Mafia Island also known as Chole Island is one of the beautiful Islands in Tanzania, the island is part of the Zanzibar Archipelago along with Unguja, Pemba and Latham Island. The island is located Southeast of Dar es Salaam off Tanzania’s Swahili Coast.
Mafia Island is located in the Pwani region of Tanzania, the island covers an area of 394 square kilometers making it the third largest island in Tanzania Ocean Territory and forms the majority part of the Mafia Island.
Mafia Island is a relatively undeveloped haven for divers, nature lovers and a perfect destination snorkelers, divers and travelers wishing to unwind and escape the bustles and chaos of the city.
The island is a tropical paradise with white sand beaches, turquoise waters and a lush green interior which is intersected by unpaved roads. To get around the island, bicycles and tuk – tuk are used.
The island is famous for its protected underwater reefs which makes it one of the best scuba destinations in Africa and the world as well, unlike the main island – Unguja also known as Zanzibar there are no rowdy night clubs or hustling beach vendors on Mafia Island. Mafia Island has incredible and unspoiled dive sites thus being a well-kept secret among diving enthusiasts.
Mafia Island is a great destination boasting a handful of fascinating ruins and several idyllic luxury lodges.
History & Geography of Mafia Island
Mafia Island served as an important stop on the trade route between East Asia and the Swahili Coastline from the 8th Century onwards,
during the medieval times the island was part of the powerful Kilwa Sultanate and vendors came to the island to sell products from the Tanzanian mainland and the neighboring islands of Zanzibar, Pemba, Comoros and Madagascar to buyers from across the Arabia Sea.
At various times throughout the history of the island, Mafia Island has been occupied by foreign invaders and rules including the Arabs, the Omanis, the Portuguese, the Germans and the British.
Mafia Island is a relatively small island measuring just 30 miles in length and 10 miles across at its widest point, the main town of the island is Kilindoni locted on the northwest shore and is connected by road to two the settlements on the island that is Utende in the Southeast and Bweni in the far north.
Utende is the favorite for most visitors of the Island as it is the starting point for Chole Bay, the Mafia Island Marine Park and the ruins on nearby Chole and Juani Islands. Also, most of the luxury resorts and dive centers are located here including Mafia Island Diving and Big Blu.
Things To Do on Mafia Island
Scuba Diving and snorkeling
Mafia Island and its reefs are renowned as world – lass diving destinations and scuba diving is he most popular activity on the island, half of the coastline on Mafia Island is protected under the Mafia Island Marine Park and is home to a variety of aquatic life including more than 460 species of tropical fish, five species of turtles, elusive dugong and profusion of hard and soft coral.
From September to March, the beautiful Whale sharks arrive in the waters of Mafia Island on their annual migration and can be seen feeding on plankton in large numbers, scuba divers have a chance to swim alongside the world’s largest fish.
Mafia Island is rich with marine life attracting deep sea fishermen, charter trips are offered to the reefs, atolls and seamount beyond the marine park providing an opportunity to catch a wide variety of marine species such as sailfish, wahoo, tuna and giant trevallies.
There are other water activities you can enjoy on Mafia Island such as swimming, dhow cruises to the uninhabited islands and sandbanks.
Mafia Island’s verdant interior is home to a diverse habitat including tracts of coastal high forest and lowland rainforests, you can explore the untamed wilderness on foot and have a wonderful face to face encounter with indigenous monkeys, squirrels, flying foxes, lizards and over 120 bird species.
Past the Island, humpback whales can be spotted on their migration and baby turtles hatch on Juani Island’s eastern beach between June and September.
Historic Ruins and Cultural Tours
Mafia Island was once a trading center with several ruined settlements across the archipelago, on Juani Island – Kua Ruins was once a thriving medieval trading post with Swahili residences, mosques and sultan’s palace.
Currently many of the ruins are overrun by big roots offering you a sense of having stumbled upon a lost civilization.
The Chole Island also has Arabic Ruins dating back to the 12th century and German ruins left over from colonia occupation during the first World War.
When to go to Mafia Island
Mafia Island has tropical climate which is defined by two distinct rainy season that is the short rainy season from November to December and long rains from March to May.
When to go to Mafia Island depends on your interest at the island, if you are interested in diving, the is best you avoid the rainy seasons as the water visibility is reduced.
During the rainy seasons, some of the lodges on the island close most especially during the long rains.
The best time to visit Mafia Island is during the dry season which is filled with sun and dry weather, the dry season is experienced from August to October or from late December to mid – March (hotter and more humid). June and July are generally cool and dry but it can be windy which affects sea conditions.
September to March is whale shark season, so it is a perfect time to visit if you are planning to see shark during diving and snorkeling excursions.
Getting There and Getting Around
The easiest way to get to Mafia Island is by plane from Dar es Salaam, there are domestic and chartered flights offered by Coastal Aviation and Auric Aric air. The flight takes approximately 30 minutes.
Another option is by a ferry which departs from Nyamisati village on the mainland and leaves at 4 am, it takes around four hours.
Note – the ferry is notoriously overcrowded and poorly maintained.
Once you get to Mafia Island you can explore the island on taxis known as dalla – dallas, these connect Kilindoni where the airport and port are located with both Utende and Bweni. A trip to Utende takes 30 minutes and a trip to Bweni takes between four and five hours of drive.
You can also rent a bicycle, most of the resorts and hotels on the island arrange transfers from Kilindoni to dive centers in Utende, usually visitors are able to arrange boat trips to chole and Juani Islands.
Where to stay in Mafia Island
Most of the accommodation on Mafia Island is located wither in Kilindoni for backpackers or Utende for luxury lodges, some of the accommodations on the Island include
- Mafia Kivulini Lodge
- Pole Pole Bungalows
- Butiama Beach Lodge
- Kinasi Lodge
- Eco Shamba Kilole Lodge
- Ibizza Inn
- Chole Foxes Lodge