Capping the southern tip of the sprawling continent of Africa is a diverse, multicultural nation with a 2735-kilometer/1700-mile coastline on two oceans. South Africa’s waters beckon scuba divers to enter its wild and wooly realm. The dive experience here is as varied as the people, running the gamut from big sharks to throngs of tiny sardines. You’ll find tropical reefs in the northeast and temperate rocky reefs in the west. Some of the best diving here involves colder water, strong currents and launching from the surf – bring your appetite for adventure and reap the rewards of marine life encounters you’ll remember for a lifetime.
- Gansbaai – East of Cape Town, this area is world-famous for its shark whisperers and cage diving encounters with great white sharks. The Dyer Island Group, just south of Gansbaai, is home to a massive Cape fur seal colony and has vast numbers of African penguins and sea birds. No wonder hundreds of great white sharks have decided that this is where they belong as well. A short boat ride puts divers in the midst of the great whites attracted to these waters by the rich feeding.
- False Bay – False Bay is just south of Cape Town and relatively speaking, the water is warmer than the nearby Atlantic coastline. Here you’ll find kelp forests, rocky walls and sandy bottoms. Inhabitants include Cape fur seals, leopard cat sharks, puffadder shysharks, as well as red and orange sea fans, feather stars and nudibranchs.
- Mossel Bay – This small harbor town in the heart of South Africa’s Garden Route has several dive sites that range from shallow (about 7 metres/23 feet) to deep (30 metres/100 feet). Look for big fans, sponges, small reef fish, stingrays and rock cod. The region is also one of South Africa’s best places to spot great white sharks.
- Santos Reef – Santos beach, in the northern corner of Mossel Bay, is home to a small, well-sheltered reef that’s protected from the incoming swell. Marine life includes stingrays, cuttlefish and a variety of local reef species. Visibility is generally good during the summer months but can drop during the winter.
- Innerpool – Around Mossel Bay’s point is a surf spot called Innerpool. While it offers some of the area's best waves, you’ll find divers flocking to it when the surf allows. You can spot creatures ranging from nudibranchs to dolphin or sharks. In addition to the sea life, the tidal movement in the area rubs rocks together, resulting in some interesting formations.
- The Sardine Run – The world-famous sardine run typically takes place each year between May and July, when billions of sardinops sagax spawn off Agulhas Bank then high-tail it up the eastern seaboard. Naturally, this convoy attracts predators looking to satiate their appetites. The numbers vary, but try to wrap your mind around a cloud of sardines up to 6.5 kilometres/4.0 miles long by 1.6 kilometres/1.0 mile wide by 30 meters/100 feet deep, closely trailed by sharks, dolphin and other pelagic species. It’s a major spectacle and perhaps one of the planet’s greatest dives.
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Visibility – Can vary quite a bit but is generally good at major dive destinations, beyond 20 metres/66 feet.
Water Temperature – Averages range from 27°C/80°F at Sodwana, down to 14°C/57°F at False Bay.
Weather – With a varied topography, South Africa has several climate zones that range from desert to subtropical. The Cape Town area has a Mediterranean-like climate with wet winters and hot, dry summers. Winter temperatures can get down near zero and summers can reach 30ºC/100ºF.
Featured Creatures – Sharks, sharks and more sharks. You'll see sardines in season, the usual Indo-Pacific tropical reef fish in the northeast and temperate critters in the southwest.
Recommended Training – Take the AWARE – Fish Identification course to help identify local marine life. The PADI Enriched Air Diver and PADI Digital Underwater Photographer courses will help you prepare to capture great images and get the most out of your dives.
Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.
Language – There are 11 official spoken languages in South Africa, including Afrikaans and Zulu, but 60 percent of the country’s population understands English.
Currency – South African Rand. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Major Airports – Most divers enter the country via Cape Town International Airport, but Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is also a major international hub.
Electricity and Internet – 220-230 volts, 50 Hz. Internet is widely available.
Topside Attractions – Hike the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape region. Take a luxury safari. Raft down the Orange River from the Drakensberg Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.