Soft Summer Days at Villa Matalai

When I saw the green open window jeep coming to pick us, my heart danced with excitement. The little girl in me felt as though this was the vacation I had been dreaming of for a big part of my life. Sounds like a lot of pressure, I know, but the symbol of the green jeep made the night travel worth it. We had left Nairobi at 10pm on the SGR to Mombasa and were scheduled to arrive in Mombasa at 3:00am with 2 hours to spare before we got a bus that would take us across the border to Tanga in Tanzania. 

I may not look it but I have a desire for adventurous travel, not in the sense that I’m jumping off cliffs but in the sense that I am close to the elements of nature while I travel. I write this as I remember the lyrics to my favorite song Ride by Naika, “I wanna leave tracks on the untouched sand, follow the sun, see where it lands”. I love it when travel reminds me how great it is to be human: to eat delicious food, to see beautiful sights, to have full laughs, all encompassed by the energy that we have time, there is no need to rush. Our trip to Villa Matalai was exactly that.  

We arrived at Villa Matalai at 8:30am. My friends and I agreed that the hotel had a romantic allure. It is soft and dreamy, the kind of place you come with a partner to deepen the connection. The hotel has 3 beautiful villas, a main house and a floating room that you’d pin as places to visit in 2023. While Villa Matalai is referred to as a hotel, it does not offer guests the traditional hotel experience of glitz and glam worthy of an Instagram post but something much deeper, a soul nourishing experience. The kind of experience you know you’ll never be the same after. 

One of the Villas

The Villas are classically decorated with Swahili inspired furniture. All villas, except the floating room, have two rooms. The rooms are equipped with a bedroom, a bathroom, a lounging area and a view of the ocean. The walls are ornamented with African artifacts and paintings. I appreciated the two mini bookshelves in the main house that held books from different times and across different genres. From the minute we arrived, jazz music had been playing softly from the main house, convincing us to put our worries away and relax. 

And relax we did! I found the perfect spot to read my book under the tree and close enough to the ocean. The soft afternoon ocean waves almost lulled me to sleep but I persisted. I lost my battle to sleep but luckily time moved slow at Villa Matalai, slow enough for us to take afternoon naps and not wake up feeling like we had lost an entire day. 

It was around 4pm when we woke up, which was also the perfect time for our planned kayaking trip, the sun wasn’t too hot, and the wind was gentle. I was both excited and nervous for this trip, mostly nervous as I wasn’t sure I knew how to kayak. I had only done this once briefly at Sagana, but I was assured that I would be fine. We first kayaked to the mangrove, which are abundant along the Tanzanian coastline. We paddled gently across the mangrove which felt like a stillness meditation to me. There were no waves crushing or gusty wind blowing, just us and the trees that stood firm in the water. It was so still, I found myself noticing the hollow tree trunks that looked like they had a lot to say.

Afterwards, we paddled to the floating room, which was a complete wonder. The concept was carefully thought out, taking into consideration the direction of wind. This is so that the wind would not affect the guests’ stay. The floating room is held down by an anchor, the floor is made from the remains of an old boat and the walls are ‘makuti’ covered. Our host, Claes, who is also the hotel owner, had thoughtfully carried drinks for us to enjoy while we watched the sun disappear behind the clouds. He also shared with us extensive knowledge on the coast and of his efforts to restore the mangrove in front of his property. 

We got back to the hotel before it got dark and in time for dinner. We were served fish (which was the catch of the day), avocado salad, coconut rice and fried veggies. The food was divine, I automatically took a photo hoping it would capture the taste. All meals at Villa Matalai were spectacular, we found ourselves counting down the minutes to the next meal. The avocados were fresh, you would think they were handpicked by God. The lentils, locally known as pojo, were amazing, I chose to eat them over crab. Every morning, we had freshly ground coffee, warm home-baked bread, freshly squeezed juice and a fruit salad. The night before we checked out, we had home-made pasta, calamari, the beloved avocado salad and white wine. It was a feast. Every meal felt like a blessing.

Home-made pasta
Breakfast spread at Villa Matalai

There are a great deal of elements that made this trip wonderful; the amazing host, the friendly staff, and the most peaceful dog I have ever met, Sheba. I felt especially taken care of the day we went snorkeling, I’m not the most confident swimmer in the ocean but I had support. It was an equal balance of care and space that allowed me to figure things out on my own while still being guided on where to see the fish. 

Sheba, also known as the Guest Services Agent

We spent our last night at Villa Matalai at the romantic courtyard space. The courtyard is decorated with the bougainvillea trees and soft lighting which I pinned as a great place to slow dance with your partner. My friends and I played the classics from ABBA to Britney Spears to Boyz II Men that invited us to get up and dance. It was such a great time we had to give ourselves a bedtime because we were getting up early the next day to leave for Nairobi.  

Courtyard by day
Courtyard by night

As we crossed the border into Kenya, I found myself thinking that this was what travel was about. These were the experiences I was seeking as I prayed for more stamps on my passport. That day we elected our friend, Tasha, who organized the trip, as the trusted travel organizer. We vowed to follow her where she went next, eagerly awaiting our next trip. 

About Villa Matalai

Villa Matalai 

Villa Matalai is located on the beach in Manza Bay in the small fishing village of Kwale between the town of Tanga and the Kenya border.

Villa Matalai has been a family residence for 25 years and has recently been refurbished into a small idyllic lodge catering to those who want to explore the beautiful northern Tanzania coastline and experience life in a small African fishing village.

The property is rated 5 stars on TripAdvisor

Who is this perfect for? 

Although I’m biased to say the property is perfect for couples, as per their TripAdvisor Reviews, it’s also perfect for families.  

We also had a perfect time there as friends. 

How to get there?

We took the night train to Mombasa and then a bus from Mombasa to Mtimbwani. It is approximately a 9-hour trip by road. We left Nairobi at 10:00pm and arrived at 8:30am. This is also accounting for the time we spent at the border, showing our required documents which were: Passport, Yellow Fever vaccination certificate and COVID-19 vaccination certificate. 

If you want to spend less time on the road, you can fly to Tanga Airport and organize transport to Mtimbwani.