Diving & Snorkeling -- With more than 400 species of fish, 40 genera of coral, and five species of marine turtle, scuba diving and snorkeling are the primary reasons most people come to Tanzania's first marine park. The most reliable dive sites are within Chole Bay -- a large protected bay with regular water flow but minimal currents, and three types of dive sites (sloping reefs, coral walls, and coral gardens, covering depths of 5m-27m/16 ft.-89 ft.), suitable for both the total novice and the very experienced. If you're here for only a few days, make sure you dive Milimani Reef and Maweni (the latter ideal for beginners and a world-class snorkeling site). Both are located at the mouth of the bay along Mafia's Kinasi Pass, which, in turn, offers three superb dives (for more experienced divers) -- South Wall, Utumbi, and Pinnacle. The coral gardens, said to contain the best hard corals in East Africa, offer excellent snorkeling (though, personally, I prefer Maweni). Try to include Milimani and Maweni during your stay, but bear in mind that your dive instructor/leader will decide what's best depending on tides, visibility, and experience levels. Experienced divers tackle the drops north of Chole Bay, referred to as "outside" dives, but these are available only during certain months of the year (Oct-Feb) due to wind and strong currents.
All the lodges offer dive excursions and courses: Kinasi Lodge has its own dive center, well equipped and superbly organized, but its "like it or leave it" dive master, while very experienced, is not known for his warmth. Pole Pole has access to the dive center at Mafia Island Lodges, run by laid-back and helpful Moez, another experienced diver, but he's not committed to joining every excursion. If you are here to dive, Chole Mjini is definitely where I would recommend you stay -- either Jean or Anne de Villiers, the hands-on lodge proprietors, will fit the equipment for comfort prior to every snorkel or dive expedition and personally accompany guests on every dive or snorkel outing, along with their dive crew; they take a maximum of six divers (and then only if they're reasonably experienced) on the boat. Jean, a biologist by profession, is a PADI Master SCUBA Diver Trainer, and after more than 1,000 dives here, he knows Mafia's waters better than anyone. He's excellent at teaching total novices as well as the very experienced (he teaches various specialist diving courses such as navigation and coral reef ecology to U.S. college students twice a year). A single dive with full equipment should cost around $55;a night dive is about $70. There are various dive packages, with prices per dive decreasing the more dives you do (four dives with full equipment will run you $300).
Never dived before? Even if you are here for only a few days and have never dived, you can opt to do so within a 48-hour period if you complete a Discover SCUBA course ($150), which allows total novices to do a deep-sea dive after a few hours' instruction and a verbal test characterized chiefly by its brevity. The Discover SCUBA course is also offered at the Kinasi and Mafia Island Lodges dive centers, but Jean is the only one who refuses to take down more than two novices per dive, which not only is safer, but significantly increases your chances of getting below the surface without panicking.
Swimming with Whale Sharks -- Whale sharks tend to arrive in Mafia waters around November, usually stay until February, and are found in the shallow waters on the northwestern side of the island, facing Kilondoni. If swimming with these gentle giants is your dream, Ras Mbisi, the only lodge on this side of the island, is the place to stay. There is no guarantee that you will see them, but the local fishermen, who follow the movements of whale sharks, are excellent trackers and their skills are utilized to help protect these gentle giants, which feed on plankton a few hundred meters from the shore. This excursion costs $60 to $100 from Mafia Marine park lodges.
Fishing -- It's been more than 60 years since Conan Doyle set the all Africa record with a 34.2kg (75.4 lb.) dorado; if you're keen to try your hand at breaking this, the deep-sea crescent off Mafia and the Songo Songo archipelago is said to be the best game-fishing grounds in East Africa and one of the most exciting in the world. Kinasi Lodge has a dedicated fishing boat fully equipped with deep-sea and inshore fishing tackle, electronics, and safety equipment for up to four fishermen. Fishing grounds include Mafia Island, Songo Songo islands, Nyuni and Njovi islands, and the channels from the Rufiji Delta south to Lindi. A 7-day fishing license will run you $20.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.