“One of Africa’s most remarkable hotels. The acme of responsible tourism. Treehouses with Tarzan and Jane beds. Overgrown ruins. Pure Lost City jungle stuff.” Mark Ottaway, Sunday Times
MAFIA ISLAND, A PRIVATE ISLAND ECO LODGE ESCAPE
When a lodge is only accessible by boat, you know you discovered something special. This is the closest you will come to living beside the Indian Ocean without leaving a footprint. You’ll want to stay forever. Responsible tourism is becoming increasingly important to travelers, and this is the holiday to book if you want to explore the world without contributing to its ruin. What makes this Eco Lodge so incredible is its clever solutions for heating showers and use of underground water, smart use of solar power, excellent hospitality and warm hosts. Evenings are magical, jungle paths softly lit and dotted with lanterns, the distant chatter of guests over a meal served in 19th century ruins, the sound of the waves breaking nearby. The island is reachable by boat only and was once the capital of Mafia, now only a small village remains, with historical ruins and plenty of history.
The lodge itself consists of treehouses perched above the vegetation as not to harm it. There are no excesses such as air conditioning and room service, but filter coffee is served to each tree house, hoisted by staff in the early morning.
Days are spent enjoying the jungle atmosphere or diving in these world-renowned waters. It’s like dropping off the face of the earth and finding a place to press restart, unwind and recharge.
Too soon, the week will be over and it will be back to reality, but it will be impossible to forget the impact this authentic, unpretentious travel experience had and it will inspire you to approach your future travels differently for years to come.
2014 WORLD RESPONSIBLE TOURISM GOLD AWARD:
BEST FOR BEACH TOURISM
- Eco lodge off Mafia Island
- Private island – Access by boat
- Secluded tree houses
- Crystal waters, Sandbank picnics
- Snorkeling, Whale Shark Diving
- Turtle Hatching
- Dine under the stars
- Can be combined with a Wildlife Safari
It only takes 30 minutes from Dar es Salaam to reach Mafia island, the airport is small and intimate, surrounded by palm trees. After a warm welcome you are transferred to your private island, home for the next 7 days. A short boat ride and you have arrived in paradise. The seven treehouses are designed to ensure everyone’s privacy. The sea is visible from every treehouse and most have a second platform for children. Enjoy an afternoon swim in the little harbour, stroll down to the rooftop bar for a sundowner before dinner. Each night dinner served in a secret location, it could be next to 19th century ruins or beside the ocean.
Every morning, coffee or tea is served at the treehouse, the deck is the perfect place to soak up the morning sun, admire the ocean views and take in the scenery. After a refreshing healthy breakfast, set off to explore the island’s coastline with a SUP board. The SUP experience is not to be missed and your private guide will escort you to all the hidden bays and the best places to see marine life. Who can resist a swim in the turquoise waters and snorkeling gear is on hand for a closer look in the hidden bays? Many claim that snorkeling in Mafia Island Marine Park is better than in the Great Barrier Reef; for sure this off-the-beaten-path island offers the best snorkeling in Tanzania. The reefs here are among the healthiest in the Indian Ocean. For snorkelers, the park shows its best in Chole Bay, right where you are staying. The best part is that you are going to have all those stunning underwater sceneries exclusively to yourself as the splendours of Mafia Island remain pleasantly unknown and protected from the monsoon winds, it’s the perfect all year round snorkeling destination.
Yay, another day in paradise! Your next adventure is all about relaxing and soaking up the most spectacular scenery. This is one outing not to be missed, only a 20min boat ride away is the amazing Marimbani Sandbank. The sandbank is in the shape of a half moon and approximately 700 meters long and this treasure is only accessible during low tide. This is the ultimate castaway experience, the perfect way to enjoy the beautiful crystal waters of the Indian Ocean. Chef will have packed something delightful for lunch, while you relax in the shade. Don’t forget the snorkeling gear, you might be lucky enough to spot the illusive seahorses in the sea grass. This trip is usually around 4 hours long but can last until the sandbank slips underwater. Round off the day with a sunset drink at the Red Herring bar at the water’s edge. WIFI is free here and you share your amazing sandbank picnic photos. Keep an eye out for the flying foxes of Mafia island. Among the island’s curiosities are a number of trees containing colonies of Comoro Flying Foxes, a protected species of fruit eating-bats. During the day, these creatures hang in the trees asleep and fly over to Mafia by night to feed.
