Don’t Forget about Pemba

13 March 2018 | East Africa Travel |

Reading Time: 4 MINUTES

Shan and Ty set off to explore and report back on one of East Africa’s hidden island jewels. And they tell us life running Angama is hard work?

There is no such island as Zanzibar.

I’m sure some of you are scoffing at this notion, probably because you can point to Zanzibar on a map, and possibly even because you’ve been there. Well maybe but I must challenge that you have been to the island of Zanzibar . . . because it doesn’t exist. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s a common misconception.

Zanzibar is an archipelago consisting of two large islands and their many satellite islands. The largest, Unguja, is the main hub, and thus colloquially referred to as Zanzibar – hence the confusion. It’s also where 90% of visitors to the archipelago spend their time.

The Zanzibar archipelago

What about the other, oft-forgotten island?

That would be the beautiful, more remote and overlooked Pemba, about half the size of Unguja and with a minute fraction of the visitors. It comes as no surprise that Pemba is often referred as the “Zanzibar of 30 years ago.” I can’t vouch for what Unguja was like way back then, but Pemba certainly has more of the feel of an island that time forgot.

Halfway through our 1.5-hour drive from the airport in Chake Chake to the northwestern tip of the island, the tarmac road transitioned to dirt, and in no time at all we were weaving between palm trees and skirting white coral-brick houses with sheets of small fish and cloves out front, curing in the sun. Children paused games of football to let us by, waving, and indeed it felt like we left time behind.

Arriving at Manta Resort, famous for its “Underwater Room,” was a dream: friendly and welcoming staff reminded me of home, offering us fresh passion fruit drinks as we watched the sun sink beyond the horizon. An immaculate white beach and the silhouettes of dhows making for shore promised calmness and tranquility.

Manta Resort Beachscape

For the next three days we soaked up the quintessentially stereotypical tropical beach holiday, Pemba-style. Relax, read, eat, pool time, beach time: rewind and unwind. Pemba offers something unique that much of the rest of the East African coast cannot: peace and quiet. Our stretch of pristine beach was all ours and ours alone, and never once were we faced with the uncomfortable situation caused by beach hawkers.

The resort’s excellent dive master and I explored some of the best coral gardens and reef fish I’ve seen in East Africa (in large part thanks to Manta Resort’s dedicated efforts to create a marine preserve): huge swirling shoals of big-eyed trevally, technicolour swarms of sea goldies, angelfish, and parrotfish; and notable sightings of camouflaged octopus, flamboyant lionfish, bizarre leaf-fish, and even an infamous stonefish. Before I was a bird-nerd, I was a devout Jacques Cousteau wannabe. I had found aquatic heaven in the Indian Ocean.


We sailed gently up and down Pemba’s lovely coastline on a private sunset dhow cruise under the guidance of Captain Ali, who directed us how to balance the craft as gusts of wind threatened to tip us over. Once back safely ashore and under a perfect star strewn sky, we devoured a pile of freshly caught seafood at a candle-lit dinner set up on the beach, waves lapping close by. A perfect end to another perfect day.


We were nowhere near ready to leave when the time came, and in true island style, Manta Resort’s owner, Matthew Saus, invited us to just stick around a few more days, no worries.

How we wish we could have.

FILED UNDER: East Africa Travel

AUTHOR: Tyler Davis

Guide and birding fundi, Tyler was also one half of the regional director couple that lead the team at Angama Mara for the first five years. Being the birding extraordinaire that he is, he was known to let his attention wander during meetings. The trick to keep him focused was to place him with no direct view of anything feathered. Tyler ensures that we are a grounded and well-rounded team. He also sometimes forgets to take his binoculars off at dinnertime.

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