A remote island which houses one of the most unique and luxurious resorts, Pemba is a hidden gem. This Tanzanian island is full of chalk white beaches, dense rain forests and spectacular sunsets. Here is a full guide on how to reach Pemba, things to do there and tips to help you plan your next serene and tranquil getaway to this paradise.
Being a relatively unheard of island, when we first shared our travel plans to Pemba with friends and family, all we got were quizzical looks followed by heaps of concerned questions. At that time, we couldn’t give any convincing answers, but now that we are back after having a fantastic holiday experience, here we are, unlocking all those answers that will lead you straight to Pemba!
(For a quick summary guide of Pemba, please refer to the fact file at the end of this post)
Where is it?
Pemba, a small little island, often overlooked by travelers and holiday enthusiasts, is off the coast of Zanzibar and is a part of the territory of Tanzania in the African continent. Rightly known as the ‘green island’, Pemba is an aesthetic treat to the senses and a visual delight to the eyes. The moment you step foot on this nature’s abode, you’ll be surrounded by shades of green, dense forests, crystal clear beaches and unpolluted fresh air. This ‘clove island’ is far from civilization and is the perfect choice for those looking for some relaxation, serenity and solitude away from the hordes of tourists.
Trailing Abroad tip: Carry lots of sun screen and make sure to have a mosquito repellent with you. Note that insect repellent sprays are inflammable and hence not allowed on flights. You may consider buying one as soon as you land as well. Also, we bet that hand sanitizers and wet wipes will come handy.
How will you get there?
Getting to Pemba was such a fun journey, full of so many lovely experiences that we could write an entire post on just that! From Dubai we flew down to Zanzibar and decided to spend an evening admiring Stone Town and the little touristy shops there.
Our funny little experience at Zanzibar airport is worth mentioning here. Immigration at Zanzibar airport was a breeze. Ten minutes and we were through. Perhaps that was the case because we were traveling in the off season and hence the airport was relatively deserted. You know when you travel frequently, you tend to use less of your concentration on the travel process itself and instead focus on the trip and what you’re set to do as soon as you arrive. As a result, you tend to blindly follow the crowds to lead you through all gates.
After breezing through immigration, we happily walked straight ahead for a minute and there, we were out of the airport. No queues, no machines, no formalities and no stress. So happy and excited to have reached our destination, we started soaking in the Tanzanian air and admiring the painted sky. As taxi drivers approached us to offer a ride, we explained that we were looking for our hotel representative. Suddenly a porter asked us for help with our luggage, but wait a minute.. where was the luggage?
Pushkaraj and I giggled as we recalled our two checked in bags which we blissfully forgot about. So back in the airport, we went to look for the luggage belts. To our surprise, all bags were kept in a corner and there was no sight of any luggage belt. Well, we certainly didn’t expect a fancy airport, but being an international airport, we did expect the usual. I guess that’s the reason we missed our luggage in the first place. The entire island seems to follow the rule of no hassles and no worries. They pretty much do away with the entire shebang and that’s how chilled out and incredibly laid back the place is.
After spending a peaceful night in Zanzibar, we flew down to Pemba the next morning on a small Cessna aircraft. This was our first time on such a tiny plane and how exciting it was! These planes have a seating capacity of around 12-14 people and due to the low altitude that they fly in, offer such panoramic views of the island from above that you’ll wish the journey was longer than the mere half an hour. What’s more, if you’re fast enough, you could try boarding first and choosing a seat next to the Captain and admire ‘cockpit’ views (You can thank us later!).
Trailing Abroad tip: There are no overhead bins on the tiny plane and very little space behind the aircraft for luggage and hence it is advisable to travel as light as possible. Avoid big bags and accept your hand written boarding pass with a smiling Asante (Thank you in Swahili)! Luggage allowance is generally limited to 15 kgs per passenger inclusive of hand luggage.
Since we already got accustomed to the chilled out atmosphere of the place, we were not surprised to see that check-in for our flight to and from Pemba began 20 minutes prior to the time of scheduled departure. We flew As Salaam air and were very satisfied with our experience on board. Pemba airport was a delight and as peaceful and breezy as its sister concern, Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, Zanzibar. We had our resort pick up organized and headed from the south of the island to its northern most tip, enroute Manta Resort.
Pemba as our choice of destination, was partly influenced by our keenness to head to Manta.
But why Pemba?
Though we believe you never really need a reason to travel anywhere, and specially not if you are visiting an exotic, pristine and relatively unknown island location, there were two compelling reasons we chose Pemba –
- We wanted to stay at the Manta Resort, which is one of the only places in the world to offer the experience of staying overnight on a floating villa in an underwater room.
- Pemba is known for having fantastic dive sites is the place for all keen explorers of the underwater world. Having a peculiar affinity towards all things water, I was really looking forward to experiencing a breathtaking dive in Pemba.
Trailing Abroad tip: As you may have guessed, since this island is not used to flocks of tourists, there are limited options of places to stay at. If you are visiting Pemba specially to experience diving, your options are narrowed down even further as very few hotels/resorts have certified dive centers. Though a little pricey, we found the Manta Resort our best option after thorough research. Not to forget, the dreamy underwater room!
What will you do there?
We’re sure you’ve zeroed in on the main point already. Checking out lovely little finned creatures was our main agenda– from the underwater room as well as during our dives.
