News & Reviews Africa Tanzania Review: Thanda Island

There must be something in the water at Thanda, and I don’t just mean the whale sharks.  When I first discovered Thanda Island, I was browsing their website, scratching my head and trying to figure out the fuss.  Rates were $15,000 per night, but a glance at their offering made that seem wildly overpriced.  Now it’s $33,300 per night.  At this rate of inflation, you probably want to go soon; It’ll soon be cheaper to take a space shuttle to high-five an alien than snorkel with Thanda’s marine life.

But not one to be called a quitter, I still wanted to visit – I needed to get my private islands card stamped. I’d heard nothing but endless praise about this island, but all I had to go on were the images on their website.  After years of waiting, I finally got the chance for my 37th birthday (your well wishes are too late).  When I got there, I realised the website had set expectations precisely as intended: the simplicity and unpretentiousness of Thanda were immediately apparent.  The design, facilities and accommodation are pretty basic; nothing was extraordinary.  No single element of Thanda is better than anywhere else I’ve been.  This could be a long stay, I thought.  And it was.  Because each day was filled with so much joy that I wanted to stay awake as long as possible.  The island is a masterclass in luxury hospitality.

They even tried to dispose of my Dad and bring my inheritance closer.

Droning on

Indulge me in a somewhat pitiful analogy, mostly because I want to brag about my drone.  Firstly, my drone is amazing, glad you asked.  I bought it for this trip, and sitting on my arse whilst taking pictures and videos was incredibly liberating – where has it been my whole life?  I don’t want to use my legs ever again.  But here’s the thing: without the drone, capturing the essence of Thanda is basically impossible.  You have to look at the big picture.  Focusing solely on the size of the bedrooms or the decor means you’re missing how spectacular and magical the island is.  It’s about the total experience, not the details.  It’s not the best accommodation, nor even the most beautiful island, it’s the unique way it melds everything together in this seamless, special way.

It took me far too long to start appreciating properties for what they offer rather than how they look on a screen.  In the past, I’d zero in on accommodation when choosing a place to stay.  There are many private islands with fancier rooms than Thanda.  Most Maldivian properties will have better bedrooms, most resorts will have more activities, most European hotels will have more comprehensive menu options.  But they can’t offer everything Thanda does: exclusivity, remoteness, privacy, beach, setting, the sense of being in your own world, and my favourite: the all-inclusive convenience.  It offers absolute peace of mind, total relaxation and ease.  40 staff are here just for you.  An entire island to yourself.  Just you and the eight trillion flies.

Ol Jogi is a perfect case in point.  I am their biggest advocate since staying earlier this year, but convincing others is a hard sell.  People will inevitably look at the pictures, vomit, and then decide it’s not for them.  While Thanda Island’s decor is inoffensively neutral, it’s certainly not spectacular, and there are a few similarities here, not least that they are both privately owned homes turned commercial properties.  You can admire pictures of the beach and setting to appreciate some of what you’re getting, but if you get too hung up on the accommodation and hard product, you are going to miss out on the experience.  Basically, don’t look at the pics.  Close your eyes and trust me – said no one creepy ever.

Our journey to Thanda began with a scenic 40-minute helicopter ride from Dar es Salaam on the Thanda chopper, complete with a couple of extra flyovers just to make the message clear.  The message was either fun is coming, or oil prices have come down.  The island’s seclusion is evident, especially at night when the only lights visible are from distant fishing boats, with no neighbouring islands within 8 kilometres, it creates a feeling of real isolation.  Thanda’s beauty is as breathtaking and picturesque as you would hope.  Especially when seen from my drone, thank you once again for asking.  Brightening, white sand stretches across the entire island, varying from super fine in most areas to a bit more grainy in others, how dare they.  The island is small and takes barely 10 minutes to walk around, so luckily, my toes were never too far away from slumber.

The layout of the island is straightforward.  The main villa contains five bedrooms: the master suite and four nearly identical rooms, differing mainly in their colour theme.  The main villa also houses the living room, a games room (boasting the island’s sole TV), a massage bed, and an outdoor pool.  The living room doors open wide to expand the space, revealing an interior that includes a large fish tank, a piano, various musical instruments, a dining table, and ample seating.  Also, a Christmas tree, as it can never come early enough.

