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Thanda Island Review: Your own private sanctuary and marine reserve

By Katia Damborsky   Last Updated: 14 April 2023

When YachtCharterFleet had the privilege of staying on Thanda Island, we discovered everything there is to love about this slice of paradise in the Indian Ocean.

Ringed by shades of turquoise and offering up golden-sand beaches and lofty palm trees swaying in the breeze, Thanda Island is an oasis of tropical calm hidden off the coast of Tanzania. When we arrived by speedboat, it looked like a scene lifted from the front of a postcard.

Complete with a luxury beach villa and a host of leisure and entertainment facilities, the island serves as a personal haven for its guests, shared with no-one except a discreet convoy of staff. 

Certainly not on anyone's beaten track, Thanda’s serene setting and abundance of natural beauty are alone enough to entice discerning travellers, but it also excels with eco-friendly sustainability and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

aerial shot of the villa on thanda island, with infinity pool and palm trees, as well as sandy strip of beach visible
quiet sandy beach on thanda island, with footprints in the sand an ancient tree in forgeound
relaxation area on thanda island, with egg-shaped hanging swing, palm trees and lush green grass

Setting the Scene

Standing on the shores of Thanda Island gazing out at an enticing stretch of cyan-blue sea, it's easy to forget that the mainland is only a brief, 30-minute plane journey away.

From the cabanas on the beach to the sun-loungers by the pool, the entire island is enveloped in peace and tranquility. It's a place where you feel as if you're the only person in a hundred-metre radius, but a buttery-smooth pina colada can be whipped up at a moments' notice.

fresh coconut and spread of fruit on table on thanda island, with sun setting in background over the infinity pool
cabana on beach on thanda island, with leafy tree in foregroundchampagne in ice bucket on thanda island

Surrounded by one of the largest marine reserves in East Africa, the island is just under 350 metres wide. It can be fully explored in under 20 minutes; but its enormous selection of enthralling activities, spa treatments and state-of-the-art water toys will keep everyone relaxed and entertained for the entire duration of their stay.

Throughout their island getaway, guests have the option to scuba dive, swim with whale sharks and dine alfresco on an uninhabited island. For those who wish to further explore their surrounds, a Thanda Island Yacht Cruise can be incorporated into their stay, giving guests the unique opportunity to explore the coastlines of Tanzania and Zanzibar in the lap of luxury.

A place where it feels like you’re the only people in a hundred-metre radius, but a buttery-smooth pina colada is only a wave of the hand away.

The Accommodation

family room on thanda island, with hanging lights over dining table, sofa seating and aquarium
detailed shot of bottle of wine and glasses in family room of villa on thanda private island
family room on thanda island, with lounge seating and aquarium
detailed shot of spirits in bar of the family room on thanda island
seating area in family room of  thanda private island

The central villa has adopted a plantation-house style of design and is carved around a veranda with alfresco dining and a glass-rimmed infinity pool at the centre.  At its heart is a well-appointed family room,  with impressive features including an indoor aquarium, a magnificent wine collection and an assortment of musical instruments. In addition, guests will find an intimate a media room complete with a library and wide-screen TV located above the family room. 

The villa accommodation was designed as a family home away from home, and it shows. Occupying the delicate middle ground between refined luxury and relaxed cheerfulness, the villas have managed to create a laid-back and joyful atmosphere which puts guests instantly at ease.

Five suites branch off the family room, each embodying lofty, pared-back interiors which complement the surrounds and gently nod to the Scandi-chic influences of Thanda's Swedish owners. The suites are tastefully decorated, with a four-poster bed draped with an ivory voile taking centre stage and a dedicated seating area and dressing table adjacent.

Each room enjoys a generously-sized en-suite, complete with a private outdoor shower and bath. The principal suite benefits from its own coffee terrace and spacious dressing room.

Not on anyone’s beaten track, Thanda Island is the best-kept secret in the Indian Ocean right now.

villa suites on thanda island, with doors leading to terrace and canopied bed in centreterrace of villa suites on thanda island
bath on outdoor terrace of the villa acommodation on thanda island

For the more adventure-hungry, traditional Tanzanian bandas (open-air bungalows) occupy the northern portion of the island, and play the perfect host to those looking for a dose of Robinson Crusoe authenticity balanced by modern luxuries.

