Pemba is a port city in Mozambique. It is the capital of the province of Cabo Delgado and lies on a peninsula in Pemba Bay. The town was founded by the Niassa Company in 1904 as Porto Amélia, after the Queen of Portugal, at the peninsula's south western tip and has grown around a port.
The city is renowned for its Portuguese colonial architecture. It was renamed Pemba at the end of Portuguese rule, in 1975. The city's inhabitants are primarily Swahili, Makondes, Macuas and Mwanis.
Local languages that are spoken are Kimwani and Macua, although Portuguese is widespread. In the centre of Pemba, there is an authentic local market or Souk, where arts and crafts, as well as traditional silverware can be bought.
Pemba is also renowned as being a prime destination for water sport and diving enthusiasts as a coral reef lies close to the shore. Pemba has increasingly become a tourist destination, particularly for upper-middle class Mozambicans and South Africans.
There is now a weekly flight from Johannesburg to Pemba, a hotel, the Pemba Beach Hotel, restaurants, and other forms of entertainment. Pemba is the closest major city and airport for those who wish to visit Quirimbas Islands and Quirimbas National Park.
Pemba was formerly known as Porto Amelia, and is the stunning gateway to the Quirimbas Archipelago and Quirimbas National Park. The Niassa National Reserve can also be reached via Pemba. With its relaxed feel and gorgeous architecture, it is no wonder that Pemba is such a popular Mozambique tourist destination.
Pemba is full of modern amenities such as an airport, banks, shops, and restaurants, as well as a huge market where many great supplies can be bought.
The old part of Pemba also has traditional markets to explore which is the place to go for beautiful arts and crafts (especially work by the Makonde people which is renowned) and handmade silverware.
The History of Pemba in Mozambique
Steeped in Portuguese heritage, Pemba is teeming with hints of an interesting past. Located in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, Pemba is a bustling port town.
Founded in 1904 by the Niassa Company, it was originally named Porto Amelia after the Queen of Portugal. The history of Pemba is an interesting one, and it starts with the beginnings of Mozambique.
The first sighting of Mozambique in the history books dates back to the 10th century AD, with mention of the Wak-Wak people who lived in the area.
The country played an important role in the intra-African trade to the west, and the ports along the Mozambican coast flourished with north-eastern African, the Middle Eastern and Asian traders docking along the stunning shores.
In 1498, famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama stopped in Mozambique on his way to India. Though his visit did not have an immediate effect on the country, it started the ball rolling and eventually European traders were frequenting the quiet coast.
By the middle of the 16th century, local inhabitants had to focus resistance efforts against European settlers who were trying to invade the Mozambican interior regions. The resistance worked, and by the end of the 16th century, Portuguese control was limited.
Unfortunately, with the introduction of land grants to European colonists, settlers and colonists were able to gain complete control over the labor and resources in the majority of Mozambique, which lasted until the 1930s.
While this was happening, the north remained largely unaffected, with Pemba only being established in 1904 as administrative headquarters for the Niassa Company.
Cabo Delgado is home to the Makonde people, who managed to avoid European influence until around 1910 because of the remote location of their homelands. This resulted in the culture remaining strong, which can still be seen in present day Pemba, with the Makonde people still practice age old traditions and rituals.
A culture rich with art, celebration and remembrance, they celebrate special occasions with important dances like the ‘Mapico’ initiation dance. The women adorn themselves with white face paint, sharpen their teeth, and tattoo and pierce their bodies.
Their art is also extremely important, with ivory and wood carving known as ‘Torture Art’.
In 1975 the Portuguese rule ended, and the city was renamed Pemba.
Today, the city is made up of Makondes, Macuas and Mwanis, with a local language known as Macua. The official language is still Portuguese.
This palm-roofed town is known to be a prime destination for water-sports, and is found at the mouth of a natural harbor. Most of the original traditional markets and ‘bazares’ can still be found in Pemba.
What to do in Pemba
Get your drink on
Pemba is so hot you won’t walk, you’ll stagger from place to place, drunk with heat. Stagger over to Russel’s Place, a mix bag of a lodge, for a cold beer or a flat cider. The Zimbabwean staff make the place.