Today we explore the cultural heritage and riches of the island. Just a few minutes’ walk from the lodge you can visit pioneering community projects run by the lodge owners and their team. In 1992, after close consultation with village elders and council, it was agreed that responsible tourism will bring real benefits to the community and in turn support wildlife conservation. Presently, there is a small boat building industry, as well as minor trade in craft and curios. Traditional mat weaving and rope making for domestic use and sale to traders and tourists. The export of oranges, coconuts, octopus and fish also supplement the local economy. The island also boasts Arabic ruins from the 12th and German ruins from 19th Century, which were built during world war I. The ruins have surrendered to mother nature and are almost all smothered with green foliage and brown vines.
Your guide will show you the historical ruins, doctor’s rooms and dispensary, the school, the village market and the boatyard where traditional Dhows are built using limited tools. This tour is best enjoyed in the late afternoon to avoid the tropical heat.
If you are a guest staying during October to March, you will be fortunate enough to witness one of the most beautiful creatures on earth…Whale Sharks! Swimming with Whale Sharks is a truly magical experience, they are the largest fish in the sea and measure up to 20m. Little is known about these gentle giants by scientists, which is what adds to the overwhelming feeling you have when you see them. The whale shark is a filter feeder and therefore has no teeth, they are absolutely harmless. The majority of the time they are very shy, although on occasion they can be inquisitive making your encounter that much more spectacular. Our host company offer responsible marine encounters with these gentle giants. The tour starts with a pick up early in the morning by car which takes you over to the Western side of the Island where breakfast is served and an informative briefing takes place, giving you the chance to ask as many questions as needed. Hop on board the boat and head out to start spotting sharks! Tea and coffee as well as some small snacks are served on board in between whale shark sightings. If you are not particularly keen on this activity, relax at the Lodge and enjoy your complimentary Swedish massage (ladies only).
There is really so much to do here, the list is endless! During June and September hundreds of baby turtles make their instinctive scramble from the white sandy beaches to the warm Indian Ocean waters. Here in Mafia we are fortunate enough to be able to witness this natural spectacle from the Eastern beach of Juani, an island bursting with nature from the tiniest of butterflies to the giant baobab trees. This experience is made possible for us by an NGO called Sea Sense. Set up in 2001, they have been working in partnership with the local communities to promote the importance and protection of marine turtles and their habitats through various projects. The adventure starts with a lovely dhow trip across Chole Bay, landing on the shielded Western side of Juani Island. On arrival, a 45-minute walk across the island passes through hundreds of trees, a quaint village and offers the chances to spot local wildlife such as monkeys. During this walk natures true beauty becomes more apparent in the form of towering trees and acres and acres of green foliage up until the very last minute. Attention is then turned to the turtle nest hidden below African sand. The little hatchlings emerge from the sand, scrambling out of their nest, flapping their fins vivaciously, racing to reach the surf and start the next step of their incredible journey. With the image of baby turtles crawling across the beach still fresh in our minds, we make our own way back to the dhow.
Another beautiful sunrise, freshly brewed coffee served at your treehouse and a healthy island breakfast. No need for an early start today, so “pole pole” (slowly slowly) is in order. This is the perfect opportunity to laze around the little harbour, swimming, relaxing, reading and sipping a fresh coconut juice. We might take a free Dhow trip this evening to witness the sunset one more time. Who knows where dinner is served this evening – water side or under the eyes of the ancient baobabs?
A last breakfast, some sad farewells and it’s time to head back to the hustle and bustle. Transfer to Mafia island airport for a quick flight to Dar es Salaam in time for your connecting flight.
End of adventure.
7 night’s Accommodation in ocean-facing kitalas on Full Board basis (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, bottled water) Daily laundry service, Return airport Transfers (max 4 guests), one SUP rental with guide and boat, 2 x Chole Bay Snorkeling trips with Gear ( fins, mask, snorkel, booties), One Marimbani Sandbank picnic, One Turtle hatching experience Juani (June – Dec), one Guided Village Walk, One Whale shark Diving experience (Oct – March), Tourism and Village levy ($11.50 per person per day), One Swedish Massage.
International flights, domestic flights to and from Mafia island. Entry visas and taxes. Marine Park fees payable on arrival by CARD only at the gate. Adults $20 per day plus 18% VAT, children $10 per day plus 18% VAT. Soft drinks, beers, wines & spirits. Personal gifts and staff gratuities. Deep sea fishing, scuba diving, PADI courses. Spa treatments, yoga.
Idea – this is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a Wildlife Safari – speak to our travel designers!
Note: Malaria precautions should be taken; Yellow Fever vaccination required if transferring through a South African border.
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