When visiting Mafia Island, location is everything. Much of the island forms part of Mafia Island Marine Park – a government controlled conservation area that protects more than half of the island’s coastal waters. Whether you stay inside or outside the park largely depends on three things: 1) your itinerary, 2) the season you visit and 3) your budget. It can be overwhelming to make the decision without ever visiting. Luckily Butiama Mafia Island makes things easy for you by providing three hotels, in the three different locations, with something for every budget.
I was lucky enough to spend 7 nights on Mafia Island recently and got to try all three hotels. From Butiama Bustani’s garden retreat, to Butiama Marine’s action packed dive centre to the paradisical Butiama Beach, I experienced the best of what each has to offer. Because you will most likely choose just one or two of these hotels for your stay, I’ve summed up everything you need to know to help you make your decision. Got more time? Do what I did and stay in all three!
I was kindly hosted by Butiama Mafia Island for this stay. As always, all views are my own. Sign up here so you’ll never miss a post!
Fun fact: Mafia Island has a history that’s closely tied with Kilwa. Visiting Chole Island in Mafia is a must if you plan to visit, or have already visited Kilwa Kisiwani.
When we arrived in Mafia Island, Butiama picked us up in the best ride on the island – an open 4×4! From there it was just a quick 5 minute drive to Butiama Bustani. Upon entering, we were welcomed with fresh passion juice and then given a tour of the place. The first thing that struck me was the feeling of being in someone’s garden. There are flowers and greenery everywhere, which more than makes up for not being at the beach. The pool is beautifully designed, with shallow and deep ends, and when you listen you can hear the ocean.
I really liked the intimate nature of the hotel. With only 10 rooms, it’s perfect for a group of family and friends. Every night the hotel served a 3-course meal for US$12 – something we then realised is standard at each hotel. Because it’s outside the marine park, and therefore you don’t have to pay marine fees, this hotel is perfect for budget-conscious travellers who enjoy comfort.
Pros: peaceful, relaxing, has a beautiful pool, budget friendly.
Cons: not beside the beach (if that’s your priority), the rooms didn’t have windows (just the patio door), the power was unstable so sometimes the AC didn’t work making the room very hot.
Butiama Marine/ Big Blu – East Mafia Island
Mafia Island is a world class diving destination and Big Blu is the major dive centre on the island. Butiama Marine – a.k.a Big Blu – is simple, yet relaxing, with a restaurant on site. The biggest attraction is of course the full dive centre, including the Big Blu boat, which leaves from directly outside the hotel. You can take all the major diving courses here You can also do a discovery dives if you just want to try it out.
This is also the best location to visit Chole Island and Juani Island from. You can actually see the islands from the hotel and the boat ride is really picturesque as you sail past mangroves on clear water. There are also some nice beachfront local restaurants just a short walk from the hotel. I’d recommend this hotel if you are planning to be out doing activities within the marine park during the day.
Pros: World-class dive centre, located inside the marine park, other islands and activities easily accessible, beach front.
Cons: Marine fees (although not controlled by the hotel) make it a bit pricey for non-Tanzanians, not very much to do there unless you plan to be out doing activities all day (and with so much to do – why wouldn’t you?)
Butiama Beach is the most tranquil offering of all the Butiama Hotels. It’s located just 10 minutes from the airport, near the main town of Kilidoni. Butiama Beach is outside the Marine Park boundaries so no marine fees are applicable. This is a huge plus and for this reason alone, our group moved here a day sooner than planned.
As soon as we stepped into the hotel we knew we had made the right decision. The hotel is very charming from the relaxing lobby area (with free WiFi), to the sustainably designed pool and bar.
Of course, the main attraction at Butiama Beach is that it’s located right on the ocean front where you can view and snorkel with whale sharks (more to come – this definitely warrants a post of its own!) The boat trips leave daily from the hotel throughout the season (October to February, usually). If you come here outside of whale shark season, or wish to extend your stay for longer, fear not. The amenities on offer at Butiama Beach almost warrant a post on their own!
In addition to the aforementioned pool, there’s a semi-outdoor spa on site that overlooks the ocean. Beside the spa, a huge banda provides the perfect space to do yoga (mats are available to borrow for free!) If you prefer to take advantage of the coastline, kayaks are available for free to all guests. If retail therapy is more your thing, The Green Room have a branch at the hotel lobby. Here you can purchase sustainable souvenirs to take home.
The trip to swim with whale sharks was definitely the highlight of my stay at Butiama Beach. They have the best boat on the island for the trip. It’s a big platform boat that allows you to slide effortlessly into the water (instead of jumping which can disturb the whale sharks.) Additionally, their guide Amin is top class. He spotted the sharks way before any of us on the boat had even gotten a chance to see them.
Pros: Tranquil, charming hotel, sustainably designed, fantastic amenities. Cool, relaxing rooms with terrace area for relaxing, good WiFi, ideally located for whale shark swimming.
Cons: One of the more pricey options (but worth it, in my opinion).
To get the best rates, book directly with Butiama Mafia Island. They do loads of deals, including dive and whale shark packages. I’m already planning my return in November 2021!
Which hotel would you choose from the three? Let me know in the comments!