Understand Mafia Island
With white sandy beaches, dazzling aquamarine waters and refreshingly few tourists, Mafia is often described as Zanzibar 30 years ago. A laid-back eco-alternative with no tarmac roads, few hotels, no shops, no ATMs (credit cards are accepted at the up-market lodges) which is not geared for mainstream tourism. Be warned, if you want fancy shops and a wild night-life, Mafia isn’t for you!!!
There are six lodges on Mafia, five (Chole Mjini , Kinasi Lodge , Mafia , Pole Pole and Shamba Kilole) clustered closely together within Chole Bay and one, the Ras Mbisi Lodge, on the western side of the island. Additionally, there is a handful of backpacker-friendly ‘hotels’ in Kilindoni, the main town (the port and airstrip are here).
Hopefully, Mafia Island will not become the ‘next destination’ but remain an eco-friendly niche. Currently, there are about 3000 to 4000 over-night stays annually on the island.
Whale sharks and Humpback Whales can be found in the waters surrounding Mafia Island, as can turtle and so rumour has it so can dugongs.
Get in Mafia Island
There are two airlines with regular service from Dar es Salam to Mafia’s Kilindoni airport and flights take about 30 minutes.
- Coastal Aviation – operates two daily flights from Dar es Salaam and one “on-demand” from Kilwa, their largest plane is a 13-seated Cessna; flight costs starting from USD 71/person
- Tropical Air – based in Zanzibar, flights to Mafia originate in Dar es Salam
- Auric Air – operates flights to Mafia three times a week, flight costs starting from USD 69/person
Get around in Mafia Island
There are only a few jeeps owned by the resorts or lodge. You can hire a rickety Land Rover with a driver near the market in the centre of Kilindoni. The street is all still murram, so it could be really fun to wonder about walking and get a bit lost along the main street where you will meet all the locals working, interacting, bicycling, playing, etc. If you are more adventurous you can rent a bike from the place you are staying. The price should be anything from 8 to 15usd/day.
The most fun whatever is to take a typical sailing boat(dhow) which here do also bus services. They have a wonderful structure all wood made and usually full of residents with dresses and lots of different bright colours. Almost all diving centres and Lodges will offer you also excursions around the Island.
What to See in Mafia Island
Ras Kisimani is the far western cape of the main island, facing the Rufiji Delta. Kisimani Mafia, just north-east of the Cape is KiSwahili for “the place of the well”. An old town dating to the 12th Century has been drowned by rising sea levels and a collapsing foreshore for over 100 years. The Kinasi library contains a full account of the archaeology of these ruins, once the most important town on Mafia, especially from the 12th to 14th Centuries. It was founded by Bashat, one of the sons of the first Sultan of Kilwa, and extended the control of the Sultan to Mafia. The power and wealth of the Sultan of Kilwa were based upon gold, ivory and customs tariffs on all goods traded on the southern coast. In its time it was far more important the Zanzibar but its economic influence waned upon the arrival of the Portuguese at the end of the 15th Century. There is little left of the town now, but visitors can easily find many beautiful potsherds and coins in the ruins and on the beautiful palm-fringed beach. The circular rock weights used to confine slaves at night can also be found here. Due to erosion, the old well from which the town took its name now stands on the beach. The whole area is now a protected core zone of the Mafia Island Marine Park.
Bwejuu Island sits between Ras Kisimani and the Rufiji Delta and is a sand-fringed, palm-covered island surrounded by sand bars and snorkelling reefs. These are all-day excursions by boat from Kilindoni for beach-lovers and those looking for a castaway experience. Beautiful beaches and fabulous swimming along the edge of the Ras Kisimani point and off the reefs and sand bars of Bwejuu.
The Lighthouse at Ras Mkumbi : A visit to the lighthouse will allow you to see far to the south over the Mlola Forest, protected for its vegetation and wildlife, including Sykes monkeys. There are magnificent baobabs in the north of Mafia, especially at Ras Mkumbi (the northern tip of the island, just beyond Bweni village.
Jibondo is Mafia best-known fishing village. The island is about 30 minutes away by boat. Over-fishing resulted in a decline in shark populations but the people still harvest a great deal of octopus. Seaweed farming is becoming an important business. The Jibondo people are famous throughout the Swahili-speaking world as boat-builders.Unlike Chole, Jibondo island is almost entirely coral rock (ancient Porites coral) so no crops can grow in the shallow soil. There is always a water shortage and many of the younger people spend a great deal of time carrying water from sources on the main island.
Mafia island is one of best beach holiday destinations in East Africa, have pristine white sand, diving, sport fishing and snorkelling. Beach holidays are an extension of Kilimanjaro climbing adventure and wildlife safari tours.
What to Do in Mafia Island
Swimming with whale sharks is a must-do on Mafia. Diving, snorkelling in the Marine Park are also recommended. Some resorts and lodge have dive centres. The only independent one is The Big Blu url=”https://bigblumafia.com“.
- North Mafia Island, Bweni. Beautiful beaches (3km) and in contrast the Chole Bay side of Mafia is superb for diving and snorkelling. The completely different part that is quite another world of vegetation, beaches and activities. Complete isolation from any other tourist facility or commercial activity of any kind.
What to Buy in Mafia Island
Locally made coconut oil soap
What to Eat in Mafia Island
Almost all resort and lodge have their own restaurant and usually, the price is Full Board, so tourists rarely go around to find different places.
What to Drink in Mafia Island
You can find whatever you want but if you look for something typical in Tanzania you can drink the coconut water (madafu) (from a real coconut), the soda called Stoney Tangawizi (with ginger taste) and some Tanzanian good beers such as Kilimanjaro. You can also find wines from South Africa.
- Top Life, Utende. Local Bar with a cold beer, Gin and soft drinks. Features local DJs during the weekends and Taarabu music during the week.
- Sunset Bar, Bweni. The bar is limited to a few excellent reds and whites and the usual damaging toxins like gin, vodka, whisky, brandy, and anything special if you let us know in advance. All the soft drinks and mixers are available and lots of ice.
Get out in Mafia Island
Mange is an atoll on the far western edge of the archipelago and lying in the Mafia Channel. It is a stunning place with a sand island – cay – exposed at low tide and an excellent coral reef for snorkelling and good diving on the deeper channel side. This is a full-day excursion on the dhow “Papara” with picnic lunch and barbecued fish on the beach. We erect a sunshade canopy to protect you and of course carry the essential cold stores to make sure you don’t dry out, especially on the homeward journey when sundowners are mandatory