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Rift Safari
Travelling along the Rift Valley: Diving Mafia
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WHERE AND WHEN:

Many people visit Mafia purely for its diving which is considered one of the best in East Africa. Resident whale sharks also attract visitors from all other the world. In this section of our website we describe the most relevant diving sites of Mafia most of which are set on the eastern side of the island inside Chole Bay or just off of it.

Winds and best months to dive:
Best diving months go from October to March.
The arrival of Kuzi, usually in April, brings an increase of rainfall and for about two months it can rain every day even if in between rains it is often sunny and temperatures are very pleasant. Starting from June this wind begins to become rather strong and until about mid of August it blows at a speed ranging from 11 to 22 knots with some rare days when it can reach 25+ knots which obviously influences visibility negatively and creates marine drifts in all the southern and eastern dive sites. During these months it is only possible to dive inside Chole Bay. From September this wind fades more and more and October is probably the best month to dive in Mafia with a particularly calm sea.
Between November and December until March the monsoon swings from south - southeast to north - northeast [Kaskazi]. This is a much more gentle wind and makes it possible to dive both inside and outside the bay where all best dives are all wall dives. The very best months for diving when Kazkazi wind is blowing are January, February.

Visibility:
Visibility varies with the wind and tides. Generally speaking we could say that visibility is best from October to March.
Inside the bay:
it is always poor on outgoing tides [8 meters] as there is the normal accumulation of organic and granular matter in the water. With high tide the visibility ranges between 10 and 20 meters. The diving is tide-dependent for this reason and also to avoid strong currents at the dive sites which are close to the mouth of the Bay [Kinasi Pass]. Inside the Bay you will normally dive at full low, full high or incoming tide for the Kinasi Pass drift dive and the Chole and Kinasi walls.
Outside the bay:
visibility is generally better and around 20 meters. Dives outside the Bay are not tide dependent but it might be dangerous to negotiate Kinasi Pass on an outgoing tide.
Algae Blooms are common and may last a week or so.

Marine migrations:
These concern only those divers who have got specific interests [whale sharks, marine turtles, whales].
Approximately we could say that the best months to encounter whales are August and September;
Five species of marine turtles occur in Tanzania’s waters. These include green, hawksbill, loggerhead, olive ridley and leatherback. Only two species [green and hawksbill] nest while little is known about the other three species [loggerhead, olive ridley and leatherback] however tag returns and accidental catches by local fishermen seems to demonstrate that they feed in Tanzania en route to nesting sites in Tongaland and Natal in South Africa.
The green turtle is the most common and widespread species in Tanzania. While low density nesting has been reported along the mainland coast from Tanga in the north to Mtwara in the south, the most concentrated numbers of nests appear to be on the offshore islands of Zanzibar, Mafia and particularly Juani Island and possibly the Songo Songo archipelago. The main nesting season is between February and July. Hatching occurs approx. 55 days after. There is evidence that some green turtles are resident while others are migratory moving to and from nesting and feeding grounds in Kenya, Seychelles, Comoros, Mayotte, Europa Island and South Africa.
Hawksbills are also widely distributed but are less abundant. The most important nesting sites in Tanzania are Misali Island, off Pemba, and Mafia Island. The main nesting season is during the northeast monsoon between December and April. Although no animals bearing tags from other countries in the region have been recorded, the hawksbill is a migratory species so it is probable that Tanzania harbours both residents and migrants. For more information link to Mafia Island turtles and dugong Conservation programme and to SeaSense.
Whale sharks are resident in Mafia channel where they feed on plankton carried by the delta of the Rufiji River. Sightings are therefore possible all year round but chances are higher from October to March when the sea should be calm allowing plankton to float on the water surface.
Dugong were seen regularly along the Tanzanian coast in the 1960’s and 70’s however, after years of subsistence hunting, populations have decreased dramatically and they are now on the verge of extinction in Tanzania. The Rufiji Delta is their last known refuge. Sadly, it is practically impossible you will be able to see one of these creatures.

Dive traffic:
At peak season [July, August, December, January and February] diving sites of Mafia tend to become more busy however never as much as those ones of Zanzibar since the hosting capacity of the handful of small lodges of the island remains very low.

