Wednesday 16 January 2019

TANZANIA: Visit Mafia Island But If You Love High Life Then Its Not For You Because It Is Fairly Dull

Mafia Island off the coast of Tanzania must be one of the Indian Ocean's most hidden gem.

Mafia Island or Chole Shamba is an island in Tanzania. As one of the six districts of the Pwani Region, Mafia Island is governed from the mainland, not from the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar, of which it has never been considered to be a part politically.

According to the 2002 Tanzania census, the population of the Mafia District was 40,801. The economy is based on fishing, subsistence agriculture and the market in Kilindoni. The island attracts some tourists, mainly adventure scuba divers, game fishermen, and people wanting relaxation.

The Mafia archipelago consists of one large island (394 km²) and several smaller ones. Some of the smaller ones are inhabited, such as Chole Island (2 km²), with a population of 1415.

Chole Bay, Mafia's protected deep-water anchorage and original harbour, is studded with islands, sandbanks and beaches. The main town is Kilindoni. The stretch of water between the deltas of the Rufiji River and the island is called Mafia Channel.

Mafia island has a tropical climate. The average temperature in town of Kilindoni is 26.7°C (78°F). The average annual rainfall is 1,705 mm. The monthly average temperatures are usually between 24.8 - 28.3°C (77°F - 83°F). There is one major rain season, with most rainfall coming between March and May. Dry season spans between July to October.

Mafia Island's history goes back to the 8th century. The island once played a major role in ancient trade between the people of East Asia and East Africa. It was a regular stop for Arab boats.

On the tiny island of Chole Mjini, just offshore in Chole Bay, once stood a settlement that constituted one of the most important towns controlling trade from the silver mines of Eastern Zimbabwe, which reached the town via the old ports of Kilwa and Michangani.

In the mid-1820s, the town of Kua on Juani Island was attacked by Sakalava cannibals arriving from Madagascar with 80 canoes, who ate many of the locals and took the rest into slavery.

Under a treaty of 1890, Germany took control of Mafia and constructed the buildings still evident on Chole. Germany paid Sultan Sayyid Ali bin Said al-Said of Zanzibar M 4 million for both the island and part of the mainland coast.

On January 12, 1915, Mafia was taken by British troops as a base for the air and sea assault on the light cruiser Konigsberg.

The name Mafia derives from the Arabic morfiyeh, meaning group or archipelago, or from the Swahili mahali pa afya, meaning a healthy dwelling-place.

In 1995 Mafia Island had financial help from the WWF to make a natural marine wildlife centre which led to establishment of the first Marine Park in Tanzania.

The organization continued to provide support to the Island under Rufiji-Mafia-Kilwa (RUMAKI) seascape project to improve socio-economic well-being of the communities through the sustainable, participatory and equitable utilization and protection of their natural resources.

Under the current EU-WWF Fisheries Co-management Project, the organization aims at building effective long-term fisheries co-management through establishment of 10 Beach Management Units and to continue supporting Village Community Banks (VICOBA) in the Island to generate optimal, sustainable and equitable livelihood benefits, and which provide a source of lesson-learning for other coastal communities.

The WWF Mafia office is under three technical staff - Paul Kugopya (Mafia Fisheries Co-management Officer), Marko Gideon (EU-WWF Fisheries Co-management Project Communication/Awareness Officer) and Renatus Rwamugira (Project Accountant for Mafia).

Tanzania's first multi-user marine park at Mafia Island was established in 1995 following management recommendations and data from surveys conducted by the Society for Environmental Exploration.

In August 2016, a diver, Alan Sutton, from Seaunseen, who had originally been looking for the remains of an old fort rumoured to have been washed away to sea, instead came across the remains of a wall stretching almost 4km off Mafia Island. The discovery was detailed in a blog post by Sutton, with images showing remnants of the wall.
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 but credit cards are accepted at the up-market lodges which is not geared for mainstream tourism.

If you want fancy shops and a wild night-life, Mafia isn’t for you.

There are six lodges on Mafia, five are 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 .

Additionally there are a handful of backpacker friendly hotelis in Kilindoni, the main town, the port and airstrip are found here.

Hopefully Mafia Island will not become the next destination but remain an eco-friendly niche. Currently there are about 3000 to 4000 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 so rumor has it so can dugongs.

There are two airlines with regular service from Dar es Salam to Mafia's Kilindoni airport and flights take about 30 minutes.

Coastal Aviation - operates two daily flights from Dar es Salaam and one on-demand from Kilwa, their largest plane is a 13-seated Cessna; flight costs starting from USD 71/person

Tropical Air - based in Zanzibar, flights to Mafia originate in Dar es Salam.

