Mafia is the southernmost of the three large islands off the coast of Tanzania. It is around 20km long by 8km wide.
Unlike the other two islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, which along with a number of smaller islands form the semi-autonomous state of Zanzibar, Mafia is politically an integral part of mainland Tanzania.
Mafia is a real sleepy backwater ... unspoiled and apparently timeless, where local people go about their traditional ways of life barely touched by the outside world. The island itself is much more like the mainland in character than the other islands, with central areas being covered with bush and light woodland, as well as coconut and cashew plantations. The coast is generally lined with palm trees, but there are not the sweeping sandy beaches that are to be found on Zanzibar.
Here the shoreline is generally narrow and mangrove forests are widespread. This island is for people who want to see how Zanzibar was thirty or even a hundred years ago. It is for people who want to explore, meet people, go walking and sailing and to really immerse themselves in real Swahili culture. Kilondoni is the main town and a refreshingly simple place.
The atmosphere is incredibly relaxed. Mafians are very friendly people ... distant and respectful to strangers; saving their smiles for once a dialogue is started. With only five places to stay on the island, visitor numbers remain refreshingly low. As a result, Mafia still feels like part of the old Swahili Coast.
Dig a little deeper and one can find evidence that Mafia once played a pivotal role in the workings of the old Swahili coast. On the tiny island of Chole Mjini, just offshore in Chole Bay, the forest is strewn with creeper-clad ruins ... in true Raiders of the Lost Ark style. Mafia is famed for its diving and its incredibly rich marine environment and in Chole Bay it can boast the largest marine reserve in East Africa. This area is especially rich in small fish species and has some of the finest unbleached coral in the Indian Ocean.