Whale Shark Expedition


Spend 10 days on the beautiful, sunny and off-the-beaten-track island of Mafia, just off the coast of Tanzania. This slice of paradise is still relatively undeveloped and provides a great base to explore rural island life. Our main purpose on this expedition will be to collect data on Whale Sharks – gentle giants that grow up to 20meters in length! – to contribute to monitoring and conservation efforts. To do this, you’ll be swimming in the water right by them – although you can also collect data from the boat if you don’t want to snorkel.

It’s hard to put into words how special this expedition is! The combination of the location, the locals, the activities and spending time with these giants of the ocean creates a unique experience that you’ll cherish forever.


This is a hands-on conservation expedition. As well as directly contributing to research, we hope you will leave feeling enthused to protect our oceans following memorable close encounters with marine life and lectures where you can learn more about marine conservation.

Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet. We know very little about these sharks as they spend most of their time in the deep sea, but experts think they may live as old as 100 years old. One thing we do know about the population is that they are decreasing due to various threats such as fishing and pollution. Scientists are working to gather information on whale sharks so that we can better understand their habits and behaviour.

Almost every day on expedition, we will be out on the ocean in a traditional dhow boat looking for whale sharks. When we spot a shark, you and the team will enter the water and swim alongside them collecting as much data as we can – including trying to capture a photo of their unique spots (which acts as a thumbprint to identify individual sharks). Once this has been collected you are free to swim as many times with the sharks until you are tired…..we usually give up before they do!

When we swim with the whale sharks we will be snorkelling so no diving experience is necessary.

Being wild animals sightings are never guaranteed. We are there during peak migration season and our length of time on the island gives us a really good chance of sightings but, like with all animal sightings in the wild, you should come with the expectation that seeing them is not a given.

Throughout the week, there will be lectures and workshops on Whale Sharks, Corals and wider marine conservation issues.

As well as collecting data on Whale Sharks, we will also do beach cleans and have an opportunity to learn and practice how to monitor and collect data on corals.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There is a huge overfishing issue on the island so we will only be serving vegetarian meals on the expedition and expect participants to be on board with this.

Whale shark

Rest & relaxation

We are up early each day on the boats as the sharks are most active in the mornings. This means we have plenty of time in the afternoons to rest by the pool.

If you like to keep yourself busy though there will be lots of activities on offer alongside our conservation work. You can look forward to daily gentle pilates sessions, personal goal setting workshops and group activities.

Midway through the retreat, we will take a day off to visit the other side of the island and the marine park where we can snorkel and visit a lagoon. We will also visit the very special Chole Island…..in a typical year the island gets just 200 visitors! There are no cars and we will be searching for hidden ruins and the worlds largest bats – the Flying Foxes.

On our last night, you can look forward to a sunset cruise and BBQ on the beach! And our local boat boys might be trying to persuade you to join them for a dance at the local ‘club’!!!


We will be staying at the beautiful and quiet Bustani Lodge which has been hired out exclusively for our group. You will get en suite double room with air-con (although we encourage you to utilise the sea breeze as much as possible to reduce our impact). All beds have mosquito nets and there is a pool, bar and relaxation area on site.

Mafia is a poverty-stricken and cut-off Island so although we will be staying in comfort, you should prepare yourself for the realities of life there. Malaria and other diseases are present so you will need to check with your GP about preventative measures and vaccinations you will need.

Many of the islanders still live in mud huts with no running water and electricity. The local Tanzanians have are friendly and reserved nature and part of the enjoyment of Mafia is getting to know the locals and their way of life which is so different to ours.

We ensure that all our local teams are paid a fair and above average wage and that us being on the island contributes to the local economy. If you’d like to bring clothes, books or toys (please avoid plastic…the island is already overrun with too much plastic pollution!) we can arrange for these to be donated to the nearby schools or nurseries.

A typical day

Most days we will start early with a wake up pilates stretch – breakfast will be had on the boat. Usually, we will be out looking for or swimming with the whale sharks until 12-2pm when we will return for lunch at our hotel. There will be snacks and water available on the boat.

The afternoons will be yours to relax and enjoy the island. Some days we will organise an optional beach clean or will run personal development sessions.

Before dinner is a great time to go for a walk along the beach to watch the sunset or do a beach clean. We will then have a meal together as a group followed by a workshop or conservation talk.

This expedition is being led by Ella Hewton, Love Her Wild’s Community Manager. Ella is a passionate conservationist who has a background in sports coaching and leadership training. As well as being a keen adventurer, she has supported some of the UK’s biggest international expeditions including the Coxless Crew and Beth French’s Oceans 7.

What is included

One of the great things about the Whale Shark Expedition is that almost everything is included in the trip cost. There are very few places to spend your money on the island and, even then, drinks and souvenirs are cheap.

Included in the price is…

  • 9 nights in private accommodation in Bustani Lodge
  • All meals from dinner on the day of your arrival to breakfast on the departure day (meals will be vegetarian so we are reducing our carbon footprint and not contributing to animal mistreatment or overfishing)
  • Transfers to and from Mafia airport to the hotel
  • An experienced expedition leader
  • Local support crew….and fare wages for all our local team!
  • Private boat for whale shark swimming and data collection
  • All Marine Park and Whale Swimming fees
  • Snorkel and fin hire for the duration
  • Personal development, pilates and conservation workshops
  • Additional activities including a say trip to snorkel in the marine park, visit Chole Island, the Blue Lagoon and lunch on a sandbank
  • Beach BBQ and a sunset cruise on the last night
  • *NEW FOR 2022* Offsetting of your international flights (equivalent of London to Mafia Island)

What isn’t included

  • International flights (you will need to fly into Dar es Salaam)
  • Internal flight from Dar es Salaam to Mafia Island (estimate $300 return)
  • Travel insurance
  • Drinks
  • Additional activities not included in the itinerary (really the only thing left to do on the island not included in the itinerary is diving. You may also wish to add on a safari package on the mainland before flying home. We can help you book both these options!)
  • Tips for the local staff (you may like to tip the ‘whale shark’ boat and hotel team, suggested amount is $60-100 for each)
  • Souvenirs – there really isn’t much in the way of shopping but we can visit the local fabric shop then arrange for a local tailor to make tote or toiletry bags to take home!
  • Optional gifts for the local school, nursery or medical centre (please avoid bringing plastic toys…and watch your luggage weight allowance!!)

For all tips, food and drinks £200-300 should be plenty!


Cost: £1970 (private en-suite room) and £1770 (twin share room) – inc booking fees

Dates: 12th – 21st October 2023

Where: Mafia Island, Tanzania


For enquiries, please email us on booking@loveherwild.com.

Please do not book your flights to Mafia Island until you have received confirmation that we have received minimum numbers for this expedition to go ahead!

You can secure your place on this expedition with a £500 non-refundable deposit. The full balance is due 90 days prior to the departure date. 

We have partnered with Inspired Ventures who specialise in adventure travel to support social and environmental projects around the world. Inspired Ventures is a UK travel company that ensures our trip has all the necessary insurance and complies with the necessary standards and laws in the UK. For full booking terms and condition click here.