A Guide to Zanzibar Diving and Snorkeling

zanzibar diving and snorkeling

Zanzibar diving and Zanzibar snorkeling have always been the icing on the cake on Tanzania holidays.

Tanzania offers the best of African travel. I am not the only one who thinks so. Even Safari Bookings agrees.

Picture this: You’ve been to the Serengeti and witnessed the beautiful spectacle that is the great wildebeest migration. You go to the Ngorongoro conservation area and become one with nature in one of the most beautiful craters volcanic activity ever gifted mankind. But you don’t stop there – you proceed to traverse the savanna grasslands on a big 5 safari in some of the world’s best game parks and reserves. You then head to the coast and experience the picturesque beaches of Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is close to Mafia Island. If you have time, you can organize a trip to Mafia Island (a totally different island) and swim with whale sharks.

whale shark - zanzibar diving

A Whale Shark. You Can Swim with these Majestic Creatures in Mafia Island, one-hour flight away from Zanzibar on light aircraft (approx. $160 one-way).

You will be hard pressed to find a destination that offers such a wide range of adventure experiences.

Back to Zanzibar diving. Diving and snorkeling in Zanzibar is made world class by the fact that the island houses some of the world’s best diving sites for both beginners and advanced divers.

I may be a little biased. But I know for a fact that Zanzibar has the best coral reefs along the East African coastline.

The weather is always friendly too – for almost the whole year. You can expect water temperatures to average around 27°C. Visibility will always be between 20 meters and 60 meters.

For the uninitiated wanting to experience the abundant Zanzibar marine life, the island offers several PADI courses and instructors.

Zanzibar’s Diving Sites

Mnemba Atoll

Mnemba island is one of the islands that make up the Zanzibar archipelago. Mnemba’s diving sites from Wattaboni to Kichuani to the Big Wall generally have a depth of between 6 to 40 meters.

Chances are high that you will spot turtles and dolphins.

The Big Wall is to the East of Mnemba island and is one of the most popular Zanzibar diving sites for drift diving. The wall is however not a place suitable for beginners due to the current and the depth. You can find rainbow runners, lobsters, groupers, tunas and green turtles at the wall.

Nungwi Reefs

Nungwi Reefs is also popular with scuba divers traveling to Zanzibar.

The Nankiville and the Hunga have a depth of 20 meters. The Laven Bank on the other hand runs up to 40 meters deep.

While at Nungwi, you can escape to Mnemba island if your diving operator organizes dive sessions there.

Beginners will like Nankiville and Hunga while the advanced divers will probably go to the Laven Bank.

Pemba Island Diving

pemba island snorkeling

The View from a Resort in Pemba Island

To the North of Unguja around 50 kilometers away lies Pemba island which is also part of the Zanzibar archipelago. While Pemba has very good diving sites, the amenities on the island are not as luxurious because of the island’s remoteness. If you really want to unplug from the crazy connected world then this is the best place to be.

The place is not touristy and is rarely flocked by foreigners. But the locals are very welcoming of any visitors that are curious enough to make their way here.

Several Diving Spots for Every Skill Level

There are just so many Zanzibar diving and Zanzibar snorkeling sites that it would be impossible to cover them all conclusively in one post.

Googling the diving operators in Zanzibar will introduce you to the centers and sites they frequent. Both beginners and advanced divers will find something that suits their needs in Zanzibar.

Escape to Mafia Island and Swim with Whale Sharks

This can be a magical experience. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world – the biggest growing up to 20 meters – and you can literally swim with them in Mafia.

Despite their massive size, whale sharks are harmless to humans.

You will need to book with a whale shark encounter operator. Kiti Kiblu, one of the operators, offers one of the best non intrusive yet educational whale shark encounters in Mafia.

Getting to the feeding grounds of the whale sharks isn’t hard. The boat is able to move among them quietly and you can always swim and snorkel to get closer.

It is one of those experiences that you will want to relive for the rest of your life. Whale sharks are very beautiful yet so big that one swing of the tail propels them so far that keeping up with them in water might be hard. With an experienced guide you should be able to make the best of your time spent in the waters.

Best Time for Zanzibar Diving

Zanzibar diving season is all year round.

The long rains in Tanzania are usually in the months of April and May. This is the only time I would advice you to reschedule your travel plans if you have the option of being able to make it here at a friendlier time.

June to August is the high season for tourism in Zanzibar. The best months for scuba divers are probably February, March, July and August.

Other Important Information on Zanzibar Diving

Water temperature – averages about 27°C.
Visibility – Averages about 30 meters. Is usually good through the year save for the rainy season.
Coordinates – 6.1333°S, 39.3167°E. Pretty close to the equator. So expect the kind of weather you would typically find in the tropics.
Land at – Zanzibar Airport. You can fly in from Dar es salaam, Kilimanjaro or the parks with airstrips accessed by small aircraft. There are no direct flights to Zanzibar from outside Africa.
Language spoken – Swahili and English are the common languages. The locals speak Swahili and since you will be spending a lot of time among them it would be nice to at least know how to say hello in Swahili and master a few Swahili translations of common phrases.
Luxury? – Maybe in Unguja. It is hard to find over the top luxury lodges and resorts outside of Unguja. But they are reasonably comfortable. So don’t worry.
Paying – The resorts and lodges accept credit cards. I would still advise you to carry cash, though.

4 thoughts on “A Guide to Zanzibar Diving and Snorkeling

  1. Andre Rodrigues

    Hi. Me and 3 others friends will be in zanzibar from the 9th till 18th of october (next mounth) and we are interested to swim with shark whales. Can you help us with that?
    If possible with prices as well.
    Andre Rodrigues

    1. Gonza Post author

      Hi Andre,

      October is a good time to swim with whale sharks, but not in Unguja Zanzibar – you have to go to Mafia Island.

      Will you make it to Mafia Island?

      If you’ll make it to Mafia Island, I can connect you with a reliable operator.


      1. Jop

        Hello Gonza,

        We will be visiting Zanzibar in August. Do you have a reliable operator for us gor whaleshark diving?

        Best regards,


        1. Gonza Post author

          Hello Jop,

          For whale shark diving you’ll have to leave Zanzibar and go to Mafia Island.

          For a tour operator, you can contact Kitu Kiblu. They are pretty awesome.

          Their website: http://kitukiblu.co.tz

          All the best

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