There are many bars, and all of them are awesome for meeting seasoned road hogs (think a tanned silver fox) and the town’s amazing locals (at local bars where beer is plenty, ice cold and cheap)
Sunrise on the beach
It’s a beachfront cliché and yet there is nothing more rewarding than catching the sun rise and set on the beach. I especially love sun rises because the beach is desolate. My only companion is Russell’s dog. Russell is the owner of Russell’s.
The hotel is two minutes away from the rugged side of the beach and the houses on the cliff from which an orange sun rises, marking the end of the cool morning breeze.
Wimbe beach is the heart and soul of Pemba. This is where old Europeans couples brush up on their broken Swahili and where you are most likely to meet South African expats.
The beach front has several cafes that have great food and great ambience. People watching are also the easiest way to meet touts and tour guides. Their beads and shell souvenirs are garish but their experience is invaluable. They know the best deals in town.
With 425km of one of Africa’s most pristine coastlines, Pemba has become water sport central with an array of diving spots. You don’t have to be an expert to jump into coral reefs gardens that comes with sightings of exotic fish and sometimes Dolphins. Pemba Dive offers lessons and organizes a variety of diving safaris.
This slice of the aquamarine Indian Ocean offers great fishing opportunities. Catches include tuna, kingfish and barracuda. Playing in the water is Pemba Dive’s forte.
They have a motorized boats and kayaks and take you fishing in one of the many mangrove forests that are characteristic of Quirimbas Archipelago, which Pemba is the getaway to.
Sightseeing in Pemba
Away from Wimbe beach, Pemba’s asset is rolling hills dotted with mud houses nestled in palm trees and endless views of a rugged coastline. The cliche, in other words. I love beautiful cliches.
The town is also colonial and an enchanting show and tell lesson of Mozambique’s colonial past. Rumbling buildings are cheek y jowl with new buildings; the picture perfect beach tourist beached is juxtaposed with the port and villages that are on the outskirts of town.
Get a tuk tuk and explore a town where time seems to have stood still. You are likely to see women selling tomatoes and small cucumbers they have arranged in pyramids and boys selling freshly baked bread on the road side. This is Pemba at its most vibrant.
Unwind at the first Spa to be opened in Mozambique
Sanctuary spa is a must experience. Infused with touches of Arabic and African culture, the spa lives up to its name. When I was here two friendly beauticians relaxed and calmed me with their smiles and professionalism before even laying a hand on me.
I had a facial. Other options include body wraps, manicures, pedicures and a Swiss massage. The sound of the waves adds to the soothing ambience.
Street bash with a twist
Every Sunday from around 3pm, the main road, just behind Wimbe beach, fills up with cars, party animals and people selling drinks and kebabs. The aim is to party like its 1999. Pemba is small and nowhere near Maputo when it comes to being a party zone but the town knows how to keep people entertained.
This being Mozambique, chances are there will be an impromptu jam session features a guitar, drums, rhythmic clapping and gyrating hips.
If you are not interested in the street food, there plenty restaurants selling Mozambique’s famous peri peri prawns, other seafood and traditional Mozambican and Portuguese cuisine Peter’s Place offers a great mixed grill, Russell’s serves pizza that comes second to none in town and
Cash in at Casino Nautilus
It’s not Las Vegas, or Monte Casino for that matter but what Casino Nautilus lacks in the wow factor it more than makes for with the eclectic characters you’ll find here.
They range from expats to the town’s beautiful young things and the odd vagabonds to be found in Pemba. You don’t have to be a gambler to enjoy the casino as everyone is always up to a chat and a drink.
Pour it Up at Brazuca Bar
The most (in)famous bar in town is owned by a jovial Brazilian who kept the tequila flowing to our group. My group was made up of South African expats I met in Pemba.
Brazuca is unimaginable until you step inside to well-dressed local gents and female expats who bloom into tropical flowers on the dance floor. I was supposed to party for a few hours, sleep and catch a bus to Mocimboa da Praia.
I partied all night, stumbled out of the bar just after dawn and hitch-hiked a motor bike to take me to the bus stop.
|Languages spoken||Portuguese, Swahili, Makonde|
|Currency used||Mozambican Metical (MZN)|