Right at the very bottom of the vast African continent, lies a country aptly named South Africa. This may come as a surprise to some, but South Africa has a lot more to offer than just funny accents and safari parks; it’s an enormous, beautiful, multicultural country and it offers some of the best diving in the world!
It has a stunning 1700-mile coastline that’s as varied as it is massive, spanning across two oceans. Both the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean hug this enormous coastline with their big, wet, oceany arms.
South Africa is incredibly biodiverse and varied on land as well as underwater. It’s home to an incredible variety of sea creatures from tiny colorful nudibranchs and starfish to massive humpback whales and the famous great white.
The seascapes are diverse, featuring dramatic rock structures, colorful reefs, sandy banks, kelp forests and a myriad of shipwrecks!
Just a heads up: many of the dive spots in this article lie within marine protected areas (yay for conservation!) and require that you have a permit in order to dive. These permits can generally be acquired from any local post office. The money from permit purchases contributes to the preservation of these beautiful areas, so don’t be shellfish, get a permit!
Alright Squad, without further adieu, here are the best places to dive in South Africa!
One of South Africa’s 9 provinces, KwaZulu Natal is located in the Northwest corner of the country. This is where you’ll find South Africa’s warmest water, and is as close to tropical as the country gets.
The warm waters create ideal living conditions for humpback and southern right whales, a plethora of sharks sharks (hammerhead, Tiger, Bull, ragged-tooth to name a few), manta rays, dolphins, and eagle rays amongst many others! You’ll also find leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles living in Kwazulu Natal’s welcoming waters!
We’ll spend most of this article discussing the KwaZulu Natal diving spots, as they’re generally considered to be the best in the country.
The climate is subtropical, and the province tends to get summer (October – February) rainfall.
Often considered one of the most popular dive spots in the world, Sodwana Bay is a beautiful, rural national park, around 300 miles north of Durban and 60 miles south of Mozambique (South Africa’s gorgeous coastal neighbor to the northwest). This bay contains some of the most southernmost coral reefs in the world!
The diving here is awesome and certainly some of the best in the country. The bay is comprised of several coral reefs that run parallel to the shore at different distances from Jesser point (the launch point). All of the reefs are offshore and accessible by boat.
These pristine and expansive 4000-year-old coral reefs are incredibly biodiverse with around 95 species of coral, and 1200 species of other marine creatures. The reefs are generally quite flat with shallow drop-offs and low pinnacles.
The sandstone reef rock on which the coral resides is made up of an ancient fossilized dunescape – the remains of what was once a beautiful beach with rolling dunes around 80,000 years ago. This ancient terrain makes up a gorgeous underwater vista, filled with color and life.
The name of the bay is actually rather endearing; Sodwana means ‘little one on its own’ in Zulu (a native local language). Fortunately, in the big scary world of today, Sodwana is not on its own; it forms part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (a UNESCO world heritage site) and is a marine protected area!
If you’re looking for places to stay in Sodwana Bay, check out the accommodation section. We’ll recommend a place to stay near each dive spot after giving you the dive details!
SPLASH! It’s important to remember that scuba diving is an extreme sport. Accidents can happen. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble.
What’s more, because diving can take you all around the world, it’s absolutely essential you make sure you are properly covered by the best scuba diving insurance before leaving your home country.
We recommend going with Dive Assure. Why?
Experience Required – There are dive sites suitable for divers of all experience levels!
Depth – The depth at the popular dive spots ranges between a few meters and 30 meters. Many of the reefs don’t exceed 18 meters.
Visibility – Visibility varies greatly, generally between 10 and 40 meters. It tends to be best in the winter months (May / June).
Temperature – Average water temperature in Sodwana is a very comfortable 25 °C, with a 21 °C degrees minimum, and a maximum of around 28 °C.
When to dive this spot – Thanks to the warm waters and good visibility, Sodwana Bay is ripe for diving all year round. However, visibility tends to be at its best between April and September, which happen to be the colder months.
