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Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Manta Reef Lodge: Passion and Paradise in Pemba

Written by Carolyn Bonello
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If phrases such as ‘deserted beaches’, ‘pristine waters’, ‘unspoilt scenery’, and ‘rarely more than a dozen tourists on the island’ don’t spell out ROMANCE, I don’t know what does. This is Pemba, and I’m in love!

Manta Reef Lodge: Passion and Paradise in Pemba, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Indian Ocean

I desperately needed some quality time with my better half. I was craving somewhere exotic but didn’t fancy dodging sarong-sellers on Kuta beach in Bali, or fighting for a patch of sand in Ko Samui, Thailand. I wanted somewhere away from the maddening masses of tourists. I wanted isolation. Peace. Tranquility.


Also known in Arabic as ‘Al Jazeera al Uhadra’ (the green island), Pemba, lying 56km north off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania, is characterized by primeval forests and lush greenery, and is dominated by an industry of small-scale farming. Having undergone very little modern development, and with tourism still in its infancy, Pemba is a hidden treasure in the Indian Ocean yet to be discovered by many.


There weren’t many accommodation options on the island, so we quickly settled for what seemed to be a suitable place that would hopefully meet our requirements.


Manta Reef Lodge: Passion and Paradise in Pemba, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Indian OceanLocated in a remote yet prime spot overlooking virgin-white sands and turquoise waters, and surrounded by lush greenery, Manta Reef Lodge (, is a romantic, dream-like (yet- homely) gem of a place. The epitome of tranquility, and exactly what I am after. No, even more. My better half squeezes my hand. I’m already over the moon and we haven’t seen anything yet!


We are greeted by Azizi, one of the staff. He gives us a warm handshake and shows us to our ‘room’.


Manta Reef Lodge: Passion and Paradise in Pemba, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Indian OceanOur pretty, rustic, wooden, terracotta lodge is elevated on stilts and is one of a total of 18, which are all scattered, almost hidden, around the large grounds of the premises. It’s bright and spacious, and romance seems to be oozing out of every corner. We have a lovely king-size, four-poster bed, comfortable loungers scattered around the room, and the most amazing sea-views by day and starry skies by night, since the lodge is open-air. At night the power supply is switched off, which means the fans don’t work. But a cool sea breeze permeates the lodge, and I can safely say that it’s the coolest, most amazing al fresco sleeping experience ever.



I’m so relaxed – gazing dreamily at the wooden Dhows, complete with majestic white sails, bobbing in the crystal water below us. The sand is so white; I have never seen anything like it. I don’t want to ever leave this room, but it’s time to explore.


Manta Reef Lodge: Passion and Paradise in Pemba, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Indian OceanA large, airy, open-plan reception area leads to a chilled-out lounge where colorful couches and cushions are casually set, and packs of playing cards and board games are scattered on wicker tables, together with a number of guide books and novels. Walking out onto a massive terrace, one can sit and read, eat, relax and best of all marvel at the most unbelievably beautiful sea views this place has to offer.




Getting to the lodge is not an easy affair, due to the remoteness of the place, but Manta Reef staff pick up their guests from the airport, so no worries! The one and a half hour drive starts off smoothly on a well-tarmacked road, passing through Chake Chake, the capital, and a few other remote villages. The last few kilometers through the Ngezi forest see the road narrowing into a bumpy dirt track. The lodge suddenly appears through a break in the thick vegetation. It’s enchanting. Manta Reef Lodge: Passion and Paradise in Pemba, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Indian Ocean


At the lodge, we immediately feel time slowing down due to the what’s the hurry? Pole pole (slowly, slowly) we will manage’ attitude with which the staff go about their daily activities. In fact, ordering a cocktail on the beach may take a while, and waiting for fish to be cooked on the barbeque might get a little tedious, but the friendly smiles from the staff and the warm welcome they offer, more-than make up for the slow, relaxed way of life, which we actually found ourselves starting to enjoy in no time. So for 5 peaceful, stress-free days we switch to ‘Pemba time’, remove our watches and learn to monitor time by our grumbling stomachs, which accurately denote breakfast, lunch and dinner-time.


I have never been more in love. With my man, of course! But also with food. I have developed a ravenous appetite here. It must be the air. Or the tantalising whiffs that welcome me at breakfast time. Every morning we devour a feast of bacon, eggs, sausages, tomatoes and baked beans, with freshly-brewed coffee and a selection of teas and juices also available. Lunch and dinner, served on the large terrace, are mostly fish-based, and a large selection of freshly caught lobster, crab, dorado, king prawns and tuna, deliciously grilled to perfection, are almost always offered. I obviously taste everything. Some evenings, the dinner tables are joined for staff and guests to mingle and eat together - something I thoroughly enjoy, especially listening to the never-ending, fascinating stories told by some of the staff.


Manta Reef Lodge: Passion and Paradise in Pemba, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Indian OceanI’m getting used to this life: Wearing nothing but a flimsy sarong, walking barefoot on the sand, having my man by my side. All we do is sunbathe, eat and sleep. Eventually, we decide that it’s time to forfeit a couple of hours of sunbathing for some more exciting activities offered by the lodge.



Pemba has some of the best diving reefs in the world, and we are lucky enough to have one of the most famous at our doorstep - Manta Point. This is the tip of a 400m underwater mountain and boasts beautiful coral formations and giant manta rays. Other sites include Shimba Hills and Fundu Reef, where one is most likely to spot kingfish, rainbow runners, barracuda, lionfish and several other species.


Snorkeling can be done right off the lodge lagoon, an area abundant in coral and coral fish. The warm temperature allows us to spend a relatively long time in the water, comfortably exploring this almost cartoon-like underwater feast of colors, without feeling the need to get back to shore.


Manta Reef Lodge: Passion and Paradise in Pemba, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Indian OceanOne afternoon, I decide that I will catch my own fish for dinner. All set with rods and reels, we chug along in a little fishing boat, our very patient fisherman trying to explain (in his very incoherent English) the basic skills necessary for me to ever stand a chance of catching anything remotely resembling a fish. Three hours (and a lot of nausea) later, I finally stand ashore, proudly displaying my first catch ever – a 5kg Dorado, which we share amongst all the guests for dinner.


This is how we spend most of our time at Manta Reef - relaxing on the almost-deserted beach, swimming, sunbathing on the comfortable loungers right on the water’s edge, walking along at low tide picking sea shells, sipping cocktails on the terrace, and watching the burnt-orange sun set slowly over the lapping waves. Lulled to sleep peacefully every night by the sound of ocean surf, our dreams are only disturbed by the occasional battle with a bush baby (a small, furry, squirrel-like creature) that makes its way into our bed!


On our last morning we venture out of the lodge. We climb to the top of a lighthouse nearby and kiss at dizzying heights. It is magical. I stop for a moment and gaze down at the blue-green waters below. Sadly, we bid farewell to the most exotic, romantic, remote place we have ever been to.

Manta Reef Lodge: Passion and Paradise in Pemba, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Indian Ocean

More information on Pemba and how to get there can be found on the lodge’s website –

© Carolyn Bonello

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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