50km (31 miles) NE of Unguja
Known in Arabic as Al Khundra, the "Green Island," Pemba is exactly that: a lush green gem covered in palms, paddies, indigenous forest, and large clove plantations floating in an azure sea. While it is similar in size to nearby Unguja and blessed with a similarly fertile soil and benign climate, it does not enjoy the same long stretches of sandy coastline. More important, it is ruled with impunity by the Unguja-based government, who see no benefit in encouraging competition for their tourists and are happy to maintain the status quo that sees Pemba producing more than 70% of the archipelago's cloves. Tourism is thus still a fledgling industry here, and despite its beauty, there are just four resorts chasing the tourist dollar.
As a result, the atmosphere is distinctively different. Aside from the lushness of the landscape -- a stark contrast to Unguja's deforested and more drought-prone coastline -- the island remains largely unsullied by outside influences, is far less populated (the largest town numbers 27,000), and has customs unique to what is largely an insular society. One of the most interesting of these is Pemba's bullfights. Thought to date back to the Portuguese occupation during the 16th and 17th centuries, these are held during important celebrations rather than set dates, though you can probably arrange to see one on New Year's Day. That said, it is not much of a spectacle; the "matador" evades a roped and hornless bull, and the bull is not harmed in any way.
More reserved than the tourist-savvy Zanzibarians, the local populace are focused on agrarian matters rather than the handful of unfamiliar faces that fly past in minibuses on their way to or from their resort, and despite the many living in penury, you are unlikely to be hassled by hawkers or any of the beach boys Western visitors to Unguja often complain of. Aside from offering a far more culturally authentic, less exploited experience, most visitors choose Pemba (either in addition to or as an alternative to one of the lodges near Mnemba) for the superlative diving, for if you're looking for beautiful coral reefs, virtually untouched and free of human presence, Pemba will not disappoint.
If you're looking to dive and snorkel, the best location is Misali Island, lying within the Pemba Channel Marine Conservation Area. Said to be a popular pirates' hide-out during the 17th century, it was apparently referred to as Captain Kidd's Island and said to perhaps still contain his buried treasure. The real jewels, however, are spotted among the sculptural coral reefs, whose variety is on par with that on Mafia. And if you're lucky, you might see a dazzling green and rather rare Fischer's Turaco bird in the trees.
Easiest access to Misali is from Fundu Lagoon, a wonderful resort. Other good diving sites are at Uvinje Gap, as well as Panza Island, near the southern tip, which has a superb diving site called Emerald Reef; time allowing, check out the nearby Southern Wreck. Off the northwest coast, Manta Point is named after the giant manta rays that frequent the area. There is also a very good lodge, Manta Reef Lodge (www.mantareeflodge.com), which offers good value and is even better than the more popular Fundu if what you really want is solitude.