Mafia is a small laid back island that sits off the coast of Tanzania, south of the more famous Zanzibar Island. The island is basic and not hugely developed which is part of the charm. There’s not a huge amount to do on the island but it’s biggest draw is the marine life – most notably swimming with Whale Sharks and Mafia Island diving.
Also check out:
- Complete guide to visiting Mafia Island for all budgets
- How much does it cost to visit Mafia Island? for a complete budget breakdown.
- 2 Week Tanzania Itinerary and budget
Mafia Island diving
Much of Mafia Island is a protected Marine Park. The diversity of marine life is excellent from invertebrates and celaphods to large fish. As well as a good healthy spread of coral, turtles and rays are a regular feature on dives. On any dive, you might expect to see nudibranchs, seahorses, leaf fish, groupers, Napoleons, frogfish and guitarfish.
If you are lucky you might also spot a pod of dolphins on the surface on your way to a dive site!
There are over 20 dive sites available. Plus some great options for keen muck divers.
What I think makes Mafia special is the lack of tourists. It’s not often you get to experience such beautiful marine life and have that feeling you’ve got it all to yourself. When we dived we were the only boat in sight and there were only 2 other tourists on the boat.
Who to go diving with on Mafia Island?
There are 2 diving centres on the island but I decided to go with Big Blu, opting for a 2 day diving package; 2 afternoon dives on the first day and then 2 afternoon dives and a night dive on the second day. Their packages offer the best value for money especially for anyone looking to also include accommodation. Their tents and lodges are comfortable and in the perfect location to access the sea each day.
I was staying at Bustani lodge (in Kililndoni which is outside the marine park). Big Blu arranged transport to collect me from my lodge. On the way to the dive centre, we stopped at the Marine Park entrance and paid our $23.50 daily Marine Park Fee (2019).
The set up at Big Blu was really professional and the equipment in good condition. The staff were really friendly and helped me with every stage of my dive making it one of the most comfortable dives I’ve ever done.
I especially loved the traditional dhow boat that we travelled on to get to and from our dive spots. It has a great viewing deck on the top platform where you can sit to soak up the sun on your surface breaks.
It had been a long time since I’d visited such bustling reefs. The highlight for me was a friendly Napolean fish who came up alongside me and made me jump (I thought he was my diving buddy!) and also the night dive with is lush bioluminescence and sky full of stars.
When to go diving on Mafia Island..
Mafia Island offers good diving all year round apart from April and May when the dive shops are shut for the rain season (you might also want to avoid June which is a little on and off in terms of weather).
November, December, January and February are great seasons for diving but also the busiest months on the island (alongside August). I wouldn’t let the other tourists put you off though….the numbers of tourists is a fraction compared to Zanzibar.
Depending on what time of year you visit the island you might also be able to experience some other spectacular marine life.
October – April – swimming with whale sharks
July – August – migration of the humpback whales
June – August – turtle nesting season
Important: bring your details!!
You will not be allowed to dive if you don’t have with you the following: your PADI certification/card and also a copy of your travel insurance (which must include diving)
Top Tips for diving on Mafia Island
- When budgeting for your trip, remember to account for Marine Park fees. They are currently $23.50 per person per day/night (2019). You can avoid the daily fee if you stay in Kilindoni but will need to pay it every day you want to dive.
- Check in advance before booking your dates for diving. If you are a keen muck diver you will want to coordinate your visit during low-tide. If you want the big stuff and reefs then you’ll want high-tide.
- Alongside diving and swimming with whale sharks (if you visit in season) I’d really recommend taking a tour to visit Chole Island to see what an untouched island really looks like. It’s also nice to visit the ‘capital’ of the island Kilindoni to see the market and the port.
- The sun is stronger than you think….wear lots of sunscreen. But please bring coral friendly sunscreen so it doesn’t contribute to damaging the corals!
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