About Mafia Island
Our beautiful island cluster takes its name from the Arabic “morfiyeh”, meaning “group” or “archipelago”, or alternatively (and we like this one more) from the Ki-Swahili “mahali pa afya”, meaning “a healthy dwelling-place”. The island is home to just over 40,000 people.
While Zanzibar has become a popular tourist resort, Mafia Island only 160 km south, remains virtually unknown. Mafia Island is one of the safest places in the Indian Ocean and, unlike its more visited neighbours, you won’t feel like you’re constantly bumping shoulders with other tourists. The Mafia Archipelago is truly breath-taking. Scattered over the Indian Ocean 21 km off the Rufiji River Delta in central Tanzania and surrounded by a barrier reef teeming with marine life, it’s not difficult to understand why almost half of its coastline, 822km², has been gazetted a marine park by the Tanzanian government. Here you can find over 50 genera of corals, more than 460 species of fish and various species of turtles.
Mafia is not just about stunning natural beauty. The island has a very rich history, going back to at least the 8th century. The island used to play a major role in trade between the ancient people of the Far East and mainland Africa. Boats carrying goods to and from the Persian empire would regularly stop here. A settlement on the tiny island of Chole Mjini, just offshore in Chole Bay, controlled trade from the silver mines of Eastern Zimbabwe, which reached the settlement via the old ports of Kilwa and Michangani.
Under a treaty of 1890, Germany took control of Mafia and constructed the buildings still evident on Chole. Germany paid Sultan Sayyid Ali bin Said al-Said of Oman 4 million Deutschmarks for both the island and part of the mainland coast. In January 1915, Mafia was taken by British troops as a base for the air and sea assault on the cruiser Königsberg. Getting to Mafia used to be quite difficult, but it is now served by a number of scheduled flights from the Tanzanian mainland.