Pemba is the second-largest island (988km2) in the Zanzibar Archipelago, which consists of a number of small islands off the coast of Tanzania, also referred to as the Spice Islands. The largest and best-known is Unguja (1,666km2), frequently referred to as Zanzibar. This is the most heavily populated, with around 900,000 people. Next is Pemba, then Mafia, both of which are smaller and have far fewer visitors in comparison to ‘Zanzibar’.
A Guide to Pemba Island
This blog was written by Charlotte, an ex-safari specialist who was an invaluable member of our team. Here's her guide to the island and where best to stay.
‘It is still about as remote and raw as it gets’
I always had in my mind that Pemba was really small. I was wrong! It is still considerably smaller than Zanzibar, but I think perhaps it was the population size that threw me the most. The last count in 2012 recorded around 400,000 people on the island, not including those aged under 18… and it’s growing. Perhaps at 3 per cent per year, according to some of the locals. That said, it is still about as remote and raw as it gets, with its undulating landscape and mangrove coastline.
‘Rice fields sprinkled through the island’
Pemba’s main export is cloves. I think it may even be the world’s largest producer of this spectacularly smelling spice! When driving from the airport, it is easy to spot the mats laid out by the side of the road covered with various colours of cloves, all drying in the sun. Banana, cassava, and coconut also form a large part of the local trade. Residents grow rice too, for personal use rather than export – and again, you can see rice fields sprinkled through the island as you drive by.
‘For those simply wanting to, literally, get away from everyone else’
Pemba isn’t for everyone. Its super-remote location, which entails an additional 30 minutes’ flight from Zanzibar followed by a drive of around 30–90 minutes, makes sure you get that feeling! There are very few lodges on the island and the number of visitors is only a tiny percentage compared with those of Zanzibar. This is perhaps down to its lack of beaches – in place of sands, Pemba has mangroves, so it is not the classic sandy beach vacation location that most envisage. It therefore tends to attract those looking for superb diving and snorkelling, and it holds plenty of appeal for those simply wanting to, literally, get away from everyone else.
‘There are really only three properties worth considering – the Manta, the Aiyana, and Fundu Lagoon’
The Manta is probably the best known due to its underwater room, which is the biggest draw, but most tend to be drawn towards either the luxury of Aiyana or the rustic charm of Fundu.
The Aiyana is neighbours with the Manta and you can see the underwater room from its beach. This is a stunning luxury hotel that took eight years to be lovingly built by its owner and has an almost Bali-esque feel to it with its white walls, ponds, and fountains. It offers a stretch of contemporary elegance along the best beach on the island, perfect for honeymooners or those wanting a super-remote, high-end retreat.
Last, but certainly not least, is Fundu Lagoon, another privately owned retreat that is a world away from the style of Aiyana and offers more of a Robinson Crusoe feel, in my opinion anyway! With tented rooms below a thatch roof immersed along the forest coastline on the south-western side of the island, this is a little slice of secluded barefoot luxury! The aim here is very much to kick off your flip-flops and melt into the friendly atmosphere. The diving here is said to be superb. I’m not a diver myself, so I can’t speak first hand, but this tends to be the main draw for visitors to Fundu… that, or the desire to be as remote as is possible without the unnecessary bells and whistles!
If you think you’d like to visit Pemba Island after a safari to Tanzania, why not contact our experts here to start planning your trip today? Alternatively, take a look at our favorite islands and activities below for more inspiration: