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Overview

Situated off the coast of Tanzania about 100 miles south of Zanzibar, the Mafia Archipelago shares many attractions with its iconic northern neighbor, but is far less well known and relatively undeveloped for tourism, with perhaps a dozen low-key but top-quality resorts lining its idyllic beaches. The archipelago comprises about a dozen sandstone and coral-rag islands, the largest of which is also called Mafia, as well as innumerable smaller atolls and sandbars. When it comes to traditional culture, Mafia lacks any sort of equivalent to Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town, though there are some interesting Swahili ruins dotted around the ...

Situated off the coast of Tanzania about 100 miles south of Zanzibar, the Mafia Archipelago shares many attractions with its iconic northern neighbor, but is far less well known and relatively undeveloped for tourism, with perhaps a dozen low-key but top-quality resorts lining its idyllic beaches. The archipelago comprises about a dozen sandstone and coral-rag islands, the largest of which is also called Mafia, as well as innumerable smaller atolls and sandbars. When it comes to traditional culture, Mafia lacks any sort of equivalent to Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town, though there are some interesting Swahili ruins dotted around the archipelago, particularly on Juani Island, which was the medieval center of local politics, and on Chole Island, which superseded Juani from the late 18th century onwards. However, its Indian Ocean beaches are up there with the very best, and the archipelago is widely considered to offer the best offshore diving and snorkeling anywhere along the east coast of Africa. Hundreds of reef fish are regularly seen, along with whale sharks and several species of dolphins and marine turtles. It also rated highly as the best game fishing site in East Africa, though a catch-and-release policy is strictly adhered to. The island has a more off-the-beaten-track feel than Zanzibar, making it the ideal post-safari chill-out venue for those who really want to get away from it all. There is even some non-marine wildlife around too: hippos reside in the reed-lined lake at the island’s center, flying foxes (a type of fruit bat) breed colonially on Chole, and 120 bird species have been recorded.

Philip Briggs
About the Expert

Philip Briggs has written or contributed to 50-plus editions of Bradt, Insight, AA and Berlitz guidebooks to African destinations.

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Philip Briggs for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Mafia Island is part of the Tanzanian Spice Islands, together with Unguja and Pemba. As one of the six districts of the Pwani Region, Mafia Island is governed from the mainland, not from the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar.
  • Language: Kiswahili or Swahili, English and Arabic
  • Currency: Tanzanian Shilling
  • Research: Wikipedia

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    The best season for diving, snorkeling and fishing is from August to March, before the rains kick in. These are also the most pleasant months climatically.