Beaches at Mafia Island
Utende is in the heart of the Mafia Island Marine Park and is the location of Park HQ, Mafia Island Lodge, Kinasi, BigBlu PolePole and Shamba Kilole. Just across the Bay on Chole Island is Chole Mjini. The beach is small but falls deeply into the channel, so under all tide conditions boats can be anchored and
Excursions launched. The beach is also public and can be very busy.
There are many small beaches of less than 100m along the coast of the main island to the north and on Juani and Jibondo islands. These are all tidal facing out onto hard coral reefs; they are also favoured turtle nesting sites as they face the ocean and deep water. They are all difficult to reach but worth the effort of a hike, especially during the hatching season of June-September. Details of monitored nesting sites can be obtained at the Marine Park HQ and guides are available.
A beautiful peninsula on the western corner of Mafia Island, facing Bwejuu Island. The northern end of the beach some 2km away was once the site of one of the original small stone towns of the Swahili Coast. It was known as Kisimani Mafia (A “kisima” is a well; a “ras” a peninsula). The town was eventually annihilated by the Zimba, a war-like and cannibalistic tribe from either the south or west (unclear in archaeological and anecdotal records) and the remnants of buildings succumbed to at least one cyclone and beach erosion over the centuries. Some of the ruined walls are to be found in the water off the beach and ancient coins can sometimes be found on beach washouts. There are long stretches of stunning and isolated beaches, a perfect picnic excursion reached by boat as there are no real roads to Ras Kisimani which is cut off during the high spring tides.
The Kitoni area – to the north of the old town, can be reached by car but it is a very long walk to Ras Kisimani itself. In fact, if you are a good walker you can hike from Kilindoni to Ras Kisimani and on to Kitoni or back through the coconut plantations to Dundani.
RAS MBISI to JIMBO
There is a continuous beach from west of Ras Mbisi to the north of Mafia, partly occupied by large 100-year old coconut plantations founded by German settlers before World War I and occasional villages of fisherman-farmers. A road trip to Ras Mbisi will bring you to a wonderful excursion area that is stunning in April and May for its butterfly populations, that explode among the flowering mangroves during the long rains. White sand beaches are in places broken by rocky outcrops.
Avoid areas close to villages for several reasons: privacy, low impact and very often biting midges (“sandflies”) are associated with settlements. The beaches on this north-eastern side of Mafia do not have snorkeling reefs until you reach Ras Bweni and Lua Cheia.
KANGA to RAS BWENI
The beaches continue all the way to the northern tip (Ras Mkumbi) of Mafia but are not easily reached due to the road network and sandy drifts (roads do go to the main villages and from there one can walk to more isolated spots (….and usually trailing a pack of kids). It is a lovely and interesting coastline with inlets, creeks, mangrove forests, rocky outcrops creating coves and literally, miles of empty sand. The beaches are all tidal, so check the tide times before you plan a trip or you may find the sea is quite far out and you cannot swim. Some spots like Lua Cheia beach, have shallow lagoons where one can always swim.
There are several islands just off the Jimbo creek area (Banja, Kidika) and Barakuni island, further northwards, is a gorgeous islet surrounded by deep blue water and beaches full of bird life. There is snorkeling and diving off its northern barrier reef, a short boat ride away. Excursions by boat are often available from Lua Cheia at Ras Bweni or boats can be hired at any of the villages in the north but this takes time to organize, depends on the tides (boats may not be floating), fishing, fuel and any number of other local matters, like weddings and funerals.
Safety of boats and water, sun exposure, food are also not be ignored.