The name Mafia derives from the Ma-afir, a tribe from ancient Yemen who dominated the coast around 1000BC. Mafia Island is the largest of an island archipelago, off beaten track and known to only the most discerning travelers. The island is surrounded by a barrier reef so rich in marine life it has been designated a Marine Park by the World Wide Fund for Nature. A tiny population of pygmy hippo lives in the remains of an old lagoon, cut off from the mainland centuries ago. Mafia’s interesting history and stunning beaches, combined with several luxurious and discreet hotels, make one of Tanzania’s hidden germs.
Mafia Island is a popular destination for visitors to relax after their safari and the island’s relaxed and secluded beaches offer privacy and comfort for discerning travelers. Mafia’s incredible and untouched dive sites have remained a well-kept secret of diving aficionados and beach recluses for years, but now the island is fast becoming a preferred destination.
For centuries, the island was a trading stop for Shirazi merchants travelling up towards Persia and under the rule of the Omani sultanate in Zanzibar, vast coconut and cashew plantations flourished. Today, all that remain of the island’s prestigious past are the coral ruins on Chole Mjini, the small island just off shore from Mafia where the Arab landowners lived a sumptuous life removed from their plantations and slaves.
These days, Mafia’s remote location means it receives only the most selective visitors, but things are changing. The recent gazetting of Mafia Island Marine Park – the largest protected area in the Indian Ocean – to include surrounding villages in its conservation efforts means that the millions of fish and coral species that thrive in the warm waters of Mafia’s beaches will survive for decades to come.