Auric Air - operates flights to Mafia three times a week, flight costs starting from USD 69/person

There are only a few jeeps owned by the resorts or lodge. You can hire a rickety Land Rover with driver near the market in the center of Kilindoni.

The street are all still murram, so it could be really fun to wonder about walking and get a bit lost along the main street where you will meet all the locals working, interacting, bicycling, playing, etc.

If you are more adventurous you can rent a bike from the place you are staying. The price should be anything from 8 to 15 usd/day.

The most fun whatever is to take a typical sailing boat or dhow which here do also bus services. They have a wonderful structure all woodmade and usually full of residents with dresses and pots of different bright colors. Almost all diving centers and Lodges will offer you also excursions around the Island.

Ras Kisimani is the far western cape of the main island, facing the Rufiji Delta. Kisimani Mafia, just north-east of the Cape is KiSwahili for “the place of the well”. An old town dating to the 12th Century has been drowned by rising sea levels and a collapsing foreshore for over 100 years.

The Kinasi library contains a full account of the archaeology of these ruins, once the most important town on Mafia, especially from the 12th to 14th Centuries. It was founded by Bashat, one of the sons of the first Sultan of Kilwa, and extended the control of the Sultan to Mafia.

The power and wealth of the Sultan of Kilwa was based upon gold, ivory and customs tariffs on all goods traded on the southern coast. In its time it was far more important the Zanzibar but its economic influence waned upon the arrival of the Portuguese at the end of the 15th Century.

There is little left of the town now, but visitors can easily find many beautiful potsherds and coins in the ruins and on the beautiful palm-fringed beach. The circular rock weights used to confine slaves at night can also be found here.

Due to erosion the old well from which the town took its name now stands on the beach. The whole area is now a protected core zone of the Mafia Island Marine Park.

Bwejuu Island sits between Ras Kisimani and the Rufiji Delta and is a sand-fringed, palm-covered island surrounded by sand bars and snorkelling reefs.

These are all-day excursions by boat from Kilindoni for beach-lovers and those looking for a castaway experience. Beautiful beaches and fabulous swimming along the edge of the Ras Kisimani point and off the reefs and sand bars of Bwejuu.

The Lighthouse at Ras Mkumbi, A visit to the lighthouse will allow you to see far to the south over the Mlola Forest, protected for its vegetation and wildlife, including Sykes monkeys. There are magnificent baobabs in the north of Mafia, especially at Ras Mkumbi at the northern tip of the island, just beyond Bweni village.

Jibondo is Mafia best-known fishing village. The island is about 30 minutes away by boat. Over-fishing resulted in a decline in shark populations but the people still harvest a great deal of octopus. Seaweed farming is becoming an important business.

The Jibondo people are famous throughout the Swahili-speaking world as boat builders.Unlike Chole, Jibondo island is almost entirely coral rock - ancient Porites coral - so no crops can grow in the shallow soil.

There is always a water shortage and many of the younger people spend a great deal of time carrying water from sources on the main island.

Mafia island is one of best beach holiday destinations in East Africa, have pristine white sand, diving, sport fishing and snorkelling. Beach holidays is extension of kilimanjaro climbing adventure and wildlife safari tours.

Swimming with whale sharks is a must-do on Mafia. Diving, snorkeling in the Marine Park are also recommended. Some resorts and lodge have dive centers. The only independent one is The Big Blu.

Afro Whale Shark Safari, Kilindoni rounadbout. Afro is a local guide who specializes in whale shark safari on Mafia Island. You can find him near the Kilindoni roundabout, opposite the market.

Blue World Diving, Utende. Offers diving for advanced and novice divers in safety under professional instruction. The centre is managed by Kinasi resident Dive Instructors. They have been assisting marine research for over six years.

North Mafia Island, Bweni. Beautiful beaches (3km) and in contrast the Chole Bay side of Mafia is superb for diving and snorkelling. Completely different part that is quite another world of vegetation, beaches and activities. Complete isolation from any other tourist facility or commercial activity.

Whale Shark Safari - Captain Libe, Kilindoni roundabout. Whale shark safari is the one of the well known tour company on mafia Island and Captain Libe or Liberatus Mokoki leading tour guide is one of the well experienced on Island.

Locally made coconut oil soap.

Kinasi Shop, Utende. Mafia Island local handicraft decorative & clothes .
Almost all resort and lodge have their own restaurant and usually the price are Full Board, so tourists rarely go around to find different places.

Kinasi Lodge Restaurant, Utende. There is a cocktail bar offering a range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and a wine cellar of specially selected wines. Good cuisine and each year they send their local chefs abroad for training. Lunch U$D 20 / Dinner U$D 25.

