Anyone visiting Mafia Island will struggle not to fall in love with the place. Tanzanian culture and Island life is a good combination. Mafia Island has enough visitors to warrant a comfortable set up of activities and lodges, while not being overrun or ruined by tourism (unlike its neighbour….sorry, Zanzibar). If you still need more convincing, here are the top things to do on Mafia Island.
1. Swim with whale sharks
One of the biggest things to do on Mafia Island is swimming with Whale Sharks. This experience sits right at the top of my travel memories. Reaching up to 10 metres in length, you will be in for a treat seeing these docile giants up close.
2. Check out the marine life while snorkelling
The downside to Mafia Island having Tanzania’s largest protected marine park is that you will need to pay $23 per person per day to enter. The upside though is that you get a beautiful coral reef, with a huge array of marine life to explore without the crowds. It’s some of the best coral I have ever seen!
At the time of writing, a half day sorkelling trip (excluding the marine park fees) cost around $35 and a full day which also included a BBQ lunch and visiting Chole Island, cost $45. Note that we did our tour with Afro Whale Shark Tours which meant we got a discount of $10 as we had already done a tour with them.
(we bumped into these guys on the way to snorkelling!!!)
3. Wander Kilindoni market
Mafia Islands capital, Kilindoni, is small and welcoming. In it lies the jetty, where the fisherman and ferries come and go, as well as the single runway airport. On the main street is a calm, spread out market which sells everything from fruit to football kits. In the evening, women set up tables and chairs in the streets where you can go to sample some local food at insanely cheap prices (a vegetarian meal cost roughly $0.75).
4. Visit the Flying Fox bats on Chole Island
Just off Mafia is an even smaller Island, Chole, home to less than 800 residents. Time here seems to have stopped altogether. Walking through the maze of paths cut into the palm trees, you will see the mud huts that the people live in and the various crafts and trades they carry out to make a living. Also on the island is a huge protected nesting site for the worlds largest bats, the Flying Fox.
5. Have lunch on Marimbani Sandbank
A short boat ride from Mafia Island is a pristine sandbank that appears for just a few hours each day, called Marimbani. White sands, crystal clear waters and lots of crabs. This really was a slice of heaven and well worth heading to early or late so that you can have the place to yourselves. It is one of my favourite things to do on Mafia Island.
6. Dive in the protected Marine Park
Mafia is also a great place to go diving and many consider it to be better than Zanzibar, as well as slightly cheaper. There aren’t many dive centres on the island, so it is worth booking in advance to avoid disappointment. If you are looking to do a lot of diving, check out Big Blu who offer accommodation and dive packages.
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7. Give coconut beer a try
When joining a tour you will be shown a demonstration of how the brave locals collect the beer by climbing to the top of palm trees where they rig up bottles to collect fermented sap. For 1000TSH (roughly $0.50), you get 1litre of coconut beer. It’s strong and has a required taste (I thought it tasted like cheesy gone off champagne), but the locals seem to like it!
8. Visit the Lighthouse
On the most Northerly point of the Island, you will find a preserved lighthouse. Everyone we spoke to gave a different date for when it was built so who knows what is right…but it is old! This is an area of the Island most vistors don’t normally visit so it’s nice to see. You can get their by tuktuk or taxi or you can even hire your own pikipiki (motorbike) for the day.
9. Swim in a hidden lagoon
Tucked out the way in the Marine Park is a beautiful lagoon, this really is Mafia Island’s best-kept secret. Swim in a pool full of upside-down jellyfish and take in the impossibly blue waters.
10. Mafia has hippos….it’s true!
I didn’t believe the locals when they said that there are hippos on the Island but it’s true. I saw them with my own eyes! The lake where they stay is about a half an hour drive from Killindoni. The best time to see them is before sunset, although I wouldn’t recommend staying out too long. Although the man who lives next to them (aka: hippo man) says they are tame and he touched one, I don’t fancy my chances.
11. Afro Beach Bungalows Sunset cruise & BBQ
Every week on Saturday, Afro Beach Bungalows organises a beach BBQ and sunset cruise. The sunset is spectacular and the BBQ food the best I had on Mafia. Enjoy this private stretch of beach and the bonfire and have a drink with new friends. Most weeks (on request) they will also arrange a sunset cruise so you can have a few drinks and the best view of Mafia while you wait for your food to cook.
Check out Afro’s Facebook page as they often create an event for the BBQ, or send them a message directly. Note that you need to book in advance and larger groups are able to request a private sunset BBQ if they would like to organise one on a different day.
12. What the Island is best for – relaxation
Mafia Island is beautifully quiet. Time and again you will hear the phrase ‘pole pole’, meaning slowly, as the locals will never move faster than snail’s pace. It is the islands biggest selling point. Enjoy this slice of paradise, which is void of tourists. Properly unwind on the inviting loungers, enjoy a banana milkshake (2,500TSH, roughly $1.25) while watching the fisherman head in and out on their dhow boats.