Mafia Island, Tanzania
Unspoiled and largely overlooked by tourism, Mafia Archipelago is located approximately 99 miles (160 km) south of Zanzibar and 13 miles (21 km) off the central coast of Tanzania’s mainland. The main island of Mafia covers approximately 152 square miles (394 square km) and half of Mafia’s coastline is protected as part of the Mafia Island Marine Park. This park covers 317 square miles (822 square km) and is the largest marine protected area in the Indian Ocean.
While Zanzibar’s popularity as a beach vacation destination has soared in the past two decades, little has changed on Mafia Island and it remains a quiet, with only a few thousand visitors annually. Mafia’s beaches are poor compared to those of Zanzibar. Much of the island’s coastline is surrounded by mangrove forest with limited sandy beaches with a few exceptions, the best beach being at Chole Bay.
Mafia’s main attraction is its magnificent marine life. Similar to Pemba Island in the north, the diving, fishing, and snorkelling at Mafia are phenomenal, far better than anything found on Zanzibar. Mafia has plenty to see and explore for divers of all experience levels and snorkeling is also very rewarding. On the western side of the island, offshore from the town of Kilindoni, whale sharks visit from October to March, and excursions to swim with these gentle giants draw in people from around the world.
On Mafia Island there’s only one recently paved main road which stretches across the island and very few vehicles. The pace of life here is slow and most locals get around by bicycle, walking or by traditional dhow boats. The island is dotted with farming and fishing villages and the locals are friendly and welcoming. On Mafia there are virtually no touts or crime and is considered a very safe island for visitors.
In addition to marine activities, visitors can also explore the nearby islands on day trips. The islands are lush and home to a variety of wildlife including bushbabies, wild pigs, vervet monkeys, genets, and large fruit bats. Explore the mangrove forests and tidal flats and spot marine bird species. Overgrown ruins of Arabic houses and mosques from the 12th century and German ruins from the 19th century are worth exploring on Chole Island, a mere five minute boat ride from Mafia.
There are about a dozen or so accommodation options on Mafia Island, ranging from budget to semi-luxury standard. If staying at a lodge located on the east coast within the Marine Park, there is a daily park fee which is payable at the Marine Park entrance gate in addition to the accommodation rate. Mafia Island can be reached by daily scheduled flights from Dar Es Salaam or Zanzibar.
Coastal climate is typical of the tropics, high temperatures and some rainfall year round. The best times along the coast are from June to October and from December to March when there mostly sunny days with little rain. During November the wind patterns change and generally more rain is expected. April and May receive heavy, continuous rain and some lodges and resorts close during this time.