Mafia Island, or Chole Shamba, is an island in the Zanzibar archipelago. As opposed to its neighboring, more touristy island of Zanzibar, Mafia is considered more of an eco-friendly destination. Nonetheless, it increasingly attracts more travelers, the majority of which come here for water sports or simply to relax.
Those with a love for diving with large animals may know of Mafia Island as one of the best destinations in the world to get up close with whale sharks. Most of the dive sites are located around Chloe Bay where over 50 genera of corals and more than 400 species of fish can be found. Most of the diving on Mafia is done at depths of less than 30 meters (100 feet), so you don’t need to be an experienced diver to enjoy what the island has to offer.
Photo by Paul Britton
The best time to dive around Mafia Island is November through March. April and May are the rainy months, and because of the weather conditions, diving is not possible. The whale shark season runs from October to March.
The surface water temperature around Mafia Island ranges from 25° to 30° C/77-86° F.
Mafia Island is affected by the East African Coastal Current that runs northward throughout the year. The current has a maximum speed of 4.5 knots during the months of June and July. The flow of the current is affected by the reefs, small islets, and tidal currents. Nonetheless, it’s the currents that have contributed to the abundance of marine life around the island.
The visibility around Mafia Island ranges from 5 meters (16 feet) to more than 30 meters (100 feet). In Chole Bay, the visibility is better on an incoming or high tide.
Photo by Paul Britton
Kinasi Wall is a sheltered bank reef that offers lots of hard and soft corals. It’s moderately deep, steeply sloping from 8 to 21 meters (26-69 feet), and supports an abundance of marine life. Large groupers, giant clams, Napoleon wrasses, Hawksbill turtles, and many different species of reef fish and pelagics circulate the dive site.
Lying in the inner Kinasi Pass is a 12-meter (39-foot) long spire of ancient coral rock. Known as The Pinnacle, this dive site is shallow, with a maximum depth of 24 meters (79 feet). As on other spots, what makes this dive interesting – besides the impressive pinnacle – is the mixture of reef and pelagic fish.
Chole Wall is a sheltered bank reef about 800 meters (2,600 feet) long and 15 meters (49 feet) deep. This makes it the perfect introductory dive, considering the ideal conditions for beginners, beautiful corals, and a multitude of fish. Colorful fusiliers, damselfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and other reef fish can be spotted here.
Located outside of Chole Bay, the Dindini Wall North is the only true rock wall discovered around Mafia Island. The wall starts from a depth of 28 meters (92 feet) and goes up to 8 meters (26 feet) below the surface of the water. Groupers, sea turtles, sailfish, large tunas, sharks, and even dolphins can be seen here. There’s also rich growth of algae, sea fans, and whip corals.