Jonny Bierman takes us beneath the waves off Tanzania’s remote Pemba Island. From The Manta Resort, he dives into the world’s first coral safari, an underwater wildlife experience that contributes to marine protection.

Overlooking the Indian Ocean from its hillside perch, The Manta Resort in Tanzania is a soul-soothing oasis on Pemba Island’s pearl-hued shores. Enveloped by thick green forests on one side and sugar-white beaches on the other, the resort’s focus on the preservation of the surrounding Kwanini Marine Conservation Area provides a basecamp for snorkeling and diving—including their new coral reef safari. Manta offers an immersion in Swahili culture, blending the tranquil rhythm of traditional activities with the heartfelt warmth of a family-like staff. The resort’s crowning glory is its remarkable underwater room, anchored 820 feet offshore, where guests bed down beneath the waves, surrounded by swirls of tropical fish. The rooftop deck provides a perfect spot for sunbathing. On land, the beachside bar stirs up locally-infused cocktails accompanied by a swinging chair and setting sun.

Location and Arrival: Discovering Manta Resort

An evening dinner service set up on the beach beneath a starry sky
Dine beneath the stars with a gourmet dinner service on the beach. Image courtesy of Manta Resort.

After a short flight from Zanzibar or Dar es Salaam and a transfer to the northern tip of Pemba Island, guests are magnetically drawn to the restaurant patio and lounge where a sapphire-hued seascape dotted with the shadows of coral reefs greets them. Nesting turtles and guests alike find sanctuary on the property’s oceanfront stretch of sand, while snorkelers and divers need not go far as the best reefs are just a short boat ride away. On land, the closest village, where many staff call home, offers a taste of local life within walking distance.

Accommodations: Rooms and Villas

A bird's eye view of a woman sunbathing on the roof of Manta Resort’s iconic underwater room.
The resort’s remarkable underwater room is semi-submerged below the ocean surface. Image courtesy of Manta Resort.

Set within a tropical forest,  standard, and superior garden rooms differ in size. Still, both have outdoor showers in their private gardens, and superior rooms come with a Swahili baraza (aka meeting place) lounge in front. Nestled atop a hill beyond the trees, seafront villas have private plunge pools and a generous open-air layout that provides panoramic seascape views and the refreshing ocean breeze. The pinnacle of the property, though, is the underwater room. Floating offshore, semi-submerged 13 feet below the surface, guests enjoy 360-degree views of protected wildlife such as trumpetfish, lionfish, angelfish, and the occasional octopus making its way across the window.

Protecting Marine Life

A sea turtle swimming above coral at Pemba Island, Tanzania.
The Manta Resort established the Kwanini Marine Conservation Area in 2013 to protect the reefs and marine life of Pemba. Image courtesy of Tom Buyers.

The Kwanini Marine Conservation Area, a brainchild of The Manta Resort—founded in 2013—serves as the catalyst behind the Kwanini Foundation focused on the reefs off the resort’s pristine beaches. By involving the local community since its inception, the foundation has built a robust conservation direction to enhance tourism and fishing through a “spillover effect” that allows sustainable fishing beyond its boundaries. The area is now teeming with life and saw its first turtle nestings in 2023, indicating the success of the conservation efforts. The foundation also aids the local community through water supply projects, terrestrial conservation, education programs, waste management, and entrepreneurship centers.

Tanzanian Architectural Style

A four-poster bed in one of the Manta Resort’s spacious seaview rooms.
The Manta Resort’s decor has been tastefully assembled using elements of Tanzanian design and sustainable materials. Image courtesy of Manta Resort.

A meticulously crafted restaurant and lounge, beachside bar, and villas all blend local Tanzanian architecture, modern comforts, and luxury amenities that utilize sustainable Pemba Island resources. Retired outrigger canoes are repurposed into bookshelves and outdoor showers while local communities fabricate and sew parts of the decor, adding their touch to every resort corner.

Culinary Delights: Local Dining

Embodying its commitment to conservation and sustainability, the property’s culinary offering features responsibly caught seafood and a preference for local ingredients. An annual visit from an award-winning Swedish chef elevates the kitchen staff’s skills, ensuring every dish reflects the finest culinary experience.

Special Features of Manta Resort

A daily complimentary massage, expertly delivered post-dive, highlights any stay. The resort’s pool offers an idyllic cool-down oasis, while the on-site dive shop caters to all adventure needs. Cap off the day with a sunset sail aboard a traditional dhow boat—a quintessential Zanzibar and Pemba Island experience.

Manta Resort’s Coral Safari

Tropical fish swimming above a coral reef beneath the waves of Pemba Island, Tanzania.
Take a scuba safari to Pemba Island’s pristine coral reefs. Divers can listen to expert guides through state-of-the-art microphones. Image courtesy of Manta Resort.

In 2023, The Manta Resort made waves when it took on Africa’s renowned safari underwater, offering scuba divers the world’s first Coral Safari. This innovative experience uses advanced full-face masks with built-in microphones for two-way communication, allowing divers to gain a deeper understanding of the marine environment and its value in a protected state, with part of the proceeds benefiting the foundation. This unique experience merges the interpretive elements of a professionally guided terrestrial African Safari with the undersea world, creating an immersive and expertly guided underwater marine wildlife encounter.

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