Pole Pole is a tiny, relaxed beach resort beside a sleepy beach on Mafia Island
Pole Pole: Our full report
Pole Pole is a lovely relaxed beach lodge, built in 1998, and set among coconut palms, on a hillside sloping up from the beach, overlooking the sheltered Chole Bay in the Mafia Island Marine Park. The phrase 'pole pole' means 'slowly' in Swahili, and certainly says a lot about the atmosphere here. With only seven thatched bungalows, Pole Pole is intimate, quiet and very welcoming, and offers a perfect beach retreat.
The beach at Pole Pole is a quiet stretch of white sand, cut off at either end by outcrops of mangroves. A path through this roughly follows the high-tide line, and allows you to explore further along the shore. At high tide, the mangroves make the narrow strip of beach feel like a secluded little cove. Then, when the tide goes out, you can potter much further from the shore, although since the tide can go out a long way, swimming times are limited. Wander a little way through the mangroves, however, and around the corner from Pole Pole you'll find a stretch of beach where you can swim throughout the day. Alternatively you can take a dhow boat out to a sandbar and swim from there. When the tide is high, the sea can come right up to the wall, but a sandy terrace is still available to wiggle your toes in.
The seven cottage rooms at Pole Pole all sit on a gentle slope just above the beach, so all have a sea view. They were designed to reflect a safari mood, which they do very successfully. Cottages #1 to #5 feel a little close together: the double-room cottages #6 and #7 are more spaced apart
Read more about the thatched bungalows here...
Pole Pole's main areas are all built in very similar style – with high thatched ceilings, dark wooden floors and natural fabrics. The open-plan lounge and dining area is furnished with simple yet stylish wicker furniture, cream cushions and scatter cushions with intricate African patterns. In the dining area, take a look at the beautiful Zanzibari cabinet, which features an attractive display of Pole Pole's handmade soaps. At one end, a rustic bar is made entirely from wood and rope – very much in keeping with Pole Pole's general style. The clock behind the bar stopped working a long time ago – which is quite apt as time really isn't important here. Although it does tells the correct time twice a day…
Close to the main dining area, Pole Pole also has a smaller dining area called the duara - Swahili for circle. It is used for special or more intimate dinners. During the day, sofas and a hammock here offer the chance to relax out of the sun or play board games.
Pole Pole is Italian-owned, which shows in the simple but stylish air of the cottages, as well as in the menu. Meals are served either al fresco, overlooking the sea, or – if it's cool or windy – in a comfortable dining room with individual tables in a surprisingly formal setting. At one end, a relaxed bar is an inviting place to meet up with other guests.
At the back of the property there is a curved kidney bean shaped swimming pool. The location has been carefully thought out as the pool is set back from the beach so that it is sheltered from the wind and it’s in an area that has the least tree cover to maximize time in the sun. For those who want to stay cool there are canvas sheets to provide welcome shade. And the pool bar is on hand with drinks.
Next to the pool you will find Pole Pole's Alasin Spa – an open-sided thatched gazebo, where three excellent local therapists offer treatments ranging from a manicure to a full body massage. Prices vary but are generally moderate: expect to pay about US$15–60 per treatment, depending on what you opt for.
There is a good variety of activities on offer at Pole Pole. Guided mangrove walks, snorkelling trips and dhow trips within Chole Bay are offered daily, and one of these activities is included free of charge each day during your stay here. The timings and precise destinations/itinerary of dhow trips depend on the tides. Typically you sail for about an hour to a deserted sandbar, with a 360º view of the ocean. Here the crew set up simple shade cloths and prepare a beach barbecue with a good supply of drinks. Snorkelling trips often form part of a dhow trip – either from the sandbar beach, or as a stop on the way out or back.
For activities outside of Chole Bay, such as island trips, there is a small additional charge of $10 to $35. Stay for a while and you'll find plenty of different destinations to explore – from old historical ruins to the amazing colony of fruit bats on nearby Chole Island. You can also take a guided walk around Utende village itself, giving you the chance to meet the people of this relatively remote area.
Barely five minutes' walk down the beach is a small PADI diving centre, Mafia Island Diving. Here you will find a very competent team with well-maintained equipment. They run PADI courses and diving excursions in and around Chole Bay, which boasts many superb dive sites with a great variety of fish life. The dive manager usually visits Pole Pole in the evenings, to make arrangements for diving the next day. When the tide allows, they pick up and drop off at Pole Pole's beach.
Pole Pole is a five-minute walk from its neighbour on Mafia Island, Kinasi Lodge, and 15 minutes by boat from Chole Mjini, on Chole Island.
