We all have our bucket lists and when you are a scuba diver, it quickly become a Hydra! On every trip that crosses one destination off the list, you will hear about at least three others to add. We take you now off the beaten path to a little island in Tanzania known as Mafia Island. What makes this place so special? Our guest writer Debra Woolley welcomes you to the little slice of paradise that she now calls home.
My first trip to Mafia Island was in November 2017. I was looking for something different than the bustling tourist traps and packed dive boats which I had experienced in Egypt, Australia and other more well-known destinations.
The flight from Dar es Salaam is a very small twelve seat plane where you might be lucky enough to sit up front with the pilot and experience the beauty of the Indian Ocean from the cockpit. It is also not uncommon to spot Whale Sharks in the sparkling waters below.
People do not come here looking for a luxury tourist experience, but rather an authentic cultural one. The island itself is cozy and peaceful, having fewer visitor beds than any one of the large hotels on the other islands, which was exactly the tranquility I was looking for. I came specifically to see Whale Sharks as I was told they were practically guaranteed at that time of year. Indeed, they were as I was snorkeling with FIVE of them for hours at a time. As a diver obsessed with macro life just as much as Whale Sharks, I booked with Mafia Island Diving and found a wide variety of nudibranchs, flat worms, sea horses, and frog fish. All my expectations of this little island were far exceeded, I had found heaven.
I had returned to England for just four days before booking my next trip back. For someone who had been diving for 23 years and had never returned to the same destination twice, I have now returned to Mafia Island seven times! I love the relaxed, stress-free nature of the diving as well as the welcoming nature of its people. We were diving in small groups with only four divers per guide, which meant people were matched by experience and interests which made it incredibly more enjoyable for all of us. The service is exceptional, our gear very well taken care of, and from the first dive I was made to feel part of the family.
When deciding on a trip to Mafia Island there are some things important to keep in mind, especially when researching the different seasons. Whale Sharks are generally seen from October to February, while Humpback Whales are common August and September. June to September is a great time to catch turtles hatching along the beaches. Mafia is not known for mantas or sharks, but you can occasionally find them along with Bottlenose Dolphins. The diving here is also very tide dependent so checking in with your dive center and booking for the high tide cycle makes a huge difference in visibility to get the best views of the extensive reef systems.
Mafia Island is a conservation focused community, home to the largest and oldest protected marine parks in Tanzania, which is what helps keep them beautiful. This means you will have to pay a park fee per day for all water activities within the park. Most of the guides and instructors are locals that have been mentored to keep their home naturally pristine and the community supports conservation by providing education, training, and projects such as coral growing and beach clean ups.
The dive staff always have a smile for you, and they are very knowledgeable about the reefs, the fish, and excellent at spotting macro life. With the help of the guides, I have seen a total of 171 nudibranchs which were 61 different species and the staff have found a completely new species of pygmy pipe horse and wrasse!
The dive boats are traditional wooden dhows, which have a sail. When the trade winds blow, engines are turned off and we can enjoy a peaceful sail out to or back from the dive sites — a great contribution to protecting our planet as well as a beautiful experience for us all. The dive center hosts a community shop where you can buy locally made gifts, snacks, and drinks. Enjoying a beer and discussing our dives whilst watching the sunset over Chole Island is my perfect end to the day.
Over the years I have been visiting Mafia, I was very surprised to see repeat divers that like myself, fell in love and keep coming back time and time again, which has led to some very special life-long friendships. The conclusion of my love affair with this island and Mafia Island Diving is that in August 2022 I moved permanently, and I am now a resident of this Paradise Island. Maybe one day I will see you, one of my readers, and get to show you my home and my family here.
Asant sana, Karibu sana (Thank you very much and you’re very welcome)
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