Editors' Picks

Thanda Island

Ultimate private luxury castaway

Unnamed Road, Tanzania


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At a Glance

The private five-bedroom villa on its own 20-acre isle in the Indian Ocean offers the most luxurious way to begin or end an East African trip.

Indagare Loves

  • Having an Indian Ocean island to oneself
  • Walking around the island's ¾-mile circumference, traversing white-sand beach, pine forest and on raised wooden pathways
  • Switching between snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, jet skiing, kayaking, swimming in the sea and pool, wake-boarding and sunbathing, all in a single morning or afternoon
  • The spectacular meals featuring freshly caught seafood, Zanzibarian spices and a touch of Italian inspiration, thanks to its two Italian managers


Dan and Christine Oluffson, Swedish billionaire philanthropists who made their fortune in telecommunications, founded Thanda Safari in South Africa in the early 2000s. The property is devoted to conservation of its land and animals—among them rhinos and elephants. As soon as the South Africa camp got off the ground, the couple decided to expand their holdings with a second Thanda property that would also emphasize their prioritization of ecological protection, but this time working to help save creatures of the sea.

After ten years of development and construction, Thanda Island (also known by its original name of Shungi Mbili), set within its own protected marine reserve, opened in 2016. Located between Mafia Island and mainland southern Tanzania (18 miles out into the Indian Ocean), the previously uninhabited island is 20 acres in total and has a circumference of three-quarters of a mile. Available only for full take-overs, with a five-night minimum and a steep rate, the property might not be for everyone, but for large families or a group of friends traveling together, it will be the perfect way to end an action-packed Tanzanian safari trip.

Each of the five guest rooms in the beachfront main villa open onto a wide, shared deck from which the glass-rimmed infinity pool and sea beyond are accessible. Interiors are decorated in whites, beiges and occasional pops of color and driftwood-style floorboards in the bedrooms and bathrooms are topped with local, braided palm rugs. The king-sized, four-poster beds boast fluffy white linens and mosquito netting (though the rooms all have air conditioning for those who prefer to sleep with the accordion-style French doors closed). Ceilings are lofted and rooms are spacious, so when children are visiting, there is plenty of room for additional bunkbeds. The villa sleeps ten adults and up to nine children comfortably, and together with traditional bandas and safari tents set up on the beach upon request, the island is available to house 18 people in total.

The beautiful common spaces seamlessly run from indoors to outdoors, and consist of a large living and dining area with plentiful seating and a music corner, complete with a Steinway piano and various other instruments. A colorful second-story sitting room houses a bookcase with a full collection of Ernest Hemingway’s works, board games and a flat-screen TV. Cozy couches and bean bag chairs create the ideal hang out for kids and teenagers.

Relaxed but delicious, meals are served in various spots around the island, including on an open-air yoga platform, on board the island’s luxurious launch or as a picnic on a neighboring island, and all feature exceptional food and service. Guests, however, are welcome in whatever state they are in, and can frequently be found barefoot, enjoying Champagne and Lobster Thermidor at dinner. Breakfasts are a casual affair and include freshly baked muffins, fresh fruit and homemade granola, along with anything a guest could desire from the kitchen. Sundowners are treated with reverence and can typically consist of freshly plucked oysters and charcuterie and parmesan from the Italian GM’s personal stash. Needless to say, in the land where the pineapple is so sweet that locals eat the fruit with lemon juice, every ingredient is of a quality beyond anything most supermarket-shoppers can dream of.

The calm, warm water surrounding Thanda ranges in color from so perfectly clear that it appears almost green, to a deep royal blue, and guests can snorkel to see colorful fish and coral reefs just off the shore in front of the villa. There is a dedicated boatman on staff who manages the property’s assortment of kayaks, jet skis, stand-up paddleboards, snorkeling equipment and can take guests out waterskiing and wakeboarding (outside the protected reserve area so as not to disturb the ecosystems). The area is famous for harboring such endangered species as green and hawksbill turtles and whale sharks, and their populations are growing, thanks to the efforts of Thanda Island and the NGO it partners with, Sea Sense. Between October and March, guests can even snorkel and dive with whale sharks, and the property also offers dive-certification.

Full- and half-day trips include sails on a traditional wooden dhow, fishing, excursions with resident marine biologists and visits to the Muslim Chole Island, a tiny community off the coast of Mafia Island that is home to a traditional village, primary school and 12th-century Arabic ruins. Also nearby, underwater ruins have been spotted and are believed to be the remnants of Rhapta Island, a marine trading port from 50 AD referred to as a lost city. Local scientists are working on confirming the allegations that it is indeed this ancient island town, but the walls remains and debris like shards of pottery all point to the likelihood that this site is in fact an important archaeological discovery.

While there are seemingly limitless activities and adventures, there are also tons of shady nooks for reading or staring at the horizon, plus spa treatments, a tennis court, a gym and yoga lessons. Thanda accommodates guests who want to be as active or relaxed as they choose, and combined with its tropical sand and sea offerings, is the ultimate end to a world-class safari.

Who Should Stay

Thanda offers the most over-the-top luxurious tropical experience in East Africa, providing the ultimate Robinson Crusoe vacation with world-class luxury. It is a fabulous multi-generational trip venue as Thanda Island welcomes children of all ages and has enough activities to keep guests of all ages happy.

When To Go

Thanda sits just south of the equator so the weather doesn’t change much, though April and May are considered the low season. Even in hottest months, trade winds run through the island, keeping it cool.

**Indagare Tip: **Although visas can be purchased upon arrival, the customs process in Dar es Salaam is extremely chaotic and can take hours, so we recommend applying for and receiving your visa before your trip.

Getting There

Guests of Thanda must fly into Dar es Salaam international airport and transfer to the domestic terminal, from where they may take a 45-minute helicopter directly to Thanda Island (the island has its own helipad and the fare is included). Alternatively, visitors can take a scheduled or charter light aircraft flight (approximately 30 minutes) from Dar es Salaam domestic terminal to Mafia Island then a motorboat transfer to Thanda (approximately 45 minutes).

Written by Amelia Osborne Scott

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