Anyone visiting Mafia Island Tanzania 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
When: October – April
One of the biggest things to do on Mafia Island is swimming with Whale Sharks (check out my experience of swimming with whale sharks with Afro Tours and my top tips). This experience sits right at the top of my all time travel memories. These creatures are huge and their gentle manner makes them really fun to swim with.
#2 Snorkel in the Marine Park
Price: $20 plus Marine Park fees or $40 including a sandbank lunch (just for a snorkelling trip in Chole Bay. I’d recommend doing it as part of a day trip including visiting Chole Island, the Blue Lagoon and a sandbank BBQ which costs $50 combined)
A large section of Mafia Island is a protected Marine Park. Visitors need to pay $23.5 a day to be in the Marine Park (don’t complain…..because of this protection it’s beautiful!). Mafia has some of the best coral I’ve seen with pockets of thriving marine life. While snorkelling I’ve seen turtles, eels, octopus and rays.
The best part is the lack of tourists so you really do get the experience to yourself!
#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 Take a tour of Chole Island
Price: $14 plus Marine Park fees
Just off Mafia is an even smaller Island, Chole, home to just 1000 residents. Time here seems to have stopped altogether on this island where there are no cars. 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 BBQ lunch on Marimbani Sandbank
Price: $25 plus Marine Park fees
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
Prices plus Marine Park Fees….
Double Dive: $90
6 Dive Package: $240
8 Dive Package: $310
10 Dive Package: $380
Full kit hire: $20
Thinking about diving? check out my Mafia Island Diving guide.
Mafia is also a great place to go diving. The Marine Protected area has resulted in healthy corals and lots of variety of life. If you are looking to do a lot of diving, check out Big Blu who offer accommodation and dive packages.
#7 Stay in a treehouse at Chole Mnjini
Price: from $150 a night
Chole Mnjini is a VERY special lodge on the tiny island of Chole (20-minute boat ride from Mafia Island). Guests get a private treehouse built around huge Bao trees. Your room is open so you can look at the view of the trees and ocean from the treetops.
Chole Island had just 220 visitors in 2018 so remains very untouched. It’s quite a unique place and combining it with a stay at the unique Chole Mnjini really will be the icing on the cake!
#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 visitors don’t normally visit so it’s nice to see. You can get there by tuk-tuk or taxi or you can even hire your own piki-piki (motorbike) for the day. There are also some untouched beaches on the North of the island where you can stop for a swim.
#9 See humpback whales
When: August – September
Between the months of August – September, humpbacks migrate past Mafia Island. Daily tours leave to go view these huge creatures, often spotting mothers and their calves.
#10 Swim in a hidden lagoon
Price: $30 plus Marine Park fees
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. On the boat ride too and from the lagoon, look out for monkeys in the trees!
If you are looking for budget accommodation on Mafia Island, try Airbnb – click here for £25 off your first booking!
#11 See the island 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 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 really wounldn’t trust his advice. Hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa.
#12 Afro sunset cruise & BBQ
When: Saturday night (check with Afro in advance)
Every week on Saturday, Afro Beach Bungalows organises a beach BBQ and sunset cruise. The sunset is spectacular and the BBQ food delicious. 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.
#13 Bird Watching tour
The island is full of wildlife. Arrange a bird watching tour with Bustani lodge where you will head out into some of Mafia Islands most natural spaces to see what birds you will find.
#14 See Turtle Hatching
When: June – August
When you arrive on Mafia Island, tell your lodge you are interested in seeing the turtles hatching. They will be told if there is any movement at the nesting sites and last minute you will be driven there to see the little hatchlings make their way to the sea. $10 of your fee will go to Sea Sense who are working to protect the turtles.
#15 Just switch off and relax
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.
#16 Give coconut beer a try
We asked Afro Whale Shark if they would arrange for us to try a coconut beer. We were 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!
#17 Get some clothes tailored
Most people on Mafia get their clothes made by a tailor. You can easily pick up some fabric from the market (the colours and patterns are amazing!) and then ask your tour guide or hotel staff if their tailor can come to meet you.
I’ve had dresses, shirts and shorts made. It’s a great souvenir to take home and a great way to support the locals.
Mafia Island Tanzania
You will also want to check out my full Mafia Island guide!
Planning a trip to Zanzibar? I’ve also put together a Zanzibar on a budget guide for anyone who wants to combine the 2 islands. You might also want to check out:
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