Mafia Island Marine Park
MAFIA ISLAND: A COMPLETE GUIDE
Off the coast of Tanzania, Mafia Island is a special place with isolated sandbars, nesting turtles, and migrating whale sharks. It is considerably less well-known and undoubtedly much quieter than Zanzibar, but it offers the most amazing diving opportunities and epitomizes true barefoot luxury.
Mafia is a small island that is a part of an archipelago with one large island and several smaller islands, each of which has a distinct history that dates back to the eighth century. The word “Mafia” is derived from the Swahili mahali pa afya, which means “a healthy dwelling place,” and has nothing to do with Italian mobster groups.
Mafia is not a popular tourist destination because it is still not well known to travel brokers, tour guides, and tourists. Less than 7,000 tourists visit the island each year, staying an average of nearly five nights, according to the local tourism bureau. Mafia attracts those who have a desire to get away from the crowds, explore something new, and experience nature and local culture that have not been impacted by mass tourism or industrial development.
Mafia has some of the richest reefs in the world and is a true aquatic paradise. The island is known as the Coral Garden of East Africa because of the abundance of fish that frequent these warm, clear waters, including groupers, clownfish, octopus, rays, turtles, and whale sharks. To safeguard the reefs and more than 460 species of fish found within the archipelago, the Mafia Island Marine Park was established in 1995.
Mafia’s best diving is almost exclusively done at depths of less than 30 meters. The shallow reefs of Chole Bay are great for snorkelers and beginning divers, and experienced divers can marvel at a long coral wall outside the bay that is home to enormous stands of blue-tipped staghorn corals. It’s common to see large predatory fish and turtles, and they surprisingly don’t seem to mind approaching divers.
Highlights of Mafia Island
A trip to Mafia should definitely be on your bucket list if you enjoy diving. Mafia’s archipelago has something to offer divers of every skill level, from Chole Bay’s extraordinary coral and brilliantly colored schools of reef fish to the deeper waters where rays and whale sharks roam, but the real wonder is that you’ll probably have it all to yourself! Watching turtles hatch: An exceptional place to see tiny green and hawksbill turtles sprint for the sea is Juani Island, which is nearby Mafia.
Between June and September, environmentally conscious tours can be scheduled through a passionate NGO that actively contributes to local turtle conservation in Zanzibar.
BEST TIME TO GO TO MAFIA ISLAND/WHEN TO GO TO MAFIA ISLAND
It is likely that the purpose of a trip to Tanzania for vacation is to either go on a safari, to the beach, or to both. Generally speaking, the dry season in Tanzania, which lasts from July to October and is characterized by dry and sunny weather, is the ideal time to visit the beach. The only time of year when it is practically guaranteed not to rain is at these months. Before the long rains that arrive in April and May, there are short rains in November (which occasionally trickle through into December, January, and March).
However, things may be a little different on Mafia Island. Mafia Island’s beaches aren’t the best and can be quite mangrove-heavy, so the majority of visitors come for the world’s best diving instead of sunbathing and relaxation—oh, and to see the enormous whale sharks. Since the whale shark season typically lasts from October through March, we advise putting less emphasis on the weather if this is your top priority. But if you want to combine Mafia with some time on Zanzibar, we recommend February because there are a lot fewer rainy days here than there are in the other months. Although February is more into high season and is comparable to October if your priority is seeing whale sharks, we advise choosing this month over October if you want to reduce the likelihood of rain and maximize your underwater experience.
WHERE TO STAY
The archipelago offers first-rate lodging options, including quaint little hotels, private islands, and lodges straight out of a fairytale.
Chole Mjini in a small According to legend, Chole Island offers a castaway dream in the midst of an ancient baobab and mangrove forest. Seven charming little treehouses are available on the jungle island retreat, among the surrounding vegetation. Each of the opulent treehouses has a view of the ocean, and some are close enough to hear the tide trickling back through the mangrove roots as you fall asleep. Children can usually be accommodated on the second level of a treehouse.
Pole-Pole is yet another excellent lodging choice. The atmosphere at this exclusive Eco lodge is unassuming and relaxed. Seven bungalow suites are available at the lodge, all of which seamlessly blend into the surrounding tropical garden. To ensure a low carbon footprint, all food used at the lodge is locally sourced.
Renting your own island is the height of luxury. Only two traditional Bandas (beach huts) and one luxurious villa are available on Thanda Island, which is an exclusive property in the Indian Ocean.
MAFIA ISLAND: BEACH HOLIDAYS
Mafia Island, which is little known to most tourists, continues to be a pristine, peaceful location for peaceful and relaxing beach vacations. There are tidal flats, mangrove forests, sandy beaches, and turquoise water nearby. Tidal flats and seabirds are drawn to the area as well. One of Tanzania’s best snorkeling and diving spots is this marine park; beginners should stick to the shallow reefs, while more experienced divers may venture out to a long coral wall.
The four other lush islands of the Mafia Archipelago can easily be added to beach vacations on Mafia Island. As an alternative, if you’re looking for a more exciting location, check out our suggestions for Zanzibar beach vacations.
Short 30-minute charter flights are the only way to get to Mafia Island from Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar Island. Logistics are now simple thanks to Mafia’s daily domestic flights that connect to all of Tanzania’s remote safari locations.