Chole Mjini

  • Location: Beach / Coast
    Marimbani sandbar: 15 mins by boat
    Snorkeling and diving: 20 mins by boat
    Dhow sailing: In walking distance
    Chole village: In walking distance
  • Mafia Airport (MFA): 14km (25 mins by boat and car)
    Airport transfer available on request
    Car recommended

There is no cellphone reception and barely any WiFi, so you can completely disconnect from busy life. The only sound you hear is the nature surrounding you.
The Mafia Island Marine Park has world-class diving and snorkel spots with coral reefs that are in such exquisite shape and so full of life, you cannot keep your eyes off them.
Staying at Chole Mjini is a unique experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

This is a place for people who love the outdoors and being in nature at all times of the day/night.
Outdoor shower and toilet are private, but not ensuite. You have to walk through your garden to access them.
There’s no electricity in the tree houses but you can charge batteries at the Red Herring Cafe during the day.

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An introduction to Chole Mjini

How would you describe Chole Mjini in a nutshell?

Six tree houses and one garden house are the essence of Chole Mjini Lodge. In Mafia Island Marine Park, and part of Mafia archipelago, off the coast of East Africa, this responsible tourism lodge offers a tranquil island hideaway where you can enjoy the simple luxuries of star-filled skies, the sound of the waves, and the absence of modern stress. A tropical jungle with overgrown orchards, mangrove forests and huge baobab trees surrounds this wonderful world of its own. The tree houses are made from natural wood and thatch. Inside you’ll find four-poster beds with linens made with fine Egyptian cotton, private showers and dry composting toilets. This is quite an unconventional lodging, but perfect for those who are looking to be in nature and experience what it means to disconnect and have incredible experiences ranging from Swahili culture to world-class diving spots.

Just tell me a little bit about life on the island. How did it all start and how did you end up there?

Well, it happened quite by accident, actually. My wife worked in agricultural aid and was posted to Zanzibar. I went on a fishing and diving trip to Mafia and just happened to be taking a little tour of Chole Island and saw the boats they build and I decided to commission one to take to Zanzibar. In the process, I got to know the island very well. I came to Mafia several times and the district officials started meeting me at the airport when I arrived in a charter airplane, taking me around and showing me properties where they thought I should build a hotel.

We had no intention of ever living there or running a hotel, but it happened because the person who got us into it pulled out after we’d already raised money to start building a primary school and a little clinic. We had raised so many expectations and talked so much to people about what they want to do with their lives, we just didn’t feel that we could stop. So we were stuck, in a way.

It was quite a long way building everything. What is the biggest reward for you?

Well, I think for me the biggest reward is where we’re starting to be now. Just this week I got an email from one of these kids who just passed first year at university. He actually did very well. You can’t really explain that to his parents who didn’t go to school. But he’s so excited about it he emailed us. That’s so amazing.

We built the place entirely by hand with no electricity, no electrical tools. There are fantastic artisans who build boats, but in boats you don’t have any level surfaces. You don’t have parallel surfaces. You don’t need things to be perfectly upright. But for tree houses, you need all of these things. And the Swahili language doesn’t have words for them. In fact, there’s one word that describes everything that’s really geometric, at right angles, parallel, square, vertical, perpendicular, horizontal. The words is ‘sawa’. Unfortunately, ‘sawa’ is also the way that you would respond to say, ‘Okay, right.’ They can have a whole discussion with one word.

What sort of feedback do you get from the guests that stay with you?

Go look on TripAdvisor. You’ll see that we either get a 5 stars or 1 — nothing in between. We’re not mediocre (laughs). We’re totally crap or we’re great.

We’ve never had a marketing budget before. We don’t go out and sell our product to wholesale distributors who then send people here based on their commission. We’ve always worked with just a few operators who really give out a lot of information and deal very closely and directly with their clients. So people get enough information from that kind of operator to make up their own mind whether they want to come or not.

