Mafia islands

Mafia islands: Why go

No, the name does not come from some violently protective early Sicilian settlers, but from the Arabic word for archipelago, morfiyeh. In fact, there's only one big island
(plus a couple of tiny outliers) in this group 160km south of Zanzibar and 20km east of the Rufiji river delta on the Tanzanian mainland. They have always been an important stopover on the Arabia – Mozambique trade route, and dhows continue to ply the seas to Dar, which is about 10 hours away by jahazi.

The main island is about 50 by 15 km in area, and has a population of around 40,000, most of them in tiny hamlets lining the coast. Its main town is Kilindoni, home to the island’s fish factory, its single bank and post office, its Catholic church and largest mosque, as well as the grass airstrip and tiny airport (endearingly, there's a sign marking the "waving goodbye area"). There are two roads on the island – neither of them surfaced – one of which runs north-south up the west coast, and the other of which crosses to the village of Utende on the east side. A grand total of 50 or so vehicles jostle for space on these highways. All in all, there’s a wonderful feeling of remoteness and simplicity, as if it’s been forgotten by the rest of the world - so far, at least.

The coastline is largely mangrove-lined and, while it lacks the endless white-sand beaches of Zanzibar, there are some lovely, remote coves. Didimizi, 4km south of Utende, is the most accessible, while Dindini can be reached by boat from Utende in an hour or so. You can also rent windsurfers, or try your hand at sailing a dhow or traditional ngalawa.

There are 10 outlying islands in total, if you include the coral reefs, plus numerous sandbanks which emerge at low tide. One of the larger islands, Jibondo, has some wonderful rock formations among its pristine beaches. Neighbouring Juani boasts the remains of the Shirazi capital, Kua, which was destroyed by Madagascan cannibals in the 1820’s. The creeper-entwined columns and blue-white pottery shards make for an atmospheric exploration on this (amazingly) fresh-water-free island.

17:39 | GMT + 3 Hours