They call it Mafia, but do not worry. It has nothing to do with the famous criminal system. It is a small archipelago belonging to Tanzania, set 25 km off its coast. Sometimes the Mafia Archipelago is associated to the bigger islands of Zanzibar and Pemba (Spice Islands), but it has its own typical identity. A holiday on the Mafia Islands can be a nice way to find out about this.
Mafia, the “healthy place”
The name Mafia might come from the Arabic morfyie (the group) or from Swahili maha pa afya (the healthy place). It consists of one large island, where most part of the population lives, and several small islets. The big island is also called Chole Samba, that is why Tanzanians often refer to the whole archipelago as Chole Islands. But no matter the name … the beauty of this archipelago speaks for itself. And living there for one week or a month is a unique experience.
What to see, what to do
Mafia Archipelago became a Marine Park in 1995, the very first in Tanzania. It asked for money in order to protect the particular submarine fauna. This plan soon became the idea for one of the most beautiful marine reserves in Africa. Octopus, dolphins, sharks, whale-sharks, turtles are only some examples of the animals tourists can admire.
You can swim and snorkel into the Marine Park but fishing, of course, is not allowed. The experience to try? Swimming with whale-sharks and dolphins! Other things to see on the Mafia Archipelago, especially on the big island: the local hippopotamus, running free in the country at sunset; wild birds at Bustani tourist lodge; the old lighthouse; the market and pubs of the main town, Kilindoni.
Enjoy some relax in one of the romantic lagoons of the island, or a trip to the smaller islets around. Try the experience of spending one night on a treehouse, on the nearby Chole Mnjini Island. Have a delicious typical Mafia lunch, based on local fish dishes.
More information about Mafia Archipelago
The best time of the year to enjoy this archipelago is from July to October, that is the local dry season. Sun, wind, not too hot climate and no rain. So book your stay here in one of these months. But if you want to see some animals of the Marine Park – sharks, for example – the best period is December-April.
To get to the Mafia Archipelago you have to land in Dar Es Salaam, then take a local flight to Mafia Airport. A different way to reach the islands is taking one of the daily ferry-boats from the town of Nyamisati to Mafia Port. It takes a 4-hour-drive trip, by car or bus, to go from Dar Es Salaam to Nyamisati. Four more hours for the boat trip.
On the main island you can easily move by bus, by taxi or taking a nice Tuktuk Car. Tuktuk is a three-wheeled covered small car, usually painted in bright colours, which can face every road or path. Of course, boats connect the big island with the small ones.