Mafia Island

Mafia Island is a popular place for visitors to unwind after a Tanzania safari, and; the island’s relaxed and secluded beaches provide privacy and comfort for discerning travelers. Mafia’s incredible and unspoiled dive sites have long been a well-kept secret among diving enthusiasts and beach bums, but the island is quickly becoming a popular beach holiday destination.

Mafia Island (Chole Shamba), along with Unguja, Pemba, and Latham Island, is part of the Tanzanian Zanzibar Archipelago. The island is located in the Pwami region of Tanzania and it covers an area of 394 square kilometers (152 square miles). It is the third largest island in the Tanzanian ocean territory and it forms the majority part of the Mafia district. Mafia Island is a popular place for visitors to unwind after a Tanzania safari, and; the island’s relaxed and secluded beaches provide privacy and comfort for discerning travelers.

Mafia’s incredible and unspoiled dive sites have long been a well-kept secret among diving enthusiasts and beach bums, but the island is quickly becoming a popular beach holiday destination. For centuries, the island was a trading stop for Shirazi merchants traveling up to Persia, and vast coconut and cashew plantations flourished under the rule of the Omani Sultanate in Zanzibar.

Today, all that remains of the Island’s prestigious past are the Coral ruins on Chole Mjini, a small Island just offshore from the Mafia where the Arab landowners lived a sumptuous life after being stripped of their Plantations and Slaves.

Mafia now receives only the most discerning visitors due to its remote location, but this is changing. The recent designation of Mafia Island Marine Park as the largest protected area in the Indian Ocean; which includes surrounding villages in its conservation efforts, ensures that the millions of fish and coral species continue to thrive in the warm waters of Mafia’s beaches.  

Getting to Mafia Island

The easiest way to get to Mafia Island is by flight, though it can also be accessed by boat. To begin, you must take an international flight into Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam. From Dar-es-salaam, you have two alternatives for traveling to Mafia Island from there: aircraft or boat. Domestic flights to Mafia Island depart from Dar es Salaam and cost around $150 one way if purchased in advance. Coastal Air and Auric Air are two of the aviation companies that operate daily flights to Mafia Island.

By boat, one can ride the government-run ferry (MV Bacara), which costs 16,000 TSH (about $8 per trip). However, you should be prepared for delays as it is not unusual for the ferry to be grounded for maintenance. Still, there are also private boats available and they cost about $25 per trip. The boat to Mafia departs from Nyamasati on the mainland.

And by bus, from the Dar es Salaam Bagala bus terminal, take a local minibus (called a dalla dalla) to Nyamisati – a village in Mafia Island. This will cost around 8,000 TSH (around $4), however, you may be charged the mzungu (foreigner) rate.

Tourist Attractions and Activities on Mafia Island

Snorkeling And Scuba Diving

Mafia Island and its reefs are well-known as world-class diving destinations. Scientists have confirmed that Mafia has some of the world’s richest reefs, with an unrivaled variety of hard and soft corals and tropical fish. The Mafia Marine Park offers excellent snorkeling and scuba diving throughout the year, especially during the dry season from July to October.  

Swim along with the Whale sharks

Swimming alongside one of these large creatures is an unforgettable experience while on a safari to Mafia Island. The whale sharks are present all year in the waters surrounding Mafia Island but only appear seasonally in the shallow waters off the island’s west coast when conditions are favorable. The season lasts approximately six months, from October to March. However, they are easily found near Kilindoni.

Whale sharks are fascinating creatures that can live for more than 100 years, grow to be 20 meters long, and weigh 15 tons, but they are completely harmless and feed on massive amounts of plankton that they suck up while swimming. Swimming with whale sharks requires no prior experience. Swimming or diving is simple with snorkels.

Take in the Astounding Natural Scenery  

The terrestrial and reef ecosystems on Mafia Island are fascinating, and we have spent a significant amount of time researching these aspects of the islands to ensure that our snorkeling and scuba diving trips provide visitors with an unforgettable experience. The diving here is truly World-class, with a diverse array of corals and fish; as a breeding ground, the Bay is always teeming with shoals of fish.

And to enhance your stay with us we have guided walks and nature trails to enjoy the native trees, animals, and birdlife, as well as take cultural visits to villages to understand the native way of life on the island. While there, get to watch skilled craftsmen at work, sailing in traditional dhows and ngalawas, among others. Mafia island also offers fantastic day picnic trips to outer islands, sand banks, and beaches.

