Africa is often seen as synonymous with massive plains and sprawling jungles teeming with exotic wildlife, terrestrial wonders, and rich cultural diversity.
But Africa has more to offer than just the typical wildlife safari adventure, not many people realize that there’s just as much life to be found below the surface at the nice assortment of reefs scattered around the magnificent continent’s coasts.
There are 38 African countries with a coastline, bordering the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as well as the Red and Mediterranean Seas. So, while it is relatively uncharted territory for scuba divers, it is indeed home to some of the most spectacular dive destinations on the planet. In fact, more than 20% of the top 100 dive spots in the world are in Africa.
So, for those in search of top-notch diving experience, here are some of the best spots to explore:
Benguerra Island, Mozambique
This is one of the more accessible dive sites on the African East Coast. It is the ideal dive spot thanks to its proximity to the reefs. Explore the pristine waters around Benguerra Island and be greeted by a large variety of coral and fish, as well as humpback whales, whale sharks, manta rays, stingrays, hawksbill and green turtles, reef sharks, grouper, clown fish, parrot fish, and puffers.
There are also luxury accommodation options on the island to make for a truly fulfilling experience.
Red Sea, Egypt
This ancient waterway hosts some of world’s top dive sites, including the SS Thistlegorm wreck, Elphinstone Reef, Sharm El Sheikh, and Ras Mohammed. Dive conditions in these areas are unbeatable, boasting a pleasing trifecta of high visibility, extremely warm water, and few waves. The incredible biodiversity of the Red Sea’s reefs also means that there’s something for everyone – whether you’re interested in bucket list megafauna or hard-to-find macro species, including the whale shark, renowned as the world’s largest fish.
The northern Red Sea is littered with other historic wrecks from World War 2, while the southern reefs are famous for encounters with the elusive oceanic whitetip shark.
Mnemba Island, Tanzania
This private coral sand island rests in the Zanzibar Archipelago and features some of the best diving conditions in Africa. Mnemba also enjoys colourful coral ecosystem that supports dolphins, humpback whales, turtles, and hundreds of coral-based fish species. Diving around Mnemba is a truly wondrous experience thanks to its endless visibility and calm, clear blue seas that provide ample opportunities for exploring the incredible diversity of marine life.
After all the diving and snorkelling activities of the day, simply relax on the beach, sipping cocktails and soaking in the sunset.
Aliwal Shoal, South Africa
Aliwal Shoal is renowned for its famous shark haunt and is even listed as one of the top ten dive sites in the entire world! This ancient sandstone reef is located in Kwa-Zulu Natal, north of Durban and falls within a Marine Protected Area. It is home to a wide variety of shark species including tiger sharks, bull sharks, hammerheads, and oceanic blacktips.
If the thrill of diving with sharks within their natural environment isn’t enough, divers also get a glimpse of humpback whales, schools of dolphins, moray eels, manta rays, sea turtles, and a long list of wreck dives to explore. Talk about a high-adrenalin experience. There are dive sites to suit all levels, so everyone is welcome to make their own memories.
Madagascar is recognized as having the world’s third largest coral reef system, extending about 185 miles along the southwest coast of the island, and plays host to about 6,000 marine species. Most marine life displays a high level of endemism, so you won’t find them anywhere else in the world. Along the northwest coast of the island, divers can traverse the beautifully preserved reefs and catch a glimpse of the mighty whale shark and the graceful manta ray, two of the marine world’s most sought-after animals.
Medjumbe Island, Mozambique
Medjumbe is a tiny island only one-kilometer long and 300-metres wide. Also known as the Edge of Reason, this dive site features a dramatic drop off that barrels down into caverns and overhangs that stretch. Needless to say, it’s a bit intimidating for beginners, but with a name like that, the urge to take that plunge is hard to resist! Plenty of animals reside in the reef, so divers can look forward to capturing sights of snappers, grouper, reef sharks, unicorn fish, and even humphead wrasse.
In addition, the underwater views are one-of-a-kind, with scores of small caves and gorgonian fans. In fact, many divers who have braved exploring this natural wonder compared the experience to being in a dream in another universe.
Sha’ab Rumi South, Sudan
Sudan may not have the advanced infrastructure of Egypt, its neighbor sharing the Red sea, but advanced divers are well aware that it offers an off-the-beaten-track diving experience with fewer crowds and healthier corals. Located about 26 miles from Sudan’s port, Sha’ab Rumi South is one of the most famous diving destinations in the world, affording divers with spectacular photo opportunities of grey reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, barracuda, red snappers, bottlenose dolphins, and pelagic fish.
Sha’ab Rumi South was once the stomping grounds of Jacques Cousteau who once observed sharks from Conshelf II, his underwater habitat built in the 1960s. Other highlights include the wreck of the Umbria, an Italian freighter that went down during WWII with its bombs and ammunition still onboard.
Seychelles is an Indian Ocean nation with 115 individual islands populated with white sands and swaying palms. Dive sites are usually uncrowded and offer a great place to spot migrating whale sharks and manta rays especially between July and October. Its fall-out from the large-scale coral bleaching in the late 1990s and early 2000s did put off some divers, but thankfully most of the sites have largely recovered.
There are also a couple of dive resorts located close to shore, allowing for easy, laid-back conditions for the duration of the trip. Divers looking for a challenge can opt for Brissare Rock and South Marianne, where strong currents mean good pelagic action in the form of abundant marine life, including Napoleon wrasse, schooling gamefish, reef sharks, and eagle rays.