The famous islands of the Zanzibar archipelago are located about 25 miles off Dar es Salaam on the mainland coast of Tanzania.
Spice Isles of Unguja, Pemba (Zanzibar) and Mafia
These islands, off the East Coast of Tanzania, have always been known to be the perfect place to unwind after a safari or trek up Kilimanjaro, Or simply a romantic destination for honeymooners. What is not as widely known about these islands, is that they are home to some of the world’s critically endangered species – red colobus monkeys, bottlenose dolphins, whalesharks, dugong and even the ancient coelecanth which scientists thought disappeared off the face of Earth with the dinosaurs! The islands are perfect for families as well as senior citizens as there is plenty do so – from the active watersports, diving and snorkelling, to swimming with dolphins, or taking a leisurely sunset cruise in a traditional sailing dhow. The water is warm, beaches are beautiful, excursions are numerous and historic Stone Town, the archipelago’s capital, is a hub of activity – old stone crumbling buildings with elaborate doors and balconies, and narrow streets teeming with bazaars and bicycles, a wonderful marketplace, old sultans palaces and the site of the infamous slave trade.
Zanzibar is an archipelago of islands – the most famous being Unguja located 25 kms from the mainland coast at Dar es Salaam. The island is famous for its mix of exotic beaches, famous spice plantations, history (Stone Town being the capital) and diverse culture. Unguja (the main island in Zanzibar) is also home to many endangered species including the red colobus monkey and green turtle.
The North and East Coast of Unguja have particularly inviting beaches with powder white sand lapped by turquoise blue warm waters of the Indian Ocean and framed by many coconut and wild date palms. This makes for an ideal location to relax particularly after a safari or trek up Kilimanjaro. There are many excursions and water sports for people to indulge in and a whole range of accommodations to choose from (see below).
What makes Zanzibar special?
What makes Zanzibar different to other tropical island destinations is the eclectic mix of sun, sea, sand and spice. But there is much more – vivid history, culture and a variety of excursions that makes this one of the most popular all-round beach destinations for people of all ages and interests. Apart from this, a whole range of endangered species can be found in the warm tropical waters around the archipelago – from bottlenose dolphins and green turtles to the once assumed extinct coelecanth!
Zanzibar also hosts annual festivals and events drawing people from all over East Africa and the world.
Accommodations in Unguja, Pemba and Mafia
Zanzibar and Mafia have a whole range of accommodations to suit different interests and budgets. Generally, the hotels in Stone Town are ideal for exploring the historic city, taking Spice plantation tours and visiting little isles around the main island (eg Changuu/Prison island, Bawe island, Chumbe island), various historic palaces and ruins, as well as taking in a lot of local culture and events .
The East Coast is very popular, with superb white sandy beaches and coral reefs teeming with underwater life. Lots of different hotels from the very small and intimate to the large, bustling resorts.
The North Coast is generally considered to be the best for those seeking more adventurous underwater safaris -scuba diving and deep sea diving particularly along the Mnemba Atoll. The beach resorts here range from standard to exclusive.
Aside from these, there are perfect private island get-aways – offered in the form of individual resorts on the little isles around the main island – Chumbe Island, Chapwani island, Mnemba Island, Bawe island and Changuu island to name a few.
PEMBA AND MAFIA ISLANDS
These islands are found east of Tanzania on the Indian Ocean. Pemba is north of Unguja and Mafia island south of Unguja.
Strictly speaking, Mafia island has always been part of mainland Tanganyika. Pemba island on the other hand, is part of the Zanzibar archipelago, the second larges island in the group, and famous for its spice (predominantly clove) and coconut plantations. Known as “Al-Khudra” (the Green isle), Pemba lies 40 km north of Unguja (the island most visitors refer to as Zanzibar).
Pemba is favoured by divers and those wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of Unguja. Although generally quiet and rural, this island hosts some great bull-fights emanating from the era of Portuguese colonialists. The islanders also celebrate Mwaka Kogwa with traditional rituals and the burning of an old “hut”.
Note: Do not confuse Pemba island with Pemba in Mozambique.
Mafia island is little known to many tourists, yet well known amongst those in the diving world as one of the premier spots for deep sea diving. The coral reefs around this island teem with undersea creatures of all kinds including endangered and rare species like whale sharks, dugong and bottlenose dolphins. Big game fishing is also done around Mafia island.