For 2016, Pole Pole has also introduced an option called 'Bahari Yako' ('Your Ocean', in Swahili). This offers a private, crewed sailing dhow at your command for a day – for a moderate extra cost, a bit like opting to pay for a private vehicle at a safari camp. You can use it to go where you like, and do what you want. Make the choices as you sail, which can include diving, sailing, snorkelling, stopping on your own sand-bank, or simply cruising around to explore.
Our viewPole Pole is a small, quiet and personal beach lodge that manages an excellent balance between staying in keeping with its surroundings, while creating a feeling of comfort and a relaxed, barefoot style. Expert Africa first came across Pole Pole many years ago, and we've visited many times. It has always been a firm favourite with us and our guests, and on our most recent visits it continued to live up to expectations.
Ideal length of stay: Three nights or more - although a week here would be fine for many people.
Directions: From the airport at Kilindoni, it's roughly a 30-minute drive across the island to Pole Pole.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Independent / Owner Run
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: On our last few visits, the food at Pole Pole was very tasty and there was always more than enough. The menu is often Italian influenced – though you will also find the odd Swahili dish.
Breakfast is usually a very casual affair and guests are free to arrive at leisure during the morning. You can expect a selection of fruit and a cooked breakfast.
Lunch is also very casual and can be timed around guests' varying activities. Although there are usually three courses, it is still a light lunch, involving lots of salads and cold meats. At a recent lunch we had a calamari starter, then saffron fish skewers with a lime dipping sauce, roasted tomatoes stuffed with spiced bell pepper.
Dinner is a substantial four-course meal. Often you will be served salads, paté, pasta and other western-style dishes, though on occasion Pole Pole will prepare a Swahili meal or a barbecue night.
Meals at Pole Pole are generally a fixed set-menu, often making use of fresh seafood. If guests would like something other than what is on the menu for dinner - then we encourage them to discuss this with the manager, as they are very happy to make alternative arrangements and will happily suggest other options!
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Tea, coffee, and filtered drinking water are included, but other drinks cost extra. Expect to pay around $18 for a bottle of wine and $4 for a local beer.
Further dining info: Pole Pole are happy to help with some room service, though there are no phones, so you will need to organise this in advance. The team will happily bring tea or coffee to you in the mornings. At 6.00pm a waiter will usually come and ask if you would like a sundowner drink. If you do not wish to be disturbed, you can leave the privacy notice across your door.
Honeymoons: Pole Pole is a very relaxed lodge, which is perfect for those wanting a romantic time in a peaceful location for their Tanzania honeymoon. Furthermore, the team is very good at making guests feel special and pampered – setting up private dinners and other special touches.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Tanzania
Beach holidays: For a beach holiday, it is more limited than Zanzibar. However, Pole Pole has one of the island’s better beaches. Casting off, some of Mafia’s best beaches are found on remote sandbars in the bay: stunning small beaches with a 360° view of the ocean reached on a dhow trip.See more ideas for Beach holidays in Tanzania
Diving & snorkelling: As with all of the lodges on Mafia, Pole Pole offers fantastic diving in the Mafia Island Marine Park. This is some of the best diving on the East African coast. When we were last there, diving cost $40 for a single dive and $300 for a 10-dive package (plus $20 a day equipment-hire fee).See more ideas for Diving & snorkelling in Tanzania
Wellbeing: Pole Pole has good, but very low-key massages and treatments, offered in a tiny, laid-back 'spa' on the beach. This isn't the place for high-end therapies, but for a relaxing massage in a great location, it's a really good bet!See more ideas for Wellbeing in Tanzania
Property’s age restrictions: Pole Pole accepts children 10 years old or older.
Equipment: There is no special equipment at Pole Pole for children.
Notes: This is a fairly adult-oriented lodge and is not suitable for a young family.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Power supply notes: There are European style 2-pin and UK-style 3-pin power sockets in the rooms. There are also British 3-pin power sockets in the bar. Rooms #6 and #7 have only UK-style sockets.
Communications: There is Wifi by the office at Pole Pole.
TV & radio: No TV on site, but there's TV in the local village.
Water supply: Borehole
Water supply notes: Unlimited bottled water is provided.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There is first aid available at Pole Pole, and for more serious cases there is a doctor in Kilondoni – the main town on Mafia.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: There is a gate at the front of Pole Pole and askaris (guards) on duty 24 hours a day around the grounds.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in all of the rooms, and also in the restaurant, kitchen, and store areas. In addition all of the main areas in the lodge are open sided, and everything is single-storey.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included at Pole Pole, up to a nominal limit of two pieces per guest per day. It's hand-washed.
Money: Pole Pole will happily exchange small amounts into Tanzania shillings for use in the local villages – but it is not a bureau de change.
Accepted payment on location: You can pay in cash in pounds, euros and dollars. You can also use Visa and MasterCard, with no surcharge. Pole Pole cannot accept Amex.