Pole Pole, considered one of the most exclusive eco-resorts in the world, is renowned for its great cuisine, unpretentious and laid-back atmosphere, and warm but discrete hospitality. Balancing luxury with respect for local culture and environment, it is the perfect place to relax after a safari, and the ideal base for exploring the underwater wonders of Mafia Island.
When you first visit east Africa, you quickly learn three words of Swahili - they echo about you, accompanied by big grins, from the moment you arrive. The first is karibu, which means 'welcome' and is liberally applied to anyone who looks pale enough to have recently arrived. The second is jambo, which means 'Hello' (or, from a child, 'please can I have ten shillings for looking cute?'). And the third is pole pole, meaning 'take it easy'.
Which is exactly what guests at this understated little beach lodge on the untrodden island of Mafia spend days doing. There is no noise or hassle, just sunshine and silence. No dusty roads, just a mangrove-lined tidal beach. No requests for ten shillings, just excellent service and cuisine from the elegant Italian manageress and her team. No crowded hotels, just a handful of wood-and-thatch bungalows with comfy Italian fittings. So, if you just want to chill out on a remote island, with nothing to disturb your reverie but a gentle sailing or diving trip, then off you go! And take it easy
There are 7 wood-and-thatch, stilted bungalows spread along the top of the hill with views over the sea to Chole Island.
The Luxury Bungalows (the name flatters them somewhat) are spacious, with a large sitting-sleeping room, a covered veranda and an ensuite bathroom. The double (or twin) beds have mosquito nets, a ceiling fan and Italian bedlinen; they are quite comfy, though a little on the narrow side. There is also a writing desk, plenty of clothes hanging space; outside there's a day-bed and a couple of easy chairs. The walk-in shower is hot and effective, and the twin basins are a pleasant surprise. A secondary net separates the whole interior from the thatched roof above. The overall atmosphere is spacious and cool but rather gloomy. At the far end are 2, newer Luxury Family Bungalows with 2 bedrooms (with 1 double and 1 twin) and a bathroom in the middle. The per-person rate is the same, with under 12's paying 50% of this.
At the bottom of the hill is a reception-kitchen block, and next to that an open-sided split-level dining-bar area, with views out to sea. The dozen or so tables are laid with candles, paraffin lamps and surprisingly elegant crockery and glassware. The staff check the proposed menus with you in advance, and can always take account of particular requests or allergies.
Antipasto African-style came in the form of a fresh octopus salad, followed by a pumpkin ravioli in tomato sauce for the obligatory pasta dish. Both were tasty and tender - certainly not as al dente as is de rigueur in Italy. Primo piatto was a white snapper with potato slices and grilled green peppers, a nice dish let down by stale spuds. The passion sorbet with vodka was small and delicious, and particularly impressive when you remember that there is no mains electricity here. You can wash it down with house wines (by the glass), beers, cocktails or the day's fresh fruit juice - all excluded from the rates, but reasonably priced. Breakfast is a light and healthy spread of fresh fruit (our mango and papaya were wonderfully juicy), bread or toast, hot and cold drinks, and eggs to order. There's a light lunch menu, or if you are on a day-trip a picnic is provided.
- Internet access
- Outdoor pool
- Spa treatment rooms
- Airport Transfers
- Remote, idyllic tropical island location
- Right on the beach, with sunloungers and parasols
- Cool, breezy bedrooms with variable speed fan
- Walk-in shower with 24-hour hot water
- Spacious veranda with day-bed and chairs
- Rolling garden of lawns and palm trees
- Spa area with massage available on the beach
- Excellent dive school next door
- Free laundry service and bottled mineral water
- Friendly and efficient management, when we accidentally left our battery charger behind, managed to get it sent by light aircraft via Dar to Stone Town, where it was delivered to our door - all without charge!
When to go?
Any time except April and May, when it is closed for the long rains - though Mafia is drier than Zanzibar. There is a high season supplement from December (which can also be a little wet) through March (which can be very hot). Best 'value-for-weather': September - October.
- Diving with the next door dive school: Mafia Marine Park is one of the prime diving areas in Africa (a Divernet writer once called it "the best location in the world"), with half a dozen sites offering stunning reefs, corals, night dives and walls; expect barracuda, grouper, angelfish, butterflyfish, wrasse, parrotfish, sting rays, maybe the odd whale shark outside Chole Bay
- Sailing around Chole Bay on the hotel's boat, gliding past jagged coral rocks, stopping to visit the village and German ruins on Chole island, then pulling up at a sandbank for a picnic lunch under a canopy
- Or heading further afield to the beaches of Bwejuu or Kitutia; or to Juani island, with its ruined Shirazi city of Kua, its tidal channels ('blue lagoon') and its wooded paths (antelope and wild pigs)
- Follow the birdwatching path through woods near the lodge
- Jeep excursion to Ras Mkumbi lighthouse at Mafia's northern tip, or to Chuwia beach
- Relax by the pool, set within the gardens the shaded seating area and bar make it a great place to while away the hours
- Enjoy a massage with essential oils either on the beach or in your bungalow from the resident masseuse
- Local sailing trips are free, but you',ll need to pay for diving and for any equipment hire.
- The hotel's sister company, Mafia Island Sea Point, offers diving courses in English, French and Italian. A PADI-affiliated dive center, it has 3 instructors and 2 dive masters