Zanzibar is reputed to have some of the best diving in the world, and the coral reef structures that surround Unguja and Pemba ensure that the marine life is abundant. Good visibility (20 – 60 metres) and a year-round average water temperature of 27°c ensure that you enjoy your Zanzibar diving experience, and also present an ideal opportunity for learning to dive or upgrading your diving qualification.
There are several dive centers on the island and most run courses using the international PADI system of diver education. This way, the certification you gain in Zanzibar can be used anywhere in the world.
Diving in Zanzibar isn’t restricted to beginners. Experienced scuba divers can enjoy exciting wall dives, night dives and drift dives. In deeper waters, lush coral gardens often stretch as far as the eye can see, and large game fish (barracuda, kingfish, tuna and wahoo) hunt together with large Napoleonic wrasse, graceful manta rays and sharks. Shallower waters are the playground of tropical fish, including a huge variety of Indo-Pacific marine fauna.
The PADI Dive resorts on Zanzibar employ trained PADI professionals both local and expat to offer a high degree of quality and satisfaction and most importantly safety to all students and customers. They normally have a sizable insurance policy which covers all guests and are active contributors to the local decompression chamber.
For most of the year, Zanzibar is home to some of the calmest, clearest oceans imaginable. This combined with a plethora of marine life makes it a perfect spot for a Scuba Diving holiday. Visibility is usually in the range of 10-40m depending on the dive site.
However, like everywhere in the world, weather does play a factor during certain months of the year.
January and February are when the ‘Kaskasi’ winds hit the island. These can render the ocean very rough and force boats to retreat to the safety of sheltered coves. If you are planning your vacation at this time however do not fret because the winds are unpredictable and it is quite common to have perfect weather interspersed by a few days of strong winds. From the end of March through until May, the long wet season of Zanzibar means that sea conditions and visibility can be quite poor. Having said that, it is possible to have good days interspersed among the others and some interesting dive days out to more protected local sites.
Most centers use a combination of traditional dhows and fiberglass speed boats. The former allow for comfort and space when the seas are a bit choppy and the latter allow you to get out to the more distant dive sites like Level Bank and Big wall quickly and efficiently for the more avid divers. This versatile fleet also gives us the ability to cater for a variety of watersports in comfort and safety. All boats are fully equipped with safety gear and twin engines.
The centers use well maintained equipment, for example ScubaPro Mk2 R190/R295 combinations as shop regulators, ScubaPro T-One BCD’s and a mixture of ScubaPro and Mares closed heel fins. For exposure protection there are Reef 5mm wetsuits in both short and full length in a variety of sizes. Guests are also welcome to use their own gear and store it at the center during their stay.
The centers put a lot into their staff and they give them a lot back. Most of the local crew is from the North of Zanzibar and some were fishermen before. These expert sailors know the sea better than anyone and will always offer constructive advice on sea conditions and safety issues. They have almost all been trained in diving and all are trained in CPR and O2 use for added safety. They’re all nice guys too, and have that typical laid back African charm!
BE A SAFE DIVER !
Ensure that the dive center you use:
- Is staffed by professional divers
- Has well equipped boats. Important things to check for onboard include medical oxygen, first-aid facilities, radio communications, sufficient life jackets and back-up engine/s.
- Is a member of a reputable training organization. PADI list all trade members online at www.padi.com
Here is a brief description of the best dive sites Zanzibar has to offer…
1. Mnemba – Wattabommi (6-30m): Sandy slope with fringing plate coral, white tips, green turtles, large groupers.
2. Mnemba – Kichwani (6-40m): A wall of corals home to a vast array of marine life. Schooling fish feed in the shallow waters while larger predatory fish can be seen out in the blue.
3. Mnemba – Big Wall (14-40m): The northern edge of Mnemba Atoll is almost a kilometer long, best visibility, lobsters, white tips, turtles.
4. Leon’s Wall (12 – 40m): The edge of the inner reef. Leon’s Wall is a vertical drop covered in a plethora of soft corals and encrusting sponges. Lionfish, schools of snappers, and the elusive leaf fish can all be seen along the wall.
5. Misoli (12 – 40m): Large coral island which can be circumvented on the dive. Very diverse coral and lots of nudibranches.
6. Kichafi (12-18m): A very healthy reef with vast expanses of plate corals. The large sandy area adjacent to the site also makes this an excellent training ground for all courses.
7. Haji (10-18m): A submerged coral ridge attracts an abundance of marine life and sports a vast array of hard coral formations. There are numerous crocodile fish and nudibranches to be found here.
8. Mbwangawa (12-18m): An eclectic mix of life, including lobster sheltering beneath plate corals and frequent encounters with cuttlefish. The chance to see turtles also makes this a very popular dive site.
9. Ametatu (6-12m): Sister reef to Chakatuni, small coral bommies hosting a wide variety of marine life of all sizes and colours.
10. Chakatuni (12-18m): Hard corals in the open sea, seen best at slack tide. Attracts a wide range of marine life.
11. Shanes Reef (12-16m): This weird and wonderful dive offers the best array of macro life around. Flying gurnards frogfish and Mauritius scorpion fish make this site a photographers dream.
12. Hunga (12-18m): A wall that drops down to 45m with cascading plate coral flowing into the deep. Lionfish, large rays and a passing point for dolphins and pelagic species.
13. Nankivell (12-18m): Can only be dived on specific tides. This large area of coral has a great variety of reef fish, lobsters and the occasional small reef shark.
