mafia island tanzania
mafia island tanzania
The water is beautifully transparent, and the variety of the coral permits an unimaginable quantity of fish.
The waters are unsurpassed in beauty, and there are fantastic views of the unspoiled coral reef.
With its fine sandy beaches, swaying palms and lush vegetation.
Mafia is little changed from ancient times and retains a traditional, friendly culture; and the community tourism association works hard to preserve this individuality.
Mafia Island has nothing to do with the Mafiaosi.
Think of the word ‘mafia’ you probably envisage men carrying violin cases, or Tony Soprano spilling his guts to his psychiatrist.
But as well as being the name of a renowned crime empire emanating
out of Sicily, Mafia is also the name of a special island that is one of
Tanzania’s unsung highlights.
Though it tends to have played second fiddle in the past to more developed Zanzibar (or at least Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago), in fact Mafia possesses its own distinct charms, which will no doubt be explored by more people soon as a proper runway is completed at the island’s airport.
With a slightly more ‘bush’ and scrubby feel than out-and-out tropical Zanzibar, Mafia almost feels halfway between bush and honeymoon island, and is a great option for those who find the ‘paradise beach’ vibe a little too cheesy.
|Mafia Island is a paradise for fishermen, divers and water sport lovers. Bird-watching on Mafia is excellent and very different to the mainland parks
that guests may havevisited.
The tidal flats and mangroves are always alive with coastal and sea birds and there are many colourful woodland and forest species.
Mafia Island with its idyllic setting and tranquil milieu, the island of Mafia,
once an important trading center between the 11th and 13th centuries, now draws
tourists to its extraodinary coral formations and marine park.
The waters of the island are splendid for swimmimg, snoerkelling, scuba diving, sailing and sport fishing.
is the ideal spot to relax and unwind after a great African safari. Chole Bay and its surrounding forests and islands are now within the protected
Mafia Island Marine Park, supported with assistance from the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Mafia reefs offer a range of corals and fish like no other in the Indian Ocean, and diving and snorkeling sites are just a short boat ride away.
|Isolated islets and beaches, lagoons, coves and channels provide many private
swimming and picnicking hideaways.
Chole Bay is perfect for windsurfing and laser sailing.
There are also roosts of the unusual and fascinating giant Madagascan fruit bat to see on nearby Chole Island.
|For the fisherman there is big-game fishing, light inshore sport fishing and
bottom fishing from fully equipped boats.
And if you are really intrepid, you can arrange to go fishing in traditional style with local fishermen on their jahazis or ngalawas.
Scuba diving and game fishing can also be specially arranged as camping safaris to the north end of Mafia or to Okuza, Nyuni and Njovi islands to the south of Mafia.
Visits to the villages, historic archaeological sites, coastal forests, coconut plantations, traditional boat-building yards, and other parts of Mafia Island complement the sea activities and add much more interest to a holiday, and will familiarise you with the lives of the people of Mafia, who are artisans, farmers, fishermen and sailors.
mafia island lodges hotels resorts accommodation
What to see and do:
Ras Kilimani Ruins
Swim with the whale sharks
If you are in Mafia between November and April, possibly the most breathtaking activity of all is swimming with the whale sharks. These huge but gentle creatures visit the waters to the west of Mafia every year. ‘Papa Shilingi’ is what locals on Mafia Island call them – ‘papa’ means shark and ‘shilingi’ is coins – because these beautifully speckled creatures look like they have been studded with doubloons. About 12 metres long and up to 60 years old, these ocean goers - the biggest fish on the planet – are truly a wonder to behold.
Go hippo spotting
We may be in Africa but an island like Mafia is not where you would naturally expect to find a hippo population. Nonetheless there is a rogue gang of them who can be spotted on occasion, particularly at dusk. Thought to have been washed over from the Rufiji Delta on mainland Tanzania, nobody knows for sure how they ended up here, and there’s only a handful, but with great luck you might spot them if your guide takes you to look for them on the way back from a day trip.
