Top 10 dive sites in the Zanzibar Archipelago according to the experts

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No. Travellers

International Adults
12+ years

International Children
Under 12 years

Resident Adults
12+ years

Resident Children
Under 12 years

Infants Under 2
International or Resident


No. Travellers

International Adults
12+ years

International Children
Under 12 years

Resident Adults
12+ years

Resident Children
Under 12 years

Infants Under 2
International or Resident

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  23 May 2017       Tripindigo       5 min read



Before I dive in (pun intended ) straight with the names of the best dive locations in the Zanzibar Archipelago, I think it is best to start with a short introduction to Zanzibar. You see, most people including me before I moved to Tanzania, think Zanzibar is one island…. But it’s not.

Zanzibar is the name of the archipelago and consists of the 3 main inhabited islands and lots of smaller islands:

  • Unguja
  • Pemba
  • Mafia Island

It is Unguja, the biggest, most populated island with is capital Zanzibar City which is known all over the world as Zanzibar. The old part of Zanzibar City is better known as Stone Town.

The Zanzibar Archipelago

It is Unguja, the biggest, most populated island with is capital Zanzibar City which is known all over the world as Zanzibar. The old part of Zanzibar City is better known as Stone Town.

But, when you want to explore the world famous underwater domain known as Zanzibar, you would sell yourself short if you only look at the options on the main island of Zanzibar. Therefore this list includes the best dive sites in the entire Zanzibar archipelago.

With the water temperature between 25 and 29 degrees, excellent visibility usually between 15 and 40m, and enough dive sites to keep you happy for a lifetime, it is easy to see why the Zanzibar Archipelago is one of the best year-round diving destinations in the world.

Living in Dar es Salaam gives me the option to explore many dives sites in the Zanzibar archipelago. But to ensure only the best ones are included I spoke to some of the professional divers in Tanzania and many of my enthusiastic dive buddies. After several lengthy discussions I have decided this is the overall top 10. It’s a mix of beginner dive sites and excitement for advanced divers, as well as a few snorkeling and scuba-diving-kids’ options.

Mnemba Island

The Mnemba Island is a private island resort and can only be visited when you are staying there. It is located in the northeast of Zanzibar, very close to the main island. But luckily for those of us who aren’t staying there (it’s rather expensive to stay there), it is still possible to go diving there. The reefs around the island have been declared a marine reserve because of the more than 600 species of fish, the migratory whalesharks (the world’s largest fish), three species of dolphin and as a nesting place for green turtles between February and September. Mnemba Island is known for its excellent visibility under water. There are several dive sites dotted around Mnemba Island, but these 2 were highlighted as favourites by several divers:

Dive sites Map around Mnemba Island.

Wattabomi

The depth here ranges between 10 and 30m which makes this site excellent for novice divers as well as advanced divers. The big attraction of Wattabomi are the great sightings of turtles. But you are also likely to see moray eels, stingrays, octopus and lots of fish. Another interesting sight is the garden eels sticking their heads out of the sand to feed on the plankton.

Two garden eels sticking their head above the sand

 

Big Wall

The Big Wall can be an exciting rift dive depending on the current. It is only for advanced and experienced divers. The top of the wall is around 20m and it drops down from here to about 60m. There is not much in the way of coral, but if you are keen to try your luck spotting large pelagic fish, moray eels, dolphin fish, lobsters, green turtles or maybe sharks then this might be your site. Occasionally hammerheads, manta rays, eagle rays and even whalesharks (in season) are spotted here.

Enjoying reef in Indian Ocean

Pemba Island

Pemba Island is part of the Zanzibar Archipelago and is the second largest island. This green island paradise lays about 50km north of Zanzibar, has super white beaches, is surrounded by colourful coral reefs and has horrible roads. It is well-known for its excellent diving and the discussions were lengthy to decide on a winner in terms of favorites dive sites around Pemba. In the end it was a close tie, but we managed to pick the following 3 winners:

 

Dive sites Map around Mnemba Island.

Image courtesy: Tanzaniesafari

Manta Point

As the name suggests you can find manta rays here, but unfortunately nowadays sightings are rare. The 3 mounts here are covered in purple anemones and it looks stunning. Devil and eagle rays are common sights from January to March as the mounts seem to function as something of a cleaning station. Turtles and reef sharks are also sometimes spotted here, but it’s the amount of fish on the mounts that make this a dive site for experienced divers that’s not to missed.

bluespottedstingray

Image courtesy: justineddill

Fundu

Another one for experienced divers. A coral garden drop starting very shallow and disappearing into the big deep blue. This is usually a drift dive as the current takes you past the sea of different corals and caverns full of fish life. Another one where manta rays are occasionally seen.

