Pemba, Mafia and the Indian Ocean Islands

Pemba, Mafia and the Indian Ocean Islands

Tanzania’s numerous islands provide the perfect location for the ‘beach’ part in a ‘Safari and Beach’ itinerary. We’ve covered Zanzibar, the largest and most popular of the islands separately but there are other islands you may want to consider.

Pemba

Pemba is Zanzibar’s often overlooked neighbour, 50km to the north. In complete contrast to flat and sandy Zanzibar, Pemba is green and lush with fertile hills and clove plantations. Good beaches are a little harder to find here, with dense mangroves along much of the coastline but this largely undiscovered island is home to some of the best diving and snorkelling in Africa.  The coral reefs that surround Pemba provide a home and shelter to an abundance of marine life, yours to discover.  A short boat ride away are various off-shore islands such as Msili where you can find great beaches that may be lacking on Pemba. If you are looking for a more remote island experience with plenty of diving and snorkelling then Pemba could be it.

Mafia Archipelago

The cluster of idyllic, peaceful islands that make up the Mafia Archipelago include Mafia, Chole, Juani, Jibondo and Juani islands.  Covered in rainforest, grasslands, mangroves and beaches, this area is less visited than Zanzibar and provides the perfect setting for a quiet and peaceful beach holiday with more of a ‘desert island’ feel.

The diving here is exceptional, thanks largely to the Mafia Island Marine Park which protects the coral reefs and it’s far quieter than Zanzibar’s dive sites too. Chole Bay provides secluded and calm waters for snorkellers and divers alike, the shallow coral reef providing shelter for a host of tropical fish, and there are of course the endless sandy beaches lined swaying coconut palms where you can enjoy some R&R.

Fanjove

Slightly further south and 20 miles from the coast is Fanjove Island on the Songo Songo Archipelago which, up until recently, was totally uninhabited, although there is a dilapidated lighthouse that would suggest the island was once home to someone other than the spectacular birdlife and the  green turtles that use the beaches as a nesting site.

Things to do in Pemba, The Mafia Archipelago and Fanjove

  • Diving and snorkelling – if diving is your focus then this is the perfect location, Mafia Island Marine Park offers superb conditions. Equally if you are a beginner or prefer snorkelling this is the place to do it. At Fanjove island the waters are virtually untouched and there is an abundance of marine life waiting to be discovered just below the surface.  It has been said that Pemba offers some of THE best diving and snorkelling in Africa, perhaps more suited to experienced divers.
  • Fishing – deep sea fishing is a popular excursion with September to March being the optimum time. If deep sea fishing is not your thing, and you fancy just dangling a rod in the waters, then some of the lodges offer simple fishing trips close to shore.
  • Dhow trips – take a dhow day-trips out to remote sandbars, there’s nothing quite like spending time on the ocean, even if you don’t venture far. A sunset sail is also a wonderful experience.
  • Discover the inner island – take a ‘road’ trip inland and take a guided walk through Mlola Forest or enjoy a picnic on a banana plantation. (MAFIA)
  • Kite Surfing – keen kite surfers should head for Fanjove Island, June to August provide perfect conditions. (FANJOVE)
  • Swim with whale sharks – keeping a respectful distance, share the water with the basking whale sharks as they feed on plankton in the area from October to February each year. (MAFIA)
  • Picnic lunch on a sandbar – at low tide, it can be arranged to take guests out on a dhow trip, and have a picnic lunch out on an exposed sandbar – a slightly surreal experience.
  • Nature walks – on Fanjove you can explore the island, your routing will depend on nature and the tide. (FANJOVE)
  • Kayak – some lodges offer kayaks to their guests so they can explore the shores of the island. This is best done November to March when the winds are low and the waters calm. (FANJOVE)

When to visit Pemba, The Mafia Archipelago and Fanjove

PEMBA & MAFIA: The temperatures on Mafia Island are pleasant and even in the ‘hot’ season, they rarely exceed 30C though humidity can make it feel uncomfortable especially when there is no breeze.  In short, March to May sees the long rains and the lodges are almost all closed in April and May. 

November to early December sees the short rains.  The trade winds also occur twice a year. July through to mid-September is the windiest and milder winds are experienced after the short rains in November.

FANJOVE: December, January and February see the start of some very light rain, this serves to cool the temperatures down and it’s a pleasant time of year to visit. In March the rains increase.  The rains in April and May closes the only accommodation on Fanjove . April to July sees the hatchlings make their way to the sea. June through to mid-September can be pretty windy but the diving is still good. October and November are probably the hottest months as there is little or no wind. Humpback whales usually visit the area between June and October and bottlenose and spinner dolphins can be seen all year round.

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JUNE TO OCTOBER

  • This is the main dry season and the most popular time to visit
  • The weather is cooler and more comfortable than January to March
  • From April to July green turtles hatch on Fanjove Island
  • This is peak season and accommodation is in high demand
  • July to mid-September can be quite windy on Fanjove

NOVEMBER TO MAY

  • January to March are dry and hot
  • Even in rainy season (April, May and November) it does not rain all day
  • The rain reduces humidity
  • The main rains occur in April and May and some lodges and hotels close
  • There are shorter rains In November and early December
  • Some water-based activities are unavailable in the wet season
  • Over Christmas and New Year accommodation books up in advance

Where to Stay around Pemba, The Mafia Archipelago and Fanjove

While Zanzibar has 150+ accommodation options, Pemba has just 2 to choose from on the island, making it a little easier.  Fundu Lagoon is a romantic option, popular with honeymooners. The remote Manta Resort offers laidback accommodation. With just 5 rooms Pemba Lodge, on  Shamiani Island offers rustic, environmentally conscious accommodation for those who really want to get away from it all.

Mafia Island has several accommodation options, Kinasi Lodge and Pole Pole have their own small areas of beach in front of them, on the opposite side of the island is Butiama Lodge, a pleasant and enjoyable lodge.  Accommodation here is simple, and low-key – anything else wouldn’t fit the destination.

There is only one accommodation option on Fanjove Island, which is Fanjove Private Island Lodge, a simple, yet stylish lodge with just 6 bandas.

Wildebeest

The Great Wildebeest Migration

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