People who tend to come to Chole Mjini are a little bit different. We like to think of them as travellers with money rather than tourists. Because they’re actually interested to eat local food, meet local people and see how local people live, rather than do what they want to do. These people love Chole Mjini. Less than 1% of our guests don’t like it.

What sort of food do you serve at Chole Mjini? What’s typical for Tanzania?

What’s typical for Tanzania... there’s meat, meat and more meat. But Mafia is famous for seafood. It’s famous all over Africa for it. We happen to be in the middle of a fantastic marine park where local people are still allowed to fish by traditional methods and we are the closest to the fishing grounds of all the hotels. So all the old men in their little dugout canoes come to us first to sell us what they’ve caught. We eat fresh seafood all the time and we fly in a lot of salads and vegetables. We also grow some ourselves. There’s lots of fruit on Chole but we fly in more.

We’ve retained some traditional Chole dishes and actually, they’re the favourites on the menu. We’ve introduced things that are completely off the wall like Japanes Sashimi or Turkish mandarin and radish salad. The food’s relatively simple but it’s fresh. It gets cooked and we can’t store it until next meal. If we don’t eat it, the staff eats it. You can’t beat really fresh food, it tastes so good.

Do people change while they stay at Chole Mjini? When you look at them when they arrive and once they leave...

Oh yeah, that’s one of the wonderful things. My wife’s more sensitive than I, she picks it up. My daughter, as well. I mean, people change physically as they relax, but also their behaviour changes. Chole Mjini is a very small place so it’s very intimate. Some people tell us that it’s a life-changing experience for them. We have a number of people who have come back many times – and the most unlikely people.

We once had two Danish professors and their wives. They just looked so old, fragile and grey. We thought this is just not going to work. Well, they’ve been back three or four times. They just love it, they change completely. They leave bright pink and happy.

I’ve learnt a lot about how we tend to judge people and see them, and how wrong we can be.

How would you describe the essence of Chole Mjini?

When we found that we had to build this place, we decided to build it as we would have liked to have found it. That is, to try and change as little as possible to be comfortable. To be able to experience as much of what was there as possible. I guess that about sums it up.

We don’t try and persuade people to go into the village. We don’t even try hard enough to persuade them to contribute any more money to the projects that we run. They can contribute more if they want to — we now have a charity in the UK and a website where people can find out more.

So Chole Mjini isn’t about coming here to do good. It’s a beautiful place. When we were kids, both Ann and I, our parents would take us somewhere really remote. We knew we were on holiday when we reached the place where there wasn’t a flushing toilet and there weren’t electric lights. You go. “Ah! We’re in the middle of nowhere!” In fact, it’s a wonderful thing. I know many other people that find that very relaxing to get so far away.

What if you can't swim or don't like diving?

If you’ve never been into a village, then you’ve absolutely got to go into the village. You’ve got to go and see that poor does not mean dishonest, without pride, without dignity – it doesn’t even mean unhappy. It’s quite humbling and people with money actually realize that their lives are lacking something.

It’s really refreshing to be able to walk around in the village because the village is not spoiled. People are very friendly, they’re very aware that these tourists are helping them. The kids don’t beg or follow you around...

You can also go walking in the forest, you can go look at the fruit bats, for monkeys or snakes. There are ruins both on our island, on our property even, and elsewhere on the island and the next island. So you don’t have to do anything with the sea.

 There’s a lot to do. We’ve had guests for up to three weeks and they didn’t say they were bored.

Tell us about the development and support for the people of Chole island you’re involved in.

Central to the whole change of the island that we’re helping to bring about, is getting the kids early into kindergarten, giving them a decent meal once a day, taking them to the clinic once a month and making sure that they’re not carrying chronic Malaria, worms or other parasites or infections. You’ve got the brightest little kids you can imagine. There’s so much energy and just pure joy coming out of them. You go, “Shit! If I could have a little bit of that, I’d be Superman!”

