Our helicopter rose into the sky and the whole of the Indian Ocean seemed to stretch out before us, glistening turquoise. A thirty minute hop away by helicopter, Thanda Island, a tiny teardrop of sand off the east coast of Tanzania, awaited us. Looking below we could see a traditional fishing dhow, carving its way through the azure water.
A sea turtle bobbed briefly on the surface, before submerging again. White sandbanks gleamed in the sunshine, beside sapphire blue channels of deeper water. Ahead of us a tiny speck of an island came into view. We circumnavigated the island by air, before coming in to land.
Only 8 hectares in size, 1km in circumference and 350 meters wide, this tiny piece of paradise only takes 15 minutes to walk around. Thanda Island is a jewel in the sparkling waters of the Indian Ocean, and one of the world’s most exclusive island getaways. Thanda Island opened in 2016, and since then has been voted the World’s Leading Exclusive Private Island, seven years running, by the World Travel Awards, the travel industry’s most prestigious awards programme.
Located in the Shungi Mbili Island Marine Reserve, a marine protected area between the Tanzanian mainland and the Mafia Island archipelago, this shark fin shaped triangle of sand is a secluded paradise, surrounded by coral reefs, that protect it from stormy seas.
Thanda was designed with families in mind, the owners wanted to create a sanctuary where generations of families could spend time together, to reconnect and bond, away from the distractions and pressures of the outside world. At the heart of the island is an elegant beach-house villa, with five double bedroom suites, that all lead directly to the beach.
In the spacious living area, there’s an indoor aquarium filled with tropical fish, a private library, a Steinway grand piano, an impressive wine collection and even a cigar humidor. The outdoor dining area has 180⁰ views out over the ocean and the glass sided infinity pool. There are two, double story thatches chalets on the other side of the island, for those of your party who may want a bit more seclusion.
White sand rings the island, fringed by glittering, aquamarine water. The beach is perfect for sunbathing and shell collecting walks, and at night beach dinners beside a crackling beach bonfire, are a wonderful end to the day. Step off the shimmering sand and into the water and you’ll find yourself immersed in the largest marine protected reserve in the Indian Ocean, and the only private marine reserve along the entire East African coast. Coral, sea turtles, dugongs, dolphins and more are home here, and the island’s resident marine biologist can guide you on out to see blue-spotted stingrays, trumpet fish, cornet fish, jewel damselfish, and countless other colourful tropical fish. Of course, if you don’t fancy, or need, a guide, you can simply don mask and fins, dive into the water and take a look for yourself.
Scuba diving is another favourite activity. The waters around Thanda teem with incredible marine life, including over 400 species of fish. If you aren’t a diver and want to learn, this can be arranged at Mafia Island Diving on nearby Mafia Island. Dives are done from traditional Arab dhows in the Mafia Island Marine Park, which has some of the most spectacular diving off the East African Coast.
A definite highlight of the waters around Thanda are the whale sharks. Swimming with these gentle giants of the ocean is one of the most amazing ocean experiences you can ever have. Whale sharks can grow to an astonishing 18m, and despite their name, are harmless, feasting only on plankton. You can swim with these incredible creatures, the largest fish in the world, just south of the island, from October to March.
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For those looking for activities above water, there’s a boathouse full of equipment, with everything you need for sailing, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. Adrenaline junkies can try their hand at water-skiing and tubing, or perhaps deep-sea fishing on the island’s 28ft reef runner cat. There’s also a full tennis court, volleyball court, yoga sessions and a fully equipped gym, if you are looking to keep active. If you’d prefer a little less action, then perhaps a cruise on a traditional dhow is more your speed, alternatively the island’s beauty and massage specialists have created a full range of special massages, facials, and body treatments that will have you feeling rejuvenated and relaxed in no time.
Dining on Thanda is an experience in itself. The food is fresh and delicious. If you love seafood, then this is heaven – fish carpaccio, sashimi, sushi, prawn curries, fresh caught lobster, mangrove crabs, tuna, red snappers, seasonal oysters freshly-picked from Thanda Island, and a choice of other fresh fish. For variety the menu also includes beef, game, poultry, vegetarian dishes, seasonal vegetables and tropical fruits. From dining at the villa’s magnificent dining table, to al fresco meals on the beach under a canopy of stars, wood fired pizzas, picnics on sandbanks in the ocean, and Swahili feasts that highlight the exotic flavours, spices and aromas of Tanzania – the food is varied and exceptional.
What started as the owner’s dream to find a small, remote, uninhabited tropical Island off the coast of East Africa, is today one of the world’s most exclusive private island getaways, a picture-perfect beach getaway, and a paradise for spending time together with family or friends – and as the island is only available to book on an ‘exclusive use’ basis, you are guaranteed to have the entire island to yourself for the duration of your stay.
Thanda Island is pure escapism and exclusive elegance at its very best. In Swahili, Thanda means to like or to love… and this special place offers up plenty to fall in love with.