Mafia Island – History, Nature And Island Life

A Visitors experience of Mafia…

Kua Channel

Kua Channel

Mafia has had a prominent place in the history of the East Coast of Africa, as it was a safe haven for ships to stop for water and for repairs; Mafia was part of the sultanate of Kilwa and prospered as a settlement  during Kilwa’s rise as an economic power. The island lies across the trade routes from the Gulf and has seen Egyptian, Omani, Greco-Roman, Chines, Portuguese, English and German occupation.

To reach Mafia one no longer sails, but must fly in light aircraft from Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar, or one of the game parks such as the Selous. The experience is fantastic, with great views of the African bush and coastline.

Mafia is a beach and ocean wonderland. There is excellent snorkelling and diving within the Bay, especially at the outer islets near Kinasi Pass – the entrance to Chole Bay. It is a short boat ride to reach the coral gardens. All snorkelling  and diving activities inside the Bay are tide-dependent to avoid strong currents and obtain the best visibility.

For the diver there is a range of “bommie”, wall, shelf, drift and night dives. We specialise in novice and sport diving and we have excellent facilities, boats, equipment and experienced staff to take care of you. Training is offered in all PADI specialties as well as introductory diving if you would like to try for the first time.There is exciting and challenging diving on the walls outside Chole Bay, and full-day or overnight trips can be arranged to remoter dive sites, such as Ras Mkumbi (the Lighthouse), Kifinge (Forbes Bay), the Jibondo Gap and Okuza Island.

Kuwa Channel is one of our common daily destinations for the excursion boat El Nino, which will go somewhere each day for guests who wish to sunbathe and picnic on beaches or islets. Kuwa Channel has many little bays and beaches and a feature is the Blue Lagoon, a coral grotto fed by the sea. El Nino  will also often go to the Marimbani Sandbank, which stretches across Chole Bay and provides a completely private beach. The excursions programme depends on tides and weather. See the notice board near the Cocktail Bar for details.

Other lovely secluded picnic spots abound in Chole Bay and along the southern and northern coastlineS: Miewe Island with its secluded beach and baobab trees; beaches on Juani and Jibondo Islands (by boat), Didimiza (at the end of the Nature Trail, by walking).

The Kua Ruins, across the Bay from Kinasi, is an archaeological site from the 12th Century, established by settlers from Kilwa. The principal mosque, with its superb mihrab and the Great House are interesting features. There are many giant baobab trees throughout the area. All over the ruins you can readily dig up pottery sherds, some dating hundreds of years to Chinese and Persian origins.

Guided excursions are also arranged to the islands and village communities of Chole and Jibondo. The boat building on both these islands is justly famous throughout East Africa. All traditional methods are used, with hand tools and hand-forged nails to create the jahazis, dhows, mashuas and ngalawas you will see in Mafia. Ropes are hand-woven from coir (coconut finre) and sails sewn from rough cotton sheeting (madrouf). There are also ruins of early settlement on Chole, which was the “capital”  of Mafia until the early Twentieth Century.

Chole Island

Chole Island

On Chole Island and at the mosque near Kinasi the giant flying fox (Pteropus) can be seen in roosts.

At Kisimani Mafia an old town has been submerged. This was fully excavated in the 1970s and details can be found in our library, along with a description of Kuwa Ruins and the reports on the archaeology of Kilwa. Kisimani Mafia is at the far south-western tip of Mafia and is an all-day excursion.

Road safaris to other areas of Mafia complement the visitor’s experience and understanding of traditional village life: Kirongwe village famous for its clay pots,  Jimbo for its ukili mats, Mrora Forest, Ras Mbizi coconut plantation and Kitoni.

Bird watching in Mafia adds a very interesting dimension to a Tanzania wildlife safari, as the visitor will see many species of shorebird, including migrants such as the Crab Plover, and other species found in coastal thickets and mangroves that cannot be observed in the National Parks and Reserves. The visitor will see many sepctacular rollers (Lilac-breasted) and bee-eaters (White-cheeked) between Kilindoni and Kinasi, and there are five species of sunbird in the Kinasi gardens.  The black or white Dimorphic Heron is the common species at roosts in Chole Bay. The Kinasi Nature Trail has been designed with bird-watching very much in mind.

There are three small hotels on Mafia and one lodge hotel of 80 beds, owned by the government-owned chain of hotels. All the hotels are on Chole bay, in the centre of mafia Isalnd’s Marine Park, one of the most important ecosystems in the Indian Ocean. Of these the most stylish and well appointed is Kinasi Lodge. The Lodge is sculpted into the hillside of the Bay, and each room is a separet, en-suite bunbgalow with vast, shaded verandah, all set in tropical gardens in an old coconut plantation.

Kinasi Lodge faces to the south-east. Looking out from Kinasi you will see Chole Island in the left foreground, with Juani island behind – separated by a narrow channel that is not visible, and Jibondo island in the distance, to the right of Juani. Chole Bay and the outer reefs from Kifinge (Forbes Bay) in the north-east to Kitutia in the south and Ras Kisimani and Bwejuu island in the west are now encompassed by the Mafia Island Marine Park, gazetted in 1995.

Kinasi has the only swimming pool on the island. The well-equipped water sports centre can cope with twenty divers and thirty snorkellers.