So many kids are born into a place where they just don’t a chance to break out of poverty. All you’ve got to do actually is to intervene at that early stage. You’ve already given them a huge, huge chance to make their lives better and if you can carry it through until they can get enough training to actually get a job, you change their lives. If you can carry it for two generations, we’re never ever going to have to help that village again. Their lives will be forever transformed.

It sounds like your support is having an enormous impact.

I know people whose lives have been changed. I had a girl who went nuts when she watched men fishing illegally and destroying coral. She ended up getting a fellowship to go and study corals. Her whole life changed right there, just in the sea. She decided that coral was what was important to her.

On the other hand, there are people who come and look in the village and a few months later, they’ve given us $10,000 to run the kindergarten for a few years or something.

Do you miss anything about your previous life?

I can’t say that I do and I’m going to sound incredibly arrogant — but it’s okay.

Why I don’t miss what I did before is because I stayed in it long enough to be very good at it and to be successful – certainly far more successful than I thought I would ever be. So I’ve been there, I’ve done that. And working in a laboratory is just plain boring after a while, I don’t miss that.

What I do miss are my kids when they go off to school. Right now, my son is in Cape Town and my daughter’s in New Zealand and I really miss them. I’m used to having them around; I’m used to going diving with them — that, I miss.

Chole Mjini treehouse
Chole Mjini
Treehouse
Treehouse view
Treehouse
Village school
Location on Chole Island
Setting off
View from boat
Whale shark diving
Whale shark diving
Whale shark diving
Whale shark

Chole Mjini rooms & rates

Chole Mjini is not for people who want resorts, that’s for sure. We have no electricity in the rooms. The lighting for the tree houses is all with kerosene lamps. But we have ice-cold drinks in both bars. We have hot water available instantly when you want it. You can charge your batteries, iPods and all that stuff in the office, so you don’t need electricity.

The toilets are composting toilets because we can’t actually put a lot of dirty sewage water into the ground. The drinking water level is too close to the surface.

Chole Mjini will offer you the minimum you need regarding luxury, but without compromising on comfort. Look, I’m 57. I’m too old to be uncomfortable, so... we have extra-size mattresses that are sprung. We have percale sheets so that I can sleep like a baby, and I need a hot shower after I’ve been diving. Those are essentials for me — they are non-negotiable.

  • MOJA for 2 people / 40 m²
    400 / night
    • 1 Double bedroom

    Built in the canopy of a huge and ancient baobab (that apparently thinks it's a mangrove, growing as it does with its roots in the sea), Moja is popular because of the views of the sea - over the mangroves, enchanted by fireflies at night - and the spacious deck that wraps around the tree. Sometimes guests have other inhabitants, such as nesting Fish Eagles or Kites, sharing the baobab. It is the only tree house built on a single level, with only the one king-sized bed. The shower, built in a bamboo thicket, is a personal favorite.

    The downside, if there is one, is the toilet. It is one of three that were built by my predecessor and, although they function well, these early toilets are all too small for my liking and (horror of horrors!) the light inside is insufficient to read by.

  • SABA for 2-4 people / 60 m²
    400 / night
    • 1 Double bedroom
    • 1 Bunk room

    Saba, built around a flamboyant tree and surrounded by ruins, has been the most popular tree house with our guests from the day it was finished.

    To summarize, the pros of Saba are: It is one of the biggest, easily sleeping two adults and two children. The tea house has fabulous sunset views over the beach and delicious breezes, and it has a large sun deck over the beach. It has a light-filled and airy loo and shower.

    The cons are that it is on the beach, so it can be a tad noisy in the mornings when the fishermen leave or return (but that lends character). It is the only house that has a good view of Mafia Island across the water, which now has some nasty exuberance of electricity at night causing the fireflies to disappear from the mangroves in front of Saba.

