When James and I booked our 20 day tour through eastern Africa, it hadn’t even occurred to us that we’d have scuba diving opportunities… I mean, when you hear “Africa” you don’t typically think “scuba!” But apparently, there are many interesting places to dive throughout the continent… and we decided to try out a couple dives around Zanzibar Island in Tanzania and at Lake Malawi in Malawi. And for only $40 USD or so per dive, we definitely had to give it a try!
When we arrived at our hotel at Nungwi Beach on the island of Zanzibar, we were blown away by the turquoise waters and white sparkling sand! After a week of staying at campsites and sleeping in tents (with rocks, trees, and outdoor toilets as our “scenery”), it was a REAL treat to stay at a hotel ON THE BEACH… but this location FAR exceeded our expectations! As soon as we found out there were diving opportunities in these gorgeous waters, we were IN. There were three other people in our tour group who were also certified divers, so it was fun that we would all be able to dive together and share the experience with them as well.
We suited up in our scuba gear the next day (January 27th) and headed out to the boat. This was the first time either of us have had to wade through the ocean waves, holding gear above our heads, to walk out to board the scuba boat. We hopped on, got situated, and the boat was off! The water was pretty choppy that day, and it was cause for a bit of nausea as we headed out to sea, but James and I kept our eyes on the horizon and hoped for the best.
As we flipped backwards off the dive boat into the ocean, the cool water rushed through our wetsuits and we slowly descended to the ocean floor. As our group swam along together, I marveled at the unique coral beds we encountered almost immediately: it was this beautiful, wide expanse of fungus/mushroom-shaped coral that stretched as far and wide as you could see. Our first dive lasted over 50 minutes, and we saw some beautiful lion fish, a few small moray eels, some larger trigger fish, and a lot of the “standard” colorful fish that you normally see in most saltwater diving.
In between dives, we sat on the boat for quite a long time, waiting for another group to return… meanwhile, the choppy waves threw us up and down and up and down. Ugh. James and I actually stayed in the water next to the boat for awhile, hoping to avoid getting seasick from waiting on the bobbing boat. One of the girls in our group was pretty sick and was vomiting off the side of the boat for awhile, and James was definitely feeling queasy as well. Fortunately, right when I started to feel nauseous, our group was back into the water for the second dive and my stomach settled as soon as we got off the boat. This was the longest underwater dive that either James or I had ever done (62 minutes), but the experience was pretty much the same as our first dive: a few lion fish, small moray eels, and a couple trigger fish. We also saw a trumpet fish and something that looked like a small halibut… but that’s about it. Unfortunately, James was feeling pretty nauseous throughout the whole dive, so he didn’t quite enjoy the experience as much, but I was impressed how he pushed through it anyway.
Overall, the diving we did in Zanzibar was “just OK” in both mine and James’ opinions. Since we have now been diving in California, Tahiti, Thailand, and Australia, we have quite a few places to compare to, so our experience in Zanzibar wasn’t anything too spectacular in comparison to other places we’ve explored in the past. We WERE told, however, that there were some better dive sites in the area that we didn’t get to explore, so maybe there is more potential to the Zanzibar diving area than what we experienced?
Lake Malawi, Malawi
Lake Malawi is the ninth largest lake in the world, measuring 350 miles long and 47 miles wide (at its widest point). It has shorelines on western Mozambique, eastern Malawi, and southern Tanzania. It is reportedly the habitat of more species of fish than any other body of freshwater, including more than 1000 species of cichlids… but I have to tell you, from our personal experience, we certainly didn’t see that many different fish on our dives!
Anyway, so we decided to dive in Lake Malawi to see what we could see (on February 2nd) once we had arrived to Kande Beach in Malawi. Neither James nor I had ever been diving in a freshwater lake before, and we were curious about how different it would be from saltwater diving. To start, we didn’t need a weight belt at all, so it was actually a bit difficult to adjust my buoyancy once we were swimming along. Secondly, we kept commenting on how weird it was to come up to the surface of the water and NOT taste salt…. Strange!
The same three people from our tour group on the last dive joined us at Lake Malawi as well, and we all piled onto a TINY motorboat that jetted us out to an island not too far from shore. To get our scuba gear on, we actually had to first get into the lake and float in the water and THEN put everything on, as there was not enough room in the small boat to gear up. For this dive we had NO wetsuits, as the water is usually pretty warm year-round… so it was kind of freeing and fun to dive in our swimming suits alone.
The two dives we did were pretty interesting, primarily for the reason that this was our first experience diving in fresh water, but the visibility was a bit poor, and swimming around rocks—instead of the beautiful coral we normally would see in saltwater—wasn’t too spectacular. We saw a lot of small brown cichlids everywhere we went, some bright blue and black striped fish darting around, and a few crabs hiding under rocks. We DID see some pretty huge catfish, though!… and that was very exciting for us both.
What was most spectacular to me, though, was when we were swimming in the open sandy areas near the bottom of the lake, below us there were hundreds of small fish zooming by incredibly FAST in every direction you looked, it reminded me of something you would see in a cartoon of a “fish super-highway”!
One interesting thing to mention: in the middle of our first dive, we saw a bracelet on a rock near the bottom of the lake and James grabbed it and put it on my wrist… we had assumed that somebody must have lost it a long time ago and it may have been there for days or weeks or something. Later, as we were taking a break on the island between dives, we were chatting with some of our friends who were swimming around the island (they had boated over to the island earlier) and found out that THE BRACELET BELONGED TO ONE OF THE GIRLS! Earlier, she had been jumping off the high rocks to the water below, and she had lost the bracelet in the process and was pretty devastated. So James saved her day!
In the end, we really had a fun—and cheap—time diving in Africa, and experienced a lot of new diving “firsts,” which was exciting, although overall we can’t say the underwater scenery or fish we saw were anything spectacular to rave about.