The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving in South Africa

From huge great white sharks to thousands of tiny sardines, diving in South Africa promises marine life encounters you’ll remember for a lifetime.

From adrenalin-inducing encounters with Great White Sharks to thousands of tiny sardines in tight-knit chains, South Africa offers divers a bit of everything. On the west coast, you’ll find temperate reefs with colorful invertebrates. Whereas the far northeast features tropical reefs full of Indo-Pacific reef dwellers. Some of the best diving, located along the southern cape, takes visitors into strong currents and cold waters, but features adventures and marine encounters unlike anywhere else on earth.

When to Dive South Africa

South Africa’s climate includes two semi-distinct seasons for diving. April to September is ‘cool season’ and October to March is ‘warm season.’

Cool Season

Because South Africa is located in the Southern Hemisphere, April to September is considered the cool season. During these months, temperatures drop significantly both above and below the water, particularly in the far south around Cape Town.

Several significant events occur in the cool season. From May to July, the sardines run up the east coast. April to September are also the best months for cage diving at Seal and Dryer Islands. Finally, the Humpback whales arrive in the northeast from June to September.

Warm Season

From October to March, South Africa’s summer means warmer air and water temperatures particularly for the Atlantic seaboard. Be warned. The warm season also brings heavier rain falls throughout the country.

Although most pelagic species seem to prefer the cool season, other awesome events occur during the more comfortable warm season. From October to December, squid arrive to spawn, and in October and November, Ragged-tooth Sharks gather in Aliwal Shoal to mate. Finally, January to March are the best months for Bull, Tiger and Hammerhead sightings at Protea Banks.

Where to Dive in South Africa

Those looking for sharks should head south whereas tropical waters are found in the northeast. Technical divers will enjoy inland and Atlantic waters.

Eastern Cape

Home of the Noordhoek Wildside Dive Festival, Eastern Cape features the SS Cariboo wreck and several intricate reefs off the coast of Port Elizabeth.

Gauteng

The landlocked province of Gauteng contains the city of Johannesburg along with a handful of inland dive sites including the quarry called Bass Lake.

KwaZulu-Natal

Home to renowned diving areas such as Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks, KwaZulu-Natal offers up a range of shark encounters as well as tropical waters.

Mpumalanga

Set inland in the far northeast corner of South Africa, Mpumalanga contains a few freshwater dive sites like Badgat, a flooded asbestos mine.

North West Province

Along the border with Botswana, the landlocked North West Province offers a variety of sinkholes, caves and lakes for technical diver training.

Northern Cape

The wild Northern Cape is reserved for the most adventurous of divers. Here you’ll find one of the deepest cave dives and strong Atlantic currents.

Western Cape

By far the most popular province among scuba divers, Cape Town, False Bay, Gansbaai, the Garden Route and Mossel Bay can all be found in Western Cape.

Dive Sites in South Africa

With 1700 miles (2735 km) of coastline, you’ll be spoilt for choice of dive sites in South Africa.

A few favorites include Gansbaai and False Bay where you’ll be introduced to the mightiest of sharks, the Great White, as well as its prey, Cape fur seals. Mossel Bay, along the Garden Route, is another popular area for spotting Great White sharks and also hosts healthy temperate reefs.

Along the west coast, Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks are home to Bull, Tiger and Hammerhead sharks as well as the annual sardine run.

Finally, Sodwana Bay in the far northwest astounds divers with colorful tropical reefs and amazing biodiversity.

Snorkeling in South Africa

Snorkeling in South Africa can be as exciting as diving. Most snorkeling tours are concentrated in KwaZulu-Natal, visiting biodiverse regions such as Sodwana Bay, Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks. However, snorkelers will also find plenty of options along the Garden Route in Mossel Bay and Storms River.

What to See in South Africa

Because of the variety of marine climates found in South Africa, the marine life is as varied as the people who reside in this gorgeous country. The big draw is, of course, Great White Sharks, but divers can also swim amongst Bull, Tiger, Ragged-tooth and Hammerhead Sharks. Other large marine creatures include dolphins, fur seals, penguins, Humpback whales, sailfish, octopus and whale sharks. Plenty of macro can be found as well, with colorful invertebrates lighting up the Atlantic seaboard. Don’t forget about the thousands of sardines and hundreds of squid that find their way to South Africa every year.