The idyllic Zanzibar Archipelago, especially its main islands Unguja (commonly known as Zanzibar), Pemba and Mafia have some great dive sites where you can dive all year round. The reefs of the Mnemba atoll make the island of Zanzibar one of the best places in Africa for diving.
In addition, it is a good place to see the whale shark, and there are many dolphins and turtles.
When is the best time to dive in Zanzibar?
In general, you can dive in Zanzibar throughout the year. The water temperature usually stays around 27ºC, but you have to keep in mind that diving will always depend on the winds, the visibility of the water and the currents.
As for the winds, in Zanzibar there are 2 types of winds throughout the year.
- Kusi (south wind), which blows during the months of June, July, August and September
- Kaskazi (north wind), which blows during the months of December, January and February
The visibility of the water worsens in the rainy season, during the months of April and May.
That said, the best time to dive in Zanzibar is from November to March, in the dry season, bearing in mind that December, January and February are the windiest months of the year, so you might be unlucky and have your diving trip cancelled.
The best months to see whale sharks and rays in Zanzibar are from December to April. But to see whales and dolphins the best months are August, September and October.
Best areas for diving in and around Zanzibar
1. Dive Spots in Zanzibar
The main diving areas in Zanzibar are to the north and south of the island. The dive sites located north of Zanzibar are the best for diving.
- Mnemba Atoll lies north of the island, with 5 spots.
- Chumbe Island is a protected reserve south of Stone Town. It has some of the best coral gardens in the archipelago.
- Leven Bank is located north of Nungwi, this spot is for advanced divers as it is quite deep and has strong currents. There are usually tuna, barracuda, manta rays, sharks and groupers.
- Jambiani lies to the southeast of the island. It has 2 dive spots
- Stingray Alley, famous for several species of rays, and
- Jabieni Reef, with corals that attract small tropical fish.
- Stone Town – the diving here is not as good as in the north of the island. But there are several beginner and intermediate sites with dives between 10 and 20 meters deep, such as Bawe Island, Nyange Reef, Pange Reef, Pwakuu, Murogo Reef and Boribu Reef. All of them are located quite close to Stone Town.
2. Dive Spots in Pemba
Pemba, also known as the green island, is the second largest island in the Zanzibar Archipelago, after Unguja (Zanzibar) and less touristy. It is famous for being one of the largest producers of cloves (the spice).
It is located 90 km northeast of Zanzibar and is an excellent place to see mantas, rays, turtles and reef sharks.
To get to Pemba from Zanzibar you can do it by plane, which takes about 40 minutes or by sea, in a traditional dhow or by ferry.
Swahili Divers is the best known dive center on the island.
Mnemba – the best diving area in Zanzibar
Mnemba is a private island with restricted access and offers the best diving in Zanzibar. Although it is called the Mnemba Atoll, it is not really an atoll in the strictest sense, since the reef does not completely border the island. It is located in the north of Nungwi (1 hour and 30 minutes from Stone Town) and from there it takes about 20 minutes by boat.
It has several diving spots:
- Moon Valley, 35 meters deep, is the best place to see green turtles.
- Small Wall has steep drop-offs that attract snappers and other minnows.
- Between Moon Valley and Small Wall there is an area with a depth of 25 meters where you can see numerous Elkhorn and sponge corals.
- Coral Garden, an area filled with various types of corals teeming with angel fish.
- Big Wall, with drops of up to 50 meters full of pelagic fish.
In the shallower areas of Mnemba you can see hawksbill turtles, frog fish, and guitar sharks.
Leven Bank – the best diving site in Zanzibar
For many, Leven Bank is the best diving spot in Zanzibar especially for experienced divers. It is located quite far from the coast, in the north of the island, in the middle of the Pemba channel.
This area is affected by currents which can complicate diving. But the result is worth it since you will observe a large number of pelagic fish such as tuna, barracuda or large grouper.
Encounters with reef sharks are frequent here, as are those with napoleon fish and sometimes manta rays. Another regular visitor to the site is the whale shark, which passes through the area during migration periods (July-August and February-March).
What marine life can be seen in Zanzibar?
Zanzibar has a wide variety of marine animal life. On most dives you can see octopus, crocodile fish, frog fish, octopus, seahorses, reef sharks, manta rays, whale sharks, turtles and dolphins.
To see dolphins, the best places are Kizimkazi beach, Menai Bay, Nungwi and Matemwe. Zanzibar is one of the few places where you can swim with dolphins with freedom.
Keep in mind that sometimes the dolphins can feel pressured by the boats. So you should choose a good local agency that respects the animals. We recommend that you enter the water slowly and without making noise so as not to scare the dolphins and to be able to enjoy swimming with them.
The tour agency Zanzibar Local Experience offers this activity from Kizimkazi.
How much does it cost to dive in Zanzibar?
If you are going to dive in Zanzibar, as in most places in the world, a day of diving usually includes 2 or 3 dives. The more dives you do, the cheaper the diving will be. A day of diving with 2 dives can cost you about 120 US dollars including the diving equipment, instructor, water and snacks on the boat.
Snorkeling will be 30% cheaper and PADI courses cost between US$400 and US$500.
Where can you snorkel in Zanzibar?
The best place to snorkel is at Mnemba Island. There are clear waters with very good visibility, turtles, reef sharks, rays and minnows. Also good sites are Tumbatu Island, Kendwa Island and Prison Island.
Mafia island which is located 150 km from Zanzibar and is famous for snorkeling with whale sharks.
You can take a 30-minute flight from Zanzibar to get there, but accommodation is limited. The best time to go to Mafia is from July to October.
Where to stay for diving in Zanzibar?
We stayed a few days in Stone Town, from where we went diving, and other days in the northeast area, in Kendwa, in a resort with a diving school.
Some beach hotels in Zanzibar with a diving center are: