Mafia Island is an archipelago off the coast of Tanzania- 25 Km from the mainland and 130 Km from Dar es Salaam. At last count, there were approximately 45000 people living in Mafia’s 24 villages found in the islands of Jibondo, Juani and Chole. This number has definitely changed since the last census took place in 2002.
The 24 villages are spread across Mafia’s 7 administrative wards of Jibondo, Baleni, Kirongwe, Kanga, Kiegaeni, Kilindoni and Mibulani.
Mafia is quiet and peaceful. It lies away undisturbed – miles away from the busy life of the mainland. Luxuries of the modern world like electricity are not found here. It still maintains the traditional village structure. People go about their lives slowly – tilling their land and fishing in the Indian Ocean to feed their families.
This is not your typical tourist destination. It is for the adventurous tourist. It is for that person who can enjoy their own company and spend some time alone while recharging from the stressful life that has become the everyday experience of the modern world. If you can forgo some of the modern luxuries found in five star hotels then you can enjoy your stay in Mafia Island Tanzania.
Despite not having some of the luxury amenities common in touristy islands around the world, a visit to Tanzania’s Mafia Island offers some very unforgettable life experiences. It is home to the famous whale sharks – which are the biggest fish in the world – and it has some of the best dive sites in East Africa.
You can do much more than fish and dive in Mafia Island. A friendly people and amazing flora and fauna will ensure that your stay is worth every dollar or shilling you spend.
The Mafia Island Marine Park
The Mafia Island marine park was the first of its kind in Tanzania. It was established in 1995 to protect the rich aquatic life and the archipelago’s reefs.
It is located around the South end of the island and covers an area of 822 sq meters.
More than 400 species of fish can be found here. You will find shells, flying fish, parrot fish, sea sponges, barracuda and some very interesting marine life.
Diving and Snorkeling in Mafia Island Tanzania
Most of Mafia’s best diving is in Chole bay. There are however some very good sites outside of Chole that are equally good.
Almost all of the diving is at depths below 30 meters. With an amazing tropical marine habitat, expect an experience like no other. You will be met with exposed fringing reefs, rock walls and soft corals.
Mafia Island also offers you an opportunity to literally swim with whale sharks.
Dive Sites in Chole Bay
The Kinasi Pass and pinnacle boasts of potato bass, king fish, barracuda among other fish and is one of the best photography sites since it has very beautiful coral, good lighting and abundant fish. A sheltered reef, 24m, called the Kinasi wall, was formed from a dense selection of hard and soft corals.
Chole wall sits to the south of Kinasi wall and is a very good diving site.
And then there is Milimani. Milimani is a Swahili word for hills. It must have been dubbed milimani because it is shaped like a hill. With some of the best coral formations, it stands out because you can dive here in pretty much every condition.
Dive Sites outside Chole Bay
The Dindini wall is an amazing location. Other great sites in Mafia Island Tanzania include the Jina Pass with depths of 8 meters to 22 meters, the Jina Reef which boasts of lots of colorful coral, the Juani Reef and the Mange Reefs.
The Bejui Island is a great location but you will have to book with Big Blu since it is exclusive to them.
Swimming with Mafia Island’s Whale Sharks
One of the best experiences you will have in Mafia Island that will make you want to come back is a swim with the whale sharks. These are the world’s largest fish with the biggest of the biggest weighing up to 35 tons.
Whale sharks reach maturity in around 20 to 30 years. Despite their massive size, they are docile and are harmless to humans.
At a good time they can usually be found a few hundred meters off the Kilindoni harbor.
You will be guided to the feeding grounds by a boat. The boat can quietly move among them and you can swim and snorkel to get closer.
You are encouraged not to disturb their peace though. Practice responsible tourism and let your visit not disrupt their life.
Mafia Island Accommodation: Hotels & Lodges
Mafia Island Lodge
The Mafia Island Lodge is one the best in Mafia. The hotel has 34 beautifully furnished rooms 14 of which are superior rooms. 2 are family rooms while the rest are standard rooms. They have a lounge area, bar and restaurant.
The hotel is located right at the beach and there is a beach bar which makes for a great place to relax and just chill out.
The rates are relatively affordable.
Opened in 1996, Kinasi lodge is one of the best lodges in Mafia Island. It is located on a quiet beach overlooking Chole Bay.
Kinasi lodge enjoys an advantage over other lodges since it has a very good beach. And the owners really take good care of the lodge.
All the rooms are similar.
Pole Pole Lodge
Pole Pole lodge is a thatched en suite bungalow located to the South East coast of Mafia Island. It has a spa and a swimming pool.
It is a very good place to stay since it has a water sports center on the beach. Just note that the Mafia lodges do not offer some luxurious services that would be standard in safari lodges in the mainland.
Chole Mjini Lodge
While the traveler to Mafia Island would be considered adventurous, Chole Mjini takes adventure to a whole ‘nother level. It is not for everyone.
It is an Eco lodge consisting of six tree houses and one bungalow. Everything is quite basic here but it is worth the experience.
Words cannot adequately describe Chole Mjini. Tomtravelman posted a very good video about Chole Mjini – check it out:
Butiama Beach Resort
The best place for the traveler who expects the most modern amenities. Butiana has some of the modern amenities because it was started much later – in 2010 – so it is pretty new.
It boasts of spacious bungalows. Travelers have always raved about how Butiana offers very good food. Butiana could be the place for you if you are a food lover.
Didimiza Beach House
This lodge also offers very good food. Didimiza gives you the experience of staying in a hut at very affordable rates.
It has clean and spacious rooms and very friendly staff.
Chole Foxes Lodge
Just as the name suggests, the lodge is situated on the beautiful island of Chole.
It has standard amenities and will offer you a comfortable stay but do not expect over the top luxury.
How to Get to Mafia Island
Mafia Island lies approximately 25 Km off the Tanzanian coast and 130 Km from Dar es Salaam. It should take you about 35 minutes to fly from Dar es Salaam to Mafia and 45 minutes from Sealous to Mafia. It is a 30-minute flight away from Zanzibar.
The island can only be accessed by light aircraft. Some of the companies currently offering flights to Mafia Island include Zan Air, Coastal Aviation, Auric Air and Tropical Air.
There are scheduled flights from Dar es Salaam to Mafia everyday. Some of the lodges like Kinasi Lodge can arrange flights for you if you book with them. Most of the flights connect with flights to and from Selous, Ruaha National Park, Zanzibar and the Serengeti National Park.
Current Rates and Schedules for Coastal Aviation (Sample Flights to Mafia Island) (2014)
Sample Rates and Schedules for Coastal Aviation (2014)*
|Selous||Mafia||0930||1120||250 / 280|
* Tanzania Safari Advisor is not responsible and cannot be held liable for any changes in time schedule, prices/fares, or routes.
The differences in dep/arr time are because most of the flights are connecting flights. Some flights from Zanzibar, for example, will go through Dare es Salaam before proceeding to Mafia.
Private Charters: If arranged in advance some of the companies can give you the opportunity to plan your own route and times.
Weather and Climate in Mafia Island Tanzania
Mafia Island, like the rest of Tanzania, experiences tropical climatic conditions. It is warm all year round.
The island is also highly humid.
The rainy season is from April to May. This is probably the worst period to visit Mafia Island. Any other time is a good time.
How to Find Good Tour Operators
Some of the lodges have affiliated centers. You can find some very good deals if you talk to the lodge you will be staying in – they will usually make good recommendations that suit your needs if they do not have any affiliated centers.