If you've never heard of Pemba Island before in your, life, then you've now stumbled upon onto one of Tanzania's most picturesque places, an Island of incredible natural beauty and culture. While Zanzibar may be the more popular or rather more advertised to tourists, it doesn't mean you'll have anything less than a ball of a time, equal to that of Zanzibar. Pemba Island has its own unique experience to offer travellers willing to make the trek from the mainland.
How to get to Pemba Island
To get to Pemba, you'll need to make your way 40km north of the main island of Zanzibar (Unguja), and you'll find Pemba Island a slightly smaller Island that offers a much more rural feel than Zanzibar.
While Zanzibar is relatively flat, Pemba's hills and escarpments are green and picturesque, coloured by the rich greens of ten types of mangoes and many hundreds of clove trees that have traditionally supported the fortunes of this island of spice.
What to expect on Pemba Island
The Island is surrounded by a fine coral reef and pristine seas perfect for snorkelling and well just about any water sport you can think of. While its shores are greeted with dense mangrove forests, and the stunning secluded beaches that may take a bit of hunting out and getting to, so be prepared to earn your beach time.
Pemba has remained virtually unknown to the hordes of, beach-bound tourists, with just a couple of luxury lodges, and the island is mainly visited by those who come to dive and snorkel its coral reefs and channels.
When you should visit Pemba Island
The best time to visit us during the dry season from July through to late October. If you happen to miss that sweet spot, you'll be in for a few showers during November time, but generally, Pemba is still great all the way through until March.
Be wiery of visiting during April and May as the Island can be hit with heavy rains, and many lodges do close during this period.
What can you get up to on Pemba Island?
For those who prefer a little more privacy and exploration without being grouped with tour groups, Pemba island is an ideal East African holiday destination.So now that you've been properly introduced to Pemba, how about the fun stuff? What can you get up to during your stay there?
We've put together this list to answer that very question.
For the foodie in Pemba
If your stomach is grumbling or you'd simply like to take your taste buds on a bit of a trip we recommend some of the following:
1. Treat your taste buds with a visit to the ZSTC Clove Oil Distillery
Pemba is well-known for its clove industry, and this distillery is where the clove stems can be turned into essential oil. The distillery is operated by the Zanzibar State Trading Corporation (ZSTC)
The distillery can be found in the suburb of Machomane, about 1km north of the town centre and east of the main road. You can make the trip by taking a dalla-dalla to the junction then walk or arrange a tour to get you there.
Seen as a no-frills restaurant with a simple take on dining. Ahaabna specialises in serving evening meals, usually with just one option on the menu, such as rice with chicken or fish. If you plan on dining here, it's worth checking in availability in advanced. You will find Ahaabna located on the top floor of a modern concrete building, which you can reach by a staircase and work up that appetite.
3. Times Restaurant
Don't get caught off guard this isn't your basic eating joint. The Times' menu delivers a range of dishes from pizza and chicken curry to staples like fish and rice. If you plan to eat in the evening it can get pretty busy so we recommend you try, call during the day to check availability. Times Restuarant can be found on Bomani Street in the area of Wete.
For the explorer in Pemba
Pemba Island is one of the top diving and snorkelling locations off the coast of Tanzania with the entire island surrounded by coral reef. Between the island and mainland Tanzania, the Pemba Channel shelves off to depths of more than 2,000m, and Pemba is famous for seriously large sea fish, which include barracuda, tuna, shark, and even whales. This is a glorious playground for experienced divers. Visibility is generally very good and there are some spectacular pinnacles. Currents are strong at Pemba so it’s not ideal for first-time divers.
5. Grab some sun at Vumawimbi beach
Taking a trip to Vumawimbi can be a lonely road stretching along the east side of the Kigomasha Peninsula, and north of Ngezi Forest Reserve. Not many outsiders will be around to cramp your style with all the hotels are on the west side. It’s a pretty isolated spot, so bring some company and finish off your day with a secret picnic and enjoy some idyllic views that are pretty close to heaven.
6. Visit Misali Island
You can get to Misali by arranging a boat from Wesha, but it's easier to arrange excursions through hotels or travel agencies. This part of the island is part of the Pemba Conservation Area and covers Pemba’s entire west coast. All divers, snorkellers and beachgoers here must pay the admission fee, but it is well worth the cost.
Once you enter the area you'll be surrounded by crystal waters and stunning coral reefs, Misali offers some of the best diving experiences in East Africa, while snorkelling is spectacular and easily reached from the beach.
