Mafia Island and its surrounding archipelago have a great deal to offer as an unspoiled, little-visited alternative to other Indian Ocean locations around Zanzibar and along the coast.
Mafia is an archipelago of islands at the mouth of the Rufiji River Delta, composed of Mafia Island, Jibondo, Juani and Chole. Their position as the most southerly islands on the Tanzanian coast has made them strategically covetable throughout the long game of historical wrangling for rule, but visitors today find essentially small, rural farming and fishing communities whose lives continue in much the same pattern as has been traditional for millennia.
Mafia provides excellent opportunities for diving and snorkelling, and for discovering deserted beaches and offshore islands with rich natural and historic interest. Almost all Mafia's best diving is at depths of less than 30m so it is a sport diver's paradise. The reefs of the archipelago offer a staggeringly beautiful and varied display of marine life. The excellent condition and high diversity of the reefs stimulated the creation of Mafia Island Marine Park, Tanzania's first marine park.
Examples of most kinds of tropical marine habitat occur here, including exposed fringing reefs, rock walls, soft corals and algae-dominated reefs. The diversity of animal and plant life is hard to match, with over 50 genera of corals and 460 species of fish so far identified; many more still await determination.
There are excellent examples of giant table corals, delicate sea fans, whip corals, and huge stands of blue-tipped staghorn corals. Large predatory fish and turtles are common and surprisingly unaffected by approaching divers.
Mafia Island offers virtually guaranteed whale shark encounters too, at the right time of year. The deeper channels around the islands are renowned for world-class deep sea fishing, and home to at least two greatly endangered species; the docile dugong (manatee or sea cow), is still thought to cruise between Mafia and the Rufiji River Delta, and the small islands around the archipelago remain a popular breeding ground for giant and green turtles. What's more, between November and April each year, you have an excellent chance of seeing whale sharks here which is reason enough to come on its own.
The Mafia Islands are an idyllic natural haven for birds and wildlife, with over 120 different species of birds sighted and recorded, (including five types of sunbird), and the whole area is best explored from the comfort of the deck of a traditional sailing dhow.
Lodges here are rustic and not necessarily somewhere to come to dive in 'style' but the diving is good enough, and the lodges unique enough, for us to consider it a destination we just have to offer.
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