The water is generally warmest around December / January – when turtles lay their eggs!
Morning sessions are generally best as the wind and waves tend to pick up in the afternoon.
Common sightings – The large number of species inhabiting this relatively small series of reefs makes Sodwana an incredibly species-dense area.
If we had to name all of the awesome species you find here, this article would be longer than South Africa’s coastline! So we’ve listed a few of the most exciting sightings below.
Turtles, whale sharks, ragged-tooth sharks, manta rays, humpback whales, a vast diversity of nudibranchs, bottlenose dolphins, variegated paperfish, Durban dancing shrimps, seahorses, snapper and goatfish, potato bass and longnosed emperors.
Popular diving sites
Just a short 10 minute drive from Jesser Point (the launch point for diving in Sodwana Bay) is Jesser Point Boat Lodge. It’s a complex divided into multiple comfortable apartments, surrounding a beautiful courtyard.
The courtyard itself contains an outdoor BBQ area and a great swimming pool. The lodge also offers billiards and table tennis – a great way to spend a relaxed evening after a big day of diving.
All of the units come with a well equipped kitchen (stove, oven, microwave, toaster, kettle). They also each have air conditioning and flat-screen TVs with satellite channels. Some even have balconies! There is also secure garage parking and 24-hour security.
The Aliwal Shoal is situated further down the country than Sodwana, around 30 miles south of Durban, on the South coast of KwaZulu Natal. It’s an ancient fossilized sandbank, about 1 mile wide. This exceptionally biodiverse rocky reef is regularly voted amongst the top 10 dive spots in the world!
Aliwal Shoal is unique in its diverse offering; in a relatively small area, it offers fantastic reef diving, wreck diving, and shark diving. The swell at the Shoal is big, with an average annual swell of 8.2ft.
The main attraction to Aliwal is the abundance of marine creatures – but it’s particularly famous for the immense range and number of sharks that can be spotted in the area.
It’s best known for the vast number of grey nurse sharks, (known locally as ragged-tooth sharks or raggies), who congregate here to mate between July and November.
There are two shipwrecks in the area; The Nebo wreck and the Produce wreck (sunk in 1884 and 1974 respectively). These wrecks offer amazing structures to explore, covered in moss and teeming with tropical fish.
Neither of the wrecks resulted in fatalities, so you can dive in peace without any ghosts following you around! Unfortunately for beginners, these wrecks are reserved only for advanced divers.
The reef makes for an interesting seascape, with many caves (such as Raggies cave), pinnacles, and gullies. There are also large reef walls and several swim throughs. Whilst coral is not as prominent a sight here as in Sodwana, there are still several species of hard and soft coral on the reef. Mostly though, the terrain is dominated by sponges and algae.
The Shoal is located near the small town of Umkomaas, around 5 km from its shores, and is accessible by boat. The town was named after the uMkhomazi River that flows through it, which in turn translates to ‘watering place of the whales’ in Zulu.
It’s no surprise then that each year, numerous humpback whales pass right by Aliwal Shoal during the winter months as they migrate north to Mozambique’s warmer waters. Quite a spectacular sight!
Aliwal Shoal lies within a protected area and no fishing is allowed on the dive sites. Divers are also not allowed to touch the animals or the reef, and can’t take anything other than shark teeth found in the sand! These rules help to conserve this stunning natural world beneath the waves.
Experience Required – Most of the Shoal is suitable for all levels of diver, except for the shipwrecks which are both fairly deep and reserved for experienced divers (PADI Adventure diver qualification – 3 adventure dives under the belt).
Depth – Most of the reef complex is between 6m and 32m in depth. The Nebo wreck sits at 26m, while the Produce sits at 30m.
Visibility – Excellent visibility due to the Mozambique current. Ranges between 5m and 40m, but is generally at least 15m.
Temperature – Generally between 18 °C and 26 °C.