Wi-fi is available across all the living areas on Thanda Island. It's incredibly fast, thanks to the island’s sophisticated telecommunications equipment.

World-Class Service

man pours drinks at alfresco dining table on thanda island
waiter pours drink for woman on thanda island
waiter serves ice on thanda island

We tell staff that if they leave here, aim for somewhere higher.

Antigone Meda, Manager of Thanda Island

Guests on the island can expect phenomenal service from all of the staff. The team is happy, and it shows; service is smooth, attentive and infectiously warm. We’re told security guards are in place on the island for our peace of mind, but they remain discreet and out-of-sight.

Employing a workforce composed almost entirely of local staff can pose its challenges, but Thanda’s manager, Antigone Meda, has been a true force for good in training and maintaining their team. Ferried in from nearby Mafia Island, the staff live on the island for month and week-long stints at a time, followed by stretches of time off. “We tell staff that if they leave here, aim for somewhere higher,” Antigone tells us. 

Bespoke Menu and Premium Drinks

Each day, a menu is carefully crafted according to guests' specific tastes and preferences by chef Eoghan Were. His extensive training at Le Cordon Bleu makes each meal a superb culinary experience, with tasting menus available and wine pairings to expertly complement the exotic fusions and unique flavours of his dishes.

The unforgettable dining experience begins from the first meal of the day, where the breakfast options are almost endless. Guests can choose from pastries, cooked breakfasts, fresh fruit and a selection of meats and cheeses.

With an abundance of diverse fish species in the waters surrounding Thanda Island, the seafood on the menu is mouthwateringly fresh and flavoursome. Guests can expect to enjoy the likes of meaty tiger prawns, perfectly-prepared lobster and red-snapper ceviche made with locally-sourced ingredients. 

The cuisine is certainly not limited to seafood, however, and guests can opt for themed dining nights where freshly-prepared pizzas or a Swahili feast of traditional Tanzanian curry dishes are on the menu.  Throughout their stay guests can expect to sample the finest beverages, with a variety of vintage wines and premium spirits all available.

Island Activities

woman swims underwater alongside fishes on thanda island, with sky above her
woman in yellow swimsuit stands on boat looking at the shallow water below on thanda island
marine biologist rianne laan above her coral nurseries on thanda island

Guests can take advantage of the incredible underwater world surrounding Thanda Island, and enjoy exploring everything that the coral-rich reefs have to offer with snorkelling gear. The island's resident marine biologist, Rianne Laan, is on hand to show guests her coral nurseries and accompany guests to the best sites of aquatic life. Expect to spot hawksbill turtles gliding below the waves, reef sharks darting in the shallows, and brightly-coloured parrot fish cruising above the coral gardens. 

woman rides waverunners in the sea near thanda island
toys lined up outside boathouse on thanda island
women kayaking around the shallows of thanda islandtennis court on thanda island

Those looking for fun above the surface of the sea can head to the boathouse, where the island's trove of water toys and accessories are stored. The options for water fun are almost limitless, and Thanda’s staff will be more than happy to help you find what you are looking for. Guests looking for a thrill can take the Jet-Skis out for a spin, while those in the mood for something more relaxed can venture around the island on Paddleboards, kayaks and sailing boats. 

Dedicated gym on Thanda Island Resort

Anyone looking to stay active will be pleased to find a sports court primed for playing tennis or volleyball, complete with shaded spectator seating and floodlights. Furthermore, there is a gym in the villa that is well-equipped to allow guests to keep up their fitness regimes.

Guests enjoying relaxing yoga session at Thanda island resort

In addition, there is plenty to offer those who wish to de-stress and unwind on Thanda Island. Guests can reconnect their mind and bodies with the aid of professional yoga, reiki and meditation sessions designed to restore an inner sense of peace. To ease away tensions, guests can lie back and enjoy a massage with a professional spa therapist. As the finishing touch to the day, guests can enjoy a copper bath on the beach under the light of the setting sun.

If you would like to know more about Thanda Island's variety of facilities, you can view everything there is to see and do on Thanda Island.

