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Ushongo is 377km (234 miles) N of Dar es Salaam and 66km (41 miles) S of Tanga

A near-uninterrupted swath of virgin beach stretches north of Bagamoyo for nearly 322km (200 miles). Sometimes referred to as the Pangani Coast, it's the type of unspoiled, awe-inducing coastline that finds itself on lists declaiming the world's top-secret beaches. If ever there was a place to rediscover the art of doing nothing, this must be it. And along this stretch, it's Ushongo Beach -- around 17km (11 miles) south of the old Arab slaving town of Pangani -- that is possibly the most seductive place to find yourself barefoot under a thatched umbrella. Ushongo itself is a traditional Swahili fishing village, its people little affected by tourism; theirs is a way of life apparently governed by the tides, their community spilling right out of their palm-leaf houses and onto the shore. With no riptides, no sharks, and no strong currents, the sea here is perfect for swimming. And while Crusoe-types will need no more reason to come other than the epic palm-backed seashore that spreads in either direction, there's more inspiration just offshore, in the series of reefs that protect Ushongo Bay. The Maziwe Island Marine Reserve is an awesome, little-known scuba-diving site, its reef bustling with multihued fish, and smaller Fungu Island nearer the shore provides fine snorkeling.

Pangani is considered one of the most alluring towns along Tanzania's coast -- a languid and surprisingly little-developed example of Swahili coastal culture infused with glimmers of Arab and Euro-colonial history. Although its precise history is garbled, to the point that's it's not even certain who established the town (or when) in the first place, it's said to date back more than 1,000 years and to have long been a significant stop on the East African dhow route established by Arab traders. More modest accounts peg its origins to the 15th century. In any case, it grew into a prosperous port connecting the inland caravan route from Lake Tanganyika to the sea; ivory and slaves left from here, while missionaries and explorers arrived here to begin their journeys inland. It's worth having a guide with you if you intend to explore the town. The oldest building is the Old Boma (1810), built as the home of a well-to-do Omani trader who had slaves buried alive in the foundations, supposedly in order to strengthen them. Although the building was greatly modified by the Germans, it retains its original, handsomely carved wood doors. North of Pangani, about midway to Tanga, are the remains of a medieval Swahili town, known today as the Tongoni Ruins. If you've a specific interest in archaeological sites, you might want to take a look at the graveyard here -- many of the fallen pillars are elaborately decorated.

About 1 1/2 hours north of Pangani, Tanga is the second-biggest urban area along the Tanzanian coast, and although it was once a thriving port town, nowadays it feels half-asleep. All things considered, it's not a bad place, but there's really very little reason to visit and certainly holds nothing that should tear you away from your beach break. You may, however, find yourself in transit here before transferring on to Ushongo, Arusha, Pemba, or Zanzibar. Built on a natural harbor, the town revolves around industry rather than leisure, and there are no beaches here to compete with the magnificent one at Ushongo. You can, however, swim at the beach on the little island of Toten, which lies within the harbor -- for a chance to experience a bit of local color, see if you can strike a deal with one of Tanga's fisherman to get you there and back on a traditional sail-driven boat. A walk around the island, picking through the ruined mosques, will swallow a couple of hours, after which you may want to stretch out on the beach along the Raz Kazone Peninsula, which is Tanga's upmarket neighborhood and the setting for the bulk of its expatriate activities (and where you'll find the most upmarket hotel in town). A popular outing -- although certainly not for anyone without a specific interest -- is a visit to the Amboni Caves. Packed with outlandish tales (some of them true) about how they've served as a hideout for gangsters and are a habitat for all kinds of wild animals, the limestone caves feature the requisite stalactites, stalagmites, and bats, as well as some unusual crystal formations. One chamber serves as a sort of pilgrimage site and is known as the Mzimuni, or "spirit chamber," where local villagers offer gifts to the ancestors and people from all across East Africa come to ask for help. Local guides also like to tell visitors that certain passages from the caves lead to Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kilimanjaro, but the jury is definitely out on that one.