When to dive this spot – There is shark activity at Aliwal Shoal all year round, but have a look at the species list below for when the different species are generally sighted. The winter months are best for the shipwrecks.
The annual sardine run is one of the largest marine migrations on earth and passes through Aliwal around June. As millions of sardines migrate north, the waters come alive with sea predators (and birds) all flocking toward the sardines in a feeding frenzy. If you’re lucky enough to catch some action, it’s certainly a spectacle worth seeing!
Seasonal shark sightings:
Humpback whales can be found here between May and November.
Other species include nudibranchs, manta rays, dolphins, turtles, eels, tropical fish, giant guitarfish, round ribbontail rays, eagle rays, dusky sharks and copper sharks.
Popular dive sites
The elephants Tusk offers excellent accommodation in the town of Umkomaas, which is the closest town to Aliwal Shoal. The units here are very affordable and offer great value for money.
Located just a ½ mile from Aliwal Dive Center, this property is in a superb location for dive fanatics. There is a great outdoor swimming pool, and all guests have access to free WiFi! The hosts are kind, friendly, and welcoming too.
Each of the beautifully furnished units offer satellite flat-screen TVs, and a terrace with garden views! They are self-catered with nicely equipped kitchens, and they all have en-suite bathrooms. Bed and Breakfast provided!
Protea Banks is located offshore, about 5 miles from Shelly beach, a popular holiday destination 100 miles south of Durban.
It’s often agreed that this site is one of the best shark diving sites in the world. In fact, Protea banks reef has one of the widest varieties of shark species on Earth, and it’s not a rare occurrence to see 5 shark species in a single dive!
We’re afraid to say that beginners will have to sit this one out. The reef at Protea banks is all pretty deep.
The shallowest point is 27 meters below the surface, and in places, the reef reaches depths of up to 60 meters. Bottom times at Protea banks tend to be fairly short.
This depth alone means that Protea banks is not particularly ‘beginner-friendly’. The strong currents and shark density further reinforce this reef’s stance as being for experienced divers only.
There are two main types of dive that can be enjoyed in this area. The first is (cageless) baited shark dives, which allow for very close interaction with the magnificent toothy swimmers.
These dives tend not to go deeper than 10 meters, but divers have to be able to cope with strong currents and have good buoyancy. No sharks are harmed during these baited dives.
Protea banks also offer reef dives. The reef dives here are generally drift dives (where the diver is transported by the natural water currents) and allow the diver to witness sharks in their natural habitat, exhibiting natural behavior (unlike on the baited dives). These dives go deep though; 30 meters at the shallowest.
Experience Required – Naturally, partaking in either of these dives at Protea Banks requires that you have experience. You will need a PADI advanced open water diver certification (4 dives under the belt) (or equivalent).
Depth – Between 27m and 40m.
Visibility – Quite varied; generally between 4m and 40m, but often sits between 15m and 25m.
Temperature – Lowest temperatures are around 19 °C and highest are around 25 °C.
When to dive this spot – Protea Banks is diveable all year round, but you may wish to time your trip here with shark seasonality, depending on what you wish to see. The sardine run also passes through here around June.
Both Scalloped hammerheads and great hammerheads can be found at Protea banks in the summer months, and are often found in schools of hundreds around November / December.
Seasonal shark sightings:
Other shark sightings include dusky and copper sharks. The humpback whale migration we spoke about earlier can also be witnessed from Protea Banks, and it’s home to a variety of game fish and friendly Potato Bass. However, Protea Banks is primarily a shark diving destination.
Popular dive spots
Tahiti Sands is located right on the Shelly Beach beachfront, with stellar panoramic views of the Indian Ocean. Shelly Beach acts as the launch point for Protea Banks, and Tahiti Sands is just a 10 minute walk from Aqua Planet Dive Center, so getting out to these dives will be quick and easy.
