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What island to choose for a beach vacation in Tanzania?

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After an action-packed safari adventure or a Kilimanjaro climb, many travelers want to bask in the sun and visit the best beaches in Tanzania. But which island to choose - Zanzibar, Mafia, Pemba, or Thanda?

Here, it is all about personal preference. When selecting a tropical island in Tanzania, there is no wrong answer! Each island has stunning beaches and unique features that will make you want to visit again, soon. The hardest part isn’t finding an island you want to visit - it’s narrowing down to only one or two! You may want to visit them all.

Zanzibar

This might just be the most famous island in the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar is very popular and visited by thousands of visitors every year.

Officially, the island we call ‘Zanzibar’ is Unjuga, and it, along with Pemba Island, make up the archipelago of Zanzibar. However, this name is rarely used and can be confusing for travel-purposes, so we will call it Zanzibar for clarity.

Visitors to Zanzibar island in Tanzania especially love:

A variety of accommodations for all budgets. From all-inclusive beach-front resorts to beach bungalows for those on a tight budget.

Day trips. There are many interesting and historical places to visit in Zanzibar. Stonetown is a living, breathing Unesco World Heritage Site! Architecture, history and culture are all mingled together in this beautiful, ancient town.

✓ Spice Tours on the Spice Island. Zanzibar is one of the top producers of cloves in the world. Visit a spice plantation to see how cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, saffron, lemongrass and more are grown locally and sustainably.

Swim with Dolphins! If you’ve ever dreamed of swimming with dolphins, here is your chance! No caged, captured animals here. This experience is much like a wildlife safari in the national parks: the dolphins are wild and free and are known to pass through the waters around Jambiani, Zanzibar. Tourists get to jump in the waves with them for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Some things to keep in mind when considering visiting Zanzibar:

Zanzibar is popular and may be crowded around New Year’s. While your luxury hotel may offer privacy, if you wander around the streets of Stonetown, you may feel crowded.

The local population of Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim, during the holy month of Ramadan it is advisable for tourists to dress modestly and be respectful of fasting. While restaurants will be open, we recommend only eating inside the restaurant and not on the street.

✖ There are “beach boys” who like to comb the beaches offering friendship or trying to sell things. They may be annoying, but should leave you alone if you are firm and direct.

Mafia Island

Mafia is not a popular vacation spot among the islands of Tanzania, yet. Actually, there are only about ten hotels on the island, making it a very secluded and pristine destination. Mafia Island is ideal for honeymooners and travellers who want a quiet vacation.

✓ World-class Diving. For all who are new to the diving world, Zanzibar will be enough, but the island of Mafia has many attractions for experienced divers. There are also over 50 coral reefs to explore.

✓ Whale Sharks. Mafia Island is one of the few places in the world to see, and swim with gentle whale sharks. This exclusive experience is only available here, not on any of the other islands.

✓ Birds. It is a good place for birdwatching - there are over 1200 species living on the island.

✓ Deep-sea Fishing. If you want to experience deep-sea fishing in the Indian Ocean, Mafia is the best choice.

There are some things to keep in mind though:

✖ Slow internet. High-speed internet providers are yet to arrive to Mafia. The connection will be ok to send pictures and messages, but not to video-stream.

✖ Limited choice of day trips - apart from those above, Mafia offers little else to see.

✖ No themed bars or restaurants. On Mafia all bars and restaurants are at hotels, and if you want to dine at a new place, the only place to do that will be at a different hotel.  

Pemba Island

Pemba is Similar to Mafia, but even more private and secluded - there are just three hotels on Pemba Island!

Good reasons to visit Pemba are:

✓ Great tropical ambience. Pemba Island feels untouched; pure, white sand beaches and a pristine tropical rainforest.

✓ A secluded vacation. If you want the beach all to yourself, if you think quiet and serene = romantic, then Pemba Island is for you.

✓ Diving. While there are fewer hotel choices and diving outfitters, the diving is as great as on Mafia.

✓ Spa Treatments. The Aiyana Resort & Spa offers the best massages and other spa treatments. This is an especially great experience after your Kilimanjaro climb!

Similarly to Mafia, here on Pemba:

✖ The internet is slow.

✖ There are only a few day trips to complete.

✖ No themed bars or restaurants, only those at the hotel.

Thanda Island

Thanda Island is a very special place in Tanzania - once you book a villa you have the entire island to yourself! There will be no other visitors, only you and your friends. The service is great - professional staff, great cuisine, personal butlers and chefs, yoga coaches, tennis courts, and other attractions.This also makes Thanda island prices the highest among all other islands.

Overall, to choose the best place for a beach vacation one should consider the following questions:

Do you want a quiet, private vacation?

Mafia, Pemba or Thanda are good choices.

Do you enjoy a party atmosphere?

Zanzibar is where you should go.

What is your budget?

Mafia and Pemba are more expensive than Zanzibar.

Thanda, as far as we know, is one of the most expensive places to visit in Tanzania. Zanzibar has various options for different budgets.

No matter your interests or budget, Tanzania has a tropical island perfect for you!

Published on 21 November 2023 Revised on 11 March 2024
About this article
Agnes Mkumbo
Expert Articles: 21
Written byAgnes Mkumbo
Travel Expert Tanzania
Expertise:
Diving Diving
Islands Islands
Safari Safari
Tanzania Tanzania

Agnes is a vital member of the Altezza operations team, boasting extensive experience in Kilimanjaro and in-depth knowledge of Tanzania's safari parks. Additionally, she holds an Advanced Open Water diving certification, a rare achievement in Kilimanjaro. With her diverse skill set, Agnes is the perfect author to guide readers through hiking, safaris, and island trips in Tanzania. Through her writing, Agnes introduces readers to both well-known destinations and hidden gems across the region.

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