South Africa is a top tourist destination, and for good reason. Diverse cities, sandy beaches, national parks teeming with incredible wildlife, and the majestic Table Mountain are just a few of the reasons as to why travellers flock to this African country.
Yet, while the sights and wildlife on land are absolutely incredible, the underwater world surrounding this country is equally as exhilarating making South Africa a perfect destination for scuba divers.
Whether you are interested in sharks, the world-famous South Africa sardine run, or wrecks, South Africa has plenty of fantastic dive sites. Here are some of the best places for scuba diving in South Africa.
1. KwaZulu-Natal Province
With 83% of the world’s fish families, KwaZulu-Natal province is one of the best places in the world for scuba diving and a must for those scuba diving South Africa. Natural reefs, plenty of shipwrecks, sharks and rays help make it a popular spot.
Plus, it’s also where you will find South Africa’s famous sardine run. Here are the top dive sites in KwaZulu-Natal Province.
Best Dive Sites in KwaZulu-Natal
Quarter Mile (Sodwana Bay): One of the best places to spot raggedy sharks in season (between the months of February and January).
T-Barge (Durban): An old, intact floating crane standing at 17-27m underwater. Plenty of reef fish have made this odd wreck their home.
Fontao Wreck (Durban): Sunk in 1990, this wreck has become an artificial reef with plenty of corals, reef fish, and mid-water fish.
Reef Number One (Durban): Best suited for AOW divers, this is a great place to spot sharks. Make sure to bring a buoy with you as the dive site is located in a harbour and sees lots of boat traffic.
Vetchies Pier (Durban): An artificial reef created about eighty years ago. Plenty of sea life including eels and scorpionfish.
Shark Point (Rocktail Bay): Lots of tropical fish and a good place to spot sand sharks up to 2m long. Your best bet is to see them sleeping in the caves.
Island Rock (Rocktail Bay): A drift dive with plenty of pinnacles and coral reefs. Diverse marine life here including reef fish, blacktip and tiger sharks, eagle rays, and whale sharks during the season.
Landers Reef (Hibiscus Coast): Hammerhead sharks, Zambezi sharks, and kingfish are the big draws at this dive site. Though the topography with reefs and caves adds interest as well.
Protea Banks (Hibiscus Coast): Another must for shark enthusiasts, this is a great spot to see ragged tooth sharks during their mating season (late winter-early spring) as well as good spot to experience the famous sardine run.
Aliwal Shoal (Hibiscus Coast): A popular spot for diving with ragged tooth sharks during the winter months.
How to Get to KwaZulu-Natal
The easiest airport to fly into is King Shaka International Airport in Durban. It is also possible to access the province by bus from Cape Town, Johannesburg, or Port Elizabeth.
2. Western Cape Province
South Africa’s Western Cape comes with colder waters and stronger currents, but for shark enthusiasts, it’s definitely worth it. The Western Cape is one of the best places to dive with sharks making it a popular area for scuba diving in South Africa.
But while sharks may be the main attraction, it also offers some great reefs and wrecks.
Dive sites in the Western Cape are mainly divided between the Cape of Good Hope and False Bay. Here are the must-dive sites for those interested in scuba diving South Africa’s Western Cape.
The Best Dive Sites in the Western Cape
Pyramid Rocks : A marine reserve with plenty to see. The pyramid shaped rock can often be seen sticking out of the water, and if conditions are good you can have visibility up to 20m. Plenty of fish and a few shark species including the gully, pyjama, soupfin, dusky, and cow sharks can be spotted here.
Photographer’s Reef : A shallow reef with plenty of swim throughs, caves, and crevasses to explore. Plenty of marine life and soft corals and fans.
Smitswinkle Bay: There are five different wrecks located in this area, all of which were scuttled in the 1970s to form artificial reefs. They are covered in bright corals and attract a variety of reef species.
Castle Rocks: A mixture of kelp forests and anemone covered rocks, Castle Rocks dive sites promises lots of colour and plenty of fish. Red roman, butterfish, and pyjama sharks are just a few species that promise to keep you company on this dive.
Outer Castle: A large cave with swim throughs, good for spotting gully sharks and large rays.
Maori Wreck: After colliding with a rock in 1905, the Maori Wreck (a British cargo ship) has since become a popular dive site. The ship is still in good shape and pottery and porcelain have been found around the site
How to get to the Western Cape
Cape Town has the biggest airport not just in the province, but in all of South Africa and welcomes both international and national flights. If you are arriving from elsewhere in the country you can also take a bus, train, or even drive yourself.
Also read: The Best Festivals in South Africa
3. Eastern Cape Province
South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province isn’t very touristic compared to the rest of the country, but it’s still beautiful. Miles of coastline and beaches, national parks, and of course dive sites make it worth a visit.
The Best Dive Sites in the Eastern Cape
The Sardine Run: The Eastern Cape Province is best known for one thing when it comes to diving: the sardine run. This famous event takes place every year from May to July as the sardine congregate and head up the coast of eastern South Africa. KwaZulu-Natal’s coastline is a popular dive spot to experience this, but the runs start in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. Usually around East London or Port Elizabeth.