The beautiful 3-bedroom apartments are incredibly spacious, and come with terraces overlooking the beach and the Ocean. There is an en suite master bedroom and an additional guest bathroom in each apartment, along with a fully equipped modern kitchen and flat-screen satellite TV.
There is an outdoor swimming pool, with an outdoor shower and a play area for children.
The Eastern Cape is the large coastal province below KwaZulu Natal, on the east coast of South Africa, and has some great diving!
Port Elizabeth is not only the largest city in the Eastern Cape, but it’s surrounding waters also offer the best diving in the province.
The water here is far colder than up in KwaZulu Natal, but it’s also home to some gorgeous brightly colored coral reefs and a plethora of marine animals, including multiple species of rays and sharks!
The marine life is not the only attraction though; the area also offers dramatic rock formations, white sand reefs, and multiple shipwrecks. The colorful scenes created by the corals, sponges, sea fans, nudibranchs and fish life here are exceptional.
The mingling of the cold currents from the west coast with the warmer east coast currents creates an environment that is habitable for species from two different ecosystems, making it a unique and diverse diving location.
It also makes for a slightly different diving experience on either side of the peninsula around which the city is built.
The rocky reefs of Algoa Bay on the east side are more prone to brightly colored soft coral, sea fans and sponges.
The nutrient-rich waters of Wildside on the east side of the peninsula, create an environment more suited to hard and false corals. But there is no hard line and the whole area offers an interesting blend of wildlife.
Experience Required – Port Elizabeth offers dive sites for divers of all experience levels.
Depth – Depths range between 5m and 40m.
Visibility – Ranges between 1m and 20m. Averages 5m – 8m in the bay, and 10m – 15m on the Wildside.
Water Temperature – Generally between 15 °C and 19 °C and can get down to 11 °C on the Wildside with some deeper dives. Be sure to bring a dry suit if you have one.
When to dive this spot – Best visibility is generally in the winter months (June / July), though this is also the coldest time of year. You can experience the sardine run here around April and May, when the sardines are earlier on in their migration north and numbers are greater (not too many have been picked off yet!)
Amongst others, common sightings include raggies, shy sharks, multiple species of ray, nudibranchs, a vast variety of fish, and sometimes even great white sharks.
Popular dive sites:
This is only a 2 minute drive from Pro Dive Port Elizabeth, and located near the centre of the city’s peninsula. This makes it ideal for divers, as you’ll be pretty much equidistant (and a very easy drive) from both Wildside dives and Bay dives! It also offer a solid bang for your bucks.
The rooms are spacious and luxurious, decorated in a victorian style. They each have a large private bathroom feature stunning balconies with nice views. The outdoor swimming pool is surrounded by sun loungers, and the grounds also contain a tennis court!
If you’d like to enjoy some fine dining, Hacklewood Hill also has a great restaurant on site. The staff are friendly and professional too! The property is situated close to the airport, several restaurants, and the beach!
Located just a 3 minute drive from Pro Dive Port Elizabeth and well placed in the middle of the peninsula, Forest Hall Guest House offers fantastic mid-range accommodation for divers.
Each of the uniquely decorated, self-catering rooms feature patios overlooking the lush gardens, as well as private bathrooms, ceiling fans, and satellite TV. The garden surrounds an outdoor swimming pool where guests can sit and relax.
The property offers free WiFi, free on site private parking, and outstanding daily breakfasts are included. It’s close to the airport as well as the center of town and the beach! This guest house will give you high quality for a reasonable price.
Walmer Heights Guest House is a quaint and charming guest house also located near the center of the peninsula, just a 6 minute drive from Pro Dive Port Elizabeth. It’s affordable, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on features or comfort!
All of the rooms come equipped with a private bathroom, satellite TV, and tea and coffee making facilities. The grounds contain an outdoor swimming pool, barbecue area, and a hot tub which can be booked out for a fee – a great way to relax after a day of diving in chilly water!
There is even a fitness center on site! This spot is around 15 minutes from the airport and offers great value for your money.
As the name suggests, the Western Cape lies further west than the aforementioned provinces. It’s a beautiful place and home to some unique diving spots.
The very tippy tip of the country divides the Indian and Atlantic oceans, which meet around the city of Cape Town. On one side of the city’s peninsula, you can dip in the nippy Atlantic, yet just a short drive away on the other side, the warmer Indian Ocean welcomes you.
Although not quite as colorful as the dive spots up the east coast, Cape town’s diving is still varied and interesting. It offers immense kelp forests, rocky shores, sandy bottoms, reefs and a whole host of animal life, including great whites and Cape fur seals! The waters surrounding the Cape Peninsula are also home to countless shipwrecks.
False Bay, to the east of the city, is a hotspot for Great White Sharks and, if it’s your cup of tea, is definitely one of the best places in the world to go shark cage diving. If you decide to do so, make sure it’s with a reputable and ethically responsible company like this one.
The western side of the peninsula, known as the Atlantic Seaboard, has a fairly small shelf before dropping off into extremely deep waters. You’ll find very cold water on this side of the peninsula.
Experience Required – Cape Town and the surrounding areas offer a huge variety of diving experiences, with something suitable for everyone from beginners to veterans!
Depth – This is a large area, and it offers a great variety in depth, with dives ranging between 5m and 40m.
Visibility – Generally between 5m and 10m – occasionally up to 20m.
Temperature – The Atlantic side gets very cold. Temperatures generally range between 10 °C and 13 °C getting down to a minimum of 8 °C. False Bay is a bit warmer, generally sitting between 15 °C and 19 °C. Bring a dry suit to Cape Town – these are not warm waters!
When to dive this spot – The winter months are best when the northwesterly wind cleans and flattens the bay
Popular dive sites:
There are hundreds of dive sites around the Cape Peninsula and False Bay. We’ll briefly discuss a few good ones.
Windmill Beach offers a shore entry dive site, great for beginners and training dives. It’s shallow, calm, and sheltered. Expect to see sea cucumbers, shy sharks, pyjama sharks, nudibranchs, starfish, urchins, anemones and spider crabs in this kelpy boulder filled seascape.
A-Frame is a colorful shore entry dive site between 9m and 15m in depth. There is a swim through and a cave on at this dive site. Lots of colorful animal life, including shy sharks, pyjama sharks, rays and soles to name a few.
Katzumaru is a shipwreck on the Atlantic Seaboard, covered in beautiful coral. Suitable for intermediate to advanced divers.
Other popular dive sites include:
Other popular sites include: Clifton Rock, Smitswinkel Bay, Whittle rock, Justin’s Caves, Three Anchor Bay, SAS Pietermaritzburg, Aster Shipwreck and Vulcan Rock
Panacea is a stunning luxury guest house in Camps Bay, which sits on the Northwest of the peninsula in amongst all of the Atlantic Seaboard dive sites.
The double story guest house is extremely spacious and can accommodate up to 10 people in it’s 5 bedrooms (some of which have panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean). The open plan fully equipped kitchen and lounge area opens out onto a gorgeous deck facing the ocean.
The deck features a swimming pool, a hot tub, an outdoor dining table, a barbecue and several sun loungers. There really isn’t a better spot to watch the sun sink into the Atlantic.
The Flying Penguin offers awesome accommodation near Simon’s Town, right in the midst of the False Bay side dive sites (such as A-frame and Windmill Beach). The studio apartments are affordable and well equipped. They feature a private bathroom, a TV, free WiFi, a barbecue, and a patio with a sea view.
The apartments are well decorated and look out over the immense Indian Ocean. Guests have access to free parking. This property is close to several beaches, and a 10 minute drive from Pisces Dive Centre. It’s also just 5 minutes away from Boulders Beach where the famous South Africans penguins reside.
