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Paradise During a Pandemic

 
Why Planning a Honeymoon in the Midst of Covid was Worth the Effort.
By Senior Safari Designer, Ross Cambray
When we started planning our wedding for March 2020 and our honeymoon for November 2020, little did Rosie and I realise how challenging the year in question would be! We were at least able to have our dream wedding just before the Covid pandemic truly took hold, but honeymoon plans were immediately put into doubt, even though at the time we were still nine months away.

We had planned for an epic three-week, three-country journey through East Africa — gorilla trekking in Uganda, big-game safari in several locations in Kenya and some relaxing beach-time on Zanzibar.

The contacts and knowledge garnered from over 12 years of designing holidays for others were certainly put to good use to come up with what we knew would be a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. Well, it turns out Covid is a once-in-a-lifetime roadblock to those plans — or at least we hope it’ll only be once!
Ross and Rosie at the beach at Xanadu Villas.

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Beach, Zanzibar.

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Pool at Xanadu Villas.

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It had taken some time to get everything in place, but as 2020 went on, and as I continued to work on postponements for many of my clients, it became clear that I would have to do the same for our own trip. Even though borders to all three countries re-opened, trying to combine them in one trip with all the relevant entry restrictions and Covid-related protocols was getting too complicated, so reluctantly I used my newfound postponement expertise to push back the safari element to 2022.

We were still desperate to get away somewhere, anywhere, and Zanzibar seemed ideal: no negative Covid test required to get into Tanzania — a country with low case numbers and low risk anyway — and similarly no flight restrictions when flying with Qatar Airways through Doha. It would be a long two-stage journey, but surely worth it…

And that’s how we came to be relaxing in unbroken sunshine for the first week of December as the UK plunged into the depths of winter! Our ground partners were very accommodating at adjusting our arrangements slightly, at relatively short notice and with no additional costs. And travelling really was as easy and pain-free as we had hoped. Now-normal mask wearing and social distancing is the same in airports and on planes as it is in shops and on public transport at home.
Spa outside at Xanadu Villas.

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Guest suite veranda at Matemwe Retreat.

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Mbingu room at Xanadu Villas.

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Once we were on the beach, we began drifting away from the world as we'd come to know it this year, relaxing in complete privacy with little indication that Covid even existed. Staff were of course very careful, wearing masks at all times and sadly, but necessarily eschewing the usual warm African hugs and handshakes. And of course all properties have robust sanitisation and cleaning protocols. Although these tend to be more behind the scenes additions, leaving the experience in the lodge, at dinner, and in the warm Indian Ocean as normal — and as blissful — as it should be.

We stayed at delightful Matemwe Retreat on the north-east coast for four nights and then truly magnificent Xanadu on the south-east coast for three more nights, both of which I chose because they would be utterly perfect for a romantic and exclusive honeymoon.

Although very different in style, the two were similar in many ways — completely private (and huge!) suites and villas, serviced by friendly and personal butlers, private dining for all meals either in our own living space or in a carefully chosen, scenic spot close-by. The mouth-watering food had no business being so good and we watched the sun rise over the azure ocean each morning. It was heaven.
Sunset cruise at Xanadu Villas.

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Ross and Rosie at Matemwe.

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Snorkelling with dolphins, Matemwe.

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In between the eating, drinking and quite frankly doing nothing, we took the opportunity to snorkel in crystal-clear waters, enjoy a sailing trip on a traditional fisherman’s Ngalawa and had a very special sunset cruise on our final night. This was a surprise for both of us as it was a wedding present from my generous colleagues — how did they know that more sunshine, more beautiful views, more food, and more drink would be just what we needed to top off the honeymoon perfectly?! Of course, given that Africa Exclusive always have something special like that up our sleeves for our clients, I should have guessed that I might be a lucky recipient as well!

As we said our sad goodbyes after a week in paradise, we realised how lucky we’d been to have the opportunity to get away, but also reflected how easy the whole trip had been and that it was a shame more tourists weren’t travelling and taking advantage of the perfect summer weather.

Both properties were mostly empty, as they have been for months on end, so it’s absolutely crucial that visitor numbers start increasing soon. Zanzibar, and African properties in general, depend on tourism so much and it would be devastating to see them, and the amazing people who work tirelessly within the industry, continue to suffer from the impact of Covid. The reality, as we found out, is that travel was very much possible and definitely worthwhile.
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