Pole Pole Bungalows

Utende, Mafia Island, Tanzania Book from Book from £397 per night

A small seaside lodge on the remote, wooded island of Mafia, with Italian management, fine cuisine and stilted, thatched bungalows
When you first visit east Africa, you quickly learn three words of Swahili – they echo about you, accompanied by big grins, from the moment you arrive. The first is karibu, which means ‘welcome’ and is liberally applied to anyone who looks pale enough to have recently arrived. The second is jambo, which means ‘Hello’ (or, from a child, ‘please can I have ten shillings for looking cute?’). And the third is pole pole, meaning ‘take it easy’.

Which is exactly what guests at this understated little beach lodge on the untrodden island of Mafia spend days doing. There is no noise or hassle, just sunshine and silence. No dusty roads, just a mangrove-lined tidal beach. No requests for ten shillings, just excellent service and cuisine from the elegant Italian manageress and her team. No crowded hotels, just a handful of wood-and-thatch bungalows with comfy Italian fittings. So, if you just want to chill out on a remote island, with nothing to disturb your reverie but a gentle sailing or diving trip, then off you go! And take it easy.

Information provided by Pole Pole Bungalows on 21/09/2020.

Cleaning and hygiene
Extensive hygiene measures in place, enhanced cleaning regimes. All guests, staff and visitors have temperatures checked on entry. Hand washing stations. Masks available at reception. Staff trained in safety measures and wear masks at all time. Bungalows cleaned and disinfected daily, thoroughly cleaned upon check-out. Keys sanitised between guests. All surfaces cleaned and disinfected regularly including work stations, restaurant tables, countertops, light switches and doorknobs.

Common areas
Social distancing in operation.

Food and drink
Tables cleaned between sittings and set for social distancing. Sanitiser available. Serving items sanitised.

More flexible cancellation terms.


  • Dhow trips to remote beaches and idyllic sandbanks
  • Mafia is a stunning, virtually unexplored archipelago with amazing sea-life (it’s a marine park), from tiny sea-horses to giant turtles
  • Spacious bungalows with shady verandas
  • There's a small spa area on site and an excellent dive school next door


  • It’s only a small strip of beach
  • At low tide you can’t really swim
  • There’s not much to do on land
  • It’s quite a journey to get there (but that’s part of the fun! - see Getting There)

Best time to go

Any time except April and May, when it is closed for the long rains - though Mafia is drier than Zanzibar. There is a high season supplement from December (which can also be a little wet) through March (which can be very hot). Best ‘value-for-weather’: September – October.

Our top tips

Anyone wishing to do a beginners scuba diving course ('Open Water Course') must present a medical certificate to the diving instructor, to show that you are fit for the course. Without this you cannot undertake the course.

Great for...

Great Outdoors
  • Beach Resort
  • 7
  • Children over 10 are welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym


There are 7 wood-and-thatch, stilted bungalows spread along the top of the hill with views over the sea to Chole Island.

The Luxury Bungalows (the name flatters them somewhat) are spacious, with a large sitting-sleeping room, a covered veranda and an ensuite bathroom. The double (or twin) beds have mosquito nets, a ceiling fan and Italian bedlinen; they are quite comfy, though a little on the narrow side. There is also a writing desk, plenty of clothes hanging space; outside there’s a day-bed and a couple of easy chairs. The walk-in shower is hot and effective, and the twin basins are a pleasant surprise. A secondary net separates the whole interior from the thatched roof above. The overall atmosphere is spacious and cool but rather gloomy. At the far end are 2, newer Luxury Family Bungalows with 2 bedrooms (with 1 double and 1 twin) and a bathroom in the middle. The per-person rate is the same, with under 12's paying 50% of this.

Features include:

  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Mosquito net


At the bottom of the hill is a reception-kitchen block, and next to that an open-sided split-level dining-bar area, with views out to sea. The dozen or so tables are laid with candles, paraffin lamps and surprisingly elegant crockery and glassware. The staff check the proposed menus with you in advance, and can always take account of particular requests or allergies.

Antipasto African-style came in the form of a fresh octopus salad, followed by a pumpkin ravioli in tomato sauce for the obligatory pasta dish. Both were tasty and tender - certainly not as al dente as is de rigueur in Italy. Primo piatto was a white snapper with potato slices and grilled green peppers. You can order lobster or king prawns a couple of days a week. The passion sorbet with vodka was small and delicious. You can wash it down with house wines (by the glass), beers, cocktails or the day’s fresh fruit juice - all excluded from the rates, but reasonably priced.

Breakfast is a light and healthy spread of fresh fruit (our mango and papaya were wonderfully juicy), bread or toast, hot and cold drinks, and eggs to order. There’s a light lunch menu, or if you are on a day-trip a picnic is provided.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Restaurant


  • Diving with the next door dive school: Mafia Marine Park is one of the prime diving areas in Africa (a Divernet writer once called it "the best location in the world"), with half a dozen sites offering stunning reefs, corals, night dives and walls; expect barracuda, grouper, angelfish, butterflyfish, wrasse, parrotfish, sting rays, maybe the odd whale shark outside Chole Bay

  • Sailing around Chole Bay on the hotel’s boat, gliding past jagged coral rocks, stopping to visit the village and German ruins on Chole island, then pulling up at a sandbank for a picnic lunch under a canopy

  • Or heading further afield to the beaches of Bwejuu or Kitutia; or to Juani island, with its ruined Shirazi city of Kua, its tidal channels (‘blue lagoon’) and its wooded paths (antelope and wild pigs)

  • Follow the birdwatching path through woods near the lodge

  • Jeep excursion to Ras Mkumbi lighthouse at Mafia’s northern tip, or to Chuwia beach

  • Relax by the pool, set within the gardens the shaded seating area and bar make it a great place to while away the hours

  • Enjoy a massage with essential oils either on the beach or in your bungalow from the resident masseuse

  • Local sailing trips are free, but you'll need to pay for diving and for any equipment hire.

  • The hotel’s sister company, Mafia Island Sea Point, offers diving courses in English, French and Italian. A PADI-affiliated dive center, it has 3 instructors and 2 dive masters

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Birdwatching
    • Fishing
    • Sailing
    • Scuba diving
    • Snorkelling
    • Swimming
  • Kids

    Children over 10 are welcome however there a no real provisions for kids as the atmosphere is focused on relaxation and tranquility. 10-12 year olds pay 50% of the adult rate.

    Kid Friendly:


    Pole Pole resort is set in the Utende area of Mafia Island, which is southeast of Dar Es Salaam and off the east coast of Africa. The island belongs to Tanzania. The resort is set in a shady, breezy spot and looks over blue seas to the islands of Chole, Juani and Jibondo.

    By Air:
    Mafia (Kilondoni) Airport There are daily flights to Mafia from Dar es Salaam, and from other parts of Tanzania (including Zanzibar) via Dar. Click on the links below for a list of airlines serving these airports.

    From the Airport
    You will be met by jeep on arrival, a journey of about 30km (20-30 minutes).

    By Car:
    Hire cars aren't very popular because of the bumpy roads, bad signposting and short distances involved, but work out well if you are a group of four or want complete independence. If you’re interested then see our car rental recommendations.

    Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.com.

    More on getting to Tanzania and getting around the islands


    • Mafia 20.0 km MFA


    • Beach 0.1 km
    • Shops 0.2 km
    • Restaurant 0.2 km

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