A Slice Of Paradise: Thanda Island – Review

By Felicity Carter

7 months ago

Love and sustainability in the Indian Ocean

Thanda Island is the world’s only exclusive-use island, just off the east coast of Tanzania – and it’s the ultimate paradise, says Felicity Carter. With crystal clear waters, a white fine sand beach, and tropical fish, it really does like like it belongs in a movie. Beauty is bountiful here, and so are the sustainability and community initiatives put in place to protect the ecosystem of the island, its waters, and local people – Thanda Island is truly a luxury establishment that gives back.

Read the C&TH Guide to Responsible Tourism

A Slice Of Paradise: Thanda Island – Review


Hotel room with beach view and double bed with white canopy

Translating into ‘love’ in the Zulu language, the enchanting little Thanda Island is set within the Tanzania’s protected Shungimbili Island Marine Reserve – an uninhabited and intimate hideaway that spans only 8-hectares, and is only for guests. Here, there’s a deep love for nature and people, and a shared appreciation of its locale. 

Central to the island is the villa, lovingly referred to as the white house – a colonial style, five-suite villa that comes complete with a gym, library, a gorgeous infinity pool and a patio looking out over the Indian Ocean. It’s the ideal spot. Alongside the main villa, and just a few minutes’ walk away, are two recently refurbished Tanzanian bandas. These are luxurious double-storey, open-plan beach bungalows with hand-carved wooden structures and straw roofs to add to the rustic Tanzanian vibes, while inside, there’s complete indulgence, with all the amenities guests could want. The bandas are slightly separate from the main villa and are positioned perfectly for those who want to see the sun rise over the Indian Ocean. With this level of luxury comes facilities including a tennis court, an ocean-front yoga pavilion, a fully equipped beach (fun) house that’s stocked with jet skis, paddleboards and kayaks, and much more. There are also other luxuries such as a helicopter, helipad, and a Sea Lion super yacht.

It is worth noting that operationally, Thanda has put in place sustainable practices for energy, water, recycling, and food usage; including the water supply system and harvesting tanks that utilizes rainwater (its primary source), water saving fittings, as well as solar geysers for heating, and solar panels for powering the island. 

‘Thanda Island is the embodiment of a seamless blend between unparalleled luxury and profound impact,’ says Antigone Meda, General Manager. ‘This tiny haven serves as a testament that paradise can indeed coexist with meaningful conservation efforts. Here, you’ll find not only pristine beaches and impeccable personalised service but also a window into the remarkable world of conservation and the thriving underwater ecosystem. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that showcases the power of luxury with a purpose.’


Sailboat in the water at Thanda Island

There is something for everyone on Thanda Island: you can spend your time exploring, or you can simply kick back and relax by the infinity pool or on a beach lounger and enjoy a cocktail. There’s also an array of spa treatments and massages to indulge in, all while looking out at the ocean – think ultimate relaxation. For those who love watersports, take advantage of the well-stocked beach house and get out on the sea for paddling, kayaking, jet skiing, and sunset sailing. The attentive staff will do all the setting up; they will show you the ropes and even teach you if needed. 

For any adventurous spirits, snorkelling is a must; it’s the best way to explore the seas of Thanda. Experts are on hand to guide you through the reefs – the home of colourful tropical fish. There is also an incredible opportunity to go out to sea for a guided swim with whale sharks; these are harmless, gentle giants (vegetarians), and are the largest fish in the world. Though they are categorised by the IUCN as vulnerable to extinction, they can be found just off Thanda Island, so it proves to be a very special, once-in-a-lifetime experience to see these majestic creatures. And it gets even better, as guests are supplied with GoPros to record the swim along with eco-friendly swimming gear (made from recycled plastic waste from the ocean). 

For the kids, or big kids at heart, try a guided octopus trail. Simply put on the provided beach shoes and explore the surrounding shallow rock pools to see and learn all about the octopuses and colourful starfish. 

