40km north of the main island of Zanzibar (Unguja), Pemba Island is slightly smaller and much more rural 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.
Although Pemba is surrounded by a fine coral reef and pristine seas, its shores are also flanked with dense mangrove forests, and the best beaches take a bit of hunting out and getting to. Generally, however, the beaches here are nowhere near as good as Zanzibar's. 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.
The office here has always been slightly split about what we really think of Pemba.
Yes Pemba's off-shore islands have great beaches, and the diving and snorkelling are unquestionably superb, but Pemba's beaches are poor in comparison to Zanzibar's - so are the lodges really worth the money here when you don't have a good beach on your doorstep? On balance our opinion is - only if you want to make your Tanzania safari holiday an underwater one. Otherwise, no!
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.
Pemba: when to go
Pemba is best visited during the dry season from July through to late October. There are a few showers in November time but generally Pemba is still great all the way through until March. April and May should be avoided as it is the heavy rains and the lodges actually close during this period.
Pemba: where to stay
There are only two lodges that we sell on Pemba, one is The Manta which is a good value and fairly basic hotel on the north of the island with access to some good diving. The lodge is good fun but very remote and a bit rough around the edges. The other option, at the other end of the price spectrum, is Fundu Lagoon, where the tented rooms are dotted around a hillside on a beach; this is not the best beach on the island but a boat ride can take you out to Misali island where there is a lovely beach with fantastic diving and snorkelling.