Swimming with Whale Sharks at Mafia Island

November 15, 2017

Swimming with Whale Sharks at Mafia Island

Photo © Steve De Neef

Just a 30-minute flight south of Zanzibar, the little island of Mafia is a remote, charming and laid-back alternative to the more tourist-driven beaches of Zanzibar.

What can I expect on Mafia Island?

Primarily known for its ocean glory, Mafia Island really encourages travelers to explore the wonders of its surrounding waters. Home to Tanzania’s first marine park, Mafia Island Marine Park, the reefs around the island offers a staggeringly beautiful display of marine life, as well as some of the most vibrant and varied coral in East Africa. In addition to this, Mafia Island is one of the only destinations where whale shark sightings are virtually guaranteed at the right time of year.

Photo © Steve De Neef

What is the best time to swim with whale sharks?

From October through to February, the Kaskazi (north monsoon wind) pushes the plankton-rich surface layer of the water from the nutrient-rich Rufiji River silt, towards the island, trapping it against the west coast. The whale sharks gather at the surface in the areas where the plankton is most dense and use their 1-metre wide mouths to ‘hoover’ up their daily requirement of nutrients.

How does a day swimming with whale sharks work?

Sometimes found just ten minutes from the shore, and seldom more than an hour away, the whale sharks’ feeding areas are reached via a quick boat ride. Once they have been located, you’ll spend a sometime waiting for the whale sharks to relax and get used to your presence, before gently climbing into the water for a swim and closer look at them. Measuring up to 8m long, they are an impressive sight next to the boat, and even more stunning to behold under the water. It’s important to remain calm and patient during this experience as to not disturb the whale sharks, after all, this human-animal interaction is a massive privilege. Despite their size, these gentle giants won’t even bump into you if they can avoid it and will swim away if they feel threatened.

Where should I stay on Mafia Island?

Lodges here are small, rustic and beautiful. You do not get the luxury behemoth resorts that Zanzibar offers, but friendly lodges aware of their environment and a great base from which to explore the wealth of marine life that Mafia offers. Our favourites include Kinasi and Pole Pole.

Photo © Steve De Neef

What else can I do?

On the island itself you can dive in the huge protected marine park, famed for exceptional reefs, or visit some of the local villages or even the ruins from a colonial past. Looking to the mainland, just a short hop away, one can head out on some of the continent’s best safaris. Tanzania has a wealth of National Parks and protected areas boasting incredible game viewing – and It can be easily combined with a trip to Mafia Island. We can book a full trip combining all of this, and organise all of the logistics in between.

Watch this video by National Geographic for more info and why the whale sharks spend so much time around Mafia Island:

If swimming with whale sharks sounds like your idea of fun, then get in touch with us and we’ll help you plan the perfect safari tailored to your interests, budget, and schedule.

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