At the heart Thanda Island is safeguarding the vulnerable coral reefs and local marine wildlife: the island employs resident marine biologist Rhianne Laan and her team to monitor the progress of every conservation project You can even take part in one of their Coral Workshops and learn about the different types of coral before collecting them yourself, so they can be taken to Thanda’s coral garden to grow. 

Aerial view of helicopter flying over the water surrounding Thanda Island

 ‘Our efforts are multifaceted,’ says Antigone, ‘ranging from the Ropes of Hope Project, empowering local women in coral reef farming, to the DEVENT initiative that nurtures emerging entrepreneurs, and STAR FOR LIFE NGO, inspiring and empowering young children through an educational program in schools to go for their dreams, make healthy life choices and a positive contribution to their society.  We are actively invested in marine conservation, supporting Marine Park Rangers in their quest to curb illegal fishing and protection to the reserve. Further strengthening our commitment to sustainability, the island runs on solar energy and water purification systems along with grey water recycling, making each stay here as sustainable as it is luxurious.’

If you fancy going further afield, visit the neighbouring Mafia Island (over 75% of Thanda’s staff are from this island). Here, you’ll meet and learn about the community initiatives that Thanda supports, such as the Star for Life programme, which invests in young people. Alongside this is the DEVENT Project that encourages the entrepreneurial spirit of local people, providing support with business setup and growth. 

For the foodies, there’s the African Spice Tours on mainland Tanzania; or you can visit Zanzibar, on the other side of Dar es Salaam. Thanda and its attentive staff are there to fulfil your every wish, offering highly tailored and curated itineraries – nothing is too much trouble.


Outdoor dining under a canopy covered in foliage

At Thanda, think dining experiences that combine local and luxury. Each is specially tailored to your palate; to make sure of this, in fact, guests are contacted ahead of their visit to discuss preferences, allergies and dietary requirements. Once on the island, expect ocean-fresh, sustainably caught fish and shellfish in the form of fish carpaccio, sashimi, sushi, prawn curries, and lobsters freshly caught off Mafia Island, as well as mangrove crabs, tuna and red snappers. Then there’s steak, game and chicken, seasonal vegetables and tropical fruits, and vegan and vegetarian dishes. Much of the produced is sourced locally, with fruit and vegetables from local farmers, brought in from Mafia Island. The island also has its own herb garden, and the chefs make their own coconut milk for the curries, as well as ice cream, sorbet, yoghurt and muesli.

‘Whether it’s the 200 newly planted coconut trees that sustain our local vegetation, or the food and fish sourced responsibly from Mafia Island’s trusted suppliers, every element here is curated with an eye toward fostering a better future. It’s not merely a getaway, it’s a transformative experience that combines the pleasures of luxury with the satisfaction of making a tangible difference,’ says Antigone.

It’s not only the menu that’s highly considered, but it’s the settings too, making dining experiences magical.  Enjoy breakfasts by the pool, lunch on a traditional Arab dhow, and candlelit dinners on the beach, plus decadent feasts at the villa’s dining table, and Mediterranean-inspired, lemon-adorned tables for pizza night (cooked in an outdoor pizza oven).

Real highlights include picnics on the sandbank in the ocean. Only visible for a few hours before it once again disappears underwater, it’s an incredibly special setting, with the Thanda team working tirelessly to set things up. There are also Swahili-themed nights dedicated to the taste of Tanzania (expect a mix of Swahili, Arabic and Indian cuisine) full of ginger, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and saffron from the spice island of Zanzibar. These dishes include Swahili curries, prawn curries, rice, chapatis, samosas, local vegetable dishes, local desserts and Swahili chai.


Infinity pool with striped sunloungers

A dreamlike, magical setting, Thanda Island offers not only a sumptuous stay, but an incredibly special one. Underpinned by compassion for the island, ocean and local people, it’s where adventure and relaxation co-habit, all safeguarding this precious spot. It’s also the home of curated itineraries to suit a guests’ every need and want, with gastronomy to match, and unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 


Rates start at £25,000 per night, with a minimum stay of five nights. Travel from London Heathrow to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. For the final leg, depart Dar es Salaam by helicopter to Thanda Island. For reservations, email [email protected]. thandaisland.com

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