Pemba Island

Tropical retreat in the Indian Ocean
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19 May 2021

The Island of Pemba 

You may have heard of the beautiful island of Zanzibar and its popularity with tourists. However, this is a misconception which we would like to address.

Not the beauty! Oh, the pristine beaches and incredibly blue waters are absolutely accurate - it’s calling Zanzibar an island that is the error.

Zanzibar is not an island, it is an archipelago

Zanzibar is actually an archipelago composed of about two dozen islands, with Unguja, Mafia and Pemba being the largest ones. Together, they make up Zanzibar. Unguja, being much more difficult to pronounce and the more popular destination of them, is often referred to as Zanzibar. This has given the impression that Zanzibar is a singular island, but this is not accurate.

Unguja is the place to swim with dolphins, windsurf and party all-night long on the beach. Pemba, on the other hand, is where to find seclusion, absolute privacy and untouched nature.

Pemba has only three hotels on the entire island

Unguja has 150+ hotels across the island. Pemba has only 3.

While the hotels operating on Pemba offer modern amenities and comforts, the rest of the island can feel as if it has been frozen in time. Little has changed on this small island in the Indian Ocean in centuries: pure, sand beaches where sea turtles come to lay their eggs, no rubbish or litter to be found in the turquoise waters, and traditional boats or canoes still in use by local fishermen. Pemba is a vibrant, green island and the world’s top producer of cloves - Zanzibar’s largest export. If you venture to the rural areas of this island, your senses will be awakened with a soft hint of cloves, as the plantations emit a fresh, romantic aroma of this tropical spice.

Pemba’s capital, Chake Chake, is where the majority of the local population live. Many of the current residents on Pemba are descendants of ancient Omani immigrants (the indifenous Swahili people) from centuries ago, others identify as “Shirazi”, who, according to legend, are descendants of Persian royalty.

The people of Pemba follow traditional customs for dress, speak in formal Swahili and hold their religious beliefs very close. Pemba was known for practicing traditional medicine and mysterious traditions, and some say it is still possible to find such knowledge and skills within the local villages. Local Pemba guides can share intriguing legends and inspiring histories.

If you’re seeking a romantic, secluded or interesting getaway, visit Pemba. This untouched island offers something completely different than major tourist attractions but still offers all the glamorous comforts, fresh seafood and incredible hospitality you’d expect on a great island vacation.

Where is Pemba?

On a map, Pemba is located just 50 km east of Tanzania’s mainland, in the Indian Ocean.

This small island is only 67 km (42 miles) long, and a mere 22 km (14 miles wide). Despite its size, Pemba has plenty of charm and is surrounded by beautiful ocean waters. 

The Zanzibar Archipelago, Unguja and Pemba, together with Mafia Island make up Tanzania’s three ‘Spice Islands’, all of which export exotic, tropical spices to the world.

How to get to Pemba? 

There are two ways to reach Pemba: by air or water.

Water: Those with plenty of time and a love for the open water can take a ferry from Zanzibar to Pemba. This ferry is offered twice a week, and the ride takes approximately 5 hours. The ferry arrives at the port in Chake Chake town.

Air: for those who want to arrive at their destination and save travel-time, flying into Pemba is a great option.

For almost the same price (sometimes even less!) than a ferry ticket, guests can have a quick flight from any major airport in Tanzania into Pemba. How quick? As little as 15 minutes!

Most flights have a stop-over at Stonetown’s airport, called ‘Zanzibar’ (ZNZ) on most flight itineraries.

As the destination “Pemba” can be confused with the port town located in the country of Mozambique, it is best to ask a local operator to organize your flight to Pemba. Because it is such a short flight, and only available by small, local airlines it may be difficult to book online, or pay in a secure method outside of Tanzania.

Contact Altezza to organize your quick flight to the amazing island of Pemba, and start dreaming of pristine, clove-scented beaches right away!

Pemba Ambience 

Pemba is all things tropical, without being tacky. It is charming and romantic, drenched in sunshine and soaked in salt water. Because the island is very small, the beach is always near, the plantations are local, and everything is about hospitality. The atmosphere of Pemba is pleasant and friendly, without feeling touristy in any way.

Pemba has been nicknamed the “Green Island” because of its lush plantations and untouched beauty. Many of the fruits available on your breakfast buffet at one of Pemba’s three hotels were grown there, on the island, such as mangos, bananas, jackfruits and more.


