Thanda Island, Tanzania review: the eco-friendly private island of your wildest dreams
Ever since Daniel Dafoe wrote Robinson Crusoe, adventurous souls – or just those fed up with Zoom calls – have dreamt of escaping to a tropical island.
In this fantasy, palm trees flutter over turquoise waters, the sun always shines and you can walk bare-footed around the sandy bays in less than twenty minutes. Oh – and solitude. That’s very important. In 2023, when even the smallest islands are pocked with AirBnb listings, it can feel like a dream lost to another century. But before you give up, consider the award-winning – and frankly, mind-blowing – Thanda Island.
Sat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, less than an hour’s helicopter ride from Tanzania, this 350-metre private luxury resort has only a handful of rooms.
For a pretty penny, it will let you fulfill every Crusoe fantasy you have, with a few crucial differences: the attention of a small, brilliant crew and some of the best food you can eat anywhere in the world (with no need to catch it yourself).
Where is it?
Accessible by speedboat or helicopter from mainland Tanzania, you’ll spot whale sharks and dolphins on the way to this tiny island that appears suddenly on the blue horizon.
It’s hard to believe the whole thing isn’t a mirage until you finally set foot on Thanda’s shores. Nearby Mafia Island, where the hotel sources much of its fresh produce (not to mention its wonderful staff) offers a glimpse at authentic village life in this part of the world, while a bit further away you’ll find the magical city of Zanzibar with its rich history and nightlife.
With a setting this incredible, there’s no need for ostentatious decor. Instead, Thanda’s main villa is of a simple, plantation-house design, with a wooden veranda outdoor dining area and a glass-rimmed, heated infinity pool as its centre piece (the perfect spot to watch a slow melting sunset). The family room – and a trip to Thanda really does feel like staying with the world’s most relaxed family – offers plenty of space to curl up and read or play one of the many musical instruments lying around. But really, who wants to be indoors?
It’s amazing what Thanda packs into such a small space. You’ll find a good-sized gym, tennis and volleyball courts, a media room for movie nights (which can also be arranged on a projector on the beach outside), a world-class spa and yoga, reiki and meditations classes – all available on whatever schedule you please. There is also an array of water activities, as you’d expect from a luxury island, including paddleboarding, jet skis, kayaks, sailboats, and the chance to go swimming with the area’s signature whale sharks (they’re the ones with the big mouths).
Thanda also doubles as one of the largest marine reserves in East Africa, so you can go out and help the crew in their effort to replant coral around the now-protected seabeds. Thanda’s small crew, led by the brilliant General Manager Antigone, are careful custodians of the island and their passion comes across in everything they do. You leave feeling like you’ve visited a home, not a hotel.
Food & drink
Food on Thanda is nothing like the usual luxury hotel experience of ordering fine dining from a leatherbound menu. Instead, a consultation takes place in advance of your visit and a menu is crafted each day according to the tastes of you and your party. The ingredients are grown on the island or sourced from a larger one nearby, and it’s all supplemented by a superb on-site wine cellar (surely the place to hide out in a storm).
Chef Ulrich Philander is the young superstar in charge of the kitchen, and his dishes – which as you might expect, veer towards seafood – tow a perfect line between experimental and satisfying. Elsewhere, breakfast is a feast of pastries, meats, and cheeses and you can mix things up with a traditional Swahili feast of curry dishes and even a night around the outdoor pizza oven.
There are five suites that branch off from the central villa at Thanda, each spacious and tastefully decorated with a Scandi flourish (the resort owners are Swedish). You’ll find simple but luxurious four-posted beds and seating areas, plus outdoor showers and baths.But our pick of where to sleep is tucked away on the other side of the island. Two traditional wooden Tanzanian bandas overlook the Northern bay and feel completely secluded from the main villa. Much of the furniture inside has been crafted out of wood from trees right there on the island, giving the bandas a rustic feel. Not that they compromise on luxury: the huge bathrooms see to that.
There’s no getting around the fact Thanda is expensive – that’s renting a private island for you – but if you have the means, it is hard to imagine a more magical spot to spend time with family or close friends.
Thanda Island starts at $33,000 per night, minimum five-night stay. Includes all food, amenities, activities and transfer to and from the island; thandaisland.com