Pemba Island

A visit to Pemba island leaves the better known island of Unguja behind and set sail for Pemba, which is smaller, lusher and hiller than its neighbor. Few tourists come here, and the beaches are beautiful, unspoiled, and otherworldly.

At night the wind that whispers through the clove plantations which cover most of Pemba might bring the sound of distant drumming. But don’t be tempted to set off toward the noise – in the 1930’s Pemba was famous the world over for the power of its sorcerers and magicians, with devotees of the black arts coming from as far away as Haiti to be initiated into the rites of Pemban witch doctors. By all accounts Pemba is still a witch craft centre today, but visitors will be unlikely to see any hint of occult. Instead you can float across spectacular coral reefs, laze on those untouched beaches and explore the winding hills and dense vegetation of the interior.

The tiny number of visitors to Pemba every year means that the island has little in the way of tourist infrastructure – which for alternative travelers is the main attraction. Small guesthouses are dotted around the island, and there are a couple of up market diving hotels and resorts.

Visitors may be surprised to find that bull fighting is a popular local sport, supposedly imported by Portuguese invaders in the 17th century. The Pemban version however, simply involves testing the skills of the bull in a series of bold moves by the matador, after which the bull is loaded with flowers and praise, and paraded around the village.

Misali Island to the west of Pemba is reputed to have been used as a hide out by the notorious pirate captain Kidd, who is even said to have buried treasures here. Today, a conservation program has been established, and visitors can come for the day, snorkel off the beach and walk in the forest. Locals believe the island is holy, having been used by the prophet Hidara as a prayer mat. Visitors to the island are asked to respect local customs and beliefs.

There are many historical sites and ruins to explore on Pemba including a number of old mosques and tombs and the old town Chake Chake. The Pujini ruins south east of Chake Chake are the remnants of a fortified town built around the 13th century.

The Ngezi Forest is a protected area in the North West corner of the island. It is home to endemic flora and fauna species such as Pemba flying fox (a big bat) and the Pemba palm, which is found only in the region of Ngezi Forest and is known locally as Mapapindi palm.

The beauty of Pemba is bewitching. The epitome of a tropical paradise, Pemba has green valleys with rice paddies and palm trees and clove plantations that shade the roads. Vitas of the Indian Ocean are breathtaking as they appear through the peaks and depths of Pemba’s terrain. It is a sight not to be missed.