I was lying on Kendwa Beach about ten years when a beach tout came past offering trips to Mnemba Island for snorkelling. I wasn’t a scuba diver back them but I jumped at the chance to take a dhow trip across to the island. What do they call it? A seminal moment? Definitely. I’ve never forgotten floating in water so clear I could see scuba divers below me so tiny they looked like dolls. And the marine life! A riot of shimmering colour that enveloped us.
Learning to dive in Cape Town waters was a bit of a shock to the system after those tropical waters. It’s long been my plan to go back there for a week’s diving for my 50th birthday later this year, but COVID seems to have put an end to that. Maybe next year.
Zanzibar is a carefree island paradise where the scent of vanilla and cinnamon lingers in the air and white-sailed dhows leave shimmering trails in the turquoise Indian Ocean. While Zanzibar is famous for its spicy tang and idyllic beaches, some of the most magical experiences you will have are underwater.
Surrounded by extraordinary marine landscapes alive with strange and wonderful marine creatures, Zanzibar is a dream destination for scuba divers. It is home to the some of the best dive sites in Africa, and according to many pro divers, the world.
From exploring eerie ancient wrecks and braving night dives, to swimming with manatees and making friends with bottlenose dolphins, diving in Zanzibar is wonderfully diverse and utterly unforgettable.
With average water temperatures of 27 degrees Celsius and visibility between 20 and 60 metres, it is a great diving destination throughout the year.
February, March, July, and August are considered the best months for diving in Zanzibar, but the high season typically spans July to September and December to January.
For divers with specific interests, migration seasons with the highest concentration of certain marine animals, and the highest possibility of sightings are over the following periods:
Eagle rays: June to March
Manta rays: December to April
Blacktip reefs sharks: June to March
Hammerhead sharks: November to February
Whale sharks (Mafia Island): October to February
Seahorses: June to March
Humpback whales: July to October
Whitetip reef sharks, dolphins, and hawksbill turtles: year-round
Unguja Island (Zanzibar)
Unguja Island, which is commonly known as Zanzibar Island, is the largest island in the Zanzibar archipelago. It is home to Stone Town, the heart and soul of Zanzibar, and surrounded by a selection of tiny islands that offer sublime dive sites and marine encounters.
Visibility around Unguja Island is usually between 20 to 60 metres
With its spectacular underwater mountain landscape and abundant marine life, Leven Bank is regarded as one of the best dives in Zanzibar. Set in the open ocean with drops from 12 to 55 metres and strong currents, it is only for advanced divers.
Along with an amazing array of corals, some of the creatures you will encounter when diving Leven Bank include: whitetip reef sharks, dolphins, rays, rainbow runners, honeycomb moray eels, barracudas, tunas, bluefin trevallies, guitarfish, triggerfish, marbled electric rays, Napoleon wrasse, groupers, and nudibranchs
Nankivell & Hunga Reef
Set side by side and with maximum depths of 12 and 16 metres, these two dive sites offer an awe-inspiring reef dive for novice divers. Huge bommies adorned with flamboyant coral formations create a magical underwater landscape that perfectly captures the colourful soul of the Indian Ocean.
Some of the marine animals you will encounter while diving these two sites include: reef sharks, dolphins, barracudas, snappers, silver sweetlips, Napoleon wrasse, groupers, parrotfish, surgeonfish, and lobsters.
This pristine underwater reef with its strange columna corals and impressive mountains of kaleidoscope corals, Gorgonian sea fans, and massive barrel sponges, is one of the best dive sites in Zanzibar. Plunging to depths of 30 metres, it is a great site for experienced divers.
The aquatic inhabitants of this dive site include: lobsters, moray eels, barracudas, and bluefin tunas
Situated about 4.5 kilometres off the north-eastern coast of Unguja Island, Mnemba Island is a private island surrounded by magnificent coral reefs that are a marine reserve and home to some of the best diving spots in Africa.
Whether you are an experienced scuba diver, just starting out, or more of a snorkel and fins kind of person, Mnemba Island offers incredible underwater opportunities for everyone.
Visibility around Mnemba Island is usually fantastic with an average of 30 metres.
Arguably one of the most famous dive sites in Zanzibar, Wattabomi is a sensational underwater landscape that slopes gently from 6 to 30 metres. Wattabomi is great for drift and reef dives and ideal for beginners and experienced divers. Enormous coral bommies and plate corals create a dazzling kaleidoscope of colour and a playground for fascinating marine creatures.
Some of the residents include: bottlenose dolphins, angelfish, blue-spotted stingrays, black snappers, groupers, red-toothed triggerfish, flounders, octopuses, scorpionfish, stonefish, frogfish, and trevallies
Dropping from 2 to 30 metres, Kichwani is an almost vertical wall that is a great drift, wall, and reef dive and ideal for newbies, experienced divers, and snorkellers. Drift with the gentle current or plunge into the azure depths in search of curious white tip reef sharks and spectacular Napoleon wrasse.
Other marine creatures that are commonly encountered around Kichwani include: torpedo ray, crocodile fish, moray eel, scorpion fish, leaf fish, clownfish, trumpet fish, frogfish, mackerel, snappers, goatfish, and nudibranchs
With depths between 14 and 70 metres and strong currents, Big Wall is best suited for experienced divers in search of a spectacular wall or deep dive. A smooth descent along a vertical wall will reveal glorious overhangs and mysterious caves adorned with soft and hard corals and sponges, while the deeper sections may offer encounters with larger pelagic fish.
Some of the marine animals you may encounter include: moray eels, dolphin fish, lobsters, giant green turtles, tunas, rainbow runners, barracudas, Napoleon wrasse, groupers, rays, unicorn fish, batfish, and hammerhead sharks.
Considered one of the most scenic dive sites in the Mnemba Atoll and with a sloping coral wall between 10 to 24 metres, the Aquarium is a superb reef dive for beginners and snorkellers. Hard lettuce corals create a mesmerising backdrop for encounters with remarkable marine creatures.
Pemba Island is a remote paradise of sunshine and serenity about 50 kilometres north of Unguja Island. Along with its untouched coral kingdoms and abundant marine life, Pemba Island is also home to ancient ruins and a history alive with hoodoo magic. It is known as the “Green Island” because of its wild greenery.
Pemba Island offers some of the best diving in Zanzibar and it really deserves its own post!
Visibility around Pemba Island ranges between 30 to 40 metres.