Travel Guide: Mafia Island, Tanzania (2023)

by Jan 22, 2023 | First published in 2017Tanzania, Travel

I’ve been fortunate to spend many Months on Mafia Island – it’s my absolute favourite place! In fact, I had my 5th visit to the island in October 2022….I can’t keep away! I’ve visited all places on the island, participated in every activity available and stayed in lots of different lodges.  This Mafia Island guide was put together for travellers wanting to visit Mafia Island, Tanzania – for all budgets!

This Mafia Island guide will answer all the questions you have: How to get to Mafia Island, when to go, what to do when you get there and how much it costs!

Now is the time to visit Mafia Island Tanzania….while it remains relatively hidden. On this small cut-off island, you will find beautiful beaches, a slow pace of life and friendly, shy locals. Depending on the season, you can swim with whale sharks, spot humpback whales and even spot Turtles nesting. This island is the definition of relaxation and while there are mostly luxury lodges on the island, it is definitely doable for budget backpackers.

You will also want to check out my other Mafia Island blogs:

Before we start…

If you are new to this blog, I’m Bex Band….a full-time adventure traveller! I share all my adventures via this blog and on my social media platforms. Make sure you are following me on Facebook and Instagram to see where I’m heading to next!

I also founded Love Her Wild, the UK’s largest women’s adventure community. And last year published a book, Three Stripes South, about my first big adventure hiking the length of Israel.

How to get to mafia island?

Firstly, you will first need to get an international flight into Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam. From there, you have 2 options for getting to Mafia Island: either flight or ferry. Flying is definitely the easiest (less scary/stressful) way to get to the island as I explain below.

A lot of people are put off visiting the island because there isn’t a lot of information online about how to get to Mafia Island. Don’t let this deter you though as it really is relatively easy!

This is a great chart put together by Afro Whale Shark that demonstrates the different travel options to Mafia Island:

How to get to Mafia Island

Flying to Mafia Island:

The flights leave from Dar es Salaam and cost roughly $150 one way in advance (with either Coastal Air or Auric Air). We booked directly with the agent at the airport the day before and were charged the local rate, $75 one way (apparently they will give you the local price if you book in person within 2 weeks of the flight, although I’m not sure how true this is). I have also been told that if you can be flexible, it is possible to haggle an even cheaper last-minute deal.

For the cheapest flight booked in advance, speak to Afro Whale Shark who is able to offer reduced discounts on the flights as he works directly with the airline.

Top tips when flying:

  • International flights arrive at Terminal 2. The small domestic flights leave from Terminal 1. It is a 20-minute walk (outside) between the 2. In the day time, there is a free shuttle you can catch or at night you can get an airport taxi to take you there costing $5 (you’ll need to haggle to get this price)
  • If you have a long waiting time in Dar es Salaam between flights it is best to use Coastal as they have a private lounge where you can wait. It’s really comfortable and has air conditioning, wifi, comfy seating and free water and coffee. Note that the lounge is a 10-minute drive from the airport. Coastal will drive you there and back for free but you need to book this in advance with them so they collect you off your flight.
  • If you don’t have a co-pilot on your domestic flight you can ask to sit in the front! Also, keep your eyes peeled as sometimes you can see whale sharks from the plane.
  • Flight delays into Dar es Salaam are extremely common. Leave enough time between landing and catching your internal flight. They also once lost our bags. In your hand luggage take you anti-malaria tablets, a change of clothing and swimming costume.
How to get to Mafia Island

How do you catch the ferry to Mafia island?

*Updated January 2023*
A tourist who caught the ferry in January 2023 advised me it is now even more difficult to manage the ferry crossing. They found the ferry port very disorganised and the ticket hard to buy (had to wait in a queue for over 1.5 hours in the sun). The staff unfriendly and unhelpful. They also reported that the ferry is now running only every 2 days.

I’ve looked into this and it is because the government ferry is under maintenance so there is only one ferry running with no indication when this will change. There are also a lot of strong north winds which are disrupting departures. I’d strongly advice taking a flight until this situation improves.

Another option is to take the local government-run ferry (MV Bacara), costing 16,000 TSH (roughly $8 one way). It is not uncommon for the ferry to be grounded for repair. There are also private boats available (roughly $25 a crossing), although I can’t provide any insight into their reliability or safety.

The ferry to Mafia leaves from the mainland at Nyamasati. You can catch a local minibus (called a dalla dalla) here from Dar es Salaam Bagala bus station. This will cost around 8,000 TSH (roughly $4) although you may be charged the ‘mzungu’ (foreigner) price.

The bus takes about 4 hours (but can take longer with traffic) and leaves regularly throughout the day. The last bus is at around 5pm.

The ferry leaves Nyamasati ferry dock at 2pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It is advised that you arrive no later than midday. Tickets can be bought when you arrive at the ferry dock. Most of the sellers are not going to speak English so it would be helpful to have a few basic words in Swahili….or to get a local to write down what ticket you want to purchase before you make your way to Nyamasati.

What is the ferry crossing like?

Well firstly, I’m pleased to report there have been some BIG improvements. The old ferry was horrendous…..it was like taking a glorified shed out into open water. I once saw a fully grown Italian man step off the boat in tears of prayer saying he thought he was going to die…..!!