History buffs can visit the ancient ruins of Pemba, found on the western part of the island. It is assumed that these structures were used in the 13th and 14th centuries. An especially important site is the foundation of a large mosque, which is considered to be the largest of its kind during that time frame in sub-Saharan Africa, a testament to the Oman influence in Zanzibar and the Indian Ocean. 

Guests can also learn about the nesting sites of the endangered Hawkbill Sea Turtle, off Misali Island. Due to climate change, the rising waters around small islands and inlets around Pemba have devastated sea turtle habitat and made nesting more difficult for these majestic animals. Local hotels have taken steps to help protect sea turtles, such as rewarding fishermen who spot sea turtle nests with eggs and protect them until hatching. This is one example of how visitors to Pemba can work together with the tourism industry to help make a positive difference for the environment.

Other unique wildlife may be seen in the remaining areas of the ancient forests of Pemba: visitors can spy the Pemba Flying Fox (a type of exotic bat), and a primate known as Kirk’s Colobus. Both of these are unique to the area and won’t be seen in mainland Tanzania.

Of course, there are plenty of water-activities available on Pemba; from swimming and snorkeling to fishing. Learn how to fish in a traditional way with a local fisherman in a ngalawa (a local-style canoe), or ask your hotel to organize a fishing expedition. If seclusion and quiet swimming is your ideal island-life, there will be no shortage of warm, sunny days to relax on the beach or enjoy the Indian Ocean’s warm waters while on Pemba Island.

Diving on Pemba 

The most popular activity in Pemba is diving - and for good reason! Pemba offers excellent diving opportunities, and the chance to see active, vibrant marine life. Adventurous travelers can visit Pemba Channel to spot hammerhead sharks as they are known to swim in groups in this area (but don’t worry, these sharks never venture to shallow waters near Pemba’s beaches).

Diving experts have acclaimed Pemba as the best diving experience in all of East Africa, with great options for beginners and experienced divers alike.


Snorkelling 
Those who enjoy snorkelling should consider visiting Misali Island, which is also where sea turtles are known to nest. Snorkelers will also see plenty of brightly-colored fish and beautiful starfish while in the water.

Birdwatching on Pemba

Being an island with little changes in the past 100 years, Pemba has become a haven for tropical birds. BirdLife International, a UK-based NGO founded in 1922 with a mission to protect birds and their habitat recently included Pemba Island on its official list of Important Bird Areas, making it a coveted destination for bird watchers. 

Hotels on Pemba 

The list of hotels on Pemba is short and sweet! While all of these accommodations are excellent, we have a favorite; the Aiyana Resort and Spa. Our experience here has been consistently good, and our guests continue to rave about their time at this hotel.

Here, one can see birds such as the Pemba Scops-Owl, Pemba Green Pigeon, Pemba Sunbirds and other interesting birds endemic to the island. Only by visiting Pemba in-person can a bird lover spy these rare species.

The Aiyana Resort & Spa
This resort-hotel offers private villas, set right on the beach for a truly beautiful ocean view; the in-house restaurant features some of the most incredible and fresh seafood choices; and the hospitality is truly impeccable.

The resort offers many activities; diving, snorkelling, guided tours and more. As it is a spa, there is a distinct emphasis on relaxation, with massages and more available for guests.

The staff truly know Pemba and their aim is to help guests fall in love with this magical island, as well.

Manta Resort 
Manta Resort emphasizes nature in every aspect. This resort is located near the beautiful forests of Pemba, where guests can become immersed in the Swahili culture, walk barefoot on the beach and enjoy delicious, fresh meals at the in-house hotel.

Manta Resort offers guests a special “underwater room” for a truly unique ocean experience.

Fundu Lagoon 
Fundu Lagoon offers simple, beautiful accommodations for guests who want to enjoy Pemba’s natural beauty and beaches.

Fundu Lagoon is currently closed (estimated reopening July 2021). 

 Are you ready for a beach vacation unlike any other? Pemba Island is truly a unique place, a paradise of white sand and turquoise waters. An island where plantations of bananas and cloves mingle with forests for tropical birds, where the ocean’s waters embrace marine life. Pemba is where time has stopped and nature rules. 

Contact Altezza to plan your trip to Pemba today.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anna is the Kilimanjaro climbs and safari coordinator at Altezza Travel. Most of her time, she spends meeting the Altezza Travellers when they arrive in Tanzania. She knows everything about adventure and how to start it. Whatever questions or doubts you may have - Anna is always ready to help.

She has taken part in many adventures all over Tanzania, exploring the retreats of Serengeti, trails of Kilimanjaro and the underwater world of Mafia. She is always eager to discover new wonders of this country and share her experiences with our community.
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