The Manta Resort Pemba Island
North Pemba, Tanzania; themantaresort.com; 16 rooms from $350 (U.S.) a night; one underwater room from $1,500 a night.
When Tony Soprano offers to let you sleep with the fishes, you’re not long for this world. But when the Manta Resort makes a similar offer, you’re in for one of the most spectacular nights of your life – no cement shoes required. The Tanzanian resort, which also offers land-based accommodation, ranging from luxury seafront villas to rustic garden rooms, now features an Underwater Room – a well-appointed raft floating in the centre of a vibrant coral reef, with a glass-walled bedroom four-metres below the surface of the Indian Ocean.
The Underwater Room is the brainchild of Swedish artist and designer Mikael Genberg, who is known for his creative accommodations, including a tree house hotel room in Sweden accessible only by rope ladder. He also has plans to build a house on the moon. Seriously. The prototype for the underwater room was built in a murky lake in Sweden. The crystalline waters of Pemba have put the idea to far better use. The floating structure is anchored by four cables that allow it to rise and fall with the tide and waves, while remaining firmly in place. Eight thick panes of glass provide near panoramic aquatic vistas of the underwater world around you. Above water, the design is Ikea-esque in its elegant simplicity, with teak floors and walls that give it the feel of an open-concept cottage adrift on the sea.
The resort is located on Pemba Island, the northernmost tip of the Zanzibar archipelago’s northernmost island. Once you’ve arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s cultural capital, you still have an hour-long flight in a 13-seater turboprop to get to the island. From there it’s an hour-and-a-half-long drive through spice plantations and villages to get to the resort. But the long journey and remote location isn’t without its merits. The views are incredible, the island lush. Remember to keep the car windows down to take in the unbeatable scent of freshly harvested cloves drying roadside in the sun.
WHOM YOU’LL MEET
There’s a great deal of privacy 250 metres from shore. The only people out there are fishermen passing by in their dhows. That said, you’ll definitely have a chance to get to know some of the local aquatic life. Nick, a trumpet fish 61 centimetres long, is the official mascot and will likely be the first visitor to your window. A hungry lionfish visits day and night. And you’ll spot a wide range of reef fish, including batfish, sardines, octopus and cuttlefish. While it’s beautiful by day, it’s even better at night, when spotlights illuminate the alien life that comes out after dark.
A freshwater shower tucked away on the “sea deck” of our underwater room affords privacy from the shore and a magnificent view out to sea – we loved it. A close second? The rooftop “sky deck” comes with a large, unadorned bed – the perfect spot to sunbathe and star gaze.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
The simply prepared meals of fresh, seasonal ingredients are an excellent way to get a taste of the island. Expect deliciously spiced signature cocktails, sun-ripened fruit, heaping seafood platters and aptly prepared fish freshly caught by local fisherman.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
As all sailors and vacationers know, the one thing you can never predict (or change) is the weather. It wasn’t exactly in our favour. We arrived at the room amid strong winds and choppy seas. It wasn’t enough to cause sea-sickness (although it may have in some landlubbers) but it did mess with the visibility below. The sights outside the underwater window were still once-in-a-lifetime incredible – leaving us unable to sleep most of the night, watching shoals of silver bait circling the room while cuttlefish eyed us warily from the edge of the light. But calmer waters would’ve made the views and snorkelling all the more enjoyable.
The writers received a reduced rate from the resort.