St. Croix Island: A beautiful marie reserve with a nice topography; caves, drop-offs, and gullies that are covered in sponges, soft corals, and fans. You need a boat to get out there, and may see dolphins and whales on the way.
Brenton Island: Not too far from St. Croix Island, Brenton Island has similar topography but is also known to be a good place to see ragged tooth sharks.
Paquita Wreck: Wrecked in 1903 you can still find the anchors and some iron plates of this German wreck. It’s covered in corals and home to a variety of reef fish. Best to dive here during high tide.
The Three Sisters: A beautiful reef dive with lots of crevasses to explore. Visibility is usually really good and it’s a good place to see ragged tooth sharks.
Nahoon Reef: Plenty of underwater caves home to dozens of colourful parrotfish and more. Keep an eye out for ragged tooth sharks.
The SS King Cadwallon: Not much remains of this ship wreck other than debris and boilers (it caught fire before it sunk), but a nice dive with lots of tropical fish.
How to Get to Eastern Cape Province
Port Elizabeth is the biggest city in the province and accessible by plane, train, and bus from other South African cities. The second largest city, East London, also has an airport or can be reached from other major cities by train or bus.
4. North-West Province
South Africa’s North-West Province isn’t at the top of most traveller’s lists. Made up mostly of flat grasslands and farming communities, it’s often skipped over in favour of other areas of the county.
However, while it may not be on the ocean, this South African province offers some unique scuba diving experiences for those interested in exploring the caves of this province.
There are three main dive areas for those interested in scuba diving the North-West Province.
Best Dive Sites in the North West Province
Miracle Waters: Once a mine, Miracle Waters is now a popular fresh water dive site for scuba divers of all levels of experience. Its a popular training ground, especially for technical divers, but also offers interesting things to explore like an airplane, helicopter, bus, and even a computer station.
Wondergat: A sinkhole, this site is only for advanced and technical divers. Several caves can be found in this site which descends do a depth of 70m. There are plenty of interesting rock formations to be seen. However, it’s not easy to get to and requires a bit of a hike up and down very irregular steps with your full dive kit.
Marico Oog: A scenic water hole with a depth of 16m and crystal clear waters. Plenty of water plant life make it an interesting dive, though buoyancy control is a must as the bottom is very silty and disturbing it will ruin visibility. Divers interested in this site must have their own kits as there is no nearby dive shops.
How to Get to the North-West Province
South Africa’s North-West Province has two main airports that welcome travellers from domestic flights; Pilanesberg/ Sun City Airport or Mafikeng. It’s also accessible by bus or car.
Best Time of Year to Scuba Dive in South Africa
Scuba diving in South Africa is possible year round, though the waters will be warmest during the months of March and April (around 30C in many places). For specific events, like the sardine run, or to see a specific species you need to visit during a certain time of year.
For the sardine run, you should visit between May and July. For sharks, especially great white sharks, your best bet is between July and October. As for whale sharks, they are best seen during the months of December through March.
Whatever time of year you come, you will not be disappointed by what you see when scuba diving South Africa.
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Travel information about South Africa
South Africa is on the tip of the African continent with the land area of 1,221,037 km and inhabited by 56 million people. Inland safari destination is populated by big game. The Western Cape gives you breathtaking beaches, forests and lagoons, and flat-topped Table Mountain. Also, South Africa is the second largest fruit producers around the globe, as well as there are more than 2000 shipwrecks off the South African cost, most dating back at least 500 years.
Capital city of South Africa: Cape Town, Pretoria, and Bloemfontein
Best times to visit South Africa: Best to go from May to September since it is a dry season and you can watch the wildlife and it’s less cold. Although October to April is a wet season so might as well do bird watching.
How to get to South Africa: Direct flights from New York and Washington DC to Johannesburg are served and will take you 17 hours. Some international airports are situated in Cape Town and Durban, but these are less important for additional travel to your safari journey. In any case, few flights from Europe or America fly straight to either destination.
Visa requirements for South Africa: Citizens from most countries don’t need visa and you’ll have 90-days entry permit upon arrival.
Currency of South Africa: The currency of South Africa is South African Rand
Official Language of South Africa: There are 5 official languages of South Africa: English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, and Southern Sotho.
UNESCO World Heritage sites in South Africa
There are 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Africa and 29 in their tentative list
- Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa
- Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
- Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape
- Robben Island
- ?Khomani Cultural Landscape
- Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park
- Vredefort Dome
- Maloti-Drakensberg Park
Scuba diving safety tips
Keep these rules of thumb in mind whenever you are on or by the water:
- Think safety at all times. Planning reduces risk and gives you more worry-free fun.
- Bring the necessary equipment. It should be in good condition and easily accessible.
- Respect the sea and the weather. Only go out with your boat when it is safe.
- Follow the rules of the sea, and make sure you know what they are.
- Wear life jackets or other flotation devices.
- Make sure you are rested and sober. Do not drive a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Be considerate, and remember that safety, the environment, and the well-being of everybody is a common responsibility.