Tanzanian Paradise: Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia Islands


Tanzania, a country with diverse landscapes and rich culture, boasts an array of islands, with Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia Island standing out as the top choices for travellers. Each of these destinations has its own unique allure, catering to a variety of traveller preferences. Let's take a closer look at what sets them apart and which one might be the perfect fit for your Tanzanian adventure.

Zanzibar: Full of History and Beach Bliss

Zanzibar, often referred to as the "Spice Island," blends historical charm with coastal splendour. While its UNESCO-listed Stone Town showcases architectural wonders and narrow alleys steeped in the island's vibrant past, the true allure of Zanzibar unfolds along its sandy white beaches.. From the vibrant Nungwi to the serene Kendwa, these coastal stretches invite one with powdery white sands, clear turquoise waters, and a gentle breeze.

Starfish Zanzibar

The beaches of Zanzibar not only provide a visual spectacle but offer a multisensory experience. Picture yourself reclining on the soft white sands, surrounded by salt air, tantalising fragrace of spices lingering in the air, and the soothing sounds of lapping waves and rustling leaves. These coastal havens invite visitors to unwind in a tranquil paradise.

Zanzibar's underwater wonders further enhance its appeal. Dive into the vibrant marine ecosystem through scuba diving and snorkeling, exploring ancient coral formations teeming with a variety of fish species and sea creatures.

Beyond its natural beauty, Zanzibar's rich history, shaped by a fusion of cultures and architectural marvels, has earned it UNESCO recognition, drawing in history enthusiasts and culture seekers from around the world.

Zanzibar's commitment to tourism is evident in its well-established infrastructure. The island is seamlessly connected to mainland Tanzania and the global travel network, facilitating easy accessibility for visitors.

Accommodation choices on Zanzibar are diverse, catering to a range of preferences and budgets. From luxurious resorts that pamper guests with opulence to cozy guesthouses providing a more intimate experience, visitors can find options that suit their individual tastes.

Getting to Zanzibar from mainland Tanzania is convenient. Multiple flights operate from key cities like Arusha and Dar Es Salaam, providing easy access to the island. Flights are available at various times throughout the day, offering flexibility in travel.

Another accessible option is taking a ferry from Dar Es Salaam to Stone Town, Zanzibar. The ferry schedule includes departures at 7:00 am, 9:30 am, 12:30 pm, and 3:45 pm, providing alternatives for travel. While ferries offer a more budget-friendly choice, those seeking a VIP experience can opt for premium tickets, granting access to the top deck with reclining chairs and exclusive AC amenities. It's worth noting, however, that rough seas can rock the boat, potentially causing discomfort for those prone to seasickness.

It is important to note that Zanzibar's popularity may result in crowded conditions, particularly during peak seasons. For those looking for a quieter retreat, Pemba and Mafia Island offer serene, less crowded alternatives away from the hustle and bustle of Zanzibar's main attractions.

Here are the pros and cons of visiting Zanzibar and whether it’s a fit for you.

  • Zanzibar's rich history, evident in Stone Town's architecture and traditions, provides a captivating cultural experience.
  • The exquisite white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters make Zanzibar a beach lover's paradise.
  • A fusion of Arab, Persian, and Swahili cultures creates a unique and vibrant atmosphere.
  • Teeming with tourists from across the world, the island has a lively atmosphere
  • Can be acessed conveniently.
  • Popular tourist spots can get crowded, particularly during peak seasons. Additionally, be mindful of beach boys on some shores, as their persistent offers might lead to occasional discomfort.
  • Prices in Zanzibar tend to be higher compared to Pemba and Mafia.
Recommended for:
  • Travellers seeking a perfect balance of beach rwlaxation and history.
  • Cultural enthusiasts who appreciate historical landmarks and diverse traditions.
  • Travellers who don’t mind dealing with the beach boys.
  • Travellers wishing to socialise and party.
  • Travellers looking for a variety of options in a single place.

Pemba: Nature's Sanctuary Off the Beaten Path


For those looking for a more serene and authentic experience, Pemba offers an unspoiled haven. Known for its virgin beaches with mangrove forests and great diving spots, Pemba provides a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of more touristy destinations. It's a hidden gem for water enthusiasts. Diving and snorkeling in the clear waters surrounding Pemba reveal a vibrant underwater world. Encounter colourful coral reefs teeming with marine life, including schools of tropical fish, reef sharks, and graceful sea turtles. Pemba's dive sites, such as Fundu Gap and Njao Gap, offer thrilling experiences for both novice and experienced divers.

Getting to Pemba, however, requires some effort, highlighting its exclusivity. You have the option of travelling to Pemba by either a flight or a ferry. Flights from Dar Es Salaam take around an hour, and flights from Zanzibar are a quicker 30-minute option. A flight ticket to Pemba may cost around $100. Ferries on the other hand take much longer (6 to 12 hours), but offer a more affordable journey. However, the waters can get rough and choppy making the journey uncomfortable, and so the option of ferries may not appeal to everyone.

