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 wonderful 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 have been constructed from local timber and palm fronds and 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. The double-room cottages can be suitable for families, however we feel that Pole Pole tends to have a more adult atmosphere.
Each cottage has a wooden veranda, all of which have partial ocean views. There is a comfortable daybed and a couple of chairs to relax in; each evening staff will come and offer you a drink on your veranda whilst watching the sunset. Inside, the cottages have a colour scheme of creams and terracotta’s, with dark wood floors and furniture, and quirky touches such as coconut husk detailing on the cushions. The result is a cosy, relaxing atmosphere where you can rest and unwind after a busy safari. The double or twin beds are partitioned off by a retractable mosquito net and the rooms are furnished with a writing desk as well as a shelving unit with plenty of storage space. All cottages are en-suite, with twin basins, a shower and complimentary toiletries provided.
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; there is also a small library.
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 a covered seating area with padded sofas. There is also a pool bar with friendly staff on hand to offer you drinks.
Next to the pool you will find Pole Pole's Alasiri 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.
Pole 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.
- Mafia Island, Tanzania
- Ideal length of stay
- Three nights or more - although a week here would be fine for many people.
- From the airport at Kilindoni, it's roughly a 30-minute drive across the island to Pole Pole. You will stop at the gate for Mafia Marine Park on route to pay the park fees; in 2018 these were $23.6 per person per day and payments need to be by card.
- Accessible by
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, breads and yoghurt, followed by an à la carte menu with a range of dishes including crepes 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 starter of avocado, mango and lentil salad, then grilled tuna steak with a creamy coleslaw and green salad; dessert was a homemade coffee ice-cream.
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. When we stayed in 2018 we were served sesame prawns and a zesty lime dip, followed by octopus curry, green pea puree and cardamom rice. We rounded up our meal with pineapple upside down cake.
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!
- 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 ideas for Honeymoons
- 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 ideas for Beach holidays
- Diving & snorkelling
- 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 ideas for Diving & snorkelling
- 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 ideas for Wellbeing
- Attitude towards children
- Pole Pole welcomes children aged 10 and over, however they prefer adults and older teenagers.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Pole Pole accepts children 10 years old or older.
- Special activities & services
- There are no special child activities at Pole Pole.
- There is no special equipment at Pole Pole for children.
- Generally recommended for children
- This is a fairly adult-oriented lodge and is not suitable for a young family.
- The pool is deep, and children will require supervision at all times.
- Power supply notes
- There is a backup generator. 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.
- There is Wifi by the office at Pole Pole and internet dongles can be provided at an extra cost if required.
- TV & radio
- No TV on site, but there's TV in the local village.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- Unlimited bottled water is provided.
Pole Pole: working together to fight plastic
Overlooking Chole Bay, the core of Mafia Island Marine Park in Tanzania, seven luxury bungalows make up Pole Pole Lodge. The lodge’s sustainable aspects are visible from the outside, with the suites being constructed with low-impact, locally-sourced materials - coconut wood and palm trees are used with designs from local experts and built using traditional methods.
Balancing luxury with a respect for local culture and environment, the lodge’s sustainable efforts can be seen in its active engagement in fighting against the use of plastic in their daily operations. Pole Pole has teamed up with Shanga, a Tanzanian social enterprise which employs more than 70 people with a range of disabilities, who make creative products using recycled materials wherever possible.
Pole Pole is committed to reducing single use plastics, and each year finds new and unique ways in which to achieve this. The body lotion, shampoo and shower gel (all supplied in glass bottles), as well as the vinegar and oil cruets used in the restaurant, are handcrafted by the team at Shanga. Pole Pole recycles spirit bottles to use as quirky water jugs for the rooms and restaurant, with cocktails and juices being served with compostable paper straws, to ensure Pole Pole is not adding to the ocean’s plight against plastic.
See more great sustainability projects in Tanzania
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- There is first aid available at Pole Pole, and there is a doctor in Kilondoni – the main town on Mafia. For more serious cases Pole Pole recommends flying to Dar es Salaam.
- 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.
- Pole Pole will happily exchange small amounts into Tanzania shillings for use in the local villages – but it is not a bureau de change. There is an ATM in Kilondoni if necessary.
- 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.
Other lodges in Mafia Island
Alternative places to stay in this same area.