What to do on Mafia Island

What to do on Mafia Island

Mafia Islands, I think there isn’t a single person who doesn’t smile when they hear it pronounced, imagine when I, decided to go to this place whose name is generally associated with Sicily only to then realize that the locals have no idea what were you talking about.

Mafia in fact it is a word made up of two Arabic terms which means Sea that enters inside and has nothing to do with the Mafia that we all know.
A positive meaning to a word that in 99% of the world has a negative meaning.
I felt good!

Mafia is the alternative to Zanzibar although not exactly the same thing. It is one of the islands of Tanzania, together with Pemba, that tourism is starting to discover which perhaps shares wonderful sea and beaches with the much better known Zanzibar to the point of quickly becoming one of the most interesting attractions in the country.
Just the journey to reach it, for those who don’t want to fly like me, is an adventure and in this post I’ll tell you how to do it from Dar Es Salaam.

But once you arrive, whether by air or by land/sea, Mafia shows itself in all its charm as a still unexplored island that does not experience mass tourism but rather offers Swahili villages and tropical air in a quiet corner where not much happens but what happens is worth experiencing.
A valid alternative for those who find the island of Zanzibar cheap and want to go beyond the usual travel itineraries that characterize this country but dare a little more.

So if the idea you have in mind is a quiet island where you can dive, snorkel, swim with the whale shark, spend some time in contact with Tanzanians whose interest is not yet your money but your presence, see hippos and birdwhatchin then this could be the right island.

The island is in fact particularly quiet, there are a couple of bars mainly frequented by locals and nothing fancy, but a new world could open up in the waters of this island.

It should be underlined that those who mainly want a beach holiday perhaps Zanzibar offers better and more accessible beaches but the diving here is better and numerous spots are for experienced scuba divers.
Snorkeling is also a reason to consider this island.
*** Most of the accommodation is located mainly in the Utende area within the Marine Park, to stay here you pay $20 per day per person.
It is not a cheap place to stay as hotels are limited. To avoid paying the marine park tax it is possible to stay in the Kilindoni area but it is also true that the beautiful sea and all the activities start from Utende and regardless of whether you sleep there or not the tax has to be paid.

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Read also: How to get to Mafia Island (Tanzania)

What to do on Mafia Island

So if this island is so quiet and peaceful, what can you do during your stay?

Swim with the whale shark

If you travel to Mafia between November and April, perhaps the most spectacular and highly attractive activity of all is swimming with whale sharks. These enormous but gentle creatures visit the waters west of the Mafia every year.
Locals call the whale shark ‘Pope Shilling‘, daddy means shark and shilingi is coins – because the white dots on the body of these huge fish resemble doubloons.
Whale sharks can measure up to 12 meters and live around 60 years, they are considered the largest fish in the world and swimming with them is a unique experience.

Period for this activity: from November to April

black and white fish in water


Diving in Mafia waters is impressive and this island can easily be considered one of the best places in the world to dive.
Chole Bay is a safe and diverse diving spot ideal for beginners, as a general rule dives rarely go deeper than 30 metres.
More experienced divers dive outside the bay but experience and caution are needed as the tides are quite strong.
The coral reefs are varied and diverse, so expect to encounter lots of pelagic fish, turtles (there are four varieties) and colorful corals on a macro level, and small marine gems, such as nudibranchs and leaf fish.
The marine park was created precisely to protect the reef.

Diving Mafia Island

Boat trips, snorkeling and picnics on the beach

The sea around Mafia is dotted with beautiful beaches of white sand and clear water where it is possible to snorkel and picnic.
A sort of private marine safari in the protected park to discover the life of these wonderful seabeds.
Between June and September it is possible to see baby turtles on Juani Island.

mafia sea turtles


This is another activity that fishing enthusiasts prefer to do here rather than elsewhere because the size of fish that bite here is HUGE, and by huge I really mean it.
After all, you live on an island where fish is the primary source of sustenance and here lovers of this sport find what they want.

Visit Chole Island

Off the coast of Mafia Island right in front of Utende there is another even quieter and more remote island: Chole.
This small island has a population of around 1000 people who live by fishing and growing oranges, mangoes, bananas, papayas, sweet potatoes and coconuts.

The island can be reached by wooden boats that leave from Utende, the journey takes about 15 minutes and everyone gets on together, locals, tourists and people who work in the island’s hotel.
Foreigners pay 1000TSH (Tanzanian shillings), locals 400TSH.
Nothing to do but relax, laze in the sun and organize boat trips.

See the hippos

We are in Tanzania in the country with a unique number of national parks in the world but here we are still on an island and if there is one thing we could never expect it is the hippos which can often be spotted around sunset.
How they got here is unknown but since man has lived on the islands they have always been there.
Local guides can organize day-long walks to see them.

The northern beaches and the lighthouse

On the northern tip of the island of Mafia there is the lighthouse, the route to reach it and return takes at least a day but the landscapes you will encounter are numerous and different.
You pass between baobab trees and wonderful, silent beaches, those in the north are less accessible but also among the most beautiful.
It is possible to organize a day towards the north with a picnic and once you reach the lighthouse it is also possible to go up and have a 360 degree view of the island and the sea.

a person swimming in the ocean with a shark

The vital center of the island: Kilindoni

The main town on the island as well as the arrival and departure point for and from Mafia is Kilindoni, a fairly sleepy town compared to Zanzibar’s Stone Town, but a rather pleasant place to walk around while also getting a feel for the island’s inhabitants.
You can stop in the market for a cold drink or buy a kangas, a fabric that local women wear with bright patterns and writings).

You can also go for a walk along the coast, seeing where the fish are dried. It’s not as picturesque as the rest of the island and the surrounding beaches aren’t that great but it’s an interesting place to spend a few hours.

Where to sleep on Mafia Island

In Mafia accommodation options are limited.
You can stay inside the marine park (paying $20 per day in marine park fees) both on Chole Island and in Kilondoni.
For a selection of accommodations they follow in ascending order of price.

Ibiza Inn (Kilindoni) – Starting from 30,000 shillings. Modern rooms equipped with fan, air conditioning and mosquito net a short distance from the port in the center of the village.
Mafia Beach Bungalow (Utende) – The cheapest solution in Utende (the one in the photo) starting from $25 per night in a bungalow including breakfast (*** directly on the beach surrounded by a tropical garden)
Didimiza Guest House (Utende) – Bungalow 10 minutes walk from the main beach starting from €45 per room for two people breakfast included
Kinasi lodge (Utende) – We go up in costs and quality, beautiful bungalows directly on the beach equipped with every comfort. Starting from €230 for two people per day including breakfast and wifi

bungalow mafia island

How to get to Mafia Island

To get to Mafia, you can fly with Coastal Aviation from Zanzibar ($160 full price) or Dar es Salaam ($120) one-way, there are usually a couple of flights a day.
The alternative, for those who have time and are ready for an intense and difficult journey, is to get from Dar Es Salaam to Nyamisati and the next day take the boat to Mafia.

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Click the button and find all search platforms and book your next trip yourself.

Plan your trip yourself

Read also: What to see in Stone Town (Zanzibar) – Complete guide

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