Mafia Island, Tanzania


Unlike its name, Mafia Island is the most peaceful and welcoming place. Dazzling white sandy beaches combined with breathtaking aquamarine waters and fewer crowds with few tourists are what makes Mafia Island, Tanzania the Indian Ocean most hidden gem. The Island is a quiet place with no tarmac roads, no shops, fewer hotels making it the perfect place for those who are looking for serenity and tranquility. It lies on the South of Zanzibar and opposite the Rufiji River. The Island is highly overlooked by tourists and overshadowed by Zanzibar, surrounded by a protected marine park-like Pemba, making it a very good destination for those who are keen on enjoying the underwater world.  




Where did the name 'Mafia' come from?


This frequently asked question has no answer yet. Some researchers suggest a number of possibilities for the word" Mafia" or "Mafia". The word is accurately pronounced Maf-ya. The Early Portuguese maps refer to it as "Monfiya" which is Arabic for "archipelago" and this seems to be somehow related since Mafia is an archipelago of nine islands. The main island of the archipelago, Mafia was known before to Arabs and Persians as Chole Shamba (Chole's farm or agricultural area).  

The Island must have taken the name a long time before the arrival of the Portuguese as they were settled by migrants from the delta of River Rufiji around 800 AD. Later, they were settled by Persians families from Kilwa, meaning that the archipelago was named after the people who were the earliest traders, the Ma'afir from Merku (Mocha) in present-day Yemen, which is an Arab tribe. Moreover, the word Mafia could be derived from an Old Persian word for' Water', since the island is well watered and was a source of fresh water for all the passing ships of fishermen.


Small Island, Big History:


The Island was a safe place for ships to stop to get water and repairs. It was a rat of Kilwa Sultanate during the 13th Century and a settlement during Kilwa's economic power rise. Mafia Island has been visited by many, such as Seafarers from the Gulf, Egyptians, Omani, Greco- Roman, Chinese, Portuguese and Turkish traders as well as French and American buccaneers and slavers in the 1800s. Moreover, English and German occupations took their own turn as well.  

As mentioned before, the island has played a very good role in the trade between East Asia and East Africa. Arabs took it as a regular stop. In the mid-1820s two towns of the island, Kua and Juani, were attacked by Sakalava Cannibals who ate many of the locals and took the rest into slavery. You can find a 3D documentation of Kua ruins carried by the Zamani Project in 2018. In 1890, Germany took control of Mafia Island and there are many buildings in Chole as evidence. Later, in 1955, the Island received financial help from WWF to build a natural marine wildlife center that led later to the establishment of the first Marie Park in Tanzania.  









Location and Weather:


The Island is a district in Tanzania and a part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, however, it has never been added to the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar, meaning they are politically separate. The island forms its own district, one of the six in the Pwani Region.

East Africa is well known for having well-defined seasons that are divided into the southeast monsoon season 'Kusi' from June to August followed by a lull in September and October with the most stunning weather. The kusi is usually six weeks through July and sometimes into August. This leads to short rains in November. Those rains do not interfere much with the activities and the excursions, as they are short and it gets clear quicker. The period from December to March is called 'Kaskazi' in the Kiswahili language when winds are a bit strong from the northeast, however, they are usually over by mid-January. The hot season runs through February and March followed by the long rain in April and May which is called' Masika'.  

For whale-shark visitors, the perfect season is usually from October through March. In Mafia Island, the season to swim with either sharks or whales is the longest in the world. As for the turtle hatching season, it runs from June through September and it is an extraordinary experience. At this time of the year, all the known nests open on specific days when the eggs are expected to hatch. This project is a success due to the efforts exerted by non-governmental organizations.  




Why visit Mafia Island?


Kipekee! a Kiswahili word and it’s what best describes Mafia Island. The word means exceptional, out of the ordinary, exclusive, or unique. The Island got what it takes to be a very good destination such as:  


1- Nature: especially the mesmerizing marine life that actually was the reason behind the creation of Mafia Island Marine Park. The park has more than 460 species of fish and more than 50 genera of coral. The Island offers its visitors world-class diving and snorkeling available for all levels. Moreover, the Island has one of the most endangered and important biodiversity hotspots in all of Africa. Those Coastal forests cover the eastern side of the Mafia. Additionally, seven species of Mangrove and teeming with birdlife from forests with inlets around the island and avian migrants from the North come here for their wintering.  

2- Geography: The Island has such varied geography compared to its size. It was formed as a delta for the Rufiji River when it flowed eastwards after the Mesozoic Period.  

3- Mafia Island is known for having many kilometers of beautiful beaches, bays, and places that are suitable for beach activities such as Kayaking. For instance: there is Utende Beach at the center of Marine Park with its superb water. Also, there are the islands of Chole, Juani, Jibondo, Bwejuu, Shungu Mbili, Niororo, and Mbarakuni and they all have different beaches and are now all within the marine reserve system.

4- For Divers, there is a deep drop-off in Mafia providing its visitors with an amazing diving experience. On the low tides at Marimbani in Chole Bay emerge tidal sands which are suitable for boat picnics.  

5- Whale-Shark encounters are what Mafia Island is most famous for. Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are seen there all time of the year

Main Activities in Mafia Island:


1- Snorkeling and swimming while enjoying the beautiful coral of Chole Bay.  

2- Snorkeling with Whales Sharks, usually done from October to March

3- Watch Turtle-Hatching usually from July to September.

4- Kayaking along with the Mangrove forests and channels full of waterbirds.

5- Excursions to Villages in the islands and live the traditional life of the people there.  

6- Road trips to other parts of the Island such as Kilindoni, Ras Mbizi Plantation, Baleni Village, and the north to the Lighthouse at Ras Mkumbi.

7-Daily excursions with boat trips combined with snorkeling.  

8- Mountain hiking.  

9- Walking with a specialist through the ancient ruins of Kua on Juani Island, Ras Ksimani, or Baleni villages.

10- Enjoying Thai Spa and treatments.


How to Get there and Get around:


- To reach Mafia you must fly from either Dar el Salam or Zanzibar. You will have the chance to see the African bush and coastline.  

- There are two airlines from Dar el Salaam to Mafia's Kilindoni airport and flights take about 30 minutes:  

1- Coastal Aviation: operates daily with two flights.  

2-Tropical Air:  based in Zanzibar.

- To get around in Mafia, there are only a few jeeps owned by the resorts or lodges there. Hiring a rickety Land Rover is an option also.  

- Taking a sailing boat is the most interesting.






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