The Best Diving in
South Africa 2023
🖋️ By Deb | 🕒 Updated December 28, 2022 | 📁 Diving South Africa
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Updated December 28, 2022
South Africa wraps around the tail end of the African continent. For some of the most exciting adventures around, go diving in South Africa.
Sharks are plentiful here, and an unbelievable 117 different species can be found in South African waters. In fact, the South African coast is considered the shark-diving capital of the world.
When a diving in South Africa, the main shark species vary. What you’ll see depends on where you are on the coast as well as what time of year it is. Try to visit as many as you can to hopefully see them all.
One main draw of diving on the coast of South Africa is the high likelihood of finding the oceanic component of the Big 7 here. Specifically the Great White Shark and the Southern Right Whale.
Great Whites are year-round residents. But the best time to see the most Great Whites – the sheer masses of them – is during the coldest months.
Peak time is from May through October, winter in the southern hemisphere.
However, the Southern Right Whale is a transient visitor. About 2500 of these enormous creatures make the trip here every year from around June to December.
They return to the relatively warmer water of South Africa to mate and calve. Then they’ll spend the rest of the year in the icy Antarctic Ocean.
Travelling Solo – Diving Safely
Do be safe if you’re diving as a solo traveller, regardless of your experience or certification. I never recommend diving solo. The intro page has a section dedicated to diving safely as a solo traveller. Please be sure to read it through, if you haven’t already. Enjoy!
The Best Diving in South Africa
Below are 5 of the best dive sites you’ll find in South Africa. If you’re interested in shark diving specifically while you’re in South Africa, check out Shark Diving in South Africa.
Spending a lot of time in the water in the Cape Town/False Bay area requires a tolerance for colder water temperatures.
This is especially true in the winter months, and on the western coast.
However, False Bay is a popular South African dive site because the precisely for the cold.
The icy temperatures of the water help to support the famous golden kelp forests.
These forests provide room and board for large schools of an enormous variety of fish species.
You can also find starfish, octopus, and seals in the area. These guys in turn attract predator fish, including several types of sharks.
Nine species of sharks can be seen in the Cape Town kelp forests, along with the great whites. These include pyjama catsharks, puffadder shysharks, and seven-gilled cow sharks, one of the most prehistoric of all shark species.
However, great white shark diving in Cape Town has been virtually non-existent in recent years.
In fact, divers can go days without seeing a great white shark in Cape Town waters.
The diving opportunities in this area include several reef dives and wreck dives. The shipwrecks act as artificial reefs, making homes for an enormous number of fish and coral species.
There’s more to a wreck dive than the interesting sea life. You also get to have a look at parts of a ship that you normally don’t get to see.
Fact: Kelp isn't a plant, but a type of algae.
Diving is good in this area all year round. Different spots are better at different times of the year.
The best place to get details on each individual site is a local dive shop.
Regardless of when you dive or your level of expertise, you’ll find the perfect spot here to have an unforgettable experience.
✔️ Here’s a fantastic opportunity to dive some of the best sites
around Cape Town with Viator!
Gansbaai (Goose Bay)
• Best Time to Go: April through September for the most sharks and the best visibility (5-10m).
• June through December is when the southern right whales visit the area to mate and calve. September-November is the best time to see them.
• Depth: 2m-30m; Visibility: 5-10m at best, April-Sept.
Further east along the coast, diving in Gansbaai is fantastic for great white sharks. You might also see sawfish, toadfish, and an amazing variety of rays.
Shark Alley, South Africa
Shark Alley, between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock, is known for its concentration of whales and great white sharks.
Southern right whales come through on their annual migration between June and December.
Great whites hang out here year-round, but are most plentiful from April to September.
This is when they’re most hungry for the crowds of African penguins and fur seals that populate this area.
Guided dives are also available for mako and blue shark excursions. You might also get to see whales and several species of dolphins on the boat ride out to the dive site.
And it’s always fun to see the African penguins and fur seals.
This is also one of the top spots in the world for shark cage diving. You can be placed in a cage that is submerged in the water with the sharks, or observe from the deck of the boat.
Chumming is used, but dive operators are considered to be eco-aware, and do conscientiously train and prepare their dive clients.
✔️ Combine an Incredible Shark Dive at Gansbaai
with a stop at
Cape Peninsula and Some Wine Tasting with Viator!
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• Best Time to Go: Southern Pinnacles, December through March, when it’s warmer
Northern Pinnacles, May through July, when it’s cooler.
• Depth: Southern Pinnacle, 26-40m
Northern Pinnacle, 28-38m; visibility on average is 10m, to a max of 30, north and south
The winter months of May-July are known for the spectacular Sardine Run. Protea Banks in KwaZulu-Natal is considered the best dive site in South Africa to witness it.
Massive schools of sardines make their annual move from the icy waters off Cape Town in Western Cape and head north toward KwaZulu-Natal.
This is considered one of the largest sea-life migrations on the planet, on par with the terrestrial wildebeest migration in Eastern Africa.
Eventually, the sardines will return to Western Cape. They’re accompanied by a hungry contingent of sharks, whales, dolphins, birds and larger fish.
