Tanzania Scuba Diving
by Nick Lucey
True dive enthusiasts are geography experts at heart. That's because the world’s best scuba diving locations sometimes reads like a who’s who of exotic global locations — Palau, Roatan, Cocos. Many nondivers have likely heard of them but probably can't pin down their location like your average hardcore diver. Tanzania is one of those places … most people know it’s in East Africa, sure, but after that, it's likely that the imagination takes over when destinations like Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam are mentioned. As perhaps one of the longest continually inhabited places on Earth, Tanzania is a land of extremes, from the Serengeti to the sea. It boasts the highest (Mt. Kilimanjaro) and lowest (Lake Tanganyika) points on the continent. But, more importantly for divers, it’s bounded on all sides by water - the Indian Ocean to the east, and the great lakes of Africa to the northwest, west and southwest - Lakes Victoria, Tanganyika and Malawi. But enough of the imagining — it's time to experience it for yourself.
HOT DIVE SITES
Pemba is Tanzania’s northernmost Indian Ocean island and closest to the equator. It offers quintessential Indian Ocean diving, with coral-choked walls, colorful reefs, big bommies and enormous sea fans orbited by an amazing cast of reef fish. The diving here tends to be more advanced, with depths in the 30-40 metre/100-130 foot range.
This remote Coral Sea atoll is made up of several individual sites. But, North Horn is perhaps its most famous for its shark feed. Most of the diners are whitetips, grey whalers, silvertips and the occasional hammerhead, but you'll also see potato cod, bigeye trevally and bumphead parrotfish.
Find a PADI Dive Center on Pemba Island
Mnemba Atoll, Zanzibar
The self-proclaimed tropical fish capital of East Africa, this classic Indian Ocean atoll system is teeming with fish and offers drift and wall diving, all with consistent 30-metre/100-foot visibility.
Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort in Mnemba Atoll
Far off the northern tip of Zanzibar is the domain of experienced divers looking for a unique thrill in wide-open ocean. Strong currents wash the bank, which is populated by big game fish, tuna, barracuda, kingfish, trevally, a variety of wrasses and huge moray eels.
Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort in Leven Bank
After a Tanzanian inland safari, divers itching for big animal action should head to Mafia Island. If you're visiting from October through March, the chances are good you'll be able to hop aboard a dhow and head for a snorkel with whale sharks.
Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort in Mafia Island
Depth: As always, depths vary by location. Most diving is well within recreational limits.
Visibility: Running from good to excellent throughout Tanzania’s Indian Ocean sites, visibility can reach 30 metres/100 feet.
Currents:The currents vary by location, but range from virtually nonexistent to strong at dive sites off Zanzibar and Pemba.
Water Temperature: Being close to the equator means water temperatures are consistently about 27º C/80º F.
Dive Season: Generally speaking, September through March is the best time to dive East Africa because the winds and dive conditions are at their best. You can almost always experience great diving at Zanzibar and Pemba's sheltered sites, while Tanzania sees heavy rains in April and May.
Weather: Since it’s just below the equator, the only discernible seasons are dry and wet. The tropical climate in the major dive areas means you'll rarely see temperatures drop below 20º C/68º F and easily soaring to 35-38º C/95-100ºF in Dar-es-Salaam.
Access: Most visitors arrive in Dar-es-Salaam — Tanzania's largest city — and transfer to their final destination.
Skill Level: Beginners through advanced divers will find something incredible in Tanzania.
Scuba Gear: It’s always a good idea to bring as much of your dive gear as possible but equipment hire is also available.
Length of Stay: Although it depends on your time and budget, you’ll want to spend enough time here to add incredible land excursions to your dive vacation.
Featured Creatures: Myriad Indian Ocean reef fish, ribbon eels, fire dartfish, chevron barracuda, yellowfin tuna and giant groupers in Pemba.
Language: English and Swahili are the official languages. Arabic is spoken on Zanzibar.
Currency: Tanzanian shilling (TZS)
Transportation: Domestic airlines, trains and buses are the best ways to get around Tanzania. Driving is generally discouraged due to the poor road conditions and other hazards.
Major Airports: Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR) is in Dar-es-Salaam, the largest city and former capital of the country. There are also international airports at Kilimanjaro - Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) and Zanzibar - Zanzibar International Airport (ZNZ).
Documents: Most visitors will need their passport, plus a visa and onward or return ticket, to enter the country. You can find more visa information at the United Republic of Tanzania Ministry of Home Affairs Visa Information page.
Religion: The country is split nearly evenly among Christianity, Islam and indigenous beliefs. Zanzibar is primarily Muslim.
Electricity: 230/240v at 50 Hz and Types G (British) and D (Indian) electrical outlets.
Airport Entry/Exit Fees: Departure tax is usually included in airline ticket prices. Individual airport, such as Zanzibar, can also levy their own fees.
Nick Lucey was an editor at Scuba Diving Magazine for 15 years and now hosts a dive travel television show called Into the Drink.