We were also very keen to visit our first African country and get a feel of this naturally rich continent. While the other popular African destinations are known for their wildlife, our fascination drove us to Pemba to get a real feel of local traditions and to explore the oceans.
We were surprised at how many things you can actually do in Pemba! We loved lazing on the incredibly chalk white beaches, getting up close and personal with the locals, taking a ride on the traditional boat – the nglawa, learning a little Swahili and spending a day in the lives of the school children. We played together, sang songs and saw children learn English and mathematics with so much of enthusiasm and keenness. We also toured the spice farm and the local forest and had a private little picnic on the gorgeous Vumawimbi beach. We learnt how to play ‘Bao’ – a traditional game played by the locals in the village.
For a week, we were away from all things electronic (except our camera, of course!) and we were so glad to indulge in the beauty of nature. It is spending time in places like these, that makes you realize how peaceful and fulfilling it is to lead a simple and laid back life. Your needs and desires reduce dramatically and you learn to make do with the little that you have at your disposal. We felt as if we were transported back in time for a little while, away from the hustle and bustle of city life which is characterized by constantly buzzing gadgets, the rush of catching a bus or a train, whiling away time in traffic, writing down to-do lists and filling your mind with clutter.
Trailing Abroad tip: To truly immerse yourselves in this heaven, be prepared to switch off all your gadgets and just spend days discovering yourself and nature. Pemba has weak mobile signals and very limited availability of wifi. It is an environment friendly island and plastics are a big no!
Is it safe?
We firmly believe that aside from certain political unrest that may exist in a particular country owing to regional developments at a particular time, all places carry the same amount of risk as our own home towns. As travelers, a little precaution and presence of mind is always advisable.
Having said that, we didn’t face issues or threats of any sort during our entire stay in Pemba. The locals were very warm, loving, friendly and willing to help. Be ready to be greeted with a cheerful ‘Jambo’ wherever you go – even at the airport! Uplifted spirits, always!
Trailing Abroad tip: Being a remote island, pharmacies and doctors may be far away. It is recommended to carry a small kit full of essentials such as paracetamol, band aids, hygiene care items, toiletries and any medicines that you may need.
Here is a quick fact file to help you further:
|Getting there:||International flights don’t fly in directly to Pemba and hence, you need to fly to Zanzibar, Dar es Salam or Arusha. Once you have touched base in any of these Tanzanian cities, you can take a domestic flight to Pemba. Zanzibar is closest to Pemba with approximately 30 minutes of flying time on a Cessna plane with jaw dropping views of the land below. Check with your hotel/resort before booking domestic flights on the reliability of the airline company. A few trustworthy airlines in our opinion are Zan Air, Auric Air, Coastal Aviation, As Salaam Air and Precision Air. We don’t recommend being adventurous and travelling to Pemba via sea.
|Stamps:||As always, visa requirements vary from country to country. Indians get visa on arrival in Tanzania! (Yay!) We paid USD 50 per person on arrival and the immigration counters accepted payment in cash as well as by international credit cards. Our immigration process barely took a total of ten minutes and was hassle free.|
|Vaccinations:||It is strongly advisable to check with the Tanzanian embassy in your country for any vaccination requirements at least four weeks prior to your departure dates. At the time of our travel, we were required to take Yellow Fever jabs.|
|Money matters:||Since you’re definitely going to get to Pemba via Zanzibar/Dar es Salam/Arusha, it will be best to carry US Dollars and get money exchanged into the local currency, Tanzanian Shilling. Though a lot of places accept payment in USD, street vendors and local market shop owners do not.|
|Nom Nom:||Tap water is not safe to drink and you should rely on packaged and bottled water. Please do sip on some local coconuts! It is advisable to eat meals cooked at proper restaurants in your hotel/resort. We loved trying out new delicacies and sea food cooked to perfection by our chef in Manta Resort.
|When to go:||Though it is advisable to travel any time of the year except between April and June (due to the monsoons), we did just that and had a lovely time. Yes, it rained, and on some days it poured. But we loved it. On the rainy days we enjoyed playing Bao and sipping on some amazing cocktails and seafood. On clear days, nothing stopped us from making the most of our time and exploring this hidden gem of an island. Also, if you travel in the off season like us, you will certainly get good bargains and discounted rates!
|Make a difference:||If you can and would like to, we suggest carrying something for the local children. They have limited resources and are very eager to study and make it big in this world. Anything to do with study materials such as books and stationary items would be a perfect treat for them. We carried blank notebooks and a set of color pencils, erasers and sharpeners and the joy in their eyes was enough to melt our hearts.
|Additional tips:||Negotiate and haggle a little if you buy something from the local market. But always remember, too much haggling is not the best thing to do. Money which could make negligible difference to your wallet might mean an entire meal to someone there.|
|Learn Swahili:||A few quick words that you might hear in Pemba:
Jambo/ Mambo – Hello!
Hakuna Matata – No problem (Remember the song from Lion King? It means no worries, for the rest of your day!!)
Asante – Thank you
Karibou – Welcome
Tafadaali – Please
Habariaa Aa Subuhi – Good Morning
Kahawa – Coffee
Emzuri Sana – Very nice!
Chakula – Food
Maziwa – Milk
Maaji – Water
Usiku – Night
Umelala Salama – May you sleep well