As an unspoiled, little-visited alternative to other Indian Ocean locations around Zanzibar and along the coast, Mafia and its surrounding archipelago including Jibondo, Juani and Chole have a great deal to offer. However, as with Pemba, Mafia has better diving than Zanzibar, but worse beaches.
Just a 30-minute flight south of Zanzibar, 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 is where most of Mafia's accommodation options can be found, although the smaller islands are also 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. The diving, fishing and snorkelling here are the best in the entire region, infinitely better than those to be found on Zanzibar (although note that the beaches on the main island are not nearly as good as Zanzibar's). Whereas Zanzibar has no advanced diving, Mafia has plenty to challenge and reward the advanced diver - 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 one of adventure: days are spent fishing or exploring exposed sand bars and untouched reefs. Perhaps best for those mad keen on making diving the central focus of their Tanzania holiday.
Mafia: where to stay
One of the oldest lodges on the island and one of the only ones with a swimming pool, laid-back Kinasi has good food and service, thoughtfully decorated (though perhaps a little dated) interiors, and one of the most experienced dive masters on the island. Its 15 rooms are made from stone.
Next door to Kinasi is Pole Pole (Swahili for 'slowly, slowly’) - even more laid back than Kinasi, with lovely bungalows and a wonderful atmosphere. With only seven rooms, this is a great place to get away from crowds completely.
Across the bay from Kinasi
and Pole Pole
, Chole Mjini
is a small tree-house eco-lodge on Chole Island, 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 are 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.
While we try and make our website as comprehensive as possible, if you would like some more background information on Mafia, or Tanzania in general, have a read through the Cadogan Guide to Tanzania and Zanzibar
, written by our director Annabel. The most recent edition was published in 2005 so some of it might be slightly dated but generally it’s as comprehensive as they come.