You can find whatever you want but if you look for something typical in Tanzania you can drink the coconut water or madafu from a real coconut, the soda called Stoney Tangawizi with ginger flavour and some Tanzanian good beers such as Kilimanjaro. You can also find wines from South Africa.

Top Life, Utende. Local Bar with cold beer, Gin and soft drinks. Features local djs during the weekends and Taarabu music during the week.

Sunset Bar, Bweni. The bar is limited to a few excellent reds and whites and the usual damaging toxins like gin, vodka, whisky, brandy, and anything special if you let us know in advance. All the soft drinks and mixers are available and lots of ice.

Kinasi Bar, Utende. 17-23. Open to public this bar features a incredible view from Chole Bay .A Wine Cellar full of African wines combined with sea food bittings and a great variety of spirits.Beers around 2 U$D.

Mapenzi, Utende. Local bar with nice atmosphere. Price for the beer is around 1 U$D.

Accomodation on Mafia Island

Kinasi Lodge, Utende. Kinasi Lodge is a boutique hotel. A short ride across the island from the airport and the main town of Kilindoni, the lodge overlooks Chole Bay in Mafia Island Marine Park. This resort, situated in an old cashew and coconut plantation, provides a luxury stay.

Only 14 rooms are available. Each room is in a private bungalow with large veranda and ensuite bathroom. The rooms have ceiling fans and mosquito nets. Avg Rate U$D 140 Full Board.

Lua Cheia, Bweni. Located at Bweni Village near the northern tip of Mafia is called Ras Bweni. Ras stands for peninsula, and from here one has fine views of the sweeping bay and palm-fringed beaches, superb sunsets over the Rufiji Delta and the moon rising over the Indian Ocean.This part of Mafia is where the beautiful beaches have been formed.

Ras Mbisi. Built from local sustainable coco-wood, by local artisans, the accommodation comprised nine spacious open tent bandas/rooms which are only metres from the white powder beach. The design erased boundaries between the lodge and the natural splendour of Ras Mbisi. Sadly Ras Mbisi burnt down in November 2016.

Shamba Kilole Lodge. Shamba Kilole Lodge is located just opposite the gate of the Marine Park of Mafia Island. It consists of five hectares plot with secular trees and the spectacular view of Kilole bay and the islands of Chole, Juani and Jibondo. This Lodge is also a PADI resort.

Meremeta Lodge, near Utende (1km). Individual Guest House with an owner who has an option for any wish his guest might have. Room rate is $ 50 per night, including breakfast. Dinner can be arranged for $ 10 and lunch for $ 7 per person.

Butiama Beach Lodge, Msufini, Kilindoni Mafia Island 0202020, Tanzania.

Didimiza Beach. Locally owned guest house situated on a mangrove beach in the grounds of an old cashew nut plantation provides a peacefull and nautural experience to mafia island. Room rate is $40 per night, including breakfast. Dinner and lunch can be arranged. Each room has overhead fan, ensuite bathroom and large veranda to enjoy the wildlife.

Nyumbani Rest House, Kigamboni St., Kilindoni. Nyumbani Rest House offers budget accomodation in houses overseeing the sea in Kilindoni village, about 5 minute ride by tuk-tuk (2000 TZS or 1 USD) or 15 minute walk. It is located north from the airport. To get there, you need to bypass the airport on the west and continue north.

About 300 m after the gas station is an intersection where you need to turn left. After about 300 m is a gate to hospital. Nyumbani Rest House is located behind the hospital. There is a dirt road on the right side within the hospital plot. The area is very safe.

There are 4 buildings with tourist accommodation with a total of 8 simple double rooms and a big covered terrace for eating, resting, meeting. Each room has its own bathroom with shower, sink and western toilet. The rooms don't have ceiling fans but feature mosquito nets.

Accommodation cost 25 USD for a double room. Breakfast and Wi-Fi are included in the price, lunch and dinner can be arranged from 5-11 USD. 25 USD.

Chole Foxes Lodge Situated on the beaut full island of Mafia inside of small island that is Chole island was the main city before Kilindoni town, this is the historical island. Lodge is runner and owned with local cholean who is joined together to give the experience.

Lodge does have Four rooms all rooms are self contained with shower and bath.

Mange is an atoll on the far western edge of the archipelago and lying in the Mafia Channel. It is a stunning place with a sand island – cay – exposed at low tide and an excellent coral reef for snorkelling and good diving on the deeper channel side.

This is a full day excursion on the dhow or Papara with picnic lunch and barbecued fish on the beach. We erect a sun shade canopy to protect you and of course carry the essential cold stores to make sure you don’t dry out, especially on the homeward journey when sundowners are mandatory.

Tourism Observer

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