The Ultimate Island Escape

A Helicopter From Dar Es Salaam Delivers Guests To Thanda Island, A Private Island Getaway With Access To Some Of The Best Diving In The World
Marine Expeditions

It’s the ultimate in castaway glam: a luxe private-island retreat off the coast of Tanzania, a 20-acre spread with a five-suite villa that Robinson Crusoe might have dreamed about during his own far less comfortable island exile. After all, not a single luxury is spared in the exclusive-use Thanda Island: helipad, tennis court, indoor-outdoor showers, a massive glass-box swimming pool, a roomy copper beach bath, cigar humidor, lavish meals, and even an extensive collection of Hemingway books. But while all the creature comforts are worth the trek, the main event is the pristine beach and the turquoise Indian Ocean waters beyond, surrounded by coral reefs abundant in marine life including whale sharks, turtles, parrotfish, angelfish, and more.

Tanzania has five species of turtle, but the Hawksbill (pictured above) is the most prevalent off the shores of Mafia Island.
Two nudibranches found at a snorkel spot close to Thanda Island.
Getting up close and personal with a whale shark.
Nearby Mafia Island is consistently rated as one of the top diving spots in the world.
Swimming With Sharks

Many guests choose to ply these waters by jet ski, wakeboard, kayak, or dhow boat, but the most unexpected offering at Thanda Island might be the chance to interact with someone who’s particularly well-qualified to share her deep knowledge of the ocean. Dutch marine biologist Rianne Laan lives and works on the island, monitoring the surrounding reefs to assess the coral and some 200 fish species, and to see how the ecosystem can be improved. But she’s also available to meet with the guests to share her insights, as well as to take them on guided snorkeling and diving expeditions in the surrounding waters.

“Thanda is unique because you have direct access to your own reef,” she says. “If you’re super enthusiastic, you can also swim there—it’s right in front of the villa, so that’s really nice. It’s a small reef, but it’s your own little reef.” For more skilled divers, she recommends joining her for a day trip to nearby Mafia Island, consistently rated as one of the top diving spots in the world.

These nearby waters make up some of the most sought-after, yet less-visited, corners of the ocean, and that’s precisely what lured Laan to the island. “There’s not much research done in East Africa, compared to Australia or the Caribbean, so it’s really nice to start things up here,” she says.

And even the most jaded diver will find reasons to marvel at the wonders they come upon in the reefs—particularly in pursuit of the elusive whale shark, which is abundant near Thanda. “One time we went snorkeling with the whale sharks, and people were actually crying on the boats because they were so emotional,” Rianne remembers. “The sharks were on their bucket list, they always wanted to see one, and they did.” These once-in-a-lifetime encounters already set a place like Thanda Island apart, but Laan’s expertise brings the experience to a much more meaningful level.