Diving in Tanzania
Located 75 kilometers from the Tanzanian coast, Pemba, Mafia, and Zanzibar islands offer truly differentiated diving experiences:
- Mafia island has about 200 resident whale sharks. It is Africa’s hot spot to snorkel with them, and because of the nutrients that attract them, the visibility tends to be lower in the area. This is where you’ll get to see the most fish though.
- Pemba island offers incredible visibility, healthy hard and soft corals, beautiful walls, and virgin beaches
- Zanzibar, nicknamed Spice Island, offers a unique mix of vibrant culture. It is also much more touristic than the former two, and its dive sites are not as fulfilling as the ones of Mafia and Pemba.
- Lake Tanganyika with hundreds of endemic fish is a true natural laboratory of evolution!
The 4 Best Places to Dive in Tanzania
Located 160 km south of Zanzibar, Mafia Island is where you’ll find some of the best diving and snorkeling of Tanzania with its resident whale sharks.
It has been protected since 1996 thanks to the creation of the biggest marine park on Africa’s East coast. You’ll find there more than 50 different species of coral and over 400 species of fish. The 28 dive sites are located in and out of Chole Bay, South East of the island. It’s frequent to dive with green turtles, southern stingrays, snappers, groupers, and tuna.
The island is famous for its whale sharks sightings and can be seen year-round, even though the peak season is between October and February. WWF had registered 180 individuals in December 2017. the NGO Marine Megafauna Foundation, known for its work on whale sharks, often travels from its historical base in Mozambique to Mafia Island as it’s a unique hotspot in Africa!
You’ll find more schooling fish than Pemba island, and also will be sure to see some whale sharks in season. Do not expect crystal clear visibility though, as whale sharks come for nutrients in the water. It goes hand in hand.
Finally, Mafia island is beautifully preserved, with good beaches in the southeast, and a lush green interior.
The Best Dive Sites of Mafia Island
Kinasi Pass: in Chole Bay, this dive site is the most famous on Mafia island thanks to its interesting topography and its rich marine life. Divers often go multiple times as there’s so much to see. At around 12 meters depth (40 ft.), you’ll see the top of a pinnacle with a “chicken” shape, going all the way down to 24 meters depth (78 ft.). You’ll often see on this site some potato groupers. On the wall, you can see some small caverns and some beautiful macro life. As you’ll drift in the pass, you’ll observe more reef fish, some turtles, barracuda, and giant rays.
Dindini Wall: on this wall located outside Chole Bay, going from 8 to 28 meters depth (26 to 92 ft.), you’ll witness again a fantastic topography, with overhangs, an archway, and some small caverns. On the wall, there’s a great variety of corals, with some beautiful sea fans. Again, you’ll see plenty of reef fish, some big groupers, and Napoleon wrasse. You may also see some rays and other pelagics. Divers often dive there multiple times as there’s so much to see.
Snorkeling with whale sharks: the whale sharks population in Mafia island is resident, spending years, sometimes even decades in the island waters. As filter-feeders, whale sharks swim with their mouths open and the best time to see them is between November and February, on morning day trips leaving from the West of the island.
The best season for diving is from October through March:
- The peak season to snorkel with whale sharks is from November to February.
Between June and September, the diving will be limited to the inside of Chole Bay, due to local winds.
- The water temperature ranges from 24° to 30°C (75° to 86°F). The warmest time of the year is between November to April
- The visibility varies 4 to 30 m (13 to 98 ft)
- During whale shark season, the Mafia Channel has a lot of nutrients and planktonic organisms coming from the Rufiji River and the Marine Park, so expect the visibility to be lower. This is what attracts and retains the whale sharks so it goes hand in hand!
How to Get There
- Fly to Mafia Island (MFA) from Dar Es Salaam (DAR) or sometimes Zanzibar international airport (ZNZ) with Auric Air or Coastal Aviation. There are usually two to 4 flights a day.
- This diving eco-resort of Mafia island is highly recommended for the diving.
Pemba Island is Tanzania’s northernmost Island, much less touristic than its sister island Zanzibar, and even less than Mafia island.
With conservation programs that have been running since 2006, exceptionally clear waters, beautiful walls, healthy hard and soft corals, and virgin beaches, Pemba island is also one of East Africa’s best diving and snorkeling spots.
On the West side of the island, the Pemba channel brings plenty of nutrients, which feeds the growth of colorful reefs along with it. It also attracts whale sharks and manta rays between October to April.
It’s common to cross paths with bottlenose and spinner dolphins too.
What we like the most about Pemba island are its incredible visibility, healthy hard corals and dramatic walls (which you won’t see much in Mafia), and its white-sand beaches.
The west side of the island is accessible to all levels of divers, with sites that are relatively protected from the current. Misali Island, west of Pemba island, is famous for its beautiful shallow coral gardens filled with big sea fans.
