A beginner’s guide to ecotourism in the Mafia Island

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The irony of modern life is that we travel long distances to get away from it all. We crave peace and quiet, clean and calm spaces and fresh air to recharge ourselves. That’s why we should make our way to the island of Mafia, in Tanzania. Its greatest draw lies in how untouched by tourism it is, in how utterly pristine and serene an experience it has to offer the harried traveller. The islands appear to have been sprinkled along the southeast coast of Tanzania, a 35-minute flight. Fringed with beautiful mangroves, Mafia features white beaches, incredible flora and fauna and deep turquoise waters with unspoiled coral reefs..

There’s a rich thread of tradition that flows through the region that combines with history, to create something quite special. The spectacular marine life, the finest of living choices and the ethereal beauty of the archipelago make Mafia a trip to savour.

You can fly or take a ferry to the island. You’ll land at Kilindoni, the heart of Mafia.  It has good budget options for stay, a bank and ATM, small stores and a market. Fifteen kilometres from here, in the settlement of Utende, on Chole Bay, are where all the most exclusive lodges are located. This is also the main divers’ base. On the west of Mafia, you’ll find villages, sandbanks, islands and stretches of mangrove and beaches. Head to the northernmost part of the island to explore the lighthouse there.

Most visitors come to Mafia to experience the marine life. The Rufiji River and its brown and red water mixes with the blue sea and creates unusual patterns. The Mafia-Rufiji-Kilwa area is a marine wetland that has world importance. It is a seasonal home to whale sharks and dolphins and many birds. This island is a diver’s paradise- any number of fishes, colourful corals, and a relaxed dive experience are guaranteed here, thanks to how untouched Mafia is. You can also hope to spot octopus, sting rays, turtles and eels. Not just diving, Mafia is a big draw in the deep-sea fishing circles too. People come here looking for tuna, sailfish and marlin.

Apart from snorkelling and diving Mafia has many other activities too. Chief among them are the Humpback Whale Tours during August and September and the Whale Sharks spotting between October and February. You can actually get down into the water and swim with them. They are gentle giants and this experience is unforgettable. Make sure you’re with a trusted guide or operator when you do your activities. Watch out for the sea urchins too! It’s best to wear footwear to protect yourself on your walks around the island.

Life on Mafia is exactly what the doctor ordered. Slow, warm and wonderful. Sit on the beach, sip a coconut beer, watch the dhow boats sailing in the water, spot some fish, take a walk on the beach or read- everything is possible- and without the hordes of people vying for your place on the sands. It’s rare to find such an experience today.

Note: Flights to Mafia depart Dar Es Salaam daily. Flightlink services Dar Es Salaam from Zanzibar and Arusha multiple times per day, making the selection of carrier for your onward journey to Mafia a little easier.

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