Mafia island

Welcome to Mafia Island | Best Diving In Tanzania

Welcome to Mafia Island, Tanzania! Here, time stands still, the turquoise Indian Ocean offers the best diving and snorkeling in Eastern Africa, and palm-fringed beaches remain deserted. Mafia is a well-kept secret, a classic paradise island, where very few tourists are lucky to experience the life on the Swahili Coast like it used to be hundreds of years ago. Still, Mafia Island offers unique boutique hotels, diving and snorkeling tours, delicious food and tropical cocktails fulfilling the promises of a relaxing island getaway after East African safari. Read on to catch the best things to do and see in Mafia Archipelago together with further tips for finding the best hotel and tours to match your preferences! 

DATES & PRICES

The average price of a 7-day trip to Mafia Island is $1,730 for a solo traveler, $3,107 for a couple, and $5,825 for a family of 4. Mafia Island hotels range from $38 to $174 per night with an average of $67.

If you would like to enjoy all the aquatic activities and inland excursions, we recommend you to stay between 5 and 10 days. If you intend to do a scuba

NO AVAILABLE DEPARTURES

All trip prices are per person based on double occupancy or single occupancy unless otherwise noted, are subject to change without notice, and do not include airfare. Optional activities are at an additional cost. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars.

FIRST-CLASS | TAILOR-MADE

After a safari in Tanzania, why not spend time relaxing on the island of Pemba off the coast of this country. Pemba Island is a very attractive and scenic island known for its outstanding coral reefs and diving.

Where to Stay in Mafia Island and Costs

There are two villages and thus areas where to stay in Mafia Island: the capital Kilindoni and Utende.

The Best Luxury Hotels in Mafia Island

As praised above, our personal hotel pick from Mafia Island is Butiama Beach, a luxurious yet affordable boutique hotel with private villas. Butiama Beach is very near Kilindoni, meaning that you can even walk to the village to visit the market and maybe grab something to eat. Their Italian restaurant is the best restaurant in Mafia Island, which is convenient as prices are all-inclusive. Rates for 2019-2020 are $160 per person per night (including private villa with patio, breakfast and a 3-course dinner, airport transfers, and free use of kayaks).

Butiama also organizes snorkeling and diving tours at several locations inside Mafia Island Marine Park, together with picnic cruises, whale watching and whale shark snorkeling trips.

Please note that when you stay in Kilindoni area (like in Butiama Beach), you don’t have to pay daily Marine Park fees. When you stay in hotels located in Utende, you have to pay daily $20 per person as Marine Park fee. So, choosing a hotel in Kilindoni means saving money!

If you still want to stay in Utende, we recommend luxurious Kinasi lodge (from $300 per room per night, all-inclusive).

Best Budget Hotels in Mafia Island

For divers, we recommend Big Blu Mafia Island Diving Resort in Utende: It’s also an excellent diving school. Rooms are $50 per night plus Marine Park fees.

For non-divers, our budget bungalow pick is  Juani Beach Bungalows  in Kilindoni ($50 per bungalow per night, no Marine Park fees).

Getting to Mafia Island

Flights to Mafia Island from Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar, Tanzania

Getting to Mafia Island requires a scenic, short flight from either the capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, or Zanzibar.

Most tourists grab the cheapest 30-minute flights between Dar es Salaam and Mafia. The local flight price is around $100 one-way. You can usually book the flights at local prices at the airport within 2 weeks of your travel dates. We booked our return flights online a month before our trip and still managed to get the same price.

When you step out of a 9-seat plane on the tiny runway on Mafia Island, you’ve already left the mundane behind. The flight itself is an exciting experience that takes you to a relaxed vacation mode. On the way, you’ll across uninhabited slices of sand amidst all the shades of turquoise and blue.