Waves can be choppy. You are on the boat for around 4 hours, although in rougher weather it will take longer. It’s also not uncommon for there to be long delays leaving the dock (this is common in Tanzania…it’s a different pace of life). The new ferry is looking much sturdier though. To start with, it has proper chairs!

Having said this, it is not a popular route and while there might be some safety measures onboard (I can’t vouch for these personally), you should weigh up the risks as maintenance checks and rescue options are not going to be to a high standard.

Here are some pictures of the ferry to help you make up your mind:

Mafia island ferry
Ferry to mafia island

How do you get around on Tanzania Mafia Island?

Mafia Island is very small. If you are staying in Kilindoni, everything is within walking distance. In the centre, there is the main road and a market. From here, the airport is 5 minutes (walk), the port 5 minutes and a swimmable beach 15 minutes walk, with all restaurants and bars (there aren’t many!) sitting in between these places.

To travel to the marine park, on the other side of the Island, it takes half an hour and you will need a taxi. If you do a tour a transfer will be included. Most of the accommodation on the island will also come and pick you up from the airport if you ask.

There are Tuk-Tuks on the island and this is the most common way to get around. A 10-minute tuk-tuk ride is usually in the region of 5,000TSH (roughly $2.5). If you ever need to order a tuk-tuk or taxi, just ask your hotel reception or hail one from the street.

Don’t forget to give me a follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I regularly share pictures of my travels and Whale Shark swims from Mafia Island!

What sockets do they use on Tanzania Mafia Island?

Type G sockets (the same as what we use in the UK)

Are there ATM’s on Mafia Island and what currency should I bring?

Most places will accept US Dollars (for tours, food, drinks and taxis). You might pay slightly more for paying in USD but it isn’t a huge difference. The only place you will need Tanzanian shilling is if you are in the market eating a local meal or buying some fruit….there are no crafts or souvenirs to buy. There is an ATM on the island for taking out cash. There is also an ATM and exchange booth at the international airport. To work out how much to bring check out my budget breakdown: how much does Mafia Island cost.

Make sure you have the right Insurance (and first aid bits)!

It’s not uncommon for bags to be lost by airlines……as I found out on one of my visits (groan). It took over a week for our bags to reach us after it was accidently sent to a remote island off Mozambique!!!

Also, although Mafia Island has a hospital, the island is remote and the facilities are basic. So you’ll want to be insured and make sure it’s a company that covers plane travel for medical purposes should the worst happen, as well as snorkelling with whale sharks or diving if you intend to do this. I use World Nomads for my travels….they will cover you for all of this (just add adventurous activities cover if you plan to do the water activities). You can get a quote with them using this link.

I’d also really suggest bringing a decent first aid kit with you and maybe speaking with your doctor about having your own antibiotics with you should you get an infection. Personally, I always take anti-malaria prevention and of course, you’ll need to be fully vaccinated. When you leave the island….please consider donating your first aid supplies to the hospital on the island if you don’t need them anymore (your tour guide or hotel staff will help you donate them).

What’s the best accommodation on Tanzania Mafia Island?

There are 2 areas to stay on Mafia Island: Killindoni or Utende. Killindoni is the capital of the Island and Utende is in the Marine Park. If you visit (or stay) in Mafia Island Marine Park you need to pay a fee of $23.5 per person per day. This is paid as you enter the Marine Park. They don’t take cash so you need to pay this using card.

If you want to avoid paying the daily fees you will need to stay in Kilindoni. Note that everything in Kilindoni is very ‘local’ and there are barely any western food options or hotel bar/restaurants. Staying here will allow you to experience the real side of Tanzania Mafia Island. I especially enjoyed going for walks along the beaches (a lot of them are mangroves) or wandering through the towns.

Utende’s beaches are slightly better but I don’t see a huge difference. I think the biggest advantage of Utende is there are more lodges so you have a few more options for food (assuming you want to eat in restaurants rather than local food in the market).

All excursions are easy to get to from both sides of the island. The Whale Shark tours leave from Killindoni (you don’t need to pay Marine Park fees) and the snorkelling and diving is from Utende. It is nice staying on the beach but I personally prefer being sat back slightly as I find the noise and the wind from the sea to be a little tiring after a while.

Below is a breakdown of the best hotels by my absolute favourite place to stay is Bustani as I think it is excellent value for money – it feels very luxurious and has a pool. The rooms are aircon and the service is better than most on the island.

I also have to give a special mention to Chole Mnjini (more on that below!!!).

How to get to mafia island

Here are some other places that are worth considering (prices for 1 person per night):

Budget: Whale Shark Lodge ($30 no Marine Fees)

Stay in traditional bungalows in a really fantastic setting is Whale Shark Lodge. Rooms are very large and have an en-suite bathroom. There is a fan in each room and a large bed with a mosquito net. The rooms are very basic. The hangout area is its biggest draw….the gardens are beautiful and it’s very peaceful. There is a mangrove beach a short walk from the lodge. Killiondoni is about a 20-25 minute walk away or a 5-minute tuktuk. At the time of writing, whale shark lodge was roughly $30 per person per night including breakfast. Note that food at Whale Shark Lodge is very overpriced for a budget place (Lunch is $10 and dinner $15) There are cheap local restaurants nearby where you can pick up a meal for just a couple of dollars or you can try negotiating with the owner for a full-board deal.

