Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Nungwi beach

Zanzibar is an autonomous part of Tanzania and lies just off the coast near the capital, Dar Es Salaam. I was on an overland tour and we got the ferry over to Stone Town. You can also fly there, which may be safer given the number of accidents that have happened with the ferry. We took a minibus from Stone Town, and after a short tour of a spice plantation, went up to Nungwi in the north.

There are string of hotels along the beach suiting most budgets. We were staying in the Nungwi Inn Hotel. I'd planned to stay an extra four days after the end of the tour and by chance had also chosen the same hotel. I paid US$45 a night for a single occupancy double. There was air con, though the power in the village went out occasionally, hot water and decent mosquito nets over the bed. It is a bit basic, but it's clean. Breakfast was included and consisted of eggs cooked to order, toast, fruit and coffee. Service was slow even by local standards. The one evening I ate there, they took over an hour to bring me the wrong pizza. Obviously, I ate it anyway. There were plenty of other restaurants to choose from. Wave's was particularly good.

There was a dive shop on site, called Spanish Dancer Divers after a type of nudibranch found in the area. They had two boats, a faster one which they used to go to Mnemba Atoll, and a slower one which was used for the local sites.

Zanzibar isn't a place that many people go to for diving holidays, so many of the other divers were those that did it only occasionally. The dive shop insisted people who'd been out of the water for a while did a quick refresher. They took people in off the beach, but they didn't charge for it, so good for those that needed a bit of practice and good for the rest of us who didn't have to suffer really rusty divers on the boat.

I did 4 days of diving with them, going out to Mnemba Atoll twice. In good conditions, it takes about 45 minutes. When the wind blew up, it took us over an hour and a half to get back. At high tide, they can travel inside the lagoon, sheltered by the coral, but it's very shallow at low tide, so that isn't an option. In theory, there is a marine reserve around the privately owned, US$1500 a night, island. In practice, this means that the dive shop pays to dive there and the local fishermen do what they like, including walking all over the reef at low tide. The fish life was still good though, but you're unlikely to see much in the way of big stuff. The dive sites were along the wall of the atoll, though it's quite a sloping wall, rather than a sheer vertical one. The dives were fairly shallow, less than 20m, but for those good on air, they were an hour long.

I then did 4 local dives on fringing reefs nearer to Nungwi itself. These were cheaper and no worse than the Mnemba Atoll dives in my opinion. On one site, Nakivelle, we had exceptional viz of around 30m and saw the only turtle of the holiday. I experienced quite a strong current at Magic Reef, which did reduce the viz, but the currents in the area are unpredictable, so that could probably happen at any site.

Unfortunately the weather blew up for a couple of days when I was there. I had looked at doing some wreck diving out of Stone Town, but that was clearly impossible. The Pemba ferry, which was very similar to the Zanzibar one, was hit by high waves, several people were washed overboard and I think the final death toll exceeded 20. As I said, you may want to check out flight options.

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