Divers experience:
Almost all Mafia best diving is in depth of less than 30 meters which makes it interesting for novice divers however diving outside the Bay or nearby the pass on a outgoing tide can be dangerous since currents can sweep you out to the open sea.

Costs: following the below links you will access the diving centres web site, find their updated price list and last offers.

Emergencies:
The nearest decompression chamber is located at Matemwe on the northeastern coast Zanzibar however in case of need one will be transferred to Nairobi. Do not take any risk while diving here and remember that you cannot buy dive insurance in Tanzania.

SITES AND DIVING CENTRES:

Mafia Island dive sites
Mafia Island dive sites

DIVING CENTRES:

Basically all hotels inside the bay have got their own diving centre:
Mafia Island Sea Point is located on the beach of Utende and serves both Mafia Island Lodge and Pole Pole Bungalows guests. The centre is directly affiliated with PADI. Dive instructors are fluent in English, French and Italian.

The Blue World Diving and Water Sports centre is located at Kinasi Lodge and managed by resident dive instructors. The centre is fully equipped and can serve up to twenty divers.

Shamba Kilole is the only PADI resort on the island hence qualified to do PADI courses and release PADI certification. Classroom are hold at the lodge which has also got a 3 levels of depth swimming pool.

Butiama Beach located on the southwest coast, outside the bay, has also got its own diving centre [Big Blu Mafia] on the beach of Utende about 100 m. from Mafia Island Lodge.

Chole Mjini located on the island of Chole has also got its own diving centre: Jean, the lodge owner is a PADI Master SCUBA Diver Trainer able to tailor dives to the specific needs of each group. Anne, his wife, is a PADI Dive Master and underwater photographer.

1. DIVING AND SNORKELLING SITES INSIDE THE BAY:

Milimani Reef: depth 6 - 21 m.
This is a sloping reef starting at 6 m on a full tide. There's a wide variety of hard and soft corals, abundant reef fish such as napoleon wrasse, groupers, lionfish, glass fish, squirrelfish to name a few and lots of juvenile fish since this is as well a nursery area.
An excellent dive for those interested in variety and details or as a second dive. This is an ideal site for night dives as well.

Flatworm Seahorse
Flatworm at night dive: photo by Alberto D'Este - Seahorse: photo by Mattia Contin

Kinasi wall: depth 6 - 24 m.
This is a very popular dive in mafia. The site consists of a sheltered bank reef starting at 6 meters and sloping down to 24 metres running from southeast to northwest for approximately 800 meters. There are many species of hard and soft corals, seafans, giant clams, a great variety of shoaling and solitary fish ... any encounter can be possible here from large groupers, to napolean wrasse and pelagic species. Hawksbill turtles are often sighted.

Chole wall: max depth 15 m.
This wall is the southwestern extension of the Kinasi wall also about 800 m. long and consists of a steep bank of coral descending to 15 m. and ending in coral rubble and sand. Normally you will not see here the same quantity of fish that the Kinasi pass hosts but corals are intact and stunningly beautiful. There's anyway good variety of reef fish and many species of nudibranchs. Turtles and young barracudas are often sighted. This is an excellent introductory and night dive and a snorkel site as well..

Coral garden: depth 6 m.
A very large area of beautiful bommies lying in a wedge behind the Kinasi walls with very beautiful soft and hard colourful corals, lots of nudibranchs and a very high diversity of tropical fish. Dives at kinasi wall usually end up here. At low tide this is an excellent site for photography and for snorkellers.

Coral patches: depth 6 - 17 m.
This site comprises three extensive and spectacular coral patches separated by sand channels. The many species of coral are packed around the ancient porites formations. There are large number of shoals of fish, equalled only by Kinasi Pass. A peculiarity is the occurrence of large numbers of spotted garden eels.

