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Pemba Island Honeymoon Paradise

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Sea Star - Pemba IslandPemba lies 80 km north of its sister island, Unguja, directly east of the Tanzanian city of Tanga. World-renowned for its collective knowledge of witchcraft and the African occult, Pemba is frequently visited by people looking for local cures or looking to learn the trade of witch-doctoring. It is even said that people have traveled from as far as Haiti in order to learn the origins of voodoo.


Although its reputation for occult healing and spell casting spreads much farther than Pemba, the locals will deny it emphatically if asked. It is not for public consumption and is revealed to locals only. In its beauty, the island itself is bewitching enough. The epitome of a tropical paradise, Pemba has green valleys with rice paddies and palm trees and clove plantations that shade the roads. Vistas of the Indian Ocean are pleasant surprises as they are presented through the peaks and depths of Pemba's hilly terrain.

Getting There

Dolphin Off Pemba IslandThere are frequent ferry departures from Unguja to Pemba and the fare is about $30 per person for tourists. The ferries Sepideh and Talieh run several times a week (about a three-hour ride) for which tickets can be purchased at the ports on Unguja or Pemba.

There are larger ships such as the Mapinduzi that also go to Pemba but their schedules are erratic and unreliable.

At the time of publication it was illegal for tourists to travel in wooden crafts in Tanzanian waters making a dhow journey to Pemba impossible.

It is possible to take a dhow from Mombasa to Pemba because Kenyan law does permit tourists to travel in wooden boats.

Masali Island - Northen PembaIf you're looking for a dhow ride, you may consider something shorter than the six to eight hour sail from Mombasa to Pemba. The dhows don't have catering, can be very dangerous in high swells and there's no way to get out of the sun.

Landing at Pemba is not quite the same experience as Unguja since there are fewer cars, people and bustle. There are several charter airlines that will fly to Pemba for a large group or may sell you a seat on a scheduled flight.

Air Tanzania claims to fly to Pemba regularly, but the practice doesn't match the claim. Although air travel is arguably quicker and can be more comfortable, it is more expensive, and for those who like adventure, the ferry trips are fun.

Pemba has one airport that services charter flights but at this writing there are no regularly scheduled flights to and from the Pemba airport. The airport is located between Chake Chake and Mkoani.

Geography & People

The Pemba geography is more varied than that of Unguja because it includes hills, valleys, rivers and fresh water ponds. The crops range from rubber trees to cloves and include others such as rice, coconut, bananas, and a lot of cassava. Unlike Unguja, much of Pemba has not been cultivated, leaving beautiful views of green wild valleys leading down to the sea. Pemba's infrastructure is also less developed than Unguja and it is much less visited by tourists.

This is considered to be a plus by many of its visitors, even if the roads aren't as good as on Unguja and transportation is more difficult to arrange. The culture is similar to that of Unguja including a 95% Muslim and Kiswahili-speaking population. As on Unguja or in Stone Town, respect the local customs by wearing clothing that covers both shoulders and knees.

Chake Chake

Chake Chake Island & Diving - ZanzibarIs the largest town on the island and it is the capital. Like Stone Town on Unguja, Chake Chake is located about halfway down the West Coast of the island. It is the only town on Pemba that has a city center feel to it with a central market, a hotel and, albeit small, a strip of shops.

There is a large state-run hotel, Chake Chake Hotel, in the town center that is pleasant, affordable, and clean.

It has a bar that serves beer that can be hard to come by on Pemba, and so can be a gathering spot for the few ex-pats in the area.

Restaurants other than the one at the Chake Chake Hotel are the Standard Café whose fare is basic and affordable and the Naas Restaurant whose reputation isn't consistent. Along the roads and at the market, breads and fruit are readily available in the town. Chake Chake is home to the Pemba ZTC office which is next to the Chake Hotel.

Sunset at MkomaniThe People's Bank of Zanzibar has a branch in each of the three large towns on Pemba but only the Chake Chake branch will exchange Travelers' Cheques.

Electricity on Pemba can be sporadic and when it goes out it can be much slower to return than it does on Unguja.

It won't be a bad idea to carry a torch if you'll be staying in ZTC houses or other locally run establishments that don't have generators. Although kerosene lamps will be provided, torches can come in handy for many uses.

Chake Chake is an excellent place to buy halua, a confection made of wheat gluten, sugar, nuts and spices. It comes in woven palm frond parcels and is very sticky once you get the package open.

Mkomani DhowHalua is very popular on Zanzibar and in Oman and the Emirates and the best halua is said to come from Pemba. It is said that during Eid, the feast and celebration that follows Ramadhan, large orders of halua are placed with the Pemba manufacturers and they are then shipped to Arab states along the Gulf. Halua is also referred to as 'sweat meat'.

Mkoani is the town with the port. Although the port brings a lot of traffic to the town, there isn't much else to see there. There is a state-run hotel, Wete ZTC Hotel that has the basic services for decent rates. All of the ZTC hotels serve beer. There is a branch of the People's Bank of Zanzibar in town and it will exchange dollars for T- Shillings.

Wete is the largest town in the northern part of the village and it is equipped with a bank, post office, police station, travel agencies (for ferry tickets), and some restaurants. There is also a cinema in Wete; it's located near the shops on the main road and it's called the Novelty Cinema. Don't expect recent releases.

Getting around

Car rental and bicycle rental are not so easy on Pemba as they are on Unguja, and indeed, car hire may not even be possible for self-drive. A car and driver can cost from $40 to $60 per day including driver. The advantage of having a driver is that you won't need a hard-to-come-by map. Inquire with tour operators and the ZTC office in Chake Chake if you're interested in renting bikes or arranging for a car.

Things to See

Ngezi Forest TrailNgezi Forest is a protected area in the northwest corner of the island. It is home to endemic flora and fauna species such as the Pemba Flying Fox (a big bat) and the Pemba Palm (Dyposis Pembanus) which is found only in the region of Ngezi Forest and is known locally as Mapapindi Palm. If you can get a ride into the heart of the forest, there is an excellent nature walk that at one time was marked by stumps indicating interesting trees and plants.

The forest has since reclaimed the stumps but a guide can help point them out and their corresponding facts. Because of the jungle-like canopy and thick forest floor, shoes are recommended for the walk over open sandals. Keep a look out for snakes and listen for monkeys.

On the northern side of the forest, on the road to the beach, there is a rubber plantation where you can see the trees with the dark rubber sap being tapped.

Misali Island - Fishing BoatsMisali Island, just to the west of Chake Chake, is surrounded by coral and therefore makes a great day trip for divers and snorkelers. Tours can be arranged through any of the local tour operators (see the Listings Section) on the island or can be arranged while on Unguja. Misali Island can be a day trip from Unguja.

Pujini Ruins are located 10km southeast of Chake Chake. They are the remains of a fortified town built around the 13th century. The area is largely overgrown and it can be difficult to imagine the original shape of the structure. Known locally as Mkame Ndume, you can reach the site by car or by a long walk from Chake Chake.
 

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