Tips for Flying to Mafia Island (And Taking Internal Flights in Tanzania)

  • Check the internal flight prices from all the Tanzanian carriers: currently both Auric Air and Coastal Aviation fly to Mafia. We flew with Auric Air.
  • You can also browse connection flights to Mafia Island from Arusha/Kilimanjaro and Selous. We flew from Kilimanjaro.
  • Most airlines limit the checked baggage weight to 15 kg: Pack light!
  • International flights arrive at Dar Es Salaam’s Terminal 2. Flights to Mafia Island, together with other short internal flights, leave from Terminal 1. The distance between Terminal 1 and 2 is about 20-minutes by foot, but you don’t want to walk with the luggage. At daytime, the shuttles connect the terminals; during the night, you need an airport taxi. Allow enough time to switch terminals.
  • Leave enough time between your flights. Flights to Dar Es Salaam are constantly delayed.

Ferry to Mafia Island, Tanzania

We don’t recommend the ferry service to Mafia Island. Ferries in Tanzania are unreliable and slow. But they are also cheaper than internal flights: The ferry trip to Mafia Island costs under $10. Please note that ferries are frequently canceled and the small boats replacing the ferries are not safe. Also, taking the ferry requires getting to Nyasamati, which is a 4-hour bus trip away from Dar es Salaam.

Mafia island Best Island in Tanzania

We’re not hiding our opinion: Mafia Island is among the best tropical islands that we’ve ever visited – and it’s certainly the best island in Tanzania. When compared to Zanzibar and Pemba, Mafia remains off the beaten path. It’s an authentic and serene island paradise.

When hopping on our return plane, I felt like a Robinson Crusoe who was forced to leave his newly found home. But somehow I felt that we would return Mafia Island someday – too many stories were left unfolded.

Dress & Behavior

The island is 95% Muslim and while alcohol and tobacco are freely available, visitors should dress modestly and refrain from public displays of affection. When in town, women should cover their shoulders and knees. Men should not walk bear-chested or wear swimming trunks.

How to get to Mafia Island

Flights to Mafia Island from Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar, Tanzania Getting to Mafia Island requires a scenic, short flight from either the capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, or Zanzibar. Most tourists grab the cheapest 30-minute flights between Dar es Salaam and Mafia. The local flight price is around $100 one-way. You can usually book the flights at local prices at the airport within 2 weeks of your travel dates. We booked our return flights online a month before our trip and still managed to get the same price.
When you step out of a 9-seat plane on the tiny runway on Mafia Island, you’ve already left the mundane behind. The flight itself is an exciting experience that takes you to a relaxed vacation mode. On the way, you’ll across uninhabited slices of sand amidst all the shades of turquoise and blue.

THINGS TO DO ON MAFIA ISLAND TANZANIA

SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS

Price: $100
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.

SNORKEL IN THE MARINE PARK

Price: $40 plus Marine Park fees or $80 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 $80 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.

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).

TAKE A TOUR OF CHOLE ISLAND

Price: $ 80 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.

BBQ LUNCH ON MARIMBANI SANDBANK

Price: $ 60 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.

DIVE IN THE PROTECTED MARINE PARK

Prices plus Marine Park Fees….

Double Dive: $100
6 Dive Package: $340
8 Dive Package: $420
10 Dive Package: $580
Full kit hire: $40

STAY IN A TREEHOUSE AT CHOLE MNJINI

Price: from $250 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!

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.

SEE HUMPBACK WHALES

Price: $120
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.

SWIM IN A HIDDEN LAGOON

Price: $ 120 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!

SEE THE ISLAND HIPPOS....IT'S TRUE

The lake where they stay is about a half-hour drive from Killindoni. The best time to see them is before sunset, although 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, wouldn’t trust his advice. Hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa.

BIRD WATCHING TOUR

Price: $50
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.

AFRO SUNSET CRUISE & BBQ

Price: $ 50
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.

SEE TURTLE HATCHING

Price: $ 80
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. $30 of your fee will go to Sea Sense who are working to protect the turtles.

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.

GIVE COCONUT BEER A TRY

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!

GET SOME CLOTHES TAILORMADE

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.