A place where you can “sleep with the fishes.” Where you literally sleep with fishes darting all around you. Except, if you’re like me, you won’t be “sleeping with fishes” at all because the whole experience of watching fish swim around your room all night while lying in bed makes sleep completely impossible.
I’m talking about the underwater room on Pemba Island, one of the islands that make up Zanzibar right off the coast of Tanzania.
Let me start by telling you a bit about Pemba Island. It is lush and green. It is surrounded by impossibly clear aqua waters, teaming with coral and fish. Pemba is also the leading producer of cloves, according to Brittanica.com.
Pemba is very, very off-the-beaten path. According to one tourism source, Pemba’s sister island, Zanzibar has 150 hotels. Pemba has just seven (including a couple that may be more B&B style lodging)
It is very remote – you can take a small plane from Dar Salaam on the mainland to tiny Karume airport in Pemba’s main town of Chake-Chake. Then you’ll need a driver to take you on the hour-and-a-half drive through Ngezi Forest Reserve and up to the Manta Resort on the far northern part of the island.
Along the way, you’ll pass by thatched huts, the only other traffic on the road is the insistent mosquito-like drone of a scooter or two.
Manta Resort is pretty remote. You won’t be venturing out to any neighboring villages to grab a drink or dine in an area restaurant. There aren’t any. Nor are there any TVs, telephones, gym. Wi-fi is only really available at the lobby/reception area and it is spotty at best. I pretty much gave up on checking email or Instagram after the first afternoon.
The accommodations are spartan – small, private stucco villas with open bathrooms and no air conditioning but stunning ocean views. It’s an all-inclusive setup and there is no menu. You’re server (or “fundi”) gives you two options at each meal and you pick one. But it’s all very fresh and healthy, and there’s almost always a fish option.
The entire vibe at Manta Resort is unpretentious, laid back and friendly. It’s clear that the resort is community-focused and gives back in many ways – jobs, schooling, fishing and coral conservation. Their foundation, the Kwwanini Foundation, has several initiatives aimed at sustainable economic development with an eye towards preserving what makes the island unique.
But what really makes Manta Resort unique and is, quite honestly, the main draw is its’ underwater room.
I uttered what I think might go down in history as the most bougie phrase ever known to mankind last week.
“Weeeeell, last time we were in Africa, we stayed at…..”
I said it not once, but TWICE while catching up with friends, both of whom probably immediately regretted asking me what big exciting trip we had coming up.
My manpanion/life-partner XFE and I have become known as “those people” in our own individual circles—the couple who are always planning their next big trip. Finagling airline partnerships and air miles to upgrade to first class and work in the longest possible layovers on a multi-stop ticket, cashing in hotel points and free resort nights to stay in ridiculously luxurious rooms, relentlessly researching destinations and options and meticulously planning where we’re going to spend our time and money.
Our next big trip is a bit different. It’s XFE’s 40th birthday and there was only really one place he wanted to spend it, regardless of airline miles (we were able to use plenty of those), hotel points (nope, none of those being used this trip) or cost (yikes)—on safari in Africa.
This is not our first time in Africa. We actually went to South Africa for my birthday in March 2014, which is why I was able to say something as bougie as, “Well, the last time we were in Africa, we stayed at….”
Of course, with our next trip to Africa only three weeks away, I’ve been thinking a lot about that last trip.
South Africa was never really on my travel bucket list. As I’ve said before, I’m pretty risk adverse, and well, Africa seemed a bit risky, a bit unstable.
Sure, I’m a huge animal lover and intellectually, at least, I’d like to see animals in the wild, but again, being risk adverse, I always worry something bad might happen. I have a huge amount of respect for animals in the wild and would not want to do anything that might set them off. And who the hell knows what might set them off? I have a lunatic house cat who meows at walls, corners and sometimes electrical sockets. No idea why.
Plus, a lot of those animals in the wild look pretty dang skinny. I’ve been poor. I know what hunger feels like and when you’re hungry, you might just be willing to eat anything, including some stupid tourist distracted by their camera.
But it turns out, there was a whole lot I didn’t know about South Africa (shocker, I know).
Like, how much I would love beautiful, bustling, exciting Cape Town.
I also had no idea Cape Town had such a crazy good food scene. Like, really, really good.
I didn’t know I’d be allowed to pet a cheetah (check that one off the life list).
I didn’t know about Sabi Sands, a 65,000 hectare private reserve bordering Kruger National Park. It’s very unique in that it’s privately owned by individual land owners/families.
I didn’t know South Africa had places like the 5-star Savanna Lodge, where we stayed back in 2014.
I suspected–but didn’t know–that Africa had so many wonderful people like the staff at Savanna Lodge. We were treated like treasured family members (including a little post-game drive champagne party on the morning of my birthday).
Or like our ranger Patrick and his nice gun-toting tracker friends who pointed out all the cool, dangerous animals and would protect you from said animals if necessary.
The biggest revelation was the animals themselves, who aren’t really interested in eating stupid tourists at all when there are plenty of other, more tasty, less noisy food options available.
And actually would just really appreciate it if humans would leave them to their whole Circle of Life business.
In fact, they’d probably also appreciate it if humans would stop killing them into extinction.
So, we’re going back to South Africa. Sadly, we’re skipping Cape Town and Stellenbosch. And we weren’t able to book Savanna Lodge, despite planning this trip a year out (there is, understandably, quite the demand for their nine luxurious tent-suites).
We’re really excited to be staying five nights at Leopard Hills, another 5-star lodge in Sabi Sands.
Then we’re going on to another six nights of safari, this time in Tanzania, including stays in a glass-fronted tent suite at Lemala Kuria Hills and a bushtop tent at Serengeti Bushtops. We’ll finish up with four nights at the Manta Resort on Pemba Island, including a night in their underwater room. Yes, I said underwater room. The room is underwater.
It’s really an once-in-a-lifetime trip. But, for the second time.