  • NNE for 2-3 people / 40 m²
    400 / night
    • 1 Double bedroom
    • 1 Single bedroom

    Nne is another of the most popular tree houses, and for good reasons. It was the first of three houses with the upstairs 'tea house' design: the 'tea house', a 19th-century Stone Town innovation, is essentially an elevated room that is open to the breezes, allowing for 360-degree views; the sunsets are spectacular from here. Quite similar to Seven, but Nne has a baobab and views to the open ocean.

    Nne has also perhaps the most appealing of all the showers and toilets (designed by Anne and built by Fundi Rashid while I was away).

  • TANO for 2-3 people / 40 m²
    400 / night
    • 1 Double bedroom

    The second of the 'tea house' treehouses, Tano is set in the midst of the fig-entwined ruins of what was once a large house built during the 19th-century heyday of Chole, when the bustling trading entrepot flourished by trading between the Shirazi Sultanate of Kilwa, and the Omani Sultanate of Zanzibar. The tea house has sweeping views of Chole Bay and delicious breezes. When the figs are ripe the tree at Tano becomes a favourite haunt of the beautiful 'flying foxes' that live on Chole. Tano has 'too much Nature', according to a former Miss Universe who stayed here but hey, I thought she had too much silicone, but that too is not everyone's point of view.

    The shower is built into a remnant of ruin and has space for an entire football team. The toilet is new, bright and breezy.

  • SITA for 2-4 people / 80 m²
    400 / night
    • 1 Twin bedroom
    • 1 Double bedroom
    • 1 Shower room (ensuite)
    • 1 Extra bed (on req.)

    We built Sita, the 'ground house', for families with small children and/or for anyone afraid of a tree house or absolutely requiring a flushing toilet. Sita is very large, with multi-levels to create separate spaces: the throne-like built-in king-size bed is on the highest level, two Zanzibari beds on the next level (a few steps down), and a day bed on the porch, yet another few steps lower.

    It has a sunken, mosaic bath (micro swimming pool for the kids), shower and the only en-suite flushing WC on Chole. Sita is wide open to large gardens on either side, leading to the mangroves. Although it is the closest house to the bar and restaurant, Sita is still totally private thanks to the strategically planted hedges and the floor to roof curtains. It is just perfect for a young family.

  • TATU for 2-4 people / 60 m²
    400 / night
    • 1 Twin bedroom
    • 1 Double bedroom
    • 1 Shower room (ensuite)

    Tatu, also known as 'the house on the rocks', is reached by passing through a foliage tunnel. It is firefly city, and is the house most in touch with the ocean, with both really close up and distant sea views, crabs and mudskippers running around meters below, and even schools of fish under the house sometimes.

    Built on two separate levels, under two separate roofs, almost like two separate houses joined by a staircase, the main house is on rocks under a Tamarind tree, close to the ground, and the stairs go down from there into the second house that is over the beach in among the mangroves. During Spring tides the water comes right up under the lower house and even, twice a year (March and February) wets the floor of the lower house. The shower is in a very pretty rock garden.

  • MBILI for 2-4 people / 60 m²
    400 / night
    • 2 Double bedroom

    Built in a fabulous location, Mbili was my first tree house and is (along with number seven) the biggest, most ambitious construct. The engineering problems it posed delayed completion for almost a year and scared the crap out of me, which served to inhibit my grandiose delusions... until number 7. Mbili has two double beds on two spacious and separate floors, all under one roof. The views (especially from upstairs) are spectacular. Mbili's baobab is the granddaddy of them all and has its own spirit and personality (or so I'm told by more sensitive souls than me). One of our former guests still writes emails to the tree. The tree has yet to answer.