Budget: Ibizza Inn ($30 no Marine Fees)

Another option is Ibizza Inn costing around $30 per person per night (including breakfast). Firstly the good points – the rooms are spotless and the most comfortable of the budget options. You get a king size bed with mosquito net, an en-suite and (the best draw) air conditioning!! Killidoni is on your doorstep with the market just outside. Unlike the other options, this is right in the center so not near a beach. The restaurant sits in a treetop setting. The view is nice and sometimes you can see interesting wildlife.

However….the music from the bar is loud at the weekends or if they have football on which was pretty distracting and not very peaceful. The staff were a bit sloppy (leaving our room unlocked when cleaning). The restaurant offers meals at around $5 but I don’t have a good word to say about the food. Service is painfully slow (sometimes up to 3.5 hours!) and on lots of occasions, we found hair and bugs in the food which really wasn’t pleasant.

Don’t ever book your activities with Ibizza Inn – we found they lied about who they were using and what you would get….their boats were in appalling condition and the tours were a mess!

Ibizza Inn Mafia Island room
Tanzania Mafia Island

Budget: Afro Beach Bungalows ($30 no Marine Fees)

There is also Afro Beach Bungalows. They are basic but on a beautiful stretch of beach. At the time writing a beach bungalow cost around $30 per person per night (including breakfast) or $50 for a double. Killiondoni is about a 20-25 minute walk away or a 5-minute tuktuk.

The bungalows are basic and smaller than Whale Shark lodge but you do get a large bed with mosquito net and an en-suite bathroom. The rooms are really not great so I would only stay here if you comfortable going local and specifically want the draw of the beach and getting to know Afro and his team (who are all lovely). The sunsets are spectacular!

Other budget options

I haven’t seen or stayed in these places but there is also:

If you want to really go cheap, Afro Beach Bungalows also offers camping options. For $5 per person with your own tent or $10 per person using their tent. This includes breakfast.

**MOST RECOMMENDED** Comfort: Bustani ($60 no Marine Fees)

Bustani is my favourite place to stay on Mafia Island and fantastic value for what you get. Rooms are $60 per person including breakfast. The hotel is sat in a really quiet and peaceful area and a short walk to a mangrove beach. The biggest feature is the pool and the beautiful lounging area. Rooms are large, clean and you get a super comfortable king-size bed, mosquito net and en suite. Staff are lovely and the food is great….you can also get half-board options which I would recommend. It’s hard for me to find fault with this place!

Comfort: Mafia Beach Bungalow ($35 plus Marine Fees)

Mafia Beach Bungalows offer a nice mix of local and good location. You stay in basic bungalows. The stretch of beach is very nice and is ideal for swimming. Rooms include breakfast and are geared towards budget travellers (although the marine fees do considerably increase the cost).

***SPECIAL MENTION*** Luxury: Chole Mnjini Lodge ($160 plus Marine Fees)

Chole Mnjini is an incredibly special place. The island of Chole is a short 20-minute boat ride from Utende in Tanzania Mafia Island. This island is even smaller than Mafia and feels incredibly untouched and from a different time. There are no cars on the island and last year they had just 220 visitors! Chole Mnjini really does have to be seen to be believed. Guests stay in their own tree-houses built around huge beautiful Bao trees. The sides are open so from your bed (with a mosquito net) you can look out over the tropical trees and the sea view from your platform. There are some really nice touches like a pulley system to send up coffee to you in the morning. Plus dinner is served in ruins. It’s incredible!! I’d recommend spending 2 nights here at the end of your stay in Mafia to do something a little special….try to time this with your activities in the Marine Park so you are reducing the amount of time you need to pay the fees.

Tanzania Mafia Island

Luxury: Butiama

If you are looking for luxury but without needing to pay the Marine Park fees then check out Butiama. Sat on the beach, with a spectacular restaurant/relaxation area and a pool, this hotel offers it all. This is also a nice area of the beach to go for a walk and unlike Utende, this side of the island has all the sunsets. Guests have their own Bungalow and terrace. The hotel also has a yoga shala and spa.

Things to do on Mafia Island

So there isn’t a huge amount to do on Mafia Island and a lot of the activities are quite pricey. The biggest draw for tourists are the Whale Sharks. You can swim with them from October-February. You can also do Humpback whale tours from August – to September.

The Marine Park offers incredible snorkelling and diving. Other than that the only other activities are visiting Chole Island (which is really worth doing) and seeing the lighthouse on the mainland. For a full list of activities and costs, check out my list of things to do on Mafia Island. If you are coming to swim with the whale sharks it’s worth noting that you are not guaranteed sightings. It’s best to leave yourself time in case you don’t see them on day 1 or 2. I’d suggest at least a week on the island to enjoy the activities while also having a couple of days to rest.

swimming with whale sharks on mafia island
Marimbani Sandbank Mafia Island
Flying bats on Chole Island

Best places to eat on Mafia Island?

Budget options: Note that restaurants on the island are SLOW! It’s not unusual to wait 2 hours for food to arrive. I got into the habit of ordering my meals at breakfast time.

Ibizza Inn has a restaurant that offers western interpretations if you are bored of the local food. I find it hard to recommend them as I found hair and bugs in the food more than once and the service was beyond ridiculous sometimes! Meals are roughly 10,000TSH ($5). They have a great bar/restaurant area sat in the forest overlooking palm trees and the surrounding wildlife. It’s also a great place to grab a beer costing 3000TSH (roughly $1.50). Soda costs 1000TSH (roughly $0.50). Ask to eat in the garden by candlelight where you have a good chance at spotting the bushbabies.

