Mafia Island, Zanzibar Island Archipelago Destinations

Mafia Island Fishing Dhow

 

 A classic, off-the-beaten-track tropical island, Mafia provides the discerning visitor with a serene and exclusive hideaway, far removed from the crowds of Zanzibar.  Mafia Island is widely acknowledged as one of the best dive sites in the Indian Ocean Coast Sea. Mafia Island is a fantastic destination for adventurous travelers who seek an active holiday diving, fishing, snorkeling and exploring the offshore islands and sand banks without the crowds.

Mafia Island is one of the five sleepy, tropical paradise islands which are clustered together in the Indian Ocean, known as the Mafia Archipelago. They are a 35-minute flight from Dar es Salaam and, compared with Zanzibar, they are relatively little known – yet if you are seeking an undisturbed beach holiday, they are well worth considering and fondly classified as 'an Island in the Sun!’ The island was a regular stop for two thousand years for Arab and Persian dhows plying the coastal waters from the Gulf to Madagascar and Mozambique.

The name "Mafia" derives from the Arabic morfiyeh, meaning "group" or "archipelago", or from the Swahili mahali pa afya, meaning "a healthy dwelling-place". The Mafia Island ("Chole Shamba") is part of the Tanzanian Zanzibar Archipelago, together with Unguja, Pemba and Latham Island. The Mafia archipelago consists of one large island (394 km²) and several smaller ones. Some of these are inhabited, such as Chole Island (2 km²). The stretch of water between the deltas of the Rufiji River and the island is called Mafia Channel.

On arriving at Mafia's tiny airport (a grass runway, a windsock and a hut) it is clear that the pace of life is slow here. Sandy roads lead through the one-street capital of Kilindoni, then friendly farming and fishing villages. Chole Bay, Mafia's protected deep-water anchorage and original harbor, is studded with islands, sandbanks and beaches.  The clear, protected waters offer wonderful snorkeling, sailing and swimming opportunities. Outside the Bay unbroken reef runs the length of the island, from Tutia in the south to Ras Mkumbi at the northern tip. At the coast you'll find mangrove forests, a few short stretches of golden beach and a brilliant turquoise sea. Sleepy dhows float between the islands.

All five islands of the Mafia archipelago – Mafia, Jibondo, Juani, Chole and Bwejuu – have lush vegetation and wildlife, with coconut palms, baobabs, and cashew, mango and papaya trees in the interior. These are home to bushbabies, wild pigs, blue duikers, genets, vervet monkeys and Pteropus fruit bats (flying foxes). On the Mafia Island coast, mangrove forests and tidal flats that attract endless sea birds exist. There are popular rumors of pygmy hippo on the island but there are no confirmed sightings.

This is one of Tanzania's best areas for diving and deep sea fishing. You'll always see something exciting, from abundant Aquatic life - rainbow-colored clownfish to octopus, rays and the odd gigantic grouper or large potato cod to the pristine the coral gardens protected by the Mafia Island Marine Park. Sharks and dolphins are found in the deeper waters, and at night turtles crawl onto remote beaches to nest. (Note that due to local winds and currents, dive sites outside the bay are often only safely accessible from about mid-September to the end of February.)

The dual influences of the river Rufiji and the Indian Ocean Sea have combined to create a rich and exceptional biodiversity with unique landscapes under the sea and on dry land. Mafia Island is a unique and perfect destination as part of a safari package or simply a place to unwind and get away from the daily, modern and busy world.

The resident population is mainly fishermen or smallholder farmers that grow coconut, paw-paw, rice and cassava. The islanders are friendly and welcoming and the atmosphere relaxed and laid-back. Mafia is little changed from ancient times and retains a traditional, friendly culture; the community tourism association works hard to preserve this individually.

Chole Bay and its surrounding forests and islands are now within the protected Mafia Island Marine Park, supported with assistance from the World Wide Fund for Nature. The reefs offer a great range of corals and fish, excellent for diving and snorkeling. Other activities on Mafia Island include bird-watching, fishing, visits to the villages, historic archaeological sites, coastal forests, coconut plantations and traditional boat-building yards.


Places and Sights to visit in and around Mafia Island.

Chole Island

This is a good place to start exploring, especially around its crumbling but atmospheric ruins, which date from the 15th century with an important nesting tree is located on the island that is what is probably East Africa’s only fruit bat sanctuary (Comoros lesser fruit bat or Comoros Flying Foxes) found only in Mafia and the Comoro Islands.

One can also experience the friendly culture of the Swahili people with tours through the local villages.

Bwejuu Island

Bwejuu Island sits between Ras Kisimani and the Rufiji Delta and is a sand-fringed, palm-covered island surrounded by sand bars and snorkeling reefs. It’s accessible as an all-day excursion by boat from Kilindoni for beach-lovers and those looking for a castaway experience. Beautiful beaches and fabulous swimming along the edge of the Ras Kisimani point and off the reefs and sand bars of Bwejuu are its main highlights.

