Butiama Beach: Our full report
Butiama Beach opened on the west coast of Mafia Island in 2010.The lodge is a stroll along the beach to the west of the island's capital Kilindoni and outside the boundaries of the Rufiji Mafia Kilwa Marine Reserve. It's a simple beach lodge catering for couples, friends and families - from Dar expats and residents looking for a weekend escape, to better-heeled trans-African travellers and those staying for a short break after a safari.
Butiama has 15 spacious bungalows, including 2 family rooms on the sea front with two bedrooms; 2 triple rooms - one at on the seafront and one further back in the gardens; 2 twins in the gardens; and 9 doubles in various locations. They all face north-west, across the sea towards the Tanzanzian mainland, although some have better sea views than others. The bungalows have large verandas at the front, and the baraza-style sofas and hammocks here are a lovely for catching the breeze and enjoying the sea views.
Inside the rooms, reclaimed wood from old dhows has been used to create the wooden furniture and luggage racks. The white mosquito nets combined with colourful kikoi-woven cushions and bedspreads give a really light and airy feel, and the beds are comfortable. The colour scheme throughout Butiama Beach is whale shark: light blues and dappled white polka dots. There is some space to hang your clothes, as well as an en-suite bathroom with reasonable water pressure and hot water most of the time – not that you will often want a hot shower. The rooms have good-size digital safes and 24-hour electricity and charging points, with UK-style 3 pin sockets.
Sheltered under makuti thatch, the lodge's main areas comprise the sandy floored Chiringuito bar, which is set right by the beach overlooking the sea. There's also a small library with board games, pool table and local games of >bao. Dining takes place in an open-sided area to one side of the bar, although you can also eat on one of the comfortable sofas arranged around the bar. Butiama has a shop called the 'Green Room' that sells a good selection of souvenirs, many of which are locally made.
In keeping with the rest of the lodge, the (unsupervised) swimming pool is also pale blue and provides dappled shade. It's a decent size and there are sun loungers and a few tables set up around the circumference. It's a lovely place to relax during the day, as is the clean, quiet beach beyond. Butiama is the only lodge on Mafia with access to such a long, white sandy beach. Apart from a few fisherman there are very few people here and being west-facing, they get magnificent sunsets.
If you want to be further relaxed and pampered, then check out the liltte Bahari Spa treatment hut at the west end of Butiama's beach and with views over the ocean. Open from 10am to 6pm daily, they offer massages, manicures and pedicures, and can also treat you in your room.
Butiama Beach offers a number of activities. Sea kayaks, snorkelling gear, motorboats and fishing tackle are available, as well as traditional dhows. The owner is a retired dive instructor and the lodge has its own PADI-certified dive center ‘Big Blue’ that takes guests scuba-diving inside the marine park. It's worth noting that diving, and much of the snorkeling, is done on the eastern side of the island, so guests are driven over there to dive, which takes about 30 minutes. The lodge can also arrange longer trips such as island excursions and dhow cruises, stopping for lunch on a sand bank. Back at the lodge yoga sessions can also be arranged.
Butiama Beach is also perfectly situated for guests who hope to see and snorkel with the enormous, harmless whale sharks that laze in the shallows off the island's west coast roughly from October or November to March, vacuuming huge quantities of plankton into their wide mouths. Butiama Lodge operates motor boat trips out to snorkel among the whale sharks whenever more than a couple of people want to do this activity, which involves positioning the boat near a circling shark and then allowing snorkellers to gently drop into the sea to swim alongside it. Unfortunately, Butiama's boats barely adhere to the whale shark code: often going too fast; chasing the sharks, joining other boats when there are already too many by a shark; and trying to intercept the fish to allow their guests to get the underwater photos and videos they're hoping for. While Butiama can't be accused of actions that are particularly flagrant, and certainly no worse than other boats in the vicinity when we experienced this excursion twice in 2016, we did feel they should be encouraged to adhere much more strictly to the agreed code. When we stayed in 2018 we enjoyed the whale shark snorkeling, however we still felt that the priority was give guests the best viewing experience, sometimes at the expense of the sharks.
Back on shore, you can walk along the white sandy beach: 10–15-minutes walk in one direction leads to Kilindoni village and the markets, while the other direction leads to a creek populated with a variety of birds and small monkeys. Kilindoni village is an interesting place to explore however it is worth noting that the this is quite a conservative community and visitors are expected to dress modestly and women should cover shoulders and knees.
We like Butiama Lodge a lot. What it lacks in fluffy towels and fancy toiletries it makes up for in value and consistency. It's ideal if you're looking for a simple, laid-back base after a safari, and the diving and whale-shark-snorkelling are big pluses. If it could get its act together properly on the somewhat chaotic whale shark trips and follow the code for conducting these, we'd be able to recommend it wholeheartedly.
- Mafia Island, Tanzania
- Ideal length of stay
- Stay here for 3–4 nights to relax and perhaps do some diving.
- Butiama Beach is about a ten-minute drive from Mafia airport.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Half Board
- Food quality
- The managers are very helpful, and are more than willing to help cater for any special dietary requirements, or to help you make the most of a special occasion.
Breakfast is usually served at 07:30 in the main Peka Peka restaurant and is a selection of fruits and cereals, followed by a cooked breakfast made to order. Limes with the papaya and decent coffee make for a good start.
Lunch is a varied à la carte menu, including pizzas, salads and sandwiches. We were impressed with the variety of choice, and thought the food was fresh and tasty. It was refreshing to have such a wide selection to choose from.
Dinner is a set three-course menu with choices. On a previous visit, we enjoyed a tomato soup to start, followed by grilled fish with roasted vegetables and rice, and a chocolate mousse for dessert. The food was simple, but it was clear some thought had gone into the menu. As is to be expected, Italian dishes and seafood feature frequently on the menu. On our last visit, in 2018, we started with a fresh pea and mint soup. This was followed by a beautifully seasoned chicken curry served with rice and wilted cassava leaves, we rounded up our meal with tiramisu.
- Diving & snorkelling
- From November to March, Butiama offers good opportunities to swim with whale sharks. It is also a short drive from the protected reefs of the Mafia Marine Park on the east side of the island.
- See ideas for Diving & snorkelling
- Attitude towards children
- Butiama Beach welcomes children.
- Property’s age restrictions
- There are no age restrictions.
- Special activities & services
- They have cots and highchairs.
- Generally recommended for children
- Most of the activities on offer at Butiama are suited to older children and the nearby beach presents a potential water hazard, so parents should supervise their children at all times. The laid back atmosphere and family rooms are a good option for those travelling with children.
- Recommended for age 10+.
- Power supply notes
- There is a back-up generator.
- There is normally good cellphone signal, and free WiFi is available in the reception area.
- TV & radio
- There is no TV at the lodge, but there are TVs in nearby local restaurants if you're keen to watch a major event.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Bottled water is supplied.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- There is a first-aid kit at the lodge for basic injuries and there's a hospital a ten-minute drive away in Kilindoni. For anything more serious there is a large international hospital in Dar es Salaam.
- Dangerous animals
- Low Risk
- Security measures
- The lodge has discrete security guards on duty 24 hours a day, both around the lodge and on the beach.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers in the main areas and in each bungalow.
- Disabled access
- Not Possible
- Laundry facilities
- Laundry is included in the price.
- There are electronic safes in all of the rooms and they can exchange small amounts of money.
- Accepted payment on location
- Butiama ask that payment for any extras is made in cash. US dollars, euros, Tanzanian shillings and British pounds are all normally accepted using the exchange rate of the day.
Other lodges in Mafia Island
Alternative places to stay in this same area.