Afro Beach Bungalows also serve food. Prices are a little higher but still reasonable and can eat on the beach by candlelight. It is very beautiful so worth splashing out for a romantic night on the beach. Just ask them in advance if you’d like this to be set up.

Kilindoni has a number of local restaurants. I call them restaurants but really they are women who set up a small table and a couple of chairs in the market around lunch and dinner time. They only serve 1 meal (usually rice, chapatti, beans, chicken and sometimes chips). For a vegetarian meal, I was charged 1,500-2,000TSH (roughly $0.75-$1). I’m sure that this was the tourist price! Costing only 100TSH, chapatis make a tasty and cheap snack (roughly $0.05).

The market is a great place to pick up fruit and snacks. From mangos, pineapples, coconuts and bananas. I never paid more than 100TSH (roughly $0.50) and they will cut it up for you so you can eat it straight away. From time to time you might also be able to find Samosa and cakes in the market.

Other food options: The only other places to eat are the hotels and lodges. These are more expensive….usually in the region of $10 for 2 courses and $15 for 3 courses and from my experience, the food options and standards are pretty much the same from all of them. My favourite places to eat are Butiama and Bustani in Killindoni and Mafia Lodge in Utende. Mafia Lodge does a $5 pizza once a week (you need to contact them and book in advance to check when this is on) and a nice buffet the rest of the time. If you go into the Marine Park after 6pm you don’t need to pay the fees so you can head to the lodges here for dinner if you fancy a change of scenery.

Top Tips for visiting Tanzania Mafia Island

  • I felt very safe on the Island and never had any issues with people being aggressive or hassling me (as a lone woman), even at night. Crime rates are low on the island.
  • Overfishing is a problem on the island. Tourists come to Mafia and overindulge on seafood. Doing this is taking food away from the locals and also the marine animals. Please do consider reducing the amount of fish and meat you eat to reduce your footprint when you travel here.
  • There isn’t a huge amount to buy in the way of souvenirs. The lodges have a handful of overpriced crafts. There is 1 craft shop on Chole Island and 1 in Utende. I’d recommend heading to the market in Killindoni and buying fabric (the colours and patterns are traditional African). You can use it as a table cloth or take it to one of the many tailors to have a shirt or dress custom made. This costs around $10 and takes them just 1 day to make!!
  • There is very little available on the Island so bring all the toiletries and items that you need with you. It’s best to bring more sunscreen then you think you need as this is impossible to find on the island and you will need a lot!
  • Sea urchins are plentiful here so be wary when swimming from the shore. Bring a pair of sandals or beach shoes with you that you can wear when walking too and from the boats for activities.
  • Afro is a local guide who we used for all-out activities. His team were really great and we got a good deal as we bulk booked with him.
  • Don’t hand out sweets or gifts to the children on Mafia Island. Tourists did this on Zanzibar and have created a dependency (you get hassled constantly from children asking for money). If you want to donate items ask your hotel to pass them on to the school. But really the best way you can help is to spend your money in the market and tipping generously.
  • Spend time getting to know the locals…it will be a highlight of your trip!

For more inspiration, check out this short video I put together from our stay on the island…..

Planning your visit to Tanzania…

I’m happy to answer questions on Tanzania Mafia Island and also visiting the mainland – but please do use the comments box below to save me repeating myself in email. If you are also planning to visit Zanzibar I also put together this guide for Zanzibar. Zanzibar vs Mafia Island? People often ask me if it’s worth visiting both islands…..personally I hate the over-tourism on Zanzibar and Mafia has very much stolen my heart! I also should mention that because of over-tourism and a lack of protection, Zanzibar’s marine life and corals have been heavily damaged. Mafia always wins for me! If you plan to also see the rest of Tanzania, check out my blogs:

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*Any women reading this?* I founded a women’s adventure community called Love Her Wild. Check out our private Facebook page and see what adventures we have coming up.

71 Comments

  1. Kristina

    Dear Bex,

    I read your article on your visit to Mafia Island with much interest – thank you for very invaluable info =) I am heading back to Zanzibar again in the autumn for 12 days (my second trip this year) and I am hoping to fly over to Mafia Island with my friend for 3 days so I will definitely take your tips on board!

    My flight dates would be fairly flexible so I wonder if I should try ‘haggling’ for a cheaper last-minute deal at the airport 2-3 days ahead? I do realise you haven’t actually done this but would you advise for or against this? Have you had any further info at all please?

    Your help will be highly appreciated.

    Wishing you all the very best!!

    Thank you.

    K

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Hi Kristina
      Thanks for your comment. It’s hard for me to advice really…I’ve heard a couple of people successfully book a flight last minute at a local flight. If you have the time to spare then it’s worth the risk if budget is a real issue.
      Bex

      Reply
  2. Sarah McWilliam

    Hey Bex,

    Great article, I’ve read all of the blogs you’ve written about Mafia Island and you’ve got me itching to go! Looks like the most spectacular place.
    I realise you flew into Mafia Island but wondered if you knew anymore about the boat/people that travelled across via that open. Would love to be able to fly but prices are just a little expensive for our budget so that just leaves the boat. We’re a little concerned though about some of the reviews we read. Is the boat really that bad or is it actually ok?

