The Mafia Archipelago consists of one large island and several smaller ones. Although Mafia is one of the Spice Islands, it was never part of semi-autonomous Zanzibar – including Unguja and Pemba Islands – and is instead governed by mainland Tanzania. As Mafia Island did not have a single paved road as of 2011, the island is recommended for travelers wanting to avoid Unguja’s crowds. We recommend a stay of at least four nights as it is more difficult to get from Arusha to Mafia due to the stopovers in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam. There are two flights a day to and from Mafia and a visit can be combined with a safari or Kilimanjaro climb.
Activities in Mafia:
Diving with the whale sharks is exhilarating! Testimonial from Bruce “ I hopped in and out of the boat several times to follow different individuals. We finally found a whale shark that was riding the current and thus easy to follow. I swam above the whale shark for about 10 minutes and dove down several times to get a closer look at its mouth and body. The whale shark was about 1 meter under the surface and easy to see even though the water was cloudy”. The whale shark is the largest living fish species and the largest individual recorded had a length of 12.65 meters. The whale shark feeds mainly on plankton. It is found near Mafia as there is a plentiful source of food from the Rufiji River that empties into the Indian Ocean on mainland Tanzania to the east. This activity is recommended for strong swimmers only as the water can be choppy and the boat often ventures far from the swimmers.
There are walking trails through the mangrove forests on either side of Pole Pole Lodge leading to Mafia Island Lodge and Kinasi.
Testimonial from Bruce: “I took a boat ride and went snorkeling offshore in the marine reserve. The corals were quite pristine and the snorkeling was the best I had seen since snorkeling off Chumbe Island off the coast of Unguja.”
There are excellent diving opportunities around Mafia Island, which is a protected marine reserve.
The most northern island in the Pemba archipelago, Pemba offers pristine white sand beaches and amazing diving experiences with lush coral reefs and many kinds of fish. Although Pemba has several world-class attractions, few guests visit.
Misali Island, one of Pemba’s offshore islands, is a favorite among visitors to Pemba. An ecotourism project, the Misali Island Marine Conservation Area uses tourism proceeds to protect the marine ecosystem and support the local communities that depend on the ocean’s resources for their livelihoods. Misali attractions include pristine beaches, coral formations, mangrove forests, snorkeling, mysterious caves and several nature trails. The nature trails cover the entire island and provide visitors with information on the ecology and history of the island. When visiting Misali, be sure to check out the caves, where juju doctors and traditional healers performed their magic. On the boat ride to and from Misali, dolphins often jump in the waters around the boat.
Pemba’s diving is among the best in the Indian Ocean. Thousands of species of fish and coral thrive in the warm tropical waters. Divers can explore the shallow reefs close to the shore or plunge off the vertical coral cliffs that border the coastal reefs. Visibility is about forty meters, and looking over the 800-meter underwater cliffs is exhilarating. In deeper waters, expect to see barracuda, manta and eagle rays, giant groupers, wahoo, jacks, tuna and garden eel. In shallow water, you’ll see colorful starfish, mollusks, crustaceans and many other species of reef fish. Water temperatures range from 25 to 28 Celsius.
Spice plantation tours can be arranged to Pemba’s clove and spice plantations. Although the spice tour industry is not as developed as in Zanzibar, Pemba actually produces the majority of spices exported from Tanzania. During a spice tour, expect to see cloves, lemongrass, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, black pepper and vanilla. After the spice tour, visit the essential oil distillery to see how spices are made into oil.
Approximate Travel Times to Pemba (by air):
From Zanzibar: 30 minutes / From Tanga: 25 minutes / From Arusha: 1.5 hours
Dhow (traditional boat) trips can be arranged from hotels to visit offshore coral reefs. Some of the reefs have been recently placed under protection so it’s possible to see colorful fish and live corals.
All-day visits are available from lodges to various offshore sandbars. Organize a picnic lunch through your hotel or bring your own. The sandbars offer beautiful views of the coast and are often surrounded by reefs that are great for snorkeling.