Mafia Island off the coast of Tanzania must be one of the Indian Ocean's best hidden gems. With white sandy beaches, dazzling aquamarine waters and refreshingly few tourists, Mafia is often described as Zanzibar 30 years ago: a laid-back eco-alternative with no tarmac roads, few hotels, no shops, no ATMs (credit cards are accepted at the up-market lodges) which is not geared for mainstream tourism. But be warned, if you want fancy shops and a wild night-life, Mafia isn’t for you!
There are six lodges on Mafia, five (Chole Mjini , Kinasi Lodge, Mafia, Pole Pole and Shamba Kilole) clustered closely together within Chole Bay and one, the Ras Mbisi Lodge, on the western side of the island . There is a handful of backpacker ‘hotels’ in Kilindoni, the main town (the port and airstrip are here).
Hopefully Mafia Island will not become the ‘next destination’ but remain an eco-friendly niche. There are about 3,000 to 4,000 over-night stays annually on the island. Whale sharks and humpback whales can be found in the waters surrounding Mafia Island, as can turtles and reportedly dugongs.