There is nothing criminal about this island: the name derives from the Arabic morfiyeh, “archipelago” (Mafia is actually an archipelago of 5 islands: Mafia, Jibondo, Juani, Chole and Bwejuu), or maybe from the Kiswahili mahali pa afya, meaning “a healthy place to inhabit”. The island’s history began around the 8th century AD when it was occupied by Arab traders and wealthy landowners, and played a major role in the commerce between Asia and Africa. Compared to the neighboring Zanzibar, Mafia has less architectural wonders, but much more to offer for beach lovers and diving enthusiasts.
Since 1995 Mafia Island has been under WWF protection as a natural marine wildlife reserve. Mafia is one of the best diving spots in Tanzania, and you are likely to see on the seabed of coral dozens of colorful clownfish, manta rays, octopuses and more. Turtles lay their eggs on several beaches around the island, and further in the open sea is a common place to spot dolphins. Right on the island you can organise a terrific diving or snorkeling trip, or hire a local fisherman with a dhow (traditional boat) for a relaxing day at sea.
When tired of the eternal circle ‘dive-eat-sleep-repeat’, take a walk around mangrove forests, among huge baobabs, coconut, mango and papaya trees. Every now and then a vervet monkey, or a wild pig can squeak in the bush and run away from you, but nothing and nobody else will interrupt your quiet stroll in the woods.
The capital of Mafia, small one-street town Kilindoni, is surrounded by farming and fishing villages all around the coast. Even the tiny airport has its charm with a grassy landing strip. Be prepared to spend a week or two in the diving paradise.