Tanzania is a go-to holiday destination for sun worshipers around the globe and it’s easy to see why. Kilometres of white, sandy beaches stretch along the array of islands where underwater ecosystems come to life beneath bright blue waters. The Zanzibar archipelago may be the most well-known island, but 160km south is an archipelago of inland bays and lagoons, towering palm groves dotted with ancient eight-century ruins and one of the most interesting marine ecosystems and coral reefs in Tanzania. Once a safe haven for ships traversing ancient maritime routes across the seas, now, with the help of an SAA flight to Dar es Salaam and a small plane, Mafia Island is the place you can experience Tanzanian diving without the fuss of fighting for a spot in the sea with hundreds of tourists. The Marine Park was one of the first to be established in Tanzania, spanning 821 square kilometres and bordered by a barrier reef teeming with marine life inside Chole Bay and along the Kinasi Wall.
There may be a $20-a-day park-access fee and no ATMs on the island, but with corals, so many varieties of fish species, seahorses, some challenging drift diving and, during season, whale sharks, this is a bounty of wildlife above and below the waters. With only a few accommodation options and limited numbers of tourists, it begs you to stick your toes in the sand and marvel at the works of some of the most famous boat builders in East Africa, whose hand made jahazis, dhows, mashuas and ngalawas bob in the evening waves.
As tempting as it is to spend all your time in the water, no trip should be made without exploring the ancient ruins at Kisimani Mafia, Kanga, Kua on Juani Island and Chole Island, or join a sunset cruise to spot the giant flying foxes as they make their journey across Chole Bay every evening. When you book a diving holiday to Tanzania, why not opt for the road less travelled and take a detour to the country’s true diving delight?