Explore the Cultural History of the Island

Antiquities dating back to the eleventh century can be found in the Mafia Archipelago, including ruins at Kisimani Mafia, Kanga, Kua on Juani Island, and Chole Island. These include a lovely, barrel-vaulted mosque from the fifteenth century and several well-preserved buildings from the latter half of the eighteenth century, which are fascinating for their construction methods and ancient architecture.


Mafia island is a hub for a variety of tropical birds and bird enthusiasts can expect to see over 120 different types of tropical birds in this area. Because everything is ‘extra’ in Tanzania and its islands, Mafia Island is one of the few places you can take a fantastic bird-watching excursion from the seas of the Indian Ocean, seated in a traditional Tanzania dhow. Bird species on Mafia Island include Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, common Ostrich, African pygmy goose, Helmeted Guinea fowl, White-backed Duck, Laughing Dove, African Green Pigeon, etc.

Wildlife Viewing

Mafia Island is also home to lots of interesting African fauna to see while on a safari to the island. Visitors may view antelopes, wild pigs, and even wild hippos enjoying the marsh in the island’s center, as well as other primates such as charming bush babies, and vervet monkeys. Chole Island in Mafia is noted for its enormous fruit bats, which are peaceful tropical bats that only eat fruit.

Visit Kilindoni Town

Kilindoni Town on Mafia Island is an interesting town to explore while visiting Mafia Island. The town features several facilities including a bank, post office, and a local market where you can buy fresh fruit, fish, and seafood. On the south-western coast of the island is Kisimani which is only a 30-minute drive from Kilondoni. Kisimani was formerly a prosperous center with a stunning palace; but according to the legend, the emperor severed the hands of the masons and builders so that no one would ever rebuild his castle in another site. However, his acts may have contributed to the demise of Kisimani. What is now left are just ruins to witness to the once-established location. Moreover, certain items discovered in the vicinity have been dated back to 600 B.C.

Best time to go to Mafia Island

When visiting Tanzania for vacation, chances are you’ll want to go on a safari, to the beach, or both. As a general rule, the best time to visit Tanzania’s beaches, including Mafia is from July to October, when the weather is dry and sunny. This is the only time of year when it is almost certain not to rain. Before the long rains of April and May, there are short rains in November (which sometimes extend into December, January, and March).

However, because the beaches on Mafia Island are not the best and can be quite mangrove-heavy, most visitors come to the island to experience some of the world’s best diving, as well as to see the mighty Whale Sharks. The whale shark season lasts from October to March, so don’t worry too much about the weather. If you want to combine Mafia with some time in Zanzibar, we recommend February because it has significantly fewer rainy days than the other months.

October is also similar; though if your priority is to see the whale sharks, then February is more into the high season so we would suggest picking this over October. This is the best time for you to minimize rain chances and maximize your underwater experience.

Accommodation in Mafia island

Just like in Zanzibar and Pemba, there are several accommodations to stay in visiting Mafia Island. These range from budget to midrange to luxury lodges and hotels. Some of our top picks include;

Mafia Kivulini Lodge

This is a beautiful and rustic lodge at an affordable price, with all the amenities required for a dream beach vacation. The lodge features clean and tastefully decorated rooms with verandas that overlook a lovely garden with palm and coconut trees.

Pole Pole Bungalows

This is an exclusive and one-of-a-kind eco-lodge, and is one the best midrange/luxury lodges in Mafia Island. To prevent environmental pollution, it treats wastewater with a cutting-edge purification system. Furthermore, depending on the level of luxury desired, the bungalows and suites each have their distinct features. Each room and suite have its ensuite bathroom, antique décor, and private veranda with views of the surrounding countryside. If you go Platinum, you can swim in your plunge pool built into your veranda, overlooking your own beachfront.

Butiama Beach Lodge

This luxury lodge is a great place to stay if you want to be pampered without having to pay Marine Park fees. This beachfront hotel has everything, including a beautiful restaurant, a swimming pool, and a relaxation area. There is also a wonderful part of the beach to walk on, and take in the breathtaking sunsets. The bungalow and patio are private to each guest and guests can enjoy yoga and spa at the lodge.

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