We left the Selous, a nature reserve on the mainland, in a rickety six seater airplane, and headed for the small island of Mafia, just off the the coast of Tanzania. After visiting schools, villages and orphanages the five of us were looking forward to a few days of sun and sea.
In contrast to its crowded neighbour Zanzibar, the much smaller island of Mafia remains virtually unknown with only a handful of hotels and is one of the safest places in the Indian Ocean. The island is surrounded by a barrier reef teeming with marine life and almost half the coastline of Mafia has been turned into a protected marine park. People live in rustic mud and straw huts in fishing communities along the beach and in farming villages.
Mafia’s main attractions are whale sharks and diving. The rainy season starts in March when the whale shark season ends. We had hoped to still be able to catch some whale sharks but unfortunately they had moved on already. One of our high lights was a day trip out to the reef where we had abeautiful snorkeling experience with the kids who never tired of pointing out giant clams, crocodile fish, lion fish, clown fish and other tropical fish.
After a couple of glorious sunny days the rains came and rendered any water activities impossible. We took wet walks on the beach, past fishing villages into Kilidoni. People in town were friendly and curious but I felt weary around the men in the fishing villages. In town we bought beautifully printed fabrics, walked past the women selling dried fish in and stopped to chat to the the curious local children. Shop keepers were grilling meat in the street, delicious aromas mingled with the smells of the rain hitting the dry earth and the wafts of fish being boiled to make chicken feed down on the beach.
Although the south is more built up and closer to the marine park it’s beaches are not as good as the less visited north ones. There is a nice strip of beach in front of our hotel Butiama Beach, they also run a dive center. When you have had your fill of diving, snorkeling and sunset kayaking there is little else do do on Mafia. Once the rain arrived, it wouldn’t stop and we decided to cut our Mafia stay short and spend our last three nights in Zanzibar. We promised ourselves to come back to this little slice of paradise one day, to avoid the rainy season and swim with whale sharks.