The east and south sides of Pemba are less visited and for more experienced divers only. Most sites are drift dives along walls, attracting some big pelagic life.
The Best Dive Sites of Pemba Island
Misali Coral Garden: West of Pemba, this more protected island offers some beautiful coral gardens, and all the reef life that goes with it: colorful fish, turtles, and more.
Njao Gap: in this area located between Njao island and Pemba, you can dive on five different sites, ranging from 5 to 40 m (16 to 140 ft.) with steep walls offering huge overhangs and large gorgonian sea fans. The visibility is often excellent, and you can see some Titan triggerfish, some Napoleon wrasse, some giant trevally, and sometimes some white tip reef sharks too!
North Horn: is the most famous dive site around thanks to the rich pelagic life passing by, silvertip sharks, white-tip sharks, and even sometimes hammerhead sharks. You can also often see some humphead parrotfish, some trevally, and some potato cod.
Mtangani: on this deep dive with strong current, you might see some great hammerheads.
From July to March, conditions are generally excellent for divers, with little rainfall and water temperature in the high 20°C. March is in the shoulder season.
The “long rains” start in April and last through to June.
From August to early September, humpback whales migrate through the channel.
From October to April, whale sharks and manta rays sightings are more frequent as they come to feed in the channel.
The months offering best underwater visibility are September to November.
- The water temperature ranges from 24° to 29°C (75° to 84°F). For warmer temperatures, go between December to March.
- The visibility varies 30 to 40 m (98 to 131 ft)
- On the west side, sites are relatively protected. There can be some currents on some sites offering great drift dives opportunities!
How to Get There
- The best way to get to Pemba island is to take a flight from Zanzibar airport (ZNZ) or Dar Es Salaam (DAR) to Pemba Airport (PMA) with Auric Air or Coastal Aviation.
- Your eco-resort will pick you up at the airport and you’ll be up for a ride on Pemba dirt roads, a “Pemba massage” as they call it!
- We recommend this diving eco-resort in Pemba island for its engagement with the local community, the fantastic service and its closeness to the dive sites. For an unforgettable trip, book their underwater bedroom!
Zanzibar has few options for diving, as its reef is rather limited. It is at the northernmost tip of the island that you’ll get to see the most, with Mnemba and Leven Bank.
Mnemba atoll offers some of the island’s best coral garden reefs, and you’ll be able to see there some see big schools of fish and dolphins.
Leven Bank is for experienced divers only as it is an open-ocean location. Strong currents will bring along some pelagic fish like kingfish, trevally, tuna, and barracuda.
The Best Dive Sites of Zanzibar
Mnemba Atoll: has a seven by four kilometers reef, and a shallow wall dive down to around 18 meters. The visibility is usually great and you’ll see a variety of fish, some peppered moray eels, and turtles
Leven Bank: large pelagic species such as Tuna, Barracuda, Trevally, and Kingfish can be seen in the strong current.
Kizimkazi Reef: the best dive area on Zanzibar itself, with a large variety of corals and tropical fish.
- Even though you can dive year-round in Zanzibar, the best months to go diving are from November through March.
- To observe some humpback whales and sperm whales, consider going during the months of September and October.
- The water temperature ranges from 28° to 29°C (82° to 84°F)
- The visibility varies 20 to 60 m (66 to 197 ft)
How to Get There
- Catch a flight from Dar Es Salaam (DAR), Nairobi (NBO), or Mombasa (MBA) in Kenya.
- Fast ferry runs several times a day from Dar Es Salaam and takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to do the crossing.
Lake Tanganyika is one of the largest lakes in the world and it hosts one of the most unique ecosystems on our planet. Throughout its 12 million years of history, the few species that originally inhabited the lake have evolved into distinct species. There are today more than 400 species of fish, three-quarters of which do not exist anywhere else: they are endemic fish. The only family of Cichlid fish includes nearly 250 species, almost all endemic!
The Best Dive Sites of Lake Tanganyika
- Lake Shore Lodge is the best place to go if you’d like to dive in the lake. They’ll take you to several sites within a 10 minutes boat ride.
- The best time to dive in the lake is during the dry season, from May to September
- The water temperature ranges from 24° to 26°C (75° to 79°F)
- The visibility varies 10 to 20 m (30 to 66 ft)
How to Get There
- Fly from Dar es Salaam to Mpanda (NPY), or to Mbeya (MBI) with Air Tanzania.
- Your lodge will arrange a land transfer from there. It takes four hours to get to Lake Shore Lodge from Mpanda, and eight hours from Mbeya.
Dive Safety Recommendations
For safety reasons, always bring with you a surface marker buoy, and know how to use it. We also recommend you to have a Nautilus Lifeline , a GPS that could save your life if taken by currents.
Remember to always use a reef-safe sunscreen .
Tanzania Entry Requirements
You must have a passport valid for at least six months.
You might need a visa before traveling. Check on the Tanzania Immigration Services Department’s website what is required for your nationality.