Primarily known for its ocean glory‚ the Marine Park was created to protect its reefs. Mafia has challenging and rewarding dives for the advanced‚ as well as numerous sheltered bays and coves that are great for novice to intermediate divers. Snorkeling is also magnificent.
While Zanzibar has become a popular tourist resort‚ Mafia Island‚ lying only 160 km south‚ remains virtually unknown. Previously‚ poor communication with the mainland and being less well-known than Zanzibar kept Mafia 'original‚' though a steady trickle of visitors sings its praises. one of the safest places in the Indian Ocean‚ and there are no hustlers to spoil a holiday.
The Mafia Archipelago is scattered over the Indian Ocean‚ 21 km off the Rufiji River Delta in central Tanzania. Mafia Island itself is the largest of a score of islands‚ atolls‚ and tidal sandbars. It is approximately 50 km long by 15 km across and is surrounded by a barrier reef teeming with marine life. Almost half the coastline of Mafia‚ some 822 km2‚ has been gazetted as a marine park by the government. To date‚ over 50 genera of coral‚ more than 460 species of fish‚ and five different species of turtles have been recorded in the waters around Chole Bay.
Natural vegetation on Mafia ranges from tidal mangrove thickets and scrubby coastal moorlands to palm-wooden grassland and lowland rainforest. Magnificent baobabs are prominent along with the native Albizia. Patches of coastal high forest remain in localities all over Mafia; one of the most picturesque‚ the Chunguruma Forest‚ is a dense tree canopy interlaced with palms‚ lianes‚ and epiphytes‚ and has an abundant floor covering of ferns.
A series of reed-lined lakes in central Mafia are probably the remnants of an old lagoon that was cut off from the ocean thousands of years ago. Here live a number of small hippos which may have crossed from the mainland or were washed to the island by floods from the Rufiji River system. They have been on the mafia island for many years since Dr. Baumann recorded their presence in 1895.
Other island fauna include a colony of flying foxes‚ several species of bushbabies‚ a type of pygmy shrew‚ and a monitor lizard known as kenge. Monkeys and squirrels are common.
An official bird list kept by Kinasi Lodge records sightings of more than 120 different species‚ including five different types of sunbird‚ living in and around the hotel gardens. There are also thought to be at least five endemic species of butterfly on the island.
While Mafia is a great place to visit if you enjoy nature and outdoor activities‚ its main draw for many visitors is that it is stuck in a time warp from the early twentieth century.
The population of the archipelago is approximately 40‚000‚ living in 24 villages scattered throughout the main island‚ Jibondo‚ Juani‚ and Chole islands. The people live in rustic fishing communities and farming villages. The majority are Muslim‚ but there are many Christians. Traditional religion also manifests itself in ritual dances linked to the lunar cycle.