Pemba – a name to remember

The first thing people often might say if you were to ask them about Pemba would be something like, ‘isn’t he the warthog for the Lion King?’ In any case the animal’s actual name was Pumbaa, derived from the Swahili for ‘foolish’, but no, the Pemba I am referring to is of a very different variety.

The Pemba in question nestles just north east of its more famous and larger sister island of Zanzibar in the azure waters of the Indian Ocean. It makes up part of Zanzibar’s eponymous archipelago, a semi autonomous region of the Kingdom of Tanzania and an area that seems to experience a very contradictory relationship with the tourism industry. Despite being only 50km equidistant from the coast of Tanzania and north of Zanzibar, Pemba is a relatively anonymous holiday destination. Having searched through this eclectic blog site I could find only one other reference to Pemba Island so I determined that in this post I might finally shine the spotlight on this rather unassuming little land mass.

So why does Pemba Island deserve your attention? Well in my opinion, it represents one of the few remaining unspoiled areas of Eastern Africa. That isn’t to say the likes of Mozambique, Tanzania or Kenya have become culturally diluted by the tourist influx, but that simply relatively speaking Pemba is a haven for seclusion and intimacy; tourism here in every sense of the word is still in its infancy.  Historically, Pemba, which along with Zanzibar and the other constituent islands of the archipelago were referred to as the, ‘Spice Islands’, due to their value as agricultural centres for growing expensive crops and spices. The area was first inhabited by Europeans over 500 years ago with Vasco de Gama’s famous exploration of south eastern Africa and the earliest examples of permanent fortification in the whole of East Africa can be found here at the Mkama Ndume ruins at Pujini Village.

Aside from its history, modern day Pemba is a self sustaining community of friendly but hard working individuals who concentrate their practices mainly on agriculture or fishing, the two major industries on the island. It was Pemba’s rich and fertile landscape that in the past asserted it as the most economically productive and therefore important of the Spice Islands and today the earth is still maintained and cultivated by the people. Unlike the flatter, sandier geography of Zanzibar, on Pemba you can expect to find an astonishing variety of natural features and micro-ecosystems. Thick naturally forested areas, the habitat for an array of endemic animal and birdlife, offer particularly attractive views, especially the Ngezi Forest on the northern peninsula and the smaller Ras Kiuyu Forest Reserve to the south. Dense mangroves also sprawl across large swathes of the landscape, and frequently trail down to the water’s edge but where they retreat from the coast line some of the most exclusive and pristine beaches in Africa are hidden away. Beyond that, beneath the crystal waters, a nursery reef that encompasses much of the island provides a home for a wealth of sea life and vibrant corals. Pemba has in fact become famous for offering some of the most ideal diving conditions in the world and has established itself as a base from which a handful of enthusiasts explore neighbouring islands such as Misali and Shamiani.

Major townships on Pemba include the capital, Chake-Chake, Mkoani and Wete, the most populous community. Though infrastructure remains quite basic the island does enjoy the services of an international airport and the roads are being slowly improved. Most passenger ships will arrive into the port town of Mkoani on the south west coast, although the actual dock is 10km further along in Wesha.  A small number of resorts and exclusive hotels are being established on the island to provide the tourists who do find their way here with luxury and comfort; the two properties I would recommend particularly are the Fundu Lagoon resort and the Manta Resort. At both Fundu and Manta you will be reminded of those luxury safari lodges back in Tanzania, traditionally built with a rustic but charming architecture, they seamlessly marry luxury with authenticity.

A jewel of the East Africa, to really appreciate Pemba, you need to get out there and see it! As a private retreat to recuperate from the hectic schedule of an African safari, or as a destination in its own right, Pemba is a wonderful, romantic and undiscovered alternative Indian Ocean hideaway.

Greg Fox is a Director at luxury travel specialists Mahlatini.

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Comments (2)

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  1. irene says:

    i have been hearing a lot about zanzibar and pemba recently enough to pique my interest and your post has only added to that. thanks

  2. Emily M says:

    Sounds like a real gem of a find, maybe you should have kept it to yourself! Just been looking at photos of the beaches – stunning!

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