Mafia is the southernmost of the three large islands off the coast of Tanzania. It is around 20km long by 8km wide.
Mafia is a real sleepy backwater ... unspoiled, un-commercialized and apparently timeless, where local people go about their traditional ways of life barely touched by the outside world.
The island itself is much more like the mainland in character than the other islands, with central areas being covered with bush and light woodland, as well as coconut and cashew plantations. The coast is generally lined with palm trees, but there are not the sweeping sandy beaches that are to be found on Zanzibar. Here the shoreline is generally narrow and mangrove forests are widespread.
Mafia is also a prime dive location, with the Chole Bay Marine National Park as the main focus.
Kilondoni is the main town and a refreshingly simple place. The atmosphere is incredibly relaxed. Mafians are very friendly people ... distant and respectful to strangers.
In Kilondoni there is plenty of evidence in the architecture and in the faces of the old Swahili connection. These carved doors, which are so synonymous with Stone Town in Zanzibar, can be found throughout the ports of the Indian Ocean. Even though Mafia feels so wonderfully isolated now, it is clear that it was once very well connected.
Dig a little deeper and one can find evidence that Mafia once played a pivotal role in the workings of the old Swahili coast. On the tiny island of Chole Mjini, just offshore in Chole Bay, the forest is strewn with creeper-clad ruins ... in true Raiders of the Lost Ark style.
TAB -- MAFIA ISLAND DIVING
Mafia is famed for its incredibly rich marine environment and in Chole Bay it can boast the largest marine reserve in East Africa. This area is especially rich in small fish species and has some of the finest unbleached coral in the Indian Ocean.
The diving is almost entirely focussed around Chole Bay and from September to March it is possible to dive the walls outside the reef that protects the bay. Inside this reef there are up to 10 different sites and outside the reef there are many more so enough good diving for at least 4 to 5 days.
This has it all. Big critters, spectacular corals, exhilarating drift dive or relaxing stroll through the park.
At the mouth of Chole Bay, where the sheltered bay meets the open ocean there is a deep, narrow channel through shallower coral on each side. To the South the reef slopes quite gently down to a depth of about 15m and then drops vertically to almost 30m. This wall, and especially the caverns at its base, is home to large Potato Cod, Giant Grouper, Rays and Morays Snappers and Sweetlips predominantly, and predators like Barracuda, Trevally, Cobia, Tuna and the occasional shark prowl, solitary or in schools, on the lookout for a snack.
In the middle of the Pass is one of the best place to see a variety of elasmobranchs; Giant black- spotted ribbon-tailed rays are common but Whale sharks, Eagle rays and Manta rays are seasonal visitors. At times huge volumes of water flow through the pass and the current can hit 4 knots, so it is usually best dived at slack water or as an exhilarating drift dive.
Steep reef face inside Chole Bay, from 5m down to 25m, slope gradually becomes gentler and gentler and the dive finishes in a shallow coral garden. Suitable for all certified divers.
About 300m before the pass, inside the bay, there is a truly gorgeous reef and this dive site is so highly rated because of the incredible riches of corals, other invertebrate animals and fish that you will encounter here. The ease of access and safe, sheltered location and the obliging currents, which gently propel you along all add up to a world class dive.
Slowly the reef fore-slope becomes less steep and the corals rapidly change from current-tolerant soft corals, Gorgonians and Whip corals at the Pass end, to more and more hard corals, first dominated by massives and then foliaceous, columnar and branched until finally you find yourself in shallow gardens of tabular and staghorn Acropora and gold-hued fire coral. The fish fauna is mostly typical reef inhabitants, with a huge variety of multi-colored Wrasses, Parrotfish, Damsels, Surgeons, Triggerfish and Anthiases.
Wall with caverns and caves outside Chole Bay. Experience is recommended because sometimes outside the bay the seas are huge and a bit intimidating to the uninitiated and seasickness can be a problem. The dive itself however is not technically difficult.
Dindini has over the years provided some of the biggest rushes. It is only accessible seasonally and even then only when the ocean obliges because it is directly in front of surf-pounded cliffs. Local fishermen are wary of visiting Dindini during the monsoon from July through September so this site has always enjoyed an extended closed season. As a result there are a lot of fish, big fish, small fish, sharks, rays and also turtles.
This is one of the better places in Mafia to see sharks (Reef sharks and occasionally Bull sharks, deeper-down), when the visibility is good which it usually is from November through March.