    Thanks in advance!

    Sarah

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thanks sarah – I’m glad to hear I’ve inspired you to visit. It’s my favourite place!
      I’ve seen the boat in port a number of times and it looks awful. I personally would not travel on it – they cram it with passengers and the crossing is quite long and rough. It is not a sturdy well made boat. Having said that I have meet travellers who took the boat, 3 in total. They all said it was as terrible as I imagined! So I guess it comes down to the comfort levels you are able to endure and if you are willing to take the risk.

      Reply
  3. Moudy

    Dear Bex,
    It’s great article and interested to read. However there are little changes in the Island. About the boat, MV baccara is no more operating, now there are some wooden made boats with inboard engines leaves from Nyamisati at 10am to Mafia Island in daily route en, and from from Mafia is at 6am as well. the boats take about 3 to 4 hrs. The last minutes flight can be possible, mostly tropical air or Auric air, but very difficult for Coastal aviation since it’s most pre-booked flight.
    Thx
    Moudy

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thanks for the update Moudy!! I’m heading back to the island in 3 months so will check these out and update my blog 🙂

      Reply
  4. morten

    hi bex, do you have a more specific address for ” Dar es Salaam Bagala bus station” ? can’t find on a map…thanks rgs morten

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      I don’t! It’s been a while since I was there. Any local will be able to point you in the right direction though.

      Reply
  5. Justin Giles

    Hi! I’m trying to camp with Afro Whale Shark, but their link to booking.com doesn’t seem to allow booking a tent, the phone numbers on the site don’t seem to be working, and my emails haven’t been getting any replies. (Granted, it’s only been about a day since I first reached out, but I’d like to snatch up the deals on flights I’ve got available before they go away) Do you know of any other way I might contact them? Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Justin Giles

    Feel free to ignore my last comment – just was able to make contact! Thanks for all the great info you provided here!

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Great!! I knew they’d get back eventually.
      For anyone else reading this who might be wondering….you can just turn up for camping. They’d always be able to fin you a space either at theirs or their neighbouring campsite.
      Have a great time on mafia! 🙂

      Reply
  7. Don

    Do you know if there are any accommodations in Utende that are not in the marine reserve?

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Utende is in the Marine Park.

      Reply
  8. Roxani

    Hello, your article is very useful. I have one question 🙂 I will be in DAR on 31 of December and want to head to Mafia Island on 1’st or 2’nd of January. Is it safe for a single woman to travel there? Also, is safe on the island? Thank you 🙂

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      You’ll be there the same time as me! I’m flying to the island on the 3rd. I’ll be helping Afro Whale Shark with his tours so look out for me 🙂
      I’ve met many women who have travelled to Mafia alone. I’ve never had any problems with being hassled or feeling unsafe and will happily walk around the island in the daytime on my own. Do you know where you’ll be staying?

      Reply
      • Steph

        Hello!!
        Wonderful blog. We are planning to travel by boat to mafia tomorrow. Do you have any updates on what times the boats leave??
        Also where would you recommend for NYE? Appreciate it will be quiet but will anything be going on anywhere??!
        Thanks
        Steph

        Reply
        • Bex Band

          Sorry I didn’t see your comment in time. I’m told the ferry is now 4pm so hope you made it and managed to find some NYE fun! x

          Reply
  9. Simča

    Hi,do you have any new information on the journey from Dar to Mafia by bus and then by boat?
    thanks

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      I’ve heard that the ferry has improved. I’ve yet to see it for myself though so wouldn’t want to comment. I’m on the island currently so will update all my information as soon as I can!

      Reply
      • Insa

        Hi Bex! Any news on this? Will head to Mafia in 1-2 weeks.

        Reply
        • Bex Band

          There haven’t been any changes with the ferry from what I understand. Some tourists do choose to take it but with no safety measures if things go wrong it is a risk….not to mention an uncomfortable journey!

          Reply
  10. Morten

    Hi Simca, i just been there i december 2018. I took a dala dala bus from Dar es Salaam Mbagala bus station to Nyamasati. There ferry was an old wooden boat with app. 50-60 person.

    Reply
  11. Rune

    Hi Bex. Great blog. We’re a family of 3 considering visiting Mafia and Zanzibar/Pemba. We’re quite enticed about what you write about Mafia concerning less tourist and more locals. The touristy aspect of Zanzibar is holding us back a bit as we don’t like crowds. Still, though, how about Stone Town – is that worth a visit considering we’ve never been to Africa before?

    As for the snorkeling (important to us) – do you have to go to the marine park, or can you snorkel all over the island? And is it possible to snorkel from the beach/shore? And finally, how is the quality of the snorkeling? Best, Rune

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Stone Town is great for a visit but I usually recommend only one day. If you don’t like crowds of tourists (like me!) then you likely won’t like Zanzibar.
      For snorkelling in Mafia you have to be in the Marine Park. I was snorkelling there yesterday and there was no one else in the water. We saw Turtles, Nudis, Octopus and Spotted Eagle Rays…..plus a pod of dolphins on the way 🙂
      You need to arrange for a boat to take you out as none of the snorkelling can be done from shore. This costs $20 per person (excluding the Marine Park fees). It’s not a cheap place for activities but it’s a protected area and that’s where your money goes!
      Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Meg

        Hi there! My husband and I dive all over the world. Like Bali Belize Cozumel and etc. We’ve been to a lot of great diving spots. We are looking to do safaro from Arusha and then may be fly to Mafia for 3-4nights and incorporate some diving. I am just not sure if it’s worth it. I have read so mamy reviews from it’s world class diving to it’s murky water it’s not worth it, to don’t waste your money the island is not as great as it sounds, lots of litter flies and the diving is just ok. Do you have any feedback from divers you’ve met? Not sure if you dove and if so what did you think? Thank you!