Included in the rates
Rates include all meals, drinking water, coffee, tea, maid service, laundry, WiFi in the Red Herring Bar, as well as all linen and towels.
Optional extras
Services on request: boat excursions, swimming with whale sharks, gear rental, fishing trips, island tours, sailing excursions, stand up paddle boards, snorkeling, and all other excursions.
Extra charges payable at the property
Marine Park fees (US$20 per adult per night/ US$10 per child per night PLUS 18% VAT), Tourism Development Levy (TDL) AT US$ 1.50 per person/night, Chole Village Levy, road transfers between airport and Chole Mjini Lodge (US$40 per car each way - max 7 adults sharing), beverages.
Children & Extra beds
Only suitable for Children 3+ year old. Children 3 and 4 years old stay for free. Children 5 to 15 years old pay 50% of the adults fee. Some units are more suited for families, such as Sita. Sita is the only house that can have an extra bed added. .
Minimum stay
1 - 3 nights (check calendar for dates)
Check in time
after 8:00
Check out time
before 19:00
Closed March 15 to June 15

Facilities & services

  • WiFi
  • Maid service
  • Bar
  • Garden
  • Restaurant
  • Not suitable for young children
  • Laundry service
  • Safe box

Our treehouses and the one garden-house all have private bathrooms but no electricity. There is a restaurant and bar on site and charging stations at our office.

We do not accept children under the age of 2 due to safety reasons. Children between 2-5 will have to stay in the garden-house.

Things to do in Mafia Island & Chole Island

  • Art / Culture
  • Cooking classes
  • Wildlife / Animals
  • Massages / Treatments
  • Scuba diving
  • Sailing
  • Boat trips
  • Fishing

There’s a wide range of things to do at Chole Mjini and people usually don’t stay long enough to do them all. They really should get their faces in the water and see the fantastic corals and the fishes — there are so many fishes and the coral is in such a good condition. If they do nothing else, that they have to do as far as I’m concerned. I love diving and I love being in the water.

For me the whale shark season is absolutely amazing. We had a professional safari guide who came recently for the last whale shark season. After he said, “That has got to be in the top three wildlife experiences I’ve ever had.” This is a guy who’s spent the last 30 years walking around the bush and taking people out.

Chole Mjini reviews

5 of 5 stars
Verfied Welcome Beyond stay
Chole Mjini was a 10/10!! It was heaven. When we arrived we were given information on everything about the resort and our options for adventures during our stay. The treehouse was even better than I had imagined it. The furniture was all simple and extremely clean and comfortable. Waking up in the morning to a symphony of birds was rejuvenating; the warm trade winds in the afternoon were a perfect complement for napping away our jet lag. They were working on revamping some of their menu and the food was absolutely sublime. Simple, but executed fantastically. The best part of the trip was meeting like-minded travellers and sharing meals together. We’re both highly introverted so that came as quite a surprise! We were able to swim with a whale shark for several minutes and even saw two humpback whales breaching. The snorkelling was fantastic; the reefs are in pristine condition. Jean and Anne are consummate hosts - we will definitely be returning to Chole Mjini!!
Rona D.
stayed at Chole Mjini in October 2017

The location of Chole Mjini

Part of the Mafia Archipelago, off the East African coast, Chole Island is in the heart of Mafia Island Marine Park. It is a tiny tropical island and an ocean-lovers paradise. Mafia Island Marine Park is a protected area between the Rufiji River Delta and the open Indian Ocean. You’ll find incredible ecosystems here, with coral reefs, and mangroves, and outside of the Marine Park between October and March, you can snorkel with Whale Sharks of the coast of Mafia. But also on land, there are plenty of things to do at Chole. From village walks to learning traditional Swahili skills, to discovering the ancient ruins of Kua (also known as the Pompei of East Africa).

When is the best time to visit Mafia Island?

Chole Mjini Lodge is open from mid-June to mid-March. The best time to visit is depending on which activity tempts you the most. Diving and snorkeling are wonderful throughout the entire season. The turtle hatching is mainly in June/July, the migration of the humpback whales are mostly in August, and the whale shark season is from (around) October, till (around) March.

Temperature-wise, it is most comfortable from June-August during the dry season. The sea breeze and the many shaded areas help to ensure that it does not get too hot. Due to the fact that the tree houses are high-up, they catch the breeze during the night too. In case that the breeze is not sufficient to keep you cool, there is a solar-powered fan available in every room.