The largest island of the Zanzibar archipelago is widely known, but Pemba Island, just north of it has somehow remained under the radar. One of only a handful of resorts on Pemba Constance Aiyana is an oasis of serenity.
When you want to get away from it all – far, far away – the fantasy vision of a tropical Indian Ocean island destination seems idyllic, but chances are you’ll run into an acquaintance there. Ever since Thomas Cook organised his first “package tour” in the 1840s, travel has become accessible to many more of us. The downside is that the “ideal” holiday destinations have become so popular that they no longer offer solitude, personal attention, and rest for body and soul.
Okay, when most of us dream of getting away from it all, we don’t really mean it in the sense of forgoing all our comforts. This is where a resort like Constance Aiyana on Pemba Island pulls off a remarkable feat, offering an isolated retreat complete with all the luxuries and the service you’d expect of a five-star resort – minus the commercial trappings that tend to go with such destinations.
Pemba is reachable via ferry or a small Cessna aircraft, and then it’s a 90-minute 4×4 “safari” (as our driver called it), or much longer in the rainy season, to get to Aiyana on the north-west tip of the island. This trip through villages and settlements and farms and a forest reserve is absolutely worth it.
It’s hard to avoid clichés to describe Aiyana’s setting: The sea really is that implausible translucent turquoise you see in photos on the website and the beach is that white, with palm fronds framing the scene. Flowers everywhere. The air sultry at the start of the rainy season.
The resort with its 30 villas reflects an eclectic mix of influences: a hint of Greek island in the brilliant-white walls against blue sky and lush vegetation, a touch of Bali in the ornate doors and spa treatments, elements of Hindu iconography, and Swahili fusion in the furnishings made by local carpenters and other crafters. It took eight years to build the resort, employing Pemba Islanders. Constance Hotels & Resorts, which is known for its impeccable standards, took over management of Aiyana in January and has already put its stamp on the resort.
There’s DStv in your air-conditioned villa, but you feel no compulsion to turn on the TV; the beach is beckoning. Or you can go snorkelling in the pristine marine reserve, or paddling through the mangroves, or have a massage at the spa… Can it be lunchtime already? Decisions, decisions: Will you have the Pemba crab soup, the seafood platter, the freshest organic fruit and vegetables… maybe chocolate cake for dessert?
“This is a place for travellers, not tourists,” says general manager Barbara Elkaz. Indeed, if you enjoy a vibrant nightlife scene and crowded beaches and markets, you’ll find all of this at other Indian Ocean island resorts. Leave Aiyana to those of us seeking to get far away from it all.