Off-Island Experiences

Guests contemplate the waters on a tender driven by crew from the Thanda Island resort, Indian Ocean

While there are easily enough amenities to keep guests on occupied on Thanda Island, there is also plenty of fun to be had with off-island excursions and activities. Guests can leave the organisation and planning of such activities in the capable hands of Thanda's staff, who will arrange everything down to the last detail. A high-powered speed boat will transport guests around the area in comfort and style.

Swimming with Whale Sharks

A scuba diver takes a picture of a whale shark just under the water's surface at Thanda Island in the Indian Ocean

The seas around Thanda Island play host to the world's largest species of fish: the whale shark. The docile creatures have taken up permanent residence in these waters, meaning that a visit to Thanda Island will almost certainly give guests the rare opportunity to swim alongside these gentle giants.

Peak season is between November and March, where they tend to linger in the shallow waters between Thanda Island and neighbouring Mafia Island in order to feed.

During our excursion with Thanda Island in December, sightings were frequent and we were able to get breathtakingly close to the whale sharks, either swimming by their side or cruising above them and admiring their distinctive markings. 

Dining on a Deserted Island

A smiling member of staff at the Thanda Island Resort
A guest enjoying alfresco dining on the beach at the Thanda island resort on the Indian OceanBeautiful tablescaping at the Thanda Island resort in the Indian ocean
Oyster fine dining at the Thanda island resort in the Indian Ocean
 Fine dining at the Thanda island resort in the Indian Ocean
Fine dining at the Thanda island resort in the Indian Ocean
Fine dining at the Thanda island resort in the Indian Ocean

The highlight of our dining experience took place on a nearby, uninhabited island where castaway dreams met rustic splendour.

Shade cloth protects guests from sun at the Thanda island resort in the Indian Ocean

Should guests decide they want to explore their surrounds, an excursion to a nearby island can be arranged. The tiny islet is wild and uninhibited, giving guests a unique opportunity to see what Thanda Island looked like before its eco-friendly infrastructure was put in place. 

In a clearing between the trees, guests will find a dining set-up with canvas shading overhead and a cushy blanket laid out underfoot. While rustic, this castaway outpost is a truly incredible setting for dining and soaking in the beauty of the white-sand beach and glassy ocean gently lapping the shore.

The table set-up rivals a sophisticated eatery, as does the menu, which opens with scallops drizzled with squid ink and dusted with silver, and continues with chilled tuna gazpacho with coconut milk and coriander.

After dining, guests can play with water toys, explore the deserted island or lie back on oversized beanbag-style seating and enjoy the serenity.

Scuba-Diving in the Marine Reserve

Guests at the Thanda island resort in the Indian Ocean getting instructions before scuba diving
Scuba diving at the Thanda island resort in the Indian Ocean
Tropical fish in the Indian OceanLarge oyster shell in the Indian Ocean

Thanda Island liaises closely with a local PADI dive school, ensuring their guests don't miss the opportunity to get as close as possible to the vibrant coral reefs of the region. Our scuba experience took place on a remote tidal sandbar which we travelled to onboard the Thanda Island Yacht , but the instructors can also come ashore to Thanda Island to give guests a basic introduction to scuba-diving.

After a thirty-minute briefing, the instructors accompany their pupils into the water to help them get to grips with breathing underwater. Once everyone is comfortable, the dive school takes guests to their dive site of choice. 

There are plenty to choose from in the area, with some of the most diverse located around Chole Bay. They are pristine, thanks to local efforts to preserve the reef, and a have a wide diversity of species inhabiting the complex ecosystem. Among them, guests will be able to admire, starfish, clams, octopus and small blacktip reef sharks.

Aerial view over the private Thanda Island resort in the Indian Ocean

In December 2018, the editorial team at YachtCharterFleet were hosted on Thanda Island for the chance to experience everything that this luxury private island has to offer. We were also given the opportunity to experience the Thanda Island Yacht Cruise; if you would like to find out more about this, you can read our yacht review of Over the Rainbow. A true adventure around East Africa, you can discover how the cruise can enhance your Thanda Island experience, as well getting a taste for everything that this luxury yacht can provide its guests. 

Lcation: Shungimbili Island, District of Mafia Island, Tanzania
Prices: $25,000 per night, minimum five-night stay. Includes all food, amenities, activities and transfer to and from the island, excludes gratuity and helicopter transfers for groups exceeding eight people


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