From the spice Islands to the whalesharks islands
Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coastline is magical, with tranquil islands and sleepy coastal villages steeped in centuries of Swahili culture. Travel back in time to the days when the East African coast was the seat of sultans and a linchpin in a far-flung trading network extending to Persia, India and beyond.
Relax on powdery beaches backed by palm trees and massive baobabs; take in magnificent, pastel-hued sunrises; immerse yourself in languid coastal rhythms; and sit beneath the billowing sails of a wooden dhow, listening to the creaking of its rigging and the gentle slap of the sea against its prow.
Zanzibar Island is a jewel in the Indian ocean, surrounded by beaches that rate among the finest in the world. Here you can swim, snorkel or just walk long hours away, while shoals of luminous fish graze over nearby coral gardens and pods of dolphins frolic offshore.
In the island’s capital, Stonetown, sits the historic quarter of arabic history, with a mesmerising mix of influences from Africa, Arabia, India and Europe.
For these reasons and more, Zanzibar Island (officially called Unguja) is the archipelago’s focal point, and the most popular destination for visitors, but choose your spot carefully. While it’s easy to find tranquil beauty or party buzz (or both), increasing development threatens the island’s ineluctable magic and fragile community resources.
Mafia Island lying only 160 km south, remains virtually unknown. Previously poor communications with the mainland and being much lesser known than Zanzibar have kept Mafia ‘original’, although a steady trickle of visitors are unanimous in singing its praise. Mafia is one of the safest places in the Indian Ocean and there are no hustlers to spoil a holiday.
Mafia Island and its reefs are renowned as an excellent, world-class diving destination. Scientists have confirmed that Mafia has some of the richest reefs in the world, with an unparalleled variety of hard and soft corals and diversity of tropical fish.
The Mafia Archipelago hosts antiquities dating back to the Eleventh Century, including ruins at Kisimani Mafia, Kanga, Kua on Juani Island and Chole Island. These include a beautiful, barrel-vaulted mosque of the Fifteenth Century and a number of well-preserved buildings of the latter half of the Eighteenth Century, providing great interest for the methods of construction and the ancient architecture.
Pemba Island is part of Tanzania’s Zanzibar Archipelago, off the coast of East Africa. It’s known for its lush, green hills and clove plantations. The Pemba Channel, with its coral reefs and abundant marine life, separates the island from mainland Tanzania. The main town, Chake Chake, has a ruined 18th-century fort with a museum.
Pemba’s terrain is hilly and lushly vegetated, while much of the coast is lined with mangroves and lagoons, interspersed with idyllic beaches and islets. Offshore, coral reefs offer some of East Africa’s best diving.
Throughout, Pemba remains largely ‘undiscovered’, and you’ll still have most things to yourself, which is a big part of the island’s appeal.
For much of its history, Pemba has been overshadowed by Zanzibar Island, its larger neighbour to the south. Although the islands are separated by only 50km of sea, relatively few tourists cross the channel. Those who do, however, are seldom disappointed.
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