With its tropical reefs, historic wrecks and diverse marine life, Africa offers scuba diving opportunities second to none.
By: Fiona McIntosh
Best Places to Scuba Dive in Africa
On a good day, the diving at Sodwana Bay, a mecca for diving in South Africa, is as good as it gets anywhere. Part of the iSimangaliso World Heritage Site, Sodwana boasts wonderful rock formations and topography, beautiful table corals, huge shoals of colourful fish, little critters and, during the summer months, resident ragged-tooth sharks. Take a trip to the pristine and more distant sites of 7-Mile and 9-Mile Reef if you can – and watch for dolphins surfing in the backline and occasional sightings of whale sharks and manta rays on the way.
The Red Sea tops most people’s bucket lists of African dive destinations – and rightly so. The clarity is unbelievable, the corals are magnificent and the names of the classic dive sites near the main hub of Sharm El Sheikh – like Jackfish Alley, Eel Garden, Shark Observatory and Anemone City – give an indication of the diversity. There’s plenty for beginners, while adventure divers can explore precipitously steep walls covered with brilliantly coloured Gorgonian sea-fans and sponges, the Thistlegorm (one of the world’s most renowned shipwrecks) and Dahab’s famous Blue Hole. Wild & Blue Travel offer various itineraries for keen divers.
Experienced divers looking for spectacular diving without the crowds should head to Sudan. This southern section of the Red Sea offers all that Egypt does, as well as some bizarre sites, such as the remains of Jacques Cousteau’s first experiment into sub-aqua living, the surreal Precontinent II, which looks like a man-made sea urchin on the shallow seabed. Most diving is on the vast reef of Sha’ab Rumi, which, with its dramatic coral pinnacles and caves, vivid corals, huge shoals of reef fish, big pelagics like barracuda, manta rays and hammerhead and silvertip sharks, is considered one of the most beautiful dive sites in the world. Diving is on live-aboard boats from Port Sudan or from Egypt’s Port Ghalib. Visit Hartleys dive tour operator specialists to see what’s on offer.
There’s no better place to learn to dive than Lake Malawi. The water’s warm, clear and, most importantly, fresh, so all those wretched mask clearings don’t result in saltwater stinging your eyes. The topography of the lake is magnificent – huge granite boulders with swim-throughs and interesting shapes. The colourful little fish of the lake, the cichlids, are much prized in fish tanks and if you need a bit of an adrenalin rush, there are some larger scarier-looking (but harmless) monsters lurking in the deep. Speak to local operator Danforth Yachting about your next dive holiday in Malawi.
Despite its incredible range of dive opportunities and top-notch dive schools, the Seychelles archipelago is underrated as a dive destination. Diving off the main islands is on a jumble of granite boulders clothed in tiny tropical fish while the remote ‘Outer Islands’, in the south of the archipelago, feature multi-hued coral reefs with natural aquariums, canyons and dramatic walls, such as the Desroches Drop. Rays, sharks and turtles are regularly sighted and between August and December whale sharks frequent Seychelles’ waters: a snorkelling trip out to swim with the biggest fish in the sea is an opportunity not to miss. Contact top tour operator in the Seychelles, Seyunique for more information.
Renowned for it’s warm waters, pristine coral reefs and diverse marine life, Mozambique has several world-class dive destinations scattered along its extensive coastline. Ponta do Ouro, the Barra Peninsula and the Bazaruto archipelago are all exceptional, but if you have the bucks, head to the remote islands of the Quirimbas archipelago, where the diving is out of this world. Anantara Medjumbe and Azura at Quilalea Private Island are the ultimate in barefoot luxury, while mobile dive safaris on a traditional dhow – as well as swimming with dolphins – are offered from the historic Ibo Island.
The calm, clear waters of Zanzibar and professional dive schools make Zanzibar the perfect place to learn to dive. There’s good diving off the capital, Stone Town, while the world-famous sites of the Mnemba atoll, off the north-east coast, and Pemba, the smaller island to the north of Zanzibar, are a must for more experienced divers.
Bassas da India
Diving off this remote atoll in the middle of the Mozambique channel is pioneering stuff for experienced, adventurous divers only. The corals are pristine, sharks abound and there are numerous wrecks surrounded by aquamarine ocean. Bassas da India is a two-day sail from Mozambique, but that’s part of the adventure.
by Fiona McIntosh