The diving around Zanzibar island can be divided into 3 distinct areas and is best dived when staying nearby.
By far the best diving in found up on the North East coast around Mnemba where there is enough variety for 3 to 4 good diving days and you really need to base yourself at Matemwe to make the most of these dive sites.
Stone Town has some interesting wrecks in close proximity of town and some good shallow reefs which have excellent coral and are fine for a number of warm-up dives. The dive schools have use of a swimming pool in the town hotels and hence this is the perfect place to take at least the confined water part of a PADI Open Water course.
Down on the south-east coast, there are a number of shallow reef dive sites. These are best dived from Bwejuu.
With the possible exception of Leven Bank off the coast of Nungwi, all of the best diving in these parts is found around the Mnemba Atoll which lies some 5km off the north-east coast of the main island.
It is just about possible to dive here when located at Kendwa or Nungwi but the journey to the atoll can be over an hour each way on choppy seas and cuts into the enjoyment of the day. It is much more advisable to stay at Matemwe where both hotels have excellent in-house dive schools and from where it is 10 minutes by boat to the dive sites.
Mnemba is a private island but the surrounding atoll offers a good range of wall dives both inside and outside the reef, as well as some beautiful coral gardens. The best diving is on the south side where big currents can make for excellent drift dives. The hard corals are in good condition and you will find honeycomb, pillar and brain clouded with shoals of sergeant fish, fusiliers and wrasse.
The highlight of the year is when the migrating whale sharks stopover. March 2002, saw 3 ranging in size from 5 to 12m who hung around for a month. There is nothing more graceful and harmless in the oceans.
Great spot for drift diving along a vertical wall, with a wide variety of corals and reef fish suspended in the current. Groupers, wrasse and parrotfish drift by, but the main attraction of this particular site is the possibility of a visit by something larger from out of the blue, like a manta, eagle ray or dolphin.
So named for the obvious reason, here you can expect to encounter parrotfish, surgeonfish, fusiliers, butterflyfish, bannerfish, and crocodile fish as well as rays, wrasses and morays. On its day this is one of the best and most colourful dives in the region.
The Eastern side of the island is the best location for experienced divers, where a 30-metre wall of fine coral plunges towards the deeper waters beyond. This is where you have the best chance of sighting the larger fish, with tuna, giant wrasse, giant groupers, white tips and turtles being amongst the regular visitors.
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From Stone Town, there are 4 or 5 smallish reefs about 30 minutes from town where the coral is in excellent condition but the marine life is limited. There are no reefs deeper than 20 metres and often nothing bigger than a parrotfish but they are just fine for warm-up dives.
The highlights, and a must if you are into wreck dives, are the deeper Pegasus & Bahari dives.
This recently discovered 50m long wreck is thought to be the remains of Pegasus, the British ship sunk by the German gunship Koenigsberg in 1916. At 40m depth, this is for experienced divers only, who will be met by schools of tuna, trevally, Baracuda and jackfish, along with lionfish and giant stingrays. No coral has developed but huge shoals of barracuda and jacks circle the wreck and what remains of the deck is littered with lion-fish. It a very cool 17 minutes!
Quite a trek from Stone Town but worth the journey, Boribu is a fine reef with some impressive coral formations including large honeycombs and Gorgonian fans, along with enormous barrel sponges. Good also for some of the larger pelagics including barracudas, jacks and tuna.
For experienced divers, the Bahari wreck, is a 15m WWII tug boat, sitting in 30m of water, teeming with shoals of fusiliers and snappers and home to a huge stingray and a 2m cobia who might join you as you dive.
The diving around the southeast and southern parts of Zanzibar is nothing to write home about. Lenny found a cave-dive recently, but it’s not been brought online yet.
For now, the area remains unspectacular but is gaining momentum.
This site is named after the first occasion it was dived, when it was swarming with stingrays. They certainly aren’t there all the time though and we haven’t figured out yet whether this was a one-off or some kind of cyclical behaviour. Either way the site is still worth the dip, with fine examples of fire and brain coral interspersed with abundant reef fish. Moorish idols, unicorn and parrotfish dart around whilst kingfish and Baracuda lurk further out in the blue.
The coral here is in good condition, including fine examples of lettuce and brain coral, interspersed with a fair array of reef fish. Kingfish, barracuda and plenty of unicornfish are usually present.