Accommodations in Pemba are limited as well, and primarily located in the northern part where diving is prominent. You’ll mostly find luxurious resorts like Manta, Fundu, and Aiyana, with high charges. For mid range and budget options you will find Gecko Nature Lodge and hostels in the vicinity.

Pemba, nevertheless, is a haven for diving enthusiasts. Pristine coral reefs, teeming with colorful fishes and a variety of sea creatures, showcase the health of the marine environment here, untouched by heavy human presence. There is plenty to see and explore in the waters here.


Here are the pros and cons of visiting Pemba and whether it’s a fit for you.

  • The island provides an immersive experience into genuine Tanzanian life, with fewer tourist developments.
  • Spice plantations offer a fragrant exploration of the island's aromatic treasures.
  • Pemba's charm lies in its serene atmosphere, making it an excellent choice for tranquility seekers and diving enthusiasts looking to escape city noise.
  • Pemba offers great locations for diving with huge coral reef colonies.
  • Limited tourist infrastructure compared to Zanzibar.
  • Limited and poor internet connection.
  • Nightlife options are fewer for those seeking vibrant entertainment.
  • Overall cost of travelling to Pemba can be expensive.
  • Limited accommodation options.
Recommended for:
  • Nature enthusiasts who appreciate tranquility and unspoiled beauty.
  • Travellers looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience.
  • Travellers looking for a less crowded location.
  • Diving enthusiasts looking for a unique underwater adventure.

Mafia Island: A Marine Wonderland

Mafia Island

Mafia Island is another hidden gem for those enchanted by the underwater world. Renowned for its marine biodiversity, pristine coral reefs, and exceptional diving and snorkeling opportunities, this island provides a secluded retreat for water enthusiasts.

Similar to Pemba, you won’t find vibrant social scenes here. There is less tourist activity and limited development catering to tourists who do arrive.

Getting to Mafia Island may also pose a challenge. Flights from Dar Es Salaam, while a quicker option (about an hour), come at a higher cost. Alternatively, ferries departing from Nyamasati offer a more cost-effective but challenging journey, taking up to four hours. There may be delays and discomfort due to choppy waters and less-than-optimal ferry conditions.

Please note that there’s also limited healthcare facilities available on the island. Travellers are advised to carry essential medicines, ointments, and emergency tools, ensuring a safe visit.

Accommodations, similar to Pemba, are limited but do offer choices for tourists with different budgets. You can find luxury, mid-range, and budget options. Utende region, developed for tourists, offers more amenities and options, but at a higher cost. On the other hand, Kilidoni has limited options but provides a more local experience. It is not developed for the tourists so those seeking to explore the local culture and experiencing a more authentic stay may choose to book an accommodation here.

Mafia Island does offer a variety of activities to engage in. You may explore the vibrant underwater world in the Mafia Island Marine Park. Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts will revel in the healthy coral colonies, diverse fishes, and an unparalleled marine spectacle, offering an experience that some argue surpasses even Pemba.

If you visit between August and September, you can catch the Humpback whale migration, listen to their sounds and witness their majestic journey. In the summer months, from June to August, you have the opportunity of catching a sight of turtles hatching, adding an extra layer to your Mafia Island experience.

In the crystal-clear waters of Mafia islamd you can swim with the magnificent whale sharks, a year-round spectacle with the best sightings between October to March. You may also explore the ancient Kua civilization remains at Juani Island, where green turtles find a nesting haven. To dive even deeper into the the local culture, you can plan visits to cashew, coconut, and rice plantations. And as the sun sets, catch a glimpse of the fruit bats in action.

Mafia Island

Here are the pros and cons of visiting Mafia Island and whether it’s a fit for you.

  • A marine paradise with rich marine life, coral reefs, and excellent diving and snorkeling spots.
  • Offers an even more exclusive and remote setting compared to Pemba.
  • Deep-rooted fishing traditions add a unique cultural dimension to the island.
  • Nightlife options are limited, catering to a quieter atmosphere.
  • Historical attractions are fewer compared to Zanzibar.
  • Limited and poor internet connection.
  • Limited healthcare facilities; travellers should carry essential medicines and emergency tools.
  • Limited accommodation options.
Recommended for:
  • Water enthusiasts, including divers and snorkelers.
  • Travellers seeking a peaceful and secluded island retreat.
  • Those looking for an authentic local experience in Kilidoni, where amenities are limited but offer a more genuine encounter with local culture and cuisine.

Choosing Your Tanzanian Paradise


In conclusion, whether you are drawn to Zanzibar's historic charm, Pemba's natural beauty, or Mafia Island's underwater wonders, Tanzania has a unique island experience for every traveller. Consider your preferences and travel to a Tanzanian island that suits you best.


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