        Reply
        • Bex Band

          Hey Meg
          Mafia is great for diving but not always the easiest as you are very restricted with tides. It’s also fairly expensive. I’ve done about 6 dives there and loved everyone – saw lots of nudis, turtles, large grouper and Napolean fish. We also saw dolphins on the way. I’d say it’s best for those who like macro diving and corals 🙂

          Reply
  12. Peter

    Hi Bex, can you give me any idea how much is the price for one of the whaleshark tours they offer there? And if there is recently a good chance to see some whalesharks?
    We are in lushoto now and wanna head to mafia tomorrow.
    Thx in advance!
    Cheers Peter

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Most companies are $60 (for some reason Kitikiblu charge $100….don’t be fooled by their marketing as they offer the exact same experience as everyone else!). I know that if you go with Afro Whale Shark they’ll do $50 if you book multiple tours.
      The last couple of weeks on Mafia I’ve seen whale sharks almost every day! 🙂

      Reply
  13. Asier

    Hola Bex, im comming with my family to mafia in july and august, 48 days. Any idea of where can we stay? We need a House for rent, do you unos any with good price? We are 2 adults and 2 small kids… Ahsante sana!

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Amazing!! You are going to have an incredible time on the Island. I don’t know any places personally – I’d recommend contacting the owners of Afro Lodge and Bustani as I seem to remember them saying they knew long term lets.
      If I was you I’d also look into staying at Bustani for the entire time and seeing if you could get a good deal. That way you’d have access to a pool and a comfortable area to relax….there’s not much to do on the island so I appreciate having access to both! 🙂

      Reply
  14. Simča

    Hi,
    how is it on the island to rent a motorbike?
    thanks

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      I haven’t rented bikes myself but have heard of other tourists doing it. I have also seen a lot of bad injuries from people coming off motorbikes because there is a lot of sand and uneven surfaces to negotiate and even the experienced riders struggle…..I only use tuktuks now on the island after almost coming off a couple of years ago when taking a motorbike taxi!!

      Reply
  15. shyam mohan

    Hello,

    I’m heading over to Mafia on the 1st of November, and was hoping to dive with the majestic whale sharks. I’m in a bit of a conundrum here wondering if I should take a package with big blu for 3 nights and add-on 1 dive or 2 (coz they only offer 4 in the package), or stay in Kilidoni and make my way to the dive center for the 6 dives on both days?

    Which would you recommend for a budget adventurer considering the daily park fees + cheap (tasty) food + stay + transport from and to the dive center all put together.

    Also, is taxi the only option from Kilidoni to Utende or are there daladalas/ tuk tuks and if so how much do they cost?

    Thanks so much again!

    Shyam

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      You can’t dive with the whale sharks – only snorkel. For budget I would recommend staying in Kilindoni and travelling to the Marine Park if you do decide to do any diving. There are tuk tuks that can take you there although I couldn’t tell you the cost. It’s a bit of a drive so you would be more comfortable in a car.
      Enjoy your trip!

      Reply
  16. Alex

    Hey,
    thanks for all the useful information .)
    Is it possible to rent a motorbike on the island?

    Cheers Alex

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Not officially. No doubt you could pay someone to hire their bike for a day or 2 but you obviously wouldn’t be insured so you’d need to make the call. The roads are very uneven and there are lots of stretches of sand…I’ve seen numerous people fall off their bikes so you may want to stick to a tuk tuk depending on how comfortable you are with driving.

      Reply
  17. Lou

    Hi Bex,
    Thanks for taking the time to answer so many questions! This page is such a valuable resource.

    We are heading to Mafia shortly and our guesthouse (Juani Beach Bungalow) have quoted us $15 USD for airport pick up. This seems excessive to me, given it looks like they are only about 1.5 km from the airport (they are near Butiama & Afro Beach Bungalows).
    Luggage allowing, is it feasible to walk ourselves there? If not, what should we expect to pay an airport tuk tuk?

    Thx!

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      That does seem a bit pricey! You could walk but it would be hot and dusty. My recommendation would be to just grab one of the many tuk tuks that will be waiting in and around the airport (which is the size of a shed!) and negotiate with them. I cant’ remember the price exactly but I think it’ll be around $5.

