Is it better to visit Zanzibar or Pemba at the end of your holiday in Tanzania? They are both beautiful islands in the Indian Ocean. They both belong to Tanzania, have white bounty beaches and the water is so blue that it hurts your eyes. Pemba and Zanzibar are both a paradise and choosing between the two islands is difficult. Henry, the travel expert of Better Places Travel who has lived in Tanzania for years, explains the differences.
Landscape: Hilly Pemba or flat Zanzibar?
Although Zanzibar and Pemba are only one hundred kilometers apart, they are completely different in terms of landscape. Zanzibar is a flat sandy island, without hills and tall palm trees along the entire coast. Pemba is hilly and green and when you ride around the island you encounter beautiful views. Although Pemba has more variety landscape-wise, nature lovers can get their fill on both islands. There are beautiful nature reserves and lush herb plantations in the interiors of both islands.
Culture: Zanzibar wins thanks to Stone Town
An African mix of the Middle East, Moroccan kingdoms and Cuban Havana: that’s Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar. This old town is full of attractive streets and busy markets, has a pleasant boulevard and nice restaurants. Stone Town is definitely worth a day and you can’t miss the town if you are staying on Zanzibar. Pemba doesn’t have such a place.
Atmosphere: Pemba is pristine
Zanzibar is now a popular tourist destination. It is still possible to find peaceful spots, for example, along the east coast, but more and more travelers find their way to Zanzibar. Pemba, on the other hand, is much more undiscovered. There are no big resorts along the beaches but only a handful of beautiful hotels and small resorts. That is what makes Pemba so special. On the beaches you will not find sellers or trendy restaurants, but plenty of peace and the feeling of being the only traveller on the island.
Diving: Pemba is the best choice
You can snorkel and dive at Zanzibar, but around Pemba it’s even better. Around the whole island are healthy, colorful coral reefs where it’s bursting with underwater life. Between October and April, you even have the chance to see whale sharks and manta’s. Because the coral reefs do not start far from the coast, snorkelling spots on Pemba are easily accessible.
Beaches: tie between Zanzibar and Pemba
The beaches on Zanzibar are generally more beautiful than at Pemba. Zanzibar also has a lot more beaches to choose from. The entire coast consists of white sandy beaches, while Pemba has many mangroves. But that does not mean that Pemba doesn’t have beautiful beaches. In the north, for example, the beaches are very beautiful and they can compete with Zanzibar. The bays are equipped with white sand, there are almost no other travellers and the water is as intense blue as on Zanzibar.
Price: Zanzibar wins
Pemba is more expensive than Zanzibar. On Zanzibar, competition is bigger and you can find more affordable hotels. In addition, the domestic flight to Pemba (often in a small propeller plane) is expensive. For that extra money, however, you’ll get a unique experience: staying on a paradise island where relatively few other travelers step foot.