When most people think of Tanzania and its tropical islands, they think of Zanzibar. Zanzibar is made up of many small islands and two larger ones – Unguja (the main island, referred to as Zanzibar) and Pemba. This Archipelago of postcard islands, with their white sandy beaches and turquoise coloured waters, offers many delights for those dreaming of an idyllic, tropical escape. One of the lesser known islands of the Tanzania Zanzibar Archipelago is Mafia Island.
A mere 45 minutes by charter flight from Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam, is Mafia Island. The main land is just 50 km long and 15 km wide. The calm on this peaceful island is broken only by the pulse of subsistence agriculture and local fishing, but even local farmers and fishermen don’t look like they’re going anywhere in a hurry. Even though Mafia Island is home to 45,000 people, only a handful of tourists (3,000 to 4,000) visit it each year. For such a beautiful island escape, you would think that number should be higher, but maybe it’s not such a bad thing that Mafia Island remains, what seems like, a well-kept secret. If you’re tired of sipping brightly coloured cocktails or lounging in hammocks here are some other ideas during your stay on Mafia Island:
- Mafia Island Marine Park – This underwater paradise is home to 460 fish species who thrive amongst the colourful coral reefs in this marine protected area. With such an extensive area of coral reefs and mangrove forests, there is plenty of exploring to do.
- Deep sea fishing – Move beyond the shoreline swell for a bit of deep sea fishing. Sustainability and conservation are part and parcel of Mafia Island, so catch and release is practiced here.
- Lighthouse at Ras Mkumbi – When you ascend the steps of this lighthouse, you’re in for one great view overlooking Mlola Forest. Mlola Forest is a protected area, well known for its population of Sykes monkeys.
- Ruins on Chloe Island – The overgrown vegetation and moss covered, crumbling ruins on Chloe Island tell the story of 8th century slave traders from the Middle East. There’s a certain eeriness about these ruins which makes for an interesting walk.
What comes to mind when you hear ‘Tanzania’ is probably Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and the Serengeti. Mafia Island is a remote beach escape, that’s a little less explored than some of the more popular destinations in Tanzania. With only 3,000 to 4,000 visitors a year, Mafia Island seems to be a well kept secret in the Indian Ocean worth exploring.