Introduction Tackling substandard maternity care in health facilities requires engaging women's perspectives in strategies to improve outcomes. This study aims to provide insights in the perspectives of women with severe maternal morbidity on preparedness, access and quality of care in Zanzibar's referral hospital. Methods In a prospective cohort from April 2017 to December 2018, we performed semistructured interviews with women who experienced maternal near-miss complications and matched controls. These focused on sociodemographic and obstetric characteristics, perceived accessibility to and quality of facility care with 15 domains, scored on a one-to-five scale. Participants' comments and answers to open questions were employed to illustrate quantitative outcomes. Zanzibar's Medical Research and Ethics Committee approved the study (ZAMREC/0002/JUN/17). Results We included 174 cases and 151 controls. Compared with controls, patients with a near-miss had less formal education (p=0.049), perceived their wealth as poor (p=0.002) and had a stillbirth more often (p<0.001). Many experienced a delay in deciding to seek care. More than controls, near-miss patients experienced barriers in reaching care (p=0.049), often of financial nature (13.8% vs 4.0%). Quality of care was perceived as high, with means above 3 out of 5, in 14 out of 15 domains. One-fifth had an overall suboptimal experience, mostly regarding informed choice and supplies availability. Additional comments were expressed by a minority of participants. Conclusion Most patients promptly sought, accessed and received maternity care in Zanzibar's referral hospital. A minority experienced barriers, mostly financial, in reaching care and more so among patients with near-miss complications. Quality of facility care was generally highly rated. However, some reported insightful critical perceptions. This study highlights the impact of sociodemographic differences on health, the value of involving patients in decisions regarding maternity care and the need to ensure availability of medical supplies, all which will contribute to improved maternal well-being.