Hout Bay is a suburb situated in between the Northwest dive sites and the East (False Bay) side dive sites. Tranquility is nestled amongst mountain greenery in Hout Bay – it’s about 40 minutes drive from Simon’s Town and 25 minutes from Camps Bay.
The apartments each offer a TV, comfortable beds, and a private bathroom. The property features a large outdoor pool and lush garden. Guests also have access to a spacious outdoor patio, free WiFi, and barbecue facilities!
Most Atlantic Seaboard dives can be reached within 10 – 30 minutes, and most False Bay side dives can be reached in around 30 – 50 minutes. Hout Bay beach and town center are just a 10 minute drive.
The garden route is the stretch of road and surrounding areas winding between Mossel Bay and Storms River (following the coastline of the Western Cape). It’s stunning and very much worth driving if you enjoy a good road trip! It also offers a few gorgeous diving spots.
Both of the dive spots discussed below have sites that are suitable for divers of all experience levels.
Mossel Bay offers some of the best diving in the Western Cape, with its vibrantly colorful reefs covered in sponges and fans. Some of the big sea creatures found here include dolphins, raggies, whales, turtles, manta rays and occasionally great whites. It’s also home to plenty a plethora of fish life, and a pair of shipwrecks.
Mossel Bay also offers a shark cage diving experiences that are less crowded than those in False Bay, and they also happens to be closer to the shore.
Phluffy reef is one of the top dive sites here, and it exhibits the best coral diving on the garden route.
Other popular dive sites include;
A mere 2 minute walk from Adventure’s Edge Dive Centre, the location of 6 Clionella couldn’t be better for divers. It’s also situated just a couple of minutes walk from the beautiful Diaz Beach! This apartment can only accommodate 2 guests at a time, but is perfect for divers in Mossel Bay!
The apartment is well furnished and offers a balcony and stunning views of the Indian Ocean! It is self-catering, and comes with a well equipped open plan kitchen and a barbecue as well as a flat-screen satellite TV. The complex features an outdoor swimming pool in the garden and free private parking.
Plettenberg Bay (or Plett, as it’s referred to locally) also has some fantastic diving spots to explore. From colorful reefs to dramatic rock formations and white sandbanks, the diving here is varied and exciting. It’s also pleasantly colorful and plays host to a vast array of marine animals.
Some sightings around Plett include nudibranchs, octopuses, dolphins, whales, hammerheads, raggies, sea spiders, bull rays, stingrays, scorpionfish, shy sharks and catsharks.
A few of the best dive sites here (such as Groot Bank, Shallow blinders and Deep blinders) are shore-entry, making it affordable and easy to explore.
Popular dive sites include;
The Eleven offers 2 gorgeous apartments, within a stunning complex located just a few minutes drive (or a 15 minute walk) from Pro Dive Plettenberg Bay. This will make diving excursions blissfully accessible!
Each of the beautifully furnished, self-catered units have tiled floors, free WiFi, a flat-screen TV, a fully equipped kitchen, private bathroom, and a dining area. They also both have outdoor patio areas where you can spend relaxed, warm African evenings.
There is both a studio apartment, and a 3-bedroom apartment on offer, making this spot ideal for groups of varying sizes. These apartments are both great value for money.
South Africa is a vast and magnificent country, with an enormous coastline, home to several of the worlds best diving spots. The seascapes range from dramatic and rugged, to soft and colorful, with everything in between!
It offers one of the most varied sets of diving experiences you’ll find anywhere in the world. Drift through dappled waving kelp forests, marvel at vibrant coral reefs, swim through dramatic rock structures, explore shipwrecks, or swim with the vast number of majestic sharks!
Whatever kind of experience you’re seeking on your diving adventure, we’re sure you’ll find it in South Africa.
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To which Marine Conservation charity do we donate, you might ask? Our squad is already hard at work selecting the ideal candidate. The winner will be announced at the end of 2019. Have a suggestion? We’d love to hear… If we pick your suggestion, there just might be something in it for you…
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