I had braced myself to moan about the pool’s faux hot tub – you know the kind it’s just a separate area with a jet and is set to the same temperature as the rest of the pool.  But to my surprise, the pool was heated to perfection, incredibly welcoming, and looks much cooler than I expected.

Barely a thirty-second walk from there is the tennis court and water sports area, which is home to an arsenal of toys.  Behind the villa is the gym.  Two traditional, open-air Tanzanian bandas (beach chalets, for the uninitiated) offer four additional bedrooms.  There’s some outdoor dining areas here and there, but that is basically it.  Even the wifi, which has the speed of “manageable”, is not ubiquitous.  There is something very modest about it, but at no point did I feel there needed to be anything more.  Yes, a bigger room would look nice for my pictures, but I could never see any reason to spend time in there – except to use the air con to escape the 145% humidity.

Also, the world’s smallest gift shop, a little stand in the corner of the living room, because it is legally compulsory for every property on earth to have one.

My room, the master suite, differed from the other rooms with its separate dressing room, slightly larger bathroom, and a spacious outdoor seating area with a bath directly facing the beach.  The other rooms have to make do with enclosed outdoor baths.  Usually, this is the part of the review where I could highlight all the room’s features, but let’s face facts, it’s pretty basic.  There’s air conditioning, a toilet door that loves to slam itself shut, a Bluetooth speaker instead of Sonos, a mosquito net fortress, and occasionally, it sounds like someone’s on the roof, but it’s just the acoustics turning tiptoes into stomps.  The thing with staying in someone’s house-turned-hotel is that things I would go to my grave fighting for someone else doesn’t care for – like plug sockets beside the bed, although at least they added an adapter.

The spa is just a single massage bed, which can be moved to different locations.  There is a spa menu offering various options, but the treatment felt rushed, with no consultation or discussion on areas to avoid or injuries, nor even the desired pressure until 10 minutes in and no eye mask when lying on my back.  I mentioned this to the manager, and they fixed it going forward. This was one of the rare moments during the stay where things seemed unpolished.  

A short walk from the living room is the gym.  For such a small island, the gym is a good size – in fact, larger than some city hotels I’ve been to.  The problem is the equipment seems to hail from an era when humans were just discovering fire.  Describing it might sound comprehensive, but using it felt like a throwback to when adjusting weights and levers was the workout.  Maybe that says more about me than the equipment.  If they replaced everything with the 2023 edition, it would be epic.  The only other place I’ve been with such an old gym is our old friend Ol Jogi.  Perhaps the owners have a pissing contest to boast of their antique gym collections.

Our arrival at the island was greeted with a chorus from the staff, but it was refreshingly brief and actually quite pleasant – a far cry from some other places where the welcome lasts at least three lifetimes – a really miserable one, like being a 12th century peasant.  This understated reception was a perfect match for Thanda’s vibe: attentive without being overwhelming.  The staff struck a fine balance, being available without being intrusive and all over you.  They had a knack for anticipating needs.  Whenever we hit the tennis court, refreshments, water, and towels would magically appear.  On the boat, my favourite snacks were ready and waiting.  And Dad?  He could barely move without being offered a beer – in a good way, not in a ‘he-must-be-an-alcoholic’ sort of way.  Just because he’s Irish – don’t get all prejudice on me.

Thanda is the first property I’ve ever been to where the chef would whip up whatever he fancied with no consultation, and I had absolutely no problem with it.  The food was phenomenal.  With the variety of themed meals, we enjoyed everything from Italian and French to local dishes.  Breakfast offered an extensive menu, which I appreciated, even though they will make you whatever you want.  It even has a milkshake section, which makes it my kinda place.  The food is, as you might hope, excessive, with huge boards of cheese, fruit, meats and bread offered.  I never got a chance to try their pizza oven, so shall have to go back to make sure this review is as thorough as possible.

