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Zanzibar, Tanzania dive site map

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Scuba Diving Zanzibar, Tanzania

Water temperature:

27°C - 28°C (81°F - 82°F) is average


3mm - 5mm wetsuit


10 - 30 metres (30 - 100 feet)

Type of diving:

Reefs and drifts

Marine life:

Humpback whales, grey reef sharks, turtles, giant trevally, giant barracuda, tuna, lionfish, triggerfish, parrotfish, unicornfish, clownfish, nudibranchs and more reef life

When to go:

Do not go during the end of March to the end of June – monsoon season is no fun on this coastline!

How to get there:

The best and cheapest choice of flight is 1-Time who fly out of O.R.Tambo Johannesburg early in the morning direct to Zanzibar and return later in the afternoon on both Tuesdays and Saturdays. Register on booking your ticket as a sportsman and you will get another 10 kilos luggage allowance. SAA also have a couple of direct flights to Zanzibar, but at appreciably more cost. If coming from Europe, try to connect with a Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar flight on the same day, it is better than wasting time in Dar.

Boat at Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania - courtesy of Charles Duff

Some 6 years ago I discovered Kendwa Beach at the northwest tip of Zanzibar, a truly eclectic, cosmopolitan haven which just happens to be the best beach on Zanzibar.

The whole of the east coast of the island (where most of the hotels are) and much of the south west as well, has a flat coral shelf at the end of the beach sand. At low tide the water can be hundreds of metres away, so swimming becomes tide-dependant. But the northwest corner of the island has no such shelf and the beaches are steeper so you can swim at any time. Moreover, being on the lee side and with the sheltering islands of Tumbatu and Mwana ya Mwana a kilometre or two offshore, the bay is extremely safe for swimming and a haven for snorkellers.

There are six hostelries along the beach, each with its own beach restaurant/bar. The prices for accommodation vary from air-conditioned en-suite rooms at about US$50 per day B&B to very basic makuti palm-thatch huts with sand floors and communal showers cum toilets at US$5 a head. This brings an incredible assortment of people from all over the world together onto the beach and makes it a very interesting place indeed. I have met a lot of very keen, very decent divers there. Obviously the back-packers love the place, but so do the Tanzanian and Zanzibari expats, who know a good thing when they see one. The Full Moon parties, held on the beach by the 'Kendwa Rocks' restaurant on the Saturday night closest to the full moon are justifiably famous and actually do go on well into the next day. If wild partying is your thing, then consult your calendar before booking your trip!

Sandwiched between Kendwa Rocks and Sunset Breezes is the Scuba-Do PADI diving establishment. Also, in my opinion, the best diving centre on the island, the best equipped and the best run. All too many dive shops sling a 25hp motor on the back of a mashua and take you diving in that, which is fine if you have all day and nothing else to do. But to go from Ras Nungwi to Mnemba atoll and take all day over it is not nearly as much fun as leaving from Scuba-Do in Kendwa for the same two-tank dive and getting back with the whole afternoon available to do something constructive like taking a prolonged siesta.

Bar at Kendwa beach, Tanzania - courtesy of Charles Duff

There's an embarrassment of good dive sites. The 'house' reef, Kendwa, has several good dives and is a maximum of 8-10m, great for beginners. In fact, a nicer place to take Open Water or Advanced courses would be hard to find. One site, the Gardens, is well known for the proliferation of nudibranchs, Spanish dancers, pipefish and small electric rays. Mbele ya Mwizi is also close to the centre with healthy staghorn coral and frequent cuttlefish and squid. Ten minutes from the base is one of the best, known as Hunga Reef, which is straight out in the bay for a kilometre or so at 15-18m. There are really good corals and lots of fish life, particularly sweetlips, crocodilefish and parrotfish on a series of low bommies.

Nearby, just a bit closer to Mwana wa Mwana Island (meaning the Little of the Little) is Nankivell Reef with plenty of giant plate corals in photogenic shapes and formations. Along the west side of Tumbatu and Mwana ya Mwana are a series of wall dives (Three Turtles, Coral Beach etc) from 5 to 15m deep. There's always a proliferation of little stuff to see, excellent coral and the occasional passing humpback for a bit of excitement. Around the north cape (Ras Nungwi) and between it and the lighthouse are Kichafi, Haji and Mbwangawa Reefs. These range from 10-20m and tend to be brilliant visibility-wise, especially on the incoming tide. Mbwangawa Reef is one of my all-time favourite reefs with majestic sweeps of cabbage coral in stadium-like banks. A bit more to the east is Chakatuni, reputed to have strong currents thus only dived at slack tide. I have never been there, so can’t comment.

Even further to the east and a dash south, is the fabled Mnemba Atoll. I've got a map showing at least seventeen dive sites around the atoll. So far I've only dived on three – there's always next time! I can report that those three – Watta Bomi, the Aquarium and Kichwani - were all fantastic wall dives with an endless diversity of things to see. I even saw a 5ft grey reef shark at the Aquarium. It is less than 30 minutes ride from Kendwa in a fast boat, but 2 tank dives are the rule, obviously.

Bar at Kendwa beach, diving Tanzania - courtesy of Charles Duff

You really don't want to stay on Mnemba Island as it is very expensive and terribly exclusive. In fact non-residents aren't even allowed onto the beach for a break between dives. Much better to rave it up on Kendwa and catch the fast dive boat round at a fraction of the price! Mnemba needs an article all on its own, but there are dives that are shallow / easy at less than 25m such as Glorongay, Dolphin Paradise, Coral Garden and Turtle Reef. In the deep / experienced / advanced (25m plus) category we have Indian Gate, Jackfish, Big Wall, Small Wall and Banki Reef. Diving all seventeen sites would be quite an achievement!

Well out in the Pemba Channel lies the Leven Bank, a ridged seamount about 6km long in pretty deep water, notorious for its currents and swells. This is usually drift dived with the current along the top at 18-25m, or down the sides at 30+m. There’s lots of big pelagic stuff with schools of tuna, Ignoblis kingfish and barracuda. Only for the very experienced and fit divers! A couple of years ago an instructor and his girlfriend got missed by their dhow which eventually had to go back to Zanzibar for fuel. The next day they were spotted by a private pilot a few kilometres off the mainland shore near Tanga, which if you take a peek at the map, is an awful long distance to have drifted at night! Scuba-Do can and do arrange trips out there, but take careful stock of your capabilities before you put your name down to go.

Charles Duff

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