Africa’s Best Dive Locations
12 incredible places to experience African diving
12 incredible places to experience African diving
Let’s talk about diving in Africa. Think of African wildlife and the savannah or jungle with their stunning megafauna usually come to mind… but Africa is home to lots of amazing marine life, and some of the best diving in the world.
With the exception of Egypt’s world-renown Red Sea dive sites, Africa provides relatively uncharted waters for scuba divers. With 30,500 kilometers of coastline around the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and the Red and Mediterranean Seas, there’s plenty of scuba diving to explore.
Most of the diving highlights are on Africa’s southern and eastern coast – from the cold waters and kelp forests surrounding Cape Town to the shark-infested deep blue of KwaZulu Natal, and up to the reef-dotted tropical East African coast. In this list we’ve looked only at dive sites reached from mainland Africa, and not included such diving gems as Madagascar, Seychelles or Mauritius – we’ll leave those for another post!
Here’s our pick of the best dives sites in Africa. See them all on the map, or click a link to see photos and descriptions of each dive site:
So let’s dig a little deeper into each of these 10 best African dive sites:
With 2,900 of Red Sea coastline, Egypt is blessed with some of the world’s best diving and is a diving mecca for very good reasons. Diving conditions are close to perfect (quality rash guards optional!), with warm water, few waves, and excellent visibility of up to 50 meters. The biodiversity of the Red Sea means there’s something for everyone, with over 1,100 fish species, of which around 200 are found only in the Red Sea.
The northern Red Sea has numerous historic wrecks from World War II – including the unsurpassable SS Thistlegorm – as well as the pristine reefs of Ras Mohammed National Park, the oldest national park in the country. Further south the sea is littered with reefs famed for encounters with macro sea life including whale sharks, dolphins, scalloped Hammerhead, and the elusive oceanic whitetip shark.
Stretching 2,500km from the South African border northeast to Tanzania, Mozambique is relatively undeveloped, meaning less divers, but offers some of the best diving in the continent.
Benguerra Island is the second-largest island in the central Mozambican Bazaruto Archipelago. The whole archipelago is surrounded by pristine Indian Ocean, and Benguerra in particular plays host to a large variety of coral and fish such as grouper, clownfish, parrotfish, and puffers. The stars of the show here are probably the megafauna including humpback whales, manta rays, stingrays, whale sharks, reef sharks, and turtles. It’s worth noting that whilst chances are slim, Bazaruto is one of the best destinations in Africa for sighting the endangered dugong.
The tiny island’s premier dive site is called ‘Edge of Reason’, and features an epic drop off with small caves and overhangs stretching up to 30 meters. Through the drop off the cavernous landscape is dense with gorgonian fans, making the dive feel like an exploration of an alien landscape – with sealife including reef shark, grouper, snappers, humphead wrasse and unicorn fish, and reef sharks too.
Quilalea Island is a remote location in the stunning Quirimbas Archipelago in northern Mozambique with just a handful of luxury lodges and chalets to choose from. Dives are accessed by walking off the beach, onto the house reef with spectacular coral and teeming with huge varieties of tropical fish. If you ever tire of beach dives the island has around 20 dive sites in total, including a unique night dive around the locally renowned Montepuez Channel and Saint Lazarus Bank.
Laidback backpacker haven Tofo Beach makes the list as it’s one of the few places in the world where it’s possible to see both whale sharks and manta rays year-round (though October to March is peak season). The coral around Tofo is very much intact, with healthy cover, and there are a number of interesting dive sites a short boat ride from the beach.
Recognised as one of the top shark diving locations in the world, South Africa specializes in high-adrenalin dive sites and is home to the big seven.
Aliwal Shoal is a sandstone reef made up of the remains of a giant sand dune, now a Marine Protected Area 5km off the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast, south of Durban. The hard and soft corals are home to a wide variety of tropical and subtropical fish species, but the big draw here is the sharks. Aliwal Shoal is one of the few places divers can encounter tiger sharks, bull sharks, sand tiger shark, hammerheads, ragged-tooth sharks, and oceanic blacktips without the security of a cage. There are a number of dive sites in the area to suit all levels of experience.
The cold waters of Cape Town don’t immediately spring to mind when thinking of great diving However, these nutrient-rich waters are fed by currents from both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and support golden kelp forests that attract large schools of fish and their predators, including many species of shark, octopus, and rays. If you’re willing to brave the cold, Cape Town offers some spectacular and unique diving.
Come here between May to July to see the ‘Sardine Run’ – one of the underwater wonders of the world. During this time billions of sardines migrate east along the South African coastline from the cold waters of Cape Town, to the warmer Indian Ocean. As if this weren’t enough on its own, the sardines are followed by all sorts of large marine predators to feast on the giant shoals. There are lots of places to experience the Sardine Run, but Protea Banks (a fossilised sand dune) is regarded as the best place to see the action, from as little as five meters deep.
Whilst less developed than Egypt, Sudan offers an off-the-beaten-track Red Sea diving experience for those in the know, with far fewer divers and healthier reef than Egypt. Most diving in Sudan happens from liveaboard diving boats, with charters leaving from Port Sudan or Port Ghalib in southern Egypt.
There are dozens of incredible dive sites running the length of the Sudanese coast, but Sha’ab Rumi South is worth calling out in particular as it is one of the most famous diving destinations in the world. Jacques Cousteau was once a frequent visitor here in the 1960s, bringing the site to global recognition for its spectacular opportunities to view hammerhead sharks, grey reef sharks, barracuda, bottlenose dolphins, red snappers, and pelagic fish.
With 1,400 km of Indian Ocean coastline – including the Zanzibar Archipelago – Tanzania caters to a broad range of diving experience, including the unusual freshwater Lake Tanganyika.
In the far north of Tanzania, Pemba Island is known for having high-quality reefs, with interspersed soft and hard corals providing a home for a large diversity of sea life.
If you’re looking for exclusive diving, Mnemba Island is a single small island located about 3 km off the northeast coast of Unguja, the largest island of the Zanzibar Archipelago. Mnemba offers some of the best diving conditions in Africa, with fantastic visibility and generally calm seas, but the big draw is the beautiful coral ecosystem that supports turtles, dolphins, humpback whales, and around 600 species of fish.
Surrounded by the Rufiji Marine Reserve, Mafia island at the southern end of the Zanzibar Archipelago is a renowned whale shark aggregation site from November to February. If you’re diving at other times of the year, there are opportunities to spot manta rays, the endangered dugong, and both leatherback and green turtles that use the island as a breeding ground. Aside from megafauna, the seabed around the island is home to plentiful colourful coral and fish.
That’s our pick of the very best African dive spots across the continent. Any that we’re missing? Let us know in the comments section below.
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