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Islands in Tanzania

Zanzibar Island

Zanzibar is situated 40 km off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. It is known as the 'Spice Island' because of its trade in cloves and other valuable spices and because of this wealth and its strategic position has been occupied and run by. In ancient times it was the Sumerians, Assyrians and Egyptians. Later the Indians, Chinese and Persians all traded and lived on the Island, and in more recent times the Arabians and British vied for control. Each has left its mark on the island, a legacy in its architecture or population that makes it such a fascinating destination today. For many years it was central to the powerful Omani sultanate, even becoming its capital in 1840 displacing Muscat to ensure control of the lucrative slave trade. In 1964 it became part of the United Republic of Tanzania, under which it has grown and thrived. To the British it was the starting point for many of the early explorers heading off to the interior of the continent to discover its secrets. Burton, Livingstone and Speke all departed from here. These days Zanzibar’s visitors tend to arrive and stay. A Zanzibar holiday normally entails relaxing on its beautiful golden beaches, perhaps adding a safari at the start. The oldest town on Zanzibar is called Stone Town, a maze of winding streets and Arabian architecture; it is famous for its beautifully carved doors, studded with brass work. Bazaars exist in much the same place and manner that they have done so for generations, selling coffee, jewellery and of course the spices that brought the island its wealth in the first place. It is though the beaches that attract many to Zanzibar. Many of the best ones are situated on the east coast of the island, a drive of between 1 to 2 hours from Stone Town. Although more commercial that it was 10 years ago, there are still many small, intimate hotels on Zanzibar that offer the honeymooner or traveler a quiet and relaxing stay.

Pemba Island

It is 50 kms north of Zanzibar and famous for its spices and coconuts. This sleepy island is an ideal place for a honeymoon or just to relax and unwind. For the more energetic, Pemba is listed as one of the top diving locations in the world. It has without doubt some of the clearest water in the world and most beautiful reefs. Although part of the Zanzibar archipelago, Pemba is a destination in and of itself with numerous surrounding islands and islets spread all along its coast. Pemba has some of the world's best diving and fishing and because it is not as traveled as its more famous neighbor, Zanzibar, it is that much more pristine. The island is also dotted with ruins dating to the 7th century, when Arab traders built permanent mosques to spread Islam. Pemba has been an important trading center along the Swahili coast for 3,000 years and once played a major role in trade with Persian Gulf countries and India. The warm Indian Ocean waters surrounding Pemba Island are home to thousands of species of tropical fish and exotic marine life. Pemba is renowned not only for its pristine and un-spoilt coral reefs but also for its vertical coral cliffs, which plummet to depths of more than 800 meters. Underwater visibility often reaches 40 meters or more. Looking over the precipice of some of the outer walls can be a mind-blowing experience. Watch out for the vertigo! There is a stunning wreck dive available to the south of Pemba Island at Panza, which is home to large groupers and Napoleon wrasse. On a low tide, walking along the sand flats will reveal an astonishing array of inter-tidal wildlife. This is particularly interesting for bird watchers as the waders, such as herons, ibises and egrets, flock to the area to hunt for small invertebrates and fish left behind on the sands and in the shallow sea pools. You can sometimes see the beautiful fish-eagle circling overhead and hear the shrieking of the brown-headed parrot in the trees. Other things to discover include many different shells, crabs, starfish and the peculiar mudskipper, a fish that can skip across the sands on its pectoral fins.

Mafia Island

Mafia is the largest island in this archipelago, which is made up of many smaller islands atolls and tidal sandbars. It is set off the coast of central Tanzania, 20km from the Rufiji River Delta. This quiet island offers diving and snorkeling, the whole island is surrounded by an unbroken barrier reef. The diving here is some of the best the world has to offer. Game fishing, forest walks, bird watching (with over 120 bird species) and deserted beaches make Mafia a truly magic place to visit.
There are no tar roads here and the whole island is locked in a time warp. If you desire to escape from the madding crowd and relax away from the hectic world Mafia is your paradise. The island is 50km long and 15km wide. The barrier reef that surrounds the island is teaming with marine life. There are over 400 species of tropical fish in these reefs as well as five species of turtles. The coral gardens and coral heads are spectacular and with walls at various levels give the diver, either beginner or more experienced a profusion of underwater habitats to explore; PADI training is available in some of the hotels. The island has thriving tidal mangroves, palm wooded grassland and lowland rainforest, with the huge Baobab also found here. The Chunguruma Forest has a dense canopy interlaced with palms, with the floor of the forest carpeted with ferns; there are four endemic species of butterfly here. The center of the island is dotted with a series of reed lined lakes, which are home to a number of small hippopotami. These lakes are thought to have once been lagoons that became land locked thousands of years ago. The island has a colony of flying foxes, bush babies, monkeys, squirrels and monitor lizards.

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