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Mafia Island and its surrounding archipelago including Jibondo, Juani and Chole is located 30 minutes flight south of Zanzibar. Mafia has a great deal to offer as an unspoiled, little-visited alternative to other Indian Ocean locations around Zanzibar and along the coast. However, as with Pemba, Mafia has better diving than Zanzibar, but worse beaches. Mafia is the one island off Tanzania's coast that really encourages visitors to explore its offshore islands and sand bars. There are very few hotels here which only adds to the attraction of Mafia as the beach destination for the adventurous traveller.
The central main island of Mafia is where most accommodation options are located, the smaller islands are fun to explore, with crumbling historical ruins now inhabited by a variety of different animals, from monkeys to wild pigs, fruit bats and bush babies.
Mafia is primarily known for its ocean glory; the Marine Park which was created to protect its reefs. Do note that the beaches on the main island are not nearly as good as those on Zanzibar, but the diving, fishing and snorkelling are infinitely better. Whereas Zanzibar has no diving for advanced divers, Mafia has challenging and rewarding dives for the advanced - as well as numerous sheltered bays and coves that are great for novice to intermediate divers. Snorkelling is also magnificent.
The atmosphere of all the islands is that of adventure; days are spent fishing or exploring exposed sand bars and untouched reefs. The diving on offer here is certainly the best in the entire region. Perhaps a lodge only for those mad keen on making diving the central focus of their Tanzania holiday.
Mafia: Accommodation choices
Kinasi is one of the oldest lodges on the island and fits right into the sleepy feel of Mafia. The 15 rooms are made from stone, and although seeming somewhat dated, they have thoughtfully decorated interiors and the hotel has good food and service. Kinasi is one of the only lodges on the island with a swimming pool, and has one of the most experienced dive masters on the island. Next door to Kinasi is Pole Pole (meaning ‘slowly, slowly’ in Swahili). Pole Pole is even more laid back than Kinasi but has lovely bungalows and a good general feel. The lodge’s size, with only seven rooms, is a reason to come in itself, especially if you want to get away from crowds completely. Across the waters, Chole Mjini is a small tree-house lodge on Chole Island across the bay from Kinasi and Pole Pole. Chole Mjini is an eco-lodge with emphasis is on sustainability and eco-credentials. You have to be prepared for the long drop compost toilets here...but the character and unique charm of this lodge is undeniable. The final two lodges to mention are Mafia Island Lodge and Ras Mbisi, however, we would opt for any of the other three lodges where possible.
Recommended lodges in this area:
Kinasi Lodge is arguably Mafia’s best lodge. Being a rather remote island which has never really developed into a tourism hub like Zanzibar has, Mafia lacks good quality, affordable accommodation. There is Pole Pole, which is good value but lacks quality and a beach, and if you are more the adventurous type, then Chole Mjini is an option.
Pole Pole is a very peaceful and relaxed lodge; as soon as you arrive you instantly forget about the outside world and give in to a Pole Pole time.
This lodge is not for everyone. It’s utterly bizarre in its own little way but if you are the right person it really does work for you. This is an eco-focused tourism project and not a commercial outfit looking to make money. It is run by Afrika Afrika, who are the driving force behind many Tanzania based eco and community projects. They have purpose and direction, but Chole Mjini is certainly for the basic, rustic and very ‘out there’ type of traveller. If you don’t mind long drop loos then this place might interest you.