Juani Island

The much larger and heavily vegetated island of Juani Island, just southeast of Chole Island, has overgrown but evocative ruins at Kua, including the remains of several mosques dating from a Shirazi settlement during the 18th and 19th centuries, and crumbling palace walls. Take note of the main ablutions area just to the right of the main entrance to the ancient settlement. Access to the ruins is only possible at high tide. To the south of the Juani Island are a channel and a nearby lagoon suitable for birding and swimming.

Jibondo Island

Sparsely vegetated Jibondo, it’s less aesthetically appealing than the other islands, and with inhabitants who are traditionally somewhat unwelcoming towards visitors. It is an intriguing island supporting a population of about 3000 people although it has no natural water sources. Except during the peak rainy season (when rain water is collected on the island from run-off), boats ply daily between Jibondo and Mafia island transporting large yellow containers filled with water. The best time to watch all the activity is just after sunrise, at the beach near Kinasi Lodge.

Jibondo Island is also renowned as a boat-building centre, with much of the wood coming from the forests around Kilwa. In Jibondo’s village centre, lookout for the carved doorframe on the mosque, said to come from the old settlement at Kua.

Ras Mkumbi

At Ras Mkumbi, Mafia’s windswept northernmost point, there’s a lighthouse dating to 1892, as well as Kanga beach and a forest that’s home to monkeys, blue duikers and many birds.

A visit to the lighthouse will allow you to see far to the south over the Mlola Forest, protected for its vegetation and wildlife, including Sykes monkeys. There are magnificent baobabs in the north of Mafia, especially at Ras Mkumbi (the northern tip of the island, just beyond Bweni village.

Mange Beach

Mange is an atoll on the far western edge of the Mafia archipelago and lying in the Mafia Channel. It is a stunning place with a beautiful white sand island – cay – exposed at low tide, populated only by sand crabs and sea birds and surrounded by crystal-clear aqua waters. The Mange Beach area provides an excellent coral reef for snorkeling and good diving on the deeper channel side.

Ras Kisimani

Ras Kisimani is the far southwestern cape corner of the main Mafia Island, facing the Rufiji Delta. Kisimani Mafia, just north-east of the Cape is Kiswahili for “the place of the well”.

An old town dating to the 12th Century has been drowned by rising sea levels and a collapsing foreshore for over 100 years. The Kinasi library contains a full account of the archaeology of these ruins, once the most important town on Mafia, especially from the 12th to 14th Centuries.

It was founded by Bashat, one of the sons of the first Sultan of Kilwa, and extended the control of the Sultan to Mafia. The power and wealth of the Sultan of Kilwa was based upon gold, ivory and customs tariffs on all goods traded on the southern coast. In its time it was far more important the Zanzibar but its economic influence waned upon the arrival of the Portuguese at the end of the 15th Century.

There is little left of the town now, but visitors can easily find many beautiful potsherds and coins in the ruins and on the beautiful palm-fringed beach. The circular rock weights used to confine slaves at night can also be found here. Due to erosion the old well from which the town took its name now stands on the beach. The whole area is now a protected core zone of the Mafia Island Marine Park.

Shamiani Island

Also known as Kiweni Island, Shamiani is a beautiful and isolated island east of Mkoani. It is the perfect place for relaxing and doing absolutely nothing at all. The island hosts a wide variety of bird species and also provides a nesting ground for some sea turtle colonies. Shamiani also offers good snorkeling and diving, with one side of the island protected by the reef, and drop-off diving on the other side.


Why visit Mafia Island, Zanzibar Island Archipelago.

  • To dive in one of East Africa's best diving site within a protected marine park on Chole Bay.
  • Visit a place where you can see and swim with the whale sharks almost all year round.
  • The interesting lodge options found on Mafia Island makes the place for a worthwhile experience.
  • The thrill and the relaxation on the temporary off-shore sandbanks formed just off the coast reachable by motor boat.
  • The challenging and rewarding dives locations for the advanced divers as well as numerous sheltered bays and coves that is great for novice to intermediate divers.
  • The magnificent snorkeling experiences available at Mafia Island.
  • To enjoy the warm, colorful waters of the Indian Ocean surrounding Mafia Island provide an ideal location for many sea activities.
  • To enjoy some of the best diving and snorkeling there is off the East African coast exploring the many coral reefs that are teaming with tropical marine life.
  • The over 400 species of fish inhabiting the reefs around Mafia Island.
  • The fully equipped dive centre for beginners & experienced divers offers PADI certifications.
  • The many islets and natural, unspoilt sandbars surround Mafia Island.
  • To enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the many islets and natural, unspoilt sandbars surround Mafia Island after sailing there on a traditional dhow.
  • To see the large colony of Comoros Flying Foxes or fruit bats found only in Mafia and the Comoro Islands
  • To visit the ruins date back to the 15th century from the first Arab settlers.
  • To experience the friendly culture of the Swahili people with tours through the local villages.

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