Get those flippers on and get ready to dive right in Tanzania’s underwater safari park, Mafia Island.
Many of us think of Africa solely as a safari destination. This notion can be forgiven but there is a lesser known ‘safari park’ worth talking about. It’s time for Tanzania’s Mafia Island to emerge from the shadows of its bigger sister, northern neighbour Zanzibar to reveal its revered riches as Africa’s most enticing island destination.
Mafia Island in a nutshell
There is something that needs to be said about the home of Tanzania’s biggest underwater ‘safari park’, Mafia Island. This almighty pearl of the Indian Ocean is undoubtedly Tanzania’s best-kept secret – especially when it comes to its adrenaline-charged marine based explorations in the country’s biggest and oldest marine park, Mafia Island Marine Park (MIMP).
Covering 822 square kilometres of the West Indian Ocean, MIMP is home to over 380 fish species including the friendliest giant of the ocean, the whale shark. Swimming alongside these gentle giants is one of Mafia’s great draw cards as it joins only a handful of spots in the world that attracts a whale shark migration. Remarkably, Mafia boasts the world’s longest exodus with 100 plus resident whale sharks spotted five months a year from September to February.
See what it is like to go swimming with whale sharks in Mafia Island
Diving in Mafia Island
Mind-blowing giant encounters aside, it is the small things that will really make your eyes widen. If scuba divers were new-age pirates, they would be marking Mafia as their ‘X spot’ for golden discoveries as divers can swim through its trove of marine treasures (30 dive sites and counting) all year around.
Mafia has evolved into a mecca for those curious about wildlife below sea level since diving was established by Mafia Island Diving in 2003.
It is as though rainbows have found a way to exist underwater as Mafia’s reef boast some of the world’s healthiest and brightest corals. Here I will list my favourite dive spots on the island.
Dive spot – Msumbigi
Dive site Msumbigi is a poster child of what a healthy reef should look like with its spectacularly large mural-like wall of coral showcasing a myriad of intense hues. 16 peculiar-looking lionfish resembled the ocean’s pride away from the wall, all conjugating on one lone rock.
Dive spot – Coral Garden
Coral Garden is a pleasurable dive spot. The dive’s spot gentle current makes you feel like you are being whisked away along an unstoppable natural conveyor belt, overlooking a kaleidoscopic of corals and fishes that illuminate the seabed below.
Dive spot – Nudi City
It’s not only a sea of colour that grabs your attention but also the downright odd-looking critters that grabs your attention. The shore dive spot, Nudi City is truly one of a kind and one of my all time faves.
Although a shallow dive, its floor is home to a bountiful of rare creatures including its multi-coloured namesake, Nudi branches and the truly delightful sea horse, beaming the same elegance and grace of a giraffe on land.
Its worth to do double takes as many of the marine life camouflages the ocean floor. A highlight was seeing an oddly-shaped leopard flounder resembling a vacuum of the sea just with the way it moved across the ocean floor.
Just like a safari trip, you could also play big blue bingo with turtles, moray eels, octopuses and giant reef rays all being common sightings around Mafia.
Doh, a Doha!
One of the golden touches of diving on Mafia Island is the way you embark on your dive onboard a traditional wooden Doha. It adds that extra bit of old-style flair to a unique day of discovery, especially when the mast is up and you are gently sailing through paradise come sundown. With saying that, the dive spots are relatively close to Mafia Island so don’t expect to half a full on day, long day of commuting.
The cruncher – the daily marine park fee
Mafia Island has gone to great lengths to preserve its unique marine life eco-system by charging a USD $20 + VAT marine park fee (payable only by card) daily.
Money raised from the park fees are put towards marine conversation projects throughout the country. It is a small price to pay for the good fortune you will receive – encounters with rare marine life in Tanzania’s spellbinding utopia.
Mafia Island Lodge – beachside location, incredible staff and food to dine for. Not only are the rooms comfortable, they have great views from their individual verandah too. To get more bang for your buck, choose the all-inclusive food option. You will be loving life as the buffet is served up three times daily, with both authentic Italian (thanks to the owners being Italian) and local cuisine on offer.
By air: Charter flight company Coastal Aviation fly from Dar Es Salaam up to three times daily.
Mafia Island Diving has been in the business since 2003. Out of my 50+ plus dive experiences around the world, I rate Mafia Island Diving as the best that I have dived with in terms of service and overall experience. Plus, you travel on a Doha to get to your dive spot – how special is that?!
Disclaimer: I travelled as a guest of Coastal Aviation, Mafia Island Lodge and Mafia Island Diving – all of whom I would be happy to collaborate with again and each service was on point!