Diving Around Zanzibar, Tanzania

This is Part 2 of our trip to Tanzania in 2018. Part 1 was all about our African safari—truly one of the best experiences of our lives (here’s our post). But we weren’t done with our adventures yet, and this post is all about scuba diving in the Indian Ocean! Flying from Arusha (Northern Tanzania) over to the island of Zanzibar is a quick trip. There are actually multiple islands that make up the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar, so technically we were on the island of Unguja, but I never heard it called that (Pemba is the other main island of Zanzibar).

Can you find Zanzibar in the lower right corner?

Zanzibar is known for a couple of things—it has a wonderful spice market in Stone Town, the historic center of the region, and it was the center of the Arab slave trade in East Africa.

We bought some wonderful spices from this man!
Exploring the spice market

In the 1960s, the Zanzibar region became independent, then merged with Tanganyika on the mainland, to form the new country of Tanzania. Zanzibar retains much autonomy, and most of its citizens are Muslim. We had a chance to tour Stone Town and learn about the history of the region. Of particular significance was the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral that was built in 1879 on the sight of the former slave market, built by former slaves after they gained their freedom in 1873.

The interior of Christ Church Cathedral
Massive doors of teak or mahogany characterize Stone Town.
The altar at Christ Church Cathedral
Fishing boats near Stone Town

The rest of our time in this area was spent diving. The Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa contains many of the same species that we see when diving the tropical Pacific. But we were thrilled to encounter a number of new species we had never seen before. Diving was definitely the place to be, as it was extremely hot here in February, and we quickly wilted whenever we were away from the water.

Look, ma! No regulator in the mouth!
The infinity pool looked out over the ocean at our hotel.
We had a great view of our primary dive locations off the island of Mnemba.

Here are a few highlights from our four days of diving here: Off the little island of Mnemba (yes, the water really was this color), we encountered a Broadhead Flathead, Blackspotted Sweetlips, Geometric Moray Eel, Giant Clams, Skunk Anemonefish, and Twobar Anemonefish (Nemo’s cousins).

Broadhead Flathead
Blackspotted Sweetlips
Geometric Moray Eel
Giant clam (not new, but always a treat)
Skunk anemonefish
Twobar anemonefish

We also saw beautiful nudibranchs (can you believe they’re related to slugs?), and some new (to us) species of butterflyfish – Yellow-backed Butterflyfish, Zanzibar Butterflyfish, plus a Blackspotted Puffer, and a juvenile Oriental Sweetlips.

Dark-spot Doris Nudibranch
African chromodoris
Zanzibar butterflyfish and Regal angelfish
Yellow-backed butterflyfish
Black-spotted puffer
Juvenile Oriental sweetlips

Diving off our island (Unguja) what blew our minds the most were the amazing scorpionfish and frogfish we saw here, the most unique fish we have ever seen! Leaf scorpionfish, weedy scorpionfish, devil scorpionfish, tasseled scorpionfish, and giant frogfish were completely fascinating to watch. They don’t even look like they’re swimming. They kind of walk/waddle on their pectoral fins, and some look more like plants than animals (which helps them catch prey).

Leaf scorpionfish seemed more like a frogfish to us.
Weedy scorpionfish looked like a plant!
Devil scorpionfish
Tasseled scorpionfish
Giant frogfish--we saw several!

Two mating Spanish Dancers, giant species of nudibranchs, were another great treat, along with a day octopus (man, those are hard to get good pictures of). Nemo’s friend Dory (Palette Tang or Surgeonfish), Longfin Bannerfish (always beautiful), some kind of pipefish, and a large school of Moorish Idols were also terrific to watch.

These enormous Spanish dancers were each about a foot long.
Day octopus hiding under a rock
Palette tang (Dory!)
Longfin bannerfish
Pipefish--long and skinny
The largest school of Moorish Idols we've ever seen

Indian Lionfish (slightly different from other lionfish we’ve seen), roundbelly cowfish, blue-spotted stingray, and many more angelfish and butterflyfish rounded out our lovely time diving here. The water was beautifully clear and warm, and it was a total treat to see healthy, vibrant coral reefs in this part of the world.

Indian lionfish
Roundbelly cowfish
Blue-spotted stingray
Meyer's butterflyfish

As I said before, I would go back to do another African safari in a second, if we ever get past this virus. That’s true for the diving as well. It was excellent! If you want to relax into some soothing music and enjoy this underwater world even more, check out Hank’s 6 1/2 minute Zanzibar Diving Video. 

Leaving Zanzibar for Dar-Es-Salaam and then home

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