For much of its history, Pemba has been overshadowed by Zanzibar, its larger, more visible and more politically powerful neighbour to the south. Although the islands are separated by only 50km, very few tourists cross the channel. Those who do, however, are seldom disappointed because Pemba offers an authentic experience that’s largely disappeared in the archipelago’s other half.
Unlike flat, sandy Zanzibar, Pemba’s terrain is hilly, fertile and lushly vegetated. In the days of the Arab traders it was even referred to as ‘al Khuthera’ or ‘the Green Island’. Throughout much of the period when the sultans of Zanzibar held sway over the East African coast, it was Pemba, with its extensive clove plantations and agricultural base, that provided the economic foundation for the archipelago’s dominance.
Pemba has also been long renowned for its voodoo and traditional healers, and people come from throughout East Africa seeking cures or to learn the skills of the trade.
Much of Pemba’s coast is lined with mangroves and lagoons; however, there are stretches of sand and some idyllic uninhabited isles where you can play castaway for a day. The healthy coral reefs, the steeply dropping walls of the Pemba Channel and an abundance of fish provide world-class diving: the best in East Africa.
Unlike Zanzibar, where tourist infrastructure is well developed, Pemba is very much a backwater. Other than a few multistar resorts, facilities range from fairly basic to nonexistent. Pemba remains largely ‘undiscovered’ and you’ll still have most things (even the lovely beaches) more or less to yourself, which is a big part of the island’s appeal.