      Reply
  18. Christine Dahl

    Dear Bex, I´m going to Tanzania with my nephews aged 13 and 15 next Thursday; first Selous and then Mafia (Chole Mnjini and Bustani). As I am going to Africa for the first time I have a million questions. You have answered all of them and more, and put all my worries at ease! Thank you!! I have only two non-important questions left:
    1. What about coffee? Mafia being and island and all. How is the coffee? Should i bring my aeropress…
    2. Towels. We have a 15kg limit on luggage. Is it worth while bringing or is it better buying there? Do we need towels at all..?

    lots of love,
    Christine

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Amazing – you are all going to have a great time!
      1. I’m not a coffee drinker but I asked my husband who is and he said ‘it’s not good, bring coffee!’
      2. It’s better if you bring a towel, even if just a small travel one. The nicer hotels will provide towels, the basic accommodation usually don’t (might be worth checking directly with who you booked with). I think you’d struggle to buy them on the island though…there’s no shops really and the market is very small.
      Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any more Q’s 🙂

      Reply
      • Fabi

        Hello am fabi am going in this month ï really thank you for your information am tanzanian citizen but its m’y first time to visit mafia

        Reply
        • Bex Band

          No problem at all – have a great time Fabi! 🙂

          Reply
  19. Mara

    Hi Bex. Thanks so much for all of the amazing information youve been providing over the years about Mafia Island. My husband and I are planning to head there next week. Do you, or any of your followers, have an update on the discount Coastal Air/Tropical Air/Auric Air flights from Dar? Or any other information on the cheapest and safest way to get there from the mainland? Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      You’re welcome Mara! The safest way to travel to Mafia is still flying. You may get a discount if booking your flight on the day or the day before….this isn’t guaranteed though and of course there may not be space. Unless I’ve got time to spare I always book my flights in advance.
      Have the best time and if you do a tour with Afro and his team tell them I say ‘Hi’!!! 🙂

      Reply
  20. max

    Hi Bex,
    Thanks for all the tips to Mafia Island.
    Do you need your passport to fly Dar es Salaam to Mafia Island?
    Because we are leaving our passports in the Dutch Embassy for a visa to Holland and would like to visit Mafia Island while waiting for the visa.
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      No worries Max! I’ve only ever travelled to Mafia with my passport and haven’t heard of anyone not using their passport. The best would be to call one of the airlines (Coastal is the biggest) and ask them directly.

      Reply
  21. Emma Halford

    Hi Bex,
    Inspired by your post, I have booked a trip to Mafia Island for mid-February. I am having an issue with the flights though. I paid Afro for my tickets in September, but still only have the inbound tickets, not the outbound tickets? Is this normal? I understand they may need a certain number of people to guarantee a flight departure for example, but I can’t get an answer as to whether this is the issue. I’ve emailed several times and sometimes get told the tickets will be sent next week, but they still haven’t arrived. This means I haven’t been able to book my accommodation or excursions and it’s getting very late now. Do you have any suggestions?
    Thanks so much,
    Emma

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Amazing – you’ll have a great time! When I’ve used Afro for flights before I haven’t received the tickets until quite close to the date so this is normal…this is just how their system works and how they are able to get the tickets at a cheaper price. I’ve never had any issues with the flights and have booked through them multiple times so you’ll be fine to book accommodation and excursions. There are multiple flights to and from the island each day and Afro’s team will make sure your travel goes smoothly, just stay in contact with them.

      Reply
  22. Emma Halford

    Thank you so much Bex, that’s very helpful and reassuring. I’ll chill out a bit and make some more arrangements.
    Happy travels!
    Emma

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      No worries! Everything on Mafia works at a very last minute and slow pace….it definitely takes some getting used to when trying to plan a trip there. Somehow everything always works out in the end!!

      Reply
  23. Wendy

    Hi Bex,

    I would like to get your advice on our travel to Mafia Island which we are planning to go to begin June. We are only staying 4 nights on Mafia island. Should we stay all of these days near Chole bay or should we stay partially near Utende (chole bay) and partially near killindoni?

    We’ve been contemplating about Chole Minji, as it so unique. It is quite expensive, so we are not sure to stay all 4 nights or to stay maybe at part of the trip at chole minji partly and part at Bustani.

    We don’t really have strong activities that we want to do in mind. Mafia island is more a relaxing end of our holiday.
    The season also doesn’t allow us to do all activities offered (whale shark swimming). I think we would like to snorkel and watch turtle hatchings.

    What would you recommend us?

    Ps. we do have the money we just wonder if it’s worth to stay there 4 nights as there will be a lot of additional cost.

    Thanks!

    Wendy

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Hi Wendy! Based on what you’ve said, if it was me I would personally spend the 3 nights in Utnede and then spend 1 night on Chole Minji. Because it isn’t Whale Shark season and you just want to relax, snorkel, enjoy a drink in the evening then Utende will be the best location to base yourselves. Make sure you spend a day visiting the sandbank and lagoon.
      Chole Minji is a unique experience but the island is as basic as you can get so 1 night here would be enough to see the island on a walk and experience a candlelit dinner at Chole Minji and a night in the tree houses.
      Hope that helps 🙂

      Reply
  24. Wendy

    Hi Bex, thanks so much for your reply. Yes that was very helpful! I’ve been having this dilemma for a week now already.

    I am now checking places in Utende. And it seems that Kinasi Lodge is very much recommended. Do you know anything about it? It looked very nice, super luxurious. We don’t need super luxurious but we want it to be a place that relaxing and comfortably (and hygienic)

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      I’ve not stayed at Kinasi Lodge myself but have heard good things. All the lodges in Utende are nice so you can expect comofortable and clean rooms.

      Reply
  25. leslie max

    HI Bex

    I was wondering if you know anything about the hospital on the island. I am sure it is small, but would they have the services to treat or stabilize someone who was ill, like in an emergency room in the US?

