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Diving and snorkelling in Pemba, Tanzania

Quiet and rural, Pemba Island is one of East Africa’s best diving and snorkelling spots

By Emma Gregg
Published 23 May 2019, 09:17 BST
The northern tip of Pemba, Zanzibar
The northern tip of Pemba, Zanzibar
Photograph by Getty Images

With a name that’s synonymous with spices and mystique, Zanzibar is a beguiling destination. Few may realise, however, that this is an archipelago rather than a single island. Instead of staying on Unguja, the largest island, choose its quieter northern neighbour, Pemba. Thanks to long-running marine conservation programmes designed to protect its coral, this is one of East Africa’s best diving and snorkelling spots. Migrating humpback whales cruise the Pemba Channel in the summer, whale sharks are regular visitors in January and February and the newly classified (and endangered) Indian Ocean humpback dolphin feeds offshore.

Home to just a handful of guesthouses and resorts, Pemba’s rural landscapes were largely unknown to tourists until relatively recently. The Manta Resort began to change all that, however, in 2013 when, amid a flurry of publicity, it launched the Underwater Room in a pristine lagoon just off the island’s northwestern tip. Those with US$1,700 (£1,149) per night to spare can be kings or queens of the waves by making this exclusive retreat their own. The name is a slight misnomer, though: the Underwater Room is essentially a stationary houseboat, with large windows in the hull — but let’s not spoil the romance. It has three levels: a shaded and open-sided living area just above the water’s surface, an open deck on top and, down below, a sleeping cube, accessed via a four-metre ladder. 

Six years on from its launch, the Underwater Room has nicely bedded in with its surroundings; coral is growing on the anchor lines and fish have even started using the structure as a shelter from predators. After dark, underwater spotlights illuminate nocturnal marine life, letting you watch their activities undetected.

How to do it:  Expert Africa offers a holiday on Pemba with eight nights at The Manta Resort from £1,838, full board, excluding international flights. Nights in the Underwater Room cost extra. Additional days on Unjuga (Zanzibar) or on safari in Tanzania, Kenya or elsewhere can be arranged on request.   

Published in the June 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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