The Best Islands in Zanzibar
The Zanzibar archipelago comprises a group of islands that straddle the shores of East Africa and are collectively referred to as the Spice Islands.
The largest island is home to a UNESCO world heritage site, large clove plantations and a cluster of high-end accommodations as well as budget hotels and a marine reserve. You can also get majestic coral reefs, diving adventures and enjoy the sea life. We list the five major islands and describe what each has to offer to the world:
Zanzibar or its Swahili equivalent, Unguja is the largest island in the archipelago and is home to Zanzibar proper. It is located 33 kilometres from mainland Tanzania, and it is 85 kilometres long and 42 kilometres wide. Several other smaller islets hug its shores including Mnemba and Chumbe, and while there are lots of beautiful places to visit, the white beaches of Matemwe, Nungwi, Jambiani, and Bwejuu are considered the best. Unguja is home to dozens of both budget and luxury hotels that cater for every pocket.
Pemba is the second largest island in the archipelago. There is not much activity in Pemba like Zanzibar. It is nicknamed "Green Island" because of its fertile land. Pemba is the central clove-growing region of Zanzibar. It is about a 35-minute flight using light aircraft from Zanzibar. It is situated to the north of Zanzibar and smaller in size. Many visitors prefer Pemba to Zanzibar because it is much quieter. If you prefer peace on white sandy beaches, then opt for Pemba.
Mafia means "group of islands" in Arabic and is derived from "Morfiye.” Mafia is governed from mainland Tanzania and belongs to another group of islets closer to the mainland that are popular with fishermen. Mafia is located to the south of Zanzibar and was at one time a stopover for trade ships from the Middle East, Italy, and Greece. Like Pemba, Mafia is also quiet but hosts some incredible snorkelling and diving escapades.
Chumbe Island is home to two critical landmarks: A small mosque and a lighthouse. Both were built at the turn of the 20th century. The island's coral park is a privately owned nature reserve developed some three decades ago for the conservation and management of the coral islands. In the past fishing and diving activities were banned and Chumbe Reef Sanctuary was created which is dedicated to marine research and small amounts of tourist activity.
The waters surrounding Chumbe hosts more than 200 species of coral and many species of fish making it one of the most spectacular coral gardens on the Tanzanian coastline.
Mnemba Island lies 5 kilometers north of Zanzibar and is about 500 meters in diameter. It is known for its spectacular coral reefs and pristine beaches. Mnemba Island is a haven for the well-off, and it is not unusual to find a room costing upwards of $1,000 in some of its hotels. Mnemba Island is accessed via a 2-hour drive from Stone Town through lush clove plantations that cover the island.
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