These predators have been stalking them since they showed up, along with the birds above the surface. This is an astounding spectacle that you’ll never forget.
But the fun doesn’t end at Protea Banks when the Sardine Run does. It’s also another superb destination to dive with the sharks. An amazing 7 species of sharks call these waters home.
This area is made up of two main dive sites, the South Pinnacle and the North Pinnacle.
The Northern Pinnacle is the more challenging of these 2 dive spots, and is the best place to see ragged tooth sharks. This is mainly a winter dive site, with a pristine reef and 2 caves that fill UP with ragged-tooth sharks on their annual migration.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see hundreds of them gathered in this area, and you’re actually allowed to scoop up a few teeth from the bottom as souvenirs.
If your time here falls between March and June, you may also get to see Tiger Sharks.
The Southern Pinnacle is thick with game fish. Kingfish, yellowtail, and some very friendly potato fish are also found here.
The notorious Zambezi (Bull) Sharks are very often seen along this reef, as well. Three types of hammerheads also swim here – Smooth, Scalloped, and Giant Hammerheads.
Giant Guitar Sharks, Blacktips, and Bronze Whalers like to visit, too.
There’s a lot to see at the Souther Pinnacle dive site, so if you have time, plan a few dives here.
NOTE: This biodiverse area is best reserved for more experienced divers. The Agulhas Current that flows down from Mozambique moves fast, with almost 70 million tons of water per second. This can make it can be a dangerous spot for beginners.
✔️ If you’re planning a diving vacation, be sure that your travel insurance – DON’T skip travel insurance – covers what is considered an extreme activity. SafetyWing is the one I recommend.
• Best Time to Go: from June through July
….-If you want to catch the ragged tooths’ mating season, go August-November
….– humpback whales and dolphins show up Between May and November
• Depth: 6-32m; visibility:5m-40m
Aliwal Shoal is not actually a coral reef, but what’s left of an 80,000 year old sand dune. It’s now a Marine Protected Area.
There are some hard and soft corals growing, though. This area is considered to be one of the top 10 dive sites in Africa, and the world.
There are 2 shipwrecks nearby that are popular with divers. In fact, the Shoal was named after the near-wreak of a vessel called the Aliwal, in 1849.
The ships that did sink here did so in 1884 and 1974, respectively, and those wrecks attract many visitors every year.
The wide variety of shark species in these waters is one of the main draws to the area. Between the months of August and November, the Shoal acts as a mating ground for the ragged-tooth shark.
Tiger and hammerhead sharks can be spotted in these waters, too. But, there is so much marine life here aside from the sharks!
You can see loggerheads, hawksbills, and green sea turtles. There are also enormous stingrays, manta rays, and potato groupers, just to name a few.
In addition, if you’re here between May and November you have a good chance of seeing humpback whales.
Humpback and bottlenose dolphins also swim here during this time.
This is absolutely a don’t-miss spot.
✔️ There’s no shortage of ways to fill your time in South Africa between dives. Check out the enormous selection of day trips, tours and safaris with Viator. Whatever your interests, they have something for you.
• Best Time to Go: great year-round
-Ragged-tooth Sharks: December-February
– Whalesharks: Dec-Feb
– Humpback Whales: June-October
– nesting Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles: December-February
• Depth: 10-18m; visibility: 10-30 m
Farther east along the coast toward Mozambique is Sodwana Bay, a part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
The Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the year 2000.
Here you’ll find the southernmost coral reefs of South Africa’s dive sites. The breathtaking night dives that are offered here make Sodwana Bay stand out for the divers.
Another highlight is the over 1200 species of fish that the reefs of Sodwana Bay are home to. These include angelfish, butterfly fish, and moray eels.
The Bay is also home to 5 different species of turtle, including leatherbacks and the Olive Ridley.
On top of those, Zambezi (bull) sharks can also be seen here. AND hammerheads, threshers, and the serene and enormous whale sharks.
This could be one of the best dives of your life.
The magic doesn’t stop there, as you could also see humpback whales during the winter months.
In addition, the number of species of sealife that can be found in Sodwana Bay nearly matches that found on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
There’s also a phenomenon that distinguishes the waters in this area. There’s a vortex that is created by the movement of the water along the sea wall.
This vortex attracts huge numbers of fish to the area, and is an astonishing thing to see in person.
There are several separate dive sites at Sodwana Bay, and each offers something unique to witness. Be sure to check out as many as you can while you’re here.
✔️ Check out this Amazing Scuba Diving Tour in Sodwana with Viator!
Summing it Up: Diving in South Africa 2023
These spots have some of the best diving in South Africa. Remember, if you aren’t yet certified, don’t let that stop you. PADI courses in South Africa are easy to find.
They’ll also likely hold their open water training somewhere a little more fun that the swimming pool you’d be in back home.
If it looks like too much fun to miss – and it is – why not get certified while you’re here?
Whatever you do, enjoy, and be safe!
✔️ For all your travel planning needs, from flights and accommodations, to rental cars and travel insurance, go to our Travel Resources page.
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