Mesali Island

I’m actually cheating a little here as there were many dive sites around Mesali Island that were mentioned amongst divers’ favourites. By grouping them all under the one name I can actually include a lot more sites. Mesali Island has a number of local reefs that are also excellent for snorkelling. So if not everybody in your travel party can (or wants to) dive, this might be an excellent way to keep them happy too.

Mesali Island is part of a conservation area and as a result you will find the quality and sheer numbers of marine life and corals excellent. There is a resident pod of dolphins, and turtles nest on the island. Discuss your needs with your dive operator, there is something for everyone here.

Misali island

Zanzibar (Unguja Island)

The majority of the dives sites from Zanzibar are located north and east of the island, although a few sites are also found in the south and some right in front of Stone Town. Here are the 4 favourites from the experts around the main island of Zanzibar, including some excellent dive sites for beginners:

Unguja dive sites including all mentioned dive sites

Leven Bank

It’s located far north of Zanzibar in the middle of the open ocean and is for advanced divers only. This is a site with big game fish and potentially strong currents. Leven Bank is home to schools of barracuda, king fish, tuna and trevally. You can find huge moray eels here and large schools of reef fish, but also tiny creatures like nudibranchs.

 

A colourful locally spotted nudibranch

Nankivell

Lots of large bommies with mainly hard corals, another excellent site for beginner and intermediate divers. The depth here is only around 12m so this is also a great site to bring the kids who already have their Open Water certification, but are restricted to 12m by their age.

Snorkeling

Kungui

This dive site is located south of Zanzibar in the Kizimkazi area, known for the trips offered to swim with dolphins. It is still more than half an hour by boat from Zanzibar, but this is an excellent site for both beginners, intermediate and advanced divers. It has a coral garden in the shallower area, going down to about 20m. Then it drops off sharply and this wall becomes the domain of the experienced divers. There is a lot of underwater creatures and fish to be found here, including stingrays, scorpion fish, octopus and turtles.

 

 

Boribu

The Boribu dive site can be reached from Stone Town. It’s a long boat ride, but well worth it. It is a colourful under water world with huge barrel sponges, columnar corals and gorgonian sea fans. You can find large lobsters, moray eels and schools of pelagic fish on Boribu. If you are really lucky you might even see a whaleshark swim by in season.

 

Red Gorgonian sea fan

Mafia Island

Zanzibar and Pemba Island are located north of Dar es Salaam, Mafia Island is about 120km south of Zanzibar. It is still part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, but is not part of the semi-autonomous area of Zanzibar. Mafia is famous for the snorkeling with whalesharks you can do here in season, but the diving is also brilliant here. Especially in the marine reserve to the south east of Mafia.

Mafia Island is located in front of the massive outlet of the Rufiji River, bringing nutrients, and all the creatures that feed of these nutrients, to the islands. There are many excellent dive sites around Mafia and the smaller islands, but these 2 were consistently names as one of the best in the world:

 

Mafia Island Map, including the 2 dive sites and area of the marine reserve

The Pinnacle

An impressive rock coming up from the bottom around 26m to a few meters below the surface in Chole Bay. It’s an interesting structure and as it is located at the entrance of Kisani you often see both reef and pelagic fish here. Huge moray eels are found regularly, as well as big lobsters, turtles, rays and batfish. It is a highly recommended dive.

 

Dindini

A super cool rock wall with caverns, overhangs and an archway full of fish. You can find everything here, from the very small nudibranchs to supersized moray eels and everything in between. Both reef fish and pelagic fish are spotted here. Look out for guitar sharks, massive lobsters, the colourful nudibranchs, turtles, tuna, sailfish, dolphins, leaf fish, reef sharks, napoleon wrasse, different types of anemones and huge groupers. This dive site can have strong currents so might not always be suited to beginners.

Beautiful colorful coral reef and tropical fish

Bonus tip

The Zanzibar archipelago is also a seasonal home to whales, whale sharks, manta rays and turtles laying eggs. For more on those topics see the relevant blogs.

So what are you waiting for? Book flights to Zanzibar and start your diving adventure today!

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