    Do you know what the situation is there with regard to Covid cases?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      There is a basic hospital on the island. For more advance medical services you’d need to transfer to the mainland to one of the Das es Salaam hospitals.
      I don’t know how the island is faring with Covid at the moment.

      Reply
  26. Ela

    Hi Bex
    thanks so much for your blog. I have just come back form Mafia and I am in love with this island. You were true ………….thats the best place I have ever been. All your informations was very helpfull. I was there 8 days, but I would like to stay much, much longer. First, I was in Kinasi Lodge, it was pleasure place and the price for a night was about $10 with breakfast. After 2 days I went to Mafia Beach Bungalow, and that place I can recommend.
    I belive to come back on Island soon.
    Unfortunately on the Mafia there is no posibility to make a covid test.

    my best regards,
    Ela

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      That’s wonderful to hear – thanks for sharing Ela. I’m so happy you got to experience this amazing island. It really is the best place!!

      Reply
  27. Mike

    Hi Bex,
    Nice blog and thank you for the in depth information – it has been very valuable for planning our trip.
    I will be visiting Mafia with 2 kids (10 and 12) for 10 days in July as part of a 10 week trip. Do you recommend the ferry? I also read they have a brand new ferry from Nyamasati starting in March 2021 – do you know much about this.
    Also, we will stay in Kilidoni to keep costs down. What are the reefs like outside of the marine park? Are they accessible from shore (we are all good swimmers and7or divers.)

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Hi Mike – thanks for reading and I’m glad the information has helped with your planning. You’ve got some very lucky kids!!
      I’ve not seen the new ferry so would not be able to comment on this but it is a very choppy and long crossing. I personally would not recommend taking children on it….I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve seen grown men stepping off the boat in tears because they feared for their lives!!
      There are no reefs accessible swimming from Kilidoni. If you do a whale shark trip or take a boat you may be able to access a few splatterings of corals. It’s worth paying the marine park fees for a day to see the reefs properly.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Mike

        Thanks Bex. Yes we will definitely do a few days in the park

        Reply
  28. Saby

    Hi Bex,

    Outstanding blog! Am so glad i chanced upon this.

    Its been a long dream of my wife to swim with whales sharks and we have some time off in Jul/August.

    Wanted to check if this is a good time of the year to spot whale sharks. Look forward to hearing from you.

    Love
    Saby

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      Thanks Saby. This isn’t a good time for the whale sharks on the island. Nov-Feb is your best chance of viewings, although they do spot them all year round. So if you went you’d prob need to sing up to a number of days on the boat to ensure you got a viewing.
      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  29. Benedikt

    Hi there,

    do you know at what time the ferry back to the mainland is leaving? Is it going daily?

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      I’m not sure – try asking one of the hotels on the island.

      Reply
  30. Christian von Jordan

    You did a great blog with a lot of useful information. I am planning a trip to Kilwa and Mafia at the end of November.
    I would like to see the ruins of Swahili culture I’m Mafia. Do you know by chance somebody really informed on that subject?
    Coming from Kilwa. Is it possible to fly to Dar one way?
    Kindest regards,
    Christian

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      I’m glad you found it helpful! If you speak to Afro Whale Shark team there’s an especially good guide on their team who knows lots of history. I can’t remember his name but if you say this is what you are after then they will know who to recommend.
      I can’t see any problems with you flying one way.
      Enjoy!

      Reply
  31. Christina

    Hi Bex!
    I’m planning a solo trip to Mafia island in December. I’m currently deciding between Butiama Lodge and Kinasi Lodge.
    I was wondering if you had an opinion on which is better and which side of the island is better to stay on (excluding the price difference you mention).
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      If money isn’t a consideration I’d personally stay in the Marine Park. Butiama is a wonderful hotel though with great staff, comfortable rooms, a pretty sight and a nice little pool. So basically both options are a win 🙂

      Reply
  32. Lauren Peggau

    Hi Bex, thanks for all of the helpful information in this post. We are heading to Mafia Island on Sunday and haven’t actually officially booked anything, although we know there is availability because we’re in touch with a couple hotels and a travel agency. However, our main draw to Mafia is whale sharks and it would be great to check off a treehouse stay (even if only for one night) in Chole Minji as well. Given whale sharks are our primary interest, how would you recommend spending 4-5 days? We are very flexible, so it’s okay to move around in hotels – for example, logistically would you recommend spending the first two nights in Kitu Kiblu, the third Chole Minji, and then the 4th (and or 5th) back in Kitu Kiblu? We don’t want to run into any issues getting back to the airport as we will be departing for a Serengeti safari immediately after. Lastly, do you still recommend the best booking situation to snorkel with whale sharks is through Afro? Do they assist with flights as well? We’d be booking snorkeling with whale sharks on at least three occasions to ensure we have the best chance of seeing them. Thanks so much!!

    Reply
    • Bex Band

      As Whale sharks are your priority, start on the mainland and do a tour each day until you feel satisfied that you have got your ‘shark fix’. Chole is very easy to get to so you can overnight and get back on the same day as travel without problems. The island is tiny! Kiti Kiblu will no doubt keep your bags while you are staying at the treehouse so you only need an overnight bag….I believe they may even be owned by the same person!

      Wishing you lots of luck for some good sightings!

      Reply

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