Kinasi pass: depth 6 - 26 m. [recommended]
The fringing reef here is formed by a vast array of hard coral species forming little and large walls, one after the other, with small caverns and overhangs. There are great shoals of juvenile and adult reef fish along with pelagic fish coming and going with the tide. Common sightings include large groupers, barracuda, parrotfish, turtles, eels, large rays, small reef sharks, kingfish, carangidae, rainbow runner. Microfauna and nudibranchs abound as well. This dive is can be done in combination with the Pinnacle and it can be good fun with a light incoming or outgoing current. This is a good site for snorkelling as well.

anemone anemone

Pinnacle: depth 10 - 25 m. [recommended]
The Pinnacle is a spire of ancient coral rock rising from a 25 meters bottom up to 10 meters below water surface at the entrance of Kinasi Pass. This is a spectacular dive for the unusual structure and the mixture of reef and pelagic fish in the channel. There are resident moray, giant batfish, eagle rays, barracuda, large groupers, carangidae, napoleon wrasse and from June to September you might be able to spot sand tiger sharks. At high tide this dive can be done together with Kinasi pass but at low tide it well deserve to be dived alone: just stay at the bottom and look upwards, it is a stunning sight.

Kinasi pass islets:
Kisiwa Kubwa and Kisiwa ndogo, the two larger islets in the main Kinasi Pass are very nice snorkelling sites. There are scattered bommies and shallow reefs between and around them home to the usual reef fish. Open billed storks, hadada ibis, little egrets and fish eagles are resident on the islets.

2. DIVING AND SNORKELLING SITES OUTSIDE THE BAY:

Jeena reef: max depth 26 m.
A gently sloping fringing reef with plenty of coloured soft corals. Common sightings include groupers, blue spotted trevally, white tip sharks, guitar sharks, huge rays, turtles and occasionally eagle rays. It is Good site for snorkellers as well.

Jeena wall / pass: depth 8 - 20 m. [recommended]
This site consists of a small vertical wall offering shallow caverns and overhang. There are no hard corals here however that lack is compensated by a wide variety of algae, soft corals and basket sponges which are home to many species of nudibranchs. There is plenty of very large and friendly potato, honeycomb and malabar bass groupers. Turtles are very often sighted along with other large pelagics so the diver is advised to keep looking above and out to sea. A good spot for snorkellers as well.

Dindini south wall: depth 9 - 22 m.
An extension of Dindini wall north interesting for the many small walls interspersed with shelving reef, offering a great variety of soft and hard corals and reef fish. Common sightings include napoleon wrasse, large potato bass groupers, leaf fish and a vast array of anemones.

Leaf fish
photo by Roberto Spinsanti

Dindini north wall: depth 8 - 30 m. [recommended]
The reefs have flat tops at 8 m dropping vertically in a spectacular wall to 25m with sandy bottom. This is a real authentic rock wall with caves, caverns, overhangs and an archway commonly featuring large groupers, guitar sharks and turtles. Being outside the barrier large pelagics such as sailfish, large tuna and dolphins might also be spotted above or out in the blue.

Juani: depth 4 to 30 m.
This is a very long wall allowing four different dives. There is plenty of soft corals and reef fish such as moorish idols, red toothed triggers [up to 70 individuals have been sighted here], threadfin and white browed butterfly fish, unicorns, blue surgeons, forskal’s goatfish to name a few. Dolphins, turtles, eagle rays and hammerhead shark are also very frequently seen.

3. DIVING AND SNORKELLING BOAT EXCURSIONS

Kitutia reef:
A beautiful day trip with picnic on the sand bank at low tide. Kitutia reef is a good spot for snorkelling with plenty of reef fish and turtles commonly sighted. The excursion can be combined to an easy dive suitable for beginners.

Mange reef:
A fantastic full day excursion for everybody to Mange sand bank with pic nic lunch. Snorkellers can appreciate beautiful stands of branching staghorn corals and plenty of reef fish while divers can enjoy two fabulous sloping wall dives on the western side the reef. Common sightings include batfish, barracuda, caranx, huge groupers and grey reef sharks.

Sailing to Mange reef
On the way to Mange sand bank

Our pic nic is getting cooked ...
Our pic nic is getting ready ...

Day trip to Mange sandbank
Just us enjoying our lunch all alone


Milimani Kinasi wall Coral garden Kinasi pass Pinnacle Juani short Juani long Jeena reef Jeena wall Jeena pass Dindini south Dindini north Mange reef Kitutia reef