down the beach to other local hotels if you fancy a slightly different scene, but overall it is fairly ‘grown-up’ in the resort.
One of the best selling points of this resort is the fact it is set on its own little slice of Nungwi Beach.
The beaches in the north do not experience huge variations in tides like the east of the island.
With beautifully soft sand and bath warm waters, it’s the perfect place to take a dip whilst admiring the African dhows sailing by.
There are security guards located on the beach to prevent access to the resort grounds for those that are not staying at Riu Palace.
The hotel has its own peer which cuts off access to the left of the beach, making this area far quieter than most as people are not passing through.
Space is available for around 20 sun loungers on the beach when the tide is out and we never saw all of these being used. There could be a variety of reasons for this, but we suspect the high numbers of beach vendors might have a part to play in it.
Beach vendors are part of the culture in Zanzibar. Although they can be a nuisance to some, their livelihoods rely on the generosity of tourists purchasing their products. And as Riu hosts some of the wealthiest tourists on the island, many beach vendors take the opportunity to hang out here.
TIP: If you take a very short walk to the left of the beach, you will come across an overhang which makes for such pretty photos! Head over when the tide is slightly out and enjoy the natural beauty along this part of Nungwi Beach.
Rooms at Riu Palace Zanzibar
There are a wide selection of rooms available at Riu Palace to suit all types of mid-to-high-end luxury budgets.
TIP: If you are able to spend a little extra on the Suite (Garden View) we highly recommend it as this is a MAJOR upgrade from the Junior Suite (Courtyard View) on all fronts.
All rooms include the following extras as standard:
- Bottled mineral water
- Tea/coffee making facilities (although we guarantee you will not need to use this!)
- Luxury bathroom toiletries
- Good quality slippers
- Iron and ironing board
Junior Suite (Courtyard View)
- 32-meter square
- Newly refurbished contemporary decor
- Furthest from the beach and restaurants
- Apartment-style block
- From $287 per night
Junior Suite (Garden View)
- 45-meter square
- Traditional African-style decor
- From $320 per night
Recommended Upgrade: These suites are located in the middle of the resort with gorgeous views towards the ocean and with only one row of rooms, feeling completely private and like you have no neighbors whatsoever.
- 51-meter square
- Sofa or sofa bed
- Traditional African-style decor
- Large balcony or terrace
- From $352 per night
Superior Ocean Suite
- 60-meter square
- Newly refurbished contemporary decor
- From $467 per night
- 90-meter square
- Jacuzzi on patio/balcony
- Huge bathroom
- From $569 per night
- 90-meter square
- Hydromassage bathtub
- Private Swimming Pool
- From $811 per night
- 125-meter square
- Living room
- Dressing room
- Private Pool
- From $875 per night
Getting to Mnemba Island from Riu Palace
Being located at the northern tip of the island makes it nice and easy to get to Mnemba Island where you can expect to swim with dolphins and huge amounts of pretty fish.
Riu Palace can arrange for a short boat tour from the beach which takes around 25 minutes to reach Mnemba Island. The cost for this is $140 for around 4 hours on a small boat with a cover for shade.
We have swam with dolphins on several occasions around the world, but the dolphins of Zanzibar were different from those we had experienced before.
Firstly, they popped up when we were not expecting them!
Secondly, they hung around with us for a lot longer than most, almost being playful and curious which is fairly rare for wild dolphin encounters.
Even if you have been lucky enough to swim with them before, you must try it again when visiting Zanzibar!
Pros and Cons of staying at Riu Palace Zanzibar
There are pros and cons for all types of accommodation options. Here are some of the key areas to note for Riu Palace:-
- Excellent quality buffet food
- Great selection of drinks and cocktails
- Located on one of the best beaches in Zanzibar
- Large, clean, and comfortable rooms
- Friendly and helpful staff
- Beautifully manicured hotel grounds
- Sunset views to die for
- Family-friendly hotel
- Extensive grounds mean you may have a lot of walking to do
- Poor wifi throughout the resort (this is a common problem in all of Zanzibar)
- Beach vendors can come across as a little pushy
- Can be difficult to get a booking at à la carte restaurants
- It didn’t bother us, but the resort is very smoker-friendly
- Closest ATM machine is 1km walk away
- The level of service can be dependant on how regularly you tip staff
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COVID-19 Safety Measures at Riu Palace
Riu Palace is doing the best job it possibly can with regard to Covid-19 safety measures.
We were a little concerned and apprehensive about whether the pandemic may negatively impact our experience of Riu Palace. We didn’t even know if we would be required to wear masks at all times, which would seriously put a downer on our holiday!
The only time guests are required to wear face masks is when they are entering the restaurant (which are the most densely populated areas). Once people have been seated at their table masks can be removed until you either get back up to the buffet or leave.
All staff wear face masks and regularly wipe down common area surfaces between seatings.
There are hand sanitizers at every entrance and they carry out temperature checks each time you enter the restaurants.
If you are really concerned about contracting Covid-19 then you should reconsider traveling altogether, as there are no guarantees that these measures will be sufficient enough for protection.
Do I Need Travel Insurance For Zanzibar?
Absolutely. This is not because Zanzibar poses any more risk than other destinations but because you want to limit the level of inconvenience or trauma should the unexpected happen. Medical treatment and emergency transportation can be extremely expensive in Tanzania.
Without a doubt, this is our favorite place to search for Travel Insurance. They have policies that can provide cover for COVID-19-related issues, just be sure to check out whether they have a 5-star rating.
COVID-19 insurance cover is absolutely essential if you’re booking any travel over the next 12 months. Take a good look at the conditions to see what you’re willing to accept. Making sure that you’re covered for medical treatments should take priority over cover for holiday cancellations.
Our Riu Palace Zanzibar Review
Finding a true 5-star hotel in Zanzibar is quite a challenge as the island is simply catching up with the growing demands of western tourists and their expectations.
As far as luxury resorts go, Riu Palace provides exceptional service and all-around facilities to make your experience a positively memorable one.
If you’ve been sifting through reviews looking for confirmation as to the best overall luxury resort in Zanzibar, then Riu Palace should definitely be at the top of your list.