While around some parts of the island, you'll find nesting turtles across some beaches on the western side.
7. Kidike Flying Fox Sanctuary
Kidike can be found near the village of Kangagani about 2km east of the new primary road between Chake Chake and Wete. The Kidike Sanctuary plays home to a range of wildlife with the highlight being a spectacular colony of Pemba flying foxes, a large bat indigenous to Pemba (called popo in Swahili).
8. Ngezi Forest Reserve
If you make your way to the far North Eastern side of Pemba, you'll be greeted by the dense and wonderfully lush Ngezi which is one of the last remaining areas of indigenous forest that once covered much of the island, and is as close to the rainforest that you'll get anywhere in the area. This sanctuary is protected by a 1476-hectare reserve; the forest is complete with vines providing swings for raucous vervet monkeys.
Feel free to explore the two nature trails tunnel through the forest with off-trail walks allowed but be advised all visits must be done with a naturalist guide.While bird enthusiasts are in for a treat, by taking on an easier route on the specific birdwatching and bat-watching walks, plus night walks to see bushbabies and for keen birdwatchers to spot the endemic Pemba scops-owl.
9. Pemba Channel Conservation Area
All divers and snorkelers have to pay a small entry fee to access this area, which is usually included if organised by a tour company, but you'll soon forget about that once you see these stunning beaches and clear waters.
Take care when entering the conservation area as the waters and islets along the entire west coast of Pemba are officially protected as the Pemba Channel Conservation Area (PECCA). The conversation area is aimed to benefit wildlife, natural resources and locals.
For the & site seer on Pemba Island
10. Dive Into The History of The Island At The Pemba Museum
Take a few hours to explore the history of Pemba Island by hitting up the Pemba museum.This small museum has well-organised and displays on island history. The museum fills up a 18th-century Omani fort, which was could have been built on the remains a 16th-century Portuguese garrison. It is recommended that you check out the museum if you plan on visiting the ruins at places like Ras Mkumbuu to just have a better understanding and context of the area.
11. Chwaka Ruins
To reach the ruins, take the main road that runs along the east coast between Konde and Chake Chake, and about 3km south of Tumbe, turn east onto a dirt road. Chwaka Ruins consist of two separate sites, the Mazrui Tombs dating back as far as the 17th century, and the main Haruni Site – has the remnants of a town that existed between the 11th to 15th centuries.
The ruins are very popular with historians and site-seers and once you're done with your journey into the past the area also a lovely spot for a walk through the fields on a patch of high ground with views over the bay.
12. Check out the views from Ras Kigomasha Lighthouse
Located on the headland Ras at the far northern tip of the Kigomasha Peninsula, this lighthouse was built by the British in 1900 and is still actively maintained by its keeper. Get a bit of a sweat going by scaling the staircase for wonderful views of the sea and back across the island.
13. Take a trip through time with a visit to the ruins in Chake Chake
To get to Ras Mkumbuu, you'll need to head down about 10km from Chake Chake. You'll be greeted by the site of Ras Mkumbuu once you reach the headland at the end of the thin strip of land jutting into the sea northwest of Chake Chake. It's also the name given to the ruins of an ancient settlement, once called Qanbalu, dating from the 8th century, which by the early 10th century had become one of the major cities along the East African coast.
The main ruins, play host to of a large mosque, some tombs and houses, date from around the 14th century.
14. Mkame Ndume Ruins
The ruins are located 10km southeast of Chake Chake, near the village of Pujini. You'll be able to travel there by taxi, dalla-dalla or you can rent a bike. The journey will then lead you to the ruined palace of Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman, who ruled Pemba before the arrival of the Portuguese (late 15th to early 16th centuries), is an evocative spot.
Rahman had a reputation for cruelty and was known as Mkame Ndume (Milker of Men). Today the ruins' primary feature is a large stone staircase that led from the kilometre-long channel connecting this site to the ocean.
15. Spice Farm & Rain Forrest Tour
The Zanzibar islands are known as the ‘spice islands’, with 70% of the world’s cloves coming from Pemba. A visit to the spice farm will have you experiencing the true tastes and smells of Pemba Island. This is followed by a walk through the Ngezi Rainforest for about 45 minutes. A protected reserve home to endemic bird species, vervet and black colobus monkeys, the forest ranger will also point out all the protected fauna and flora.