All-inclusive

Where Thanda shines is every other area, but particularly the service, food and activities.  As I often have to remind my younger, stupider self, there’s more to a place than just the design.  Sitting in a beautiful room, admiring the handcrafted ceiling, is not my idea of a holiday.  Sure, the gym needs some work to bring it beyond the medieval era, but the water sports are a different story, with a vast amount of toys featuring everything from banana boats, to jet skis and seabobs.  I’ve never witnessed my Dad more ecstatic than when he was zipping around on a jet ski, looking like he was making a high-speed getaway.

The joy of it all being included in the price can’t be overstated.  I despise the mental gymnastics of calculating my price-to-joy ratio, especially when my enthusiasm for jet skiing wanes after ten minutes.  At Thanda, there’s an endless encouragement to max out on fun, all on the house.  All-inclusive really means all-inclusive – food, drink, snacks, spa, water sports, diving, everything’s covered except the gift shop, fine wines and champagnes and other shit you full well know you should be paying for.

Birthday

I’m at the age where birthdays all blur into one, and I can barely remember the last one (in fact, I cannot, so maybe hold off on buying me that Ferrari Purosangue), but this one will live long in my memory.  After a thirty-minute boat trip from the island and over an hour of searching, we found the magnificent whale sharks.  I jumped in four times, with one of these gentle giants coming within metres of me.  On the way back to Thanda, another suddenly breached the surface as if to say, “How do you do?”.

I almost lost my drone to the sea in trying to find them, which would have turned this review into an obituary for DroneyMcDroneFace, but otherwise, it was a spectacular moment – certainly up there with gorilla trekking.  Whilst I had in my mind it would only be us, there were three other tourist boats.  Not even a desert island can escape the tourist traps.  If Castaway happened now, Tom Hanks would have landed onto a bustling island, offered a mojito and used the wifi to apologise to his bosses for his tardiness.  Truth is, without them, we would unlikely have found the sharks, so yay for tourists, the unsung heroes of every story.

Back on the island, the tranquil vibe was replaced with party tunes, balloons, and a cake smothered in the delicious junk food I should’ve quit two decades ago.  Each evening featured a different dinner theme, and that night was all about local flair.  They handed out traditional clothing, and I fully engaged, looking like some comedian from the 1980s who was about to start making racist jokes.

Video Walkthrough

The Good

  • Your own private island
  • Beach
  • My drone

The Bad

  • The gym is so old the equipment looks like it was made of fresh dinosaur bones

The Luxurious

  • Food
  • Service
  • Setting
  • Whale sharks
  • Activities

Rating

Luxurious

Conclusion

The more time I spent at Thanda, the more it grew on me.  The more I understood what it offers.  My first impression was, “This is pretty much as anticipated”, and quickly morphed into “Take my kidneys and maybe a spare lunge if I can stay another night”.  This place is pure joy, a spot that felt so much like home, I was waiting for a contractor to pop up with an absurdly overpriced bill for imaginary repairs.
The magic of Thanda lies in the intangibles, the joy of simply being there, with everything dedicated just to you, the excitement of anticipating every brilliant meal, the freedom to do as you want, when you want; the dedication from the team to ensure you have an unforgettable experience.

Thanda’s charm lies in its simplicity.  What they offer is straightforward: it’s all about you and whatever you want, whether that’s unwinding, soaking up the stunning surroundings, riding a jet ski like you’ve just ingested a kilo of cocaine, or going on an adventure.  Whatever you do, just go.

Room type: Exclusive use of private island, up to 18 guests When: November 2023 Rates: from $33,300/n

In Summary

  • Family Friendly

    I'm not going to say "don't bring your young children", as I wouldn't want to deny them such pleasures, but with no kids club you will certainly find better options.

  • Random

    While I won't claim it's a bargain, it is considerably less expensive than staying in the four bedroom Island Villa at Cheval Blanc Randheli, and is similarly priced to a five bedroom villa in Amanyara or a four-bedroom residence at Velaa.  If you are going as a group, on a price per person basis, it offers plenty of value for money.

Exclusive use of Thanda Island starts from $33,300/n

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 29th Nov '23

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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