14. Kendwa Reef (5-10m): Suitable for both divers and snorkelers, this site is a great nursery full of vibrant juveniles hiding amongst the corals.
15. Mwana na Mwana (2-12m): Soft and hard coral bommies with glass fish sheltering in the crevices. Frogfish have been spotted here, and often green turtles stop by to take advantage of the cleaning service.
16. Tumbatu – Haunted wall (2-15m): A small eerie looking wall with beautiful soft corals sheltering nudibranches and leaf fish, with inquisitive bat fish cruising past.
17. Renco Bommi (7-14m): A huge coral bommi coming up from the sand, with an explosion of marine life. Leaf fish, octopus, and the colorful mantis shrimps are a common site here. An ideal dive site for the less experienced.
18. Leven Bank (14-40m): An exciting must do dive spot for experienced divers only. Spectacular dive, often in strong currents in the Pemba Channel with great visibility, but can only be dived on certain tides. Amazing mid-channel pinnacle, topped with coral and sandy patches, the walls drop down to over 160m. The pinnacle attracts some large pelagic fish from the open ocean, such as sharks, manta rays, whale sharks and big game fish. The pinnacle itself is home to things from huge Honeycomb moray eels to colorful nudibranches. Dolphins are often seen playing in this area.
PADI courses of all levels are conducted; from Discover Scuba Diving to Divemaster.
Discover Scuba Diving
Discover Scuba diving is for people who just want to have a taste of scuba diving with someone else taking care of the technicalities; it is kind of like a tandem skydive. It is also for people who aren’t sure if they will be comfortable in the water and want to test this out before committing to a course. However, if you have at least 3 days, are fairly comfortable in the water and can swim 200m at an average pace, you can jump straight into the Open water course. You can either opt to do this at Renco bommi which takes only a few hours out of your day or take the more popular option and do it at Mnemba.
If you haven’t been diving in a while and need to get back into your comfort zone then this is the course for you. It takes only an hour or two and can also be invaluable for new divers. We require people who haven’t used their dive skills in over a year to take this course.
Open Water Diver
The Open Water course takes 3-4 days and consists of 3 parts: 5 academic sections (watching videos and taking exams), 5 confined water sections (learning and practicing important skills in shallow water) and 4 open water dives (applying your knowledge and skills to dives in the ocean). You must show your instructor that you know how to swim by swimming 200m (no time limit) and floating for 10 minutes. The price of the course includes all of the equipment and material, plus the certification card. On completion of the Open Water course, you will be certified to dive with a buddy of the same or higher experience level up to a depth of 18m.
The Scuba Diver course is essentially half the Open water course and takes 2 days. It includes 3 confined water sessions and 2 Open Water dives. On completion, you will be certified to dive to a depth of 12m and must always be accompanied by a dive professional (divemaster and above). The Scuba diver course can easily be upgraded to open water at a later time by simply completing the remaining sections of the course.
Advanced Open Water Diver
The Advanced Open Water Course consists of 5 dives over two days. The Deep and Navigation Specialty dives are compulsory. For the other three dives of your course, you can pick from the following:
1. Peak Performance Buoyancy: This dive is aimed at making a new diver more aware of how much their breathing effects their position in the water, helps them get it under control and focuses on general streamlining in order to make them better, more comfortable divers.
2. Fish I.D.: Did you see a lot of fish and other sea life on your first dives that you had absolutely no clue about? Then this dive is for you.
3. Search and Recovery: Follows from the Navigation dive to teach you the more elaborate navigation skills used for systematically searching for objects underwater and then the methods and precautions to take while recovering them. A little bit like an underwater treasure hunt.
4. Night: Eerie and exciting, the night dive needs no explanation.
5. Multilevel and Computer: Teaches you how to operate a dive computer and plan your dives using one as well as maximize your time underwater by planning multilevel dives.
6. Drift: Learn how to use the ocean currents to your advantage and glide along effortlessly.
Emergency First Response
This is a non-diving course that teaches basic CPR and first aid skills that can be invaluable for divers and non-divers alike and can be completed in an afternoon. This is also a pre-requisite for the Rescue Diver course.
Rewarding and fun – that best describes the PADI Rescue Diver course. This course will expand your knowledge and experience level: Rescue Divers learn to look beyond themselves and consider the safety and wellbeing of other divers. Although this course is serious, it is an enjoyable way to build your confidence. Rescue Diver training will prepare you to prevent problems and, if necessary, manage dive emergencies. The course takes a minimum of 4 days and during your training sessions, you will learn:
* Self-rescue and diver stress *AED and emergency oxygen delivery systems *Diving first aid *Swimming and non-swimming rescue techniques *Emergency management and equipment *Panicked diver response *Underwater problems *Missing diver procedures *Surfacing the unconscious diver *In-water rescue breathing protocols *Egress (exits) *First aid procedures for pressure related accidents *Dive accident scenarios
If you decide you want to make a full or part time career out of diving or just want to have professional level abilities, the Divemaster course is for you. The Divemaster Course is the first “professional” level course PADI offers. The diver will demonstrate exemplary diving and rescue skills; professional-level knowledge of dive theory; dive management and supervision skills; competence as a certified assistant; ethical role model; be enthusiastic and fun to be with. This course takes a minimum of 2 weeks to complete but we recommend students take out at least a month and work side by side with the dive center to learn all possible aspects of working in the dive industry.
If you don’t dive, there are also some fantastic snorkeling options for you at Mnemba atoll and Tumbatu Island. The perfect way to spend the day with your partner or family if some dive and some don’t or even if you just fancy a day out but do not want to lug around that dive gear.