Visit Chole Island.
Off Mafia island, opposite Utende where many of the main hotels are,
there is another even quieter and more remote island, called Chole. This
fertile, prosperous little island has a population of about 1000 and its
people make their living from boatbuilding, fishing and the cultivation
of crops such as oranges, mangoes, bananas, papayas, sweet potatoes,
cassava and coconut
The island is reached via wooden boat – it’s a journey of some 10 to 15 minutes with a mix of islanders, tourists and hotel workers. It’s TSH1,000 for foreigners and TSH400 for locals. With trees full of Comoran flying foxes – we spotted two belligerent ones having a fight – and a famously twisted coconut palm, it’s a small place and a pleasure just to potter around on a day trip.
Enjoy gourmet Swahili
Swahili food can be super tasty – with fresh fruits of the sea and the land, combined with the most aromatic spices. But it takes some talent to make something really different with these ingredients – and on Mafia, Ras Mbisi Lodge is one of the best places to taste these flavours in the most exciting combinations. Expect goodies along the lines of fresh crab samosas with tamarind sauce, coconut-crusted calamari with green papaya and peanut salad, and mango crème brulee. Then you can always go for a swim from the squeaky-sanded beach to burn off the calories!
Diving off Mafia is seriously impressive and you’ll be competing with few other divers. Chole Bay is a safe and diverse diving spot that suits beginners, but anyway almost all of Mafia’s greatest diving is at 30 metres or less, making it very accessible, although only more experienced divers should dive outside the bay and then with some caution as outgoing tides are extremely strong. The condition and diversity of the reefs here is awe-inspiring. Expect lots of pelagic fish, turtles (there are four varieties in Mafian waters) and colourful corals on a macro level, and little delights like nudibranches and leaf fish if you’re prepared to look closely.
Visit the lighthouse
Mafia’s lighthouse, on the northernmost tip of the island, Ras Mkumbi, makes for a great day trip partly because the journey there and back allows you to see different island scenery, including ancient baobab trees, and because the northern beaches tend to be the prettiest on the island and definitely worth visiting with a picnic if you are staying on the less beachy south of the island. You can also climb to the top of the lighthouse for 360-degree island and ocean views.
Explore Kilindoni and go kanga shopping
The main town of Kilindoni is fairly sleepy compared to Stone Town in Zanzibar, but it’s a pleasant enough place to have a walk round to get acquainted with the island. You can stop in the market for a cold drink or to buy one of the interesting kangas (fabric that local women wear with vibrant patterns and written mottos). Here, many are good quality, thick cotton ones from the mainland that will last for a long time.
You can also go for a wander along the shoreline, seeing where small dagaa fish are dried and looking out for the shore birds. It's not so picturesque as the rest of the island but it's interesting and gives you a feel for Mafian life.
The range of sea birds and forest birds is fantastic on Mafia and quite different from the mainland. Of special interest are the coastal birds, with many different waders, as well as fish eagles, palm nut eagles and open-billed storks. There are also at least five different varieties of sunbird.
Sandbanks and islands
The sea around Mafia is studded with beautiful little jewels of sandbanks and islands where you can explore and picnic, snorkel, or just play at being Robinson Crusoe. Wherever you’re staying, a local boat excursion to a few of these – a ‘sea safari’ tailored just for you – should be possible. And if you’re a turtle fan, between June and September you can see baby turtles hatching at Juani island.
Accommodation options are limited: You can stay within the marine park (but must pay $20 a day in marine park fees) – either on Chole island or around Utende at hotels including Pole Pole, Kinasi and Mafia Island lodges. Alternatively you can stay at Ras Mbisi where the beach is great and you avoid marine park fees, but have a longer journey over to the marine park.In Kilindoni itself there are a few rough and ready guesthouses, or there is Whale Shark Lodge, which is simple but seems reliable.
To get to Mafia, you may fly with Coastal Aviation from Zanzibar ($160 full price) or Dar es Salaam ($120) one way, there are usually a couple of flights per day.