Islands in the Sun
Pemba Island is situated about 80km from Zanzibar Island (Unguja), directly east of Tanga on the Tanzanian mainland. Pemba is smaller than Unguja but has a hillier landscape, although its highest point is less than 100 metres above sea level.
In ancient times, Pemba was known by Arab sailors as ‘El Huthera’, meaning the Green, on account of her dense and lush vegetation. There are more natural forests and plantations than on Zanzibar island, and Pemba grows more cloves than her bigger sister.
Pemba was seized by the Sultan of Muscat (now Oman) in the 17th century. He was so enchanted by the Spice Islands that he installed himself in Zanzibar and ruled Muscat from there. When the Western Colonial powers came to East Africa the British forced the Sultanates of Muscat and Zanzibar to separate and then administered the Spice Islands in the name of the Sultan.
All the while, the Arab dhows would ply the trade winds down from the Arabian Peninsula to East Africa. With the winds they would take cloves to India, textiles back to the Arab lands and silver and wood to the Spice Islands.
The Dhows have remained a constant throughout the history of Pemba. To this day they ply the run from Wete to Shimoni in Kenya and, when the winds are favourable they plough through to Northern Mozambique.
Pemba offers today’s visitor a number of attractions including lovely beaches, world-class scuba diving and a number of historical sites. Ngezi Forest Reserve is a beautiful place to visit, as is Misali Island, which Captain Kidd is reputed to have used as a hide-out in the 17th century.
However, on an island with a population of 300,000 there can rarely be more than a few dozen foreigners here, and the atmosphere is somewhat different from Unguja. That is not to say that the people here are not friendly. Travelling in Pemba is like traveling in unknown territory. In the countryside, villagers are eager to talk to passers-by. In town, market stallholders call you over and sit you down to try their different fruits, laughing hysterically at your reaction.
If there is a down-side to travelling in Pemba, it is the lack of infrastructure and facilities. The visitor simply has to be prepared to ‘rough it’, unless staying at one of only a few decent accommodations. The only guesthouses on Pemba are in Mkoani, Chake Chake and Wete. All are very small, modest and with basic facilities, although a luxury resort recently opened in Wambaa.
Transport is limited to a few taxis, private cars and the public bus service. Beyond this, walking is the only option, unless you have arranged prebooked transfers.
For those seeking an adventure, Pemba is a fascinating and beautiful island to visit.