Alternatively, leave the better known island
of Unguja behind and set sail for Pemba, which is smaller,
lusher and hiller than its neighbour. 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 1930s 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 witchdoctors. By all accounts Pemba is still a centre of
witchcraft today, but visitors will be unlikely to see any hint
of the occult. Instead you can fl oat 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 travellers is the main attraction. Small
guesthouses are dotted around the island, andthere are a couple
of upmarket diving hotels and resorts.
Visitors may be surprised to fi nd that bullfi ghting is a
popular local sport, supposedly imported by Portuguese invaders
in the 17th century. The Pemban version, however, simply
involves testing the skill of the bull in a series of bold moves
by the matador, after which the bull is loaded with fl owers and
praise, and paraded around the village.
Misali Island, to the west of Pemba, is reputed to have been
used as a hideout by the notorious pirate Captain Kidd, who is
even said to have buried treasure 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
fort of Chake Chake. The Pujini ruins south-east of Chake Chake
are the remnants of a fortifi ed town built around the 13th
The Ngezi Forest is a protected area in the northwest corner of
the island. It is home to endemic fl ora and fauna species such
as the Pemba fl ying 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. Vistas 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.