Scuba Diving in South Africa

The prime destination for shark diving, home of the legendary Sardine Run and route of migration for hundreds of humpback whales.

South Africa is renowned as a wildlife safari destination, but in the last decade or so, people have become more interested in the huge variety of marine wildlife that is waiting to be discovered off the very extensive coastline.

About South Africa

The wide diversity of marine life and the temperate climate, which makes the country a year-round dive destination, means that more and more divers are looking to South Africa for their next diving holiday.


South Africa is located at the southernmost tip of the great African continent. There is a staggering 2,798 kms of coastline, stretching from the Mozambique border on the East Coast, all the way around the country to the Namibian border on the West Coast. The East Coast of the country is washed by the pleasantly warm waters of the Indian Ocean, while the West coast of the country is on the Atlantic seaboard where the cold Benguela current from the Antarctic causes really cold water temperatures. These two oceans converge off the coast of Cape Town, at Cape Point (this is a must-see attraction on your itinerary). The diverse conditions, and presence of both warm and cold currents, are responsible for several separate and distinct diving environments being available around the coastline.

A beautiful sunrise in South Africa

Getting there and moving around

Most international visitors arrive in the country at the O R Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, in the northern part of the country. From there you will have to hire a car or jump into another plane to get to the coast. It is quite easy to reach Durban, the principal city on the East coast by car in about 5 hours, or one hour by plane.

Cape Town, at the southernmost tip of the country is a gruelling 16 hour car journey from Johannesburg, and unless you have several days to stop and visit the little towns and villages along the way, you will need to fly to Cape Town (2 hrs).

Some International airlines (Emirates, BA, Virgin Atlantic, among others), offer direct flights to Cape Town and Durban so check that out if scuba diving is primary intention. South Africa has sadly lagged behind when it comes to public transport and you really need your own vehicle if you plan to see a fair amount of the country.

June / July is the best time to see humpback whales

Best time to visit

The North Coast, East Coast and Wild Coast has a subtropical climate with summer rain and high humidity, and pleasantly moderate and dry winters. Summer – from November to March is the hottest time and the humidity can be unpleasant – but it’s a great time to dive! April and May are probably the best months to visit this part of the coast, when most of the rainy season is past. However, if you are interested in the Sardine Run, which occurs in June / July, then that is when you need to be here! Average water temps: 24C Jan to Mar, 16C July to Sept.

The West Coast has a Mediterranean climate, with most of the rain occurring in winter, from about May to October. Summer is generally dry and hot, and April/May is a great time there too! Whale watching season is from June to November, and this is also the best time of the year for shark cage diving. Water temp in the cold Atlantic Ocean: 14C Jan to Mar, and 8C July/Sept.

Shark diving in South Africa

Scuba diving in South Africa

Describing diving in South Africa is not an easy task, as there are so many different options all around the coast. Perhaps the best way to go about it is region by region, starting in the North on the East Coast, and continuing all the way around the South Coast to Cape Town.

Sodwana Bay

Sodwana Bay has the world’s most southern coral reef and is the only tropical dive site in the country. The reef runs along about 50 km of the coastline and is home to up to 1,200 species of fish. Here you will also find 15 species of shark, manta rays and breeding colonies of turtles. This area is also great for snorkelling.

Aliwal Shoal

Aliwal Shoal is off the South coast of Kwazulu Natal and is rated by Jacques Cousteau as one of the 10 best dive sites in the world! The Aliwal Shoal is about 5 kms offshore and can only be reached by boat – you should be expecting beach launches to add to the fun! The shoal is huge and there are many interesting dive sites in warm water – generally around 24C in summer. You can expect to see many shark species, dolphins, whales, rays, mantas and many other species of fish.

A shoot from a baited dive in Aliwal Shoal

Baited dives

A bucket of rotten and smelly fish hangs at 8 meters depth. Around it 20 to 30 blacktips, duskys, tiger and bull sharks. Now imagine yourself in between all this sharks, the adrenaline pumping in your veins and the camera, at least for the first few minutes, shaking in your hands. This is what is called a baited dive; would you like to experience it once?

Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks, just 1 hour drive south, are the two main location where the baited dives take place.

A dolphin during the Sardine Run

Sardine Run

Experience the spectacle of the annual Sardine Run from your base at Port St. John’s on the Wild Coast. This premier dive event occurs each year sometime between June and July, when enormous shoals of sardines make their way up the east coast, pursued by thousands of game fish, sharks, dolphins, whales and sea birds. Non-divers can also enjoy this incredible marine migration from the shore – be sure to bring good binoculars.

Cage diving with the great white

Cage diving with the great white

Western Cape: the coastline around False Bay and Cape Town offers many dive sites in unique environments. Here you can explore the Kelp Forests, dive off Dyer Island and swim with the Cape Fur Seals, or experience the thrill of getting up close and personal with a Great White shark in False Bay. The best time to visit the Cape for diving is in the warmer summer months from January to March, when the prevailing winds cause calmer seas, more conducive to scuba diving.

Safari in South Africa

What else to do

South Africa’s wonderful climate makes the country a perfect destination for those looking for an action-packed outdoor holiday. Some of the activities you can find include hiking, climbing, sailing, kayaking, white-water rafting, fishing, canopy tours, quad-biking, wildlife safaris (on foot, on a game drive or even from a hot-air balloon) and even elephant-back safaris. If you prefer a little less action and more relaxation, you can laze on a sun-drenched beach, take a tour of the wine route in the Western Cape, play golf, or visit the wonderful penguins at Boulder Beach in False Bay. There is something for everyone here; the restaurants and shopping are world class, and the currency exchange rate means that South Africa is a very inexpensive destination for most international visitors.

EDA South African offices

EDA’s local offices in South Africa are situated in Simon’s Town and Umkomass.

Élite Diving Agency
Agulhas House
27 Bisset Street
South Africa
Élite Diving Agency
Oceans Africa Diving Adventures
48 Promenade Rd
Cape Town,
South Africa

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Sardine Run

The Sardine Run is one of those experiences that every scuba diver should do at least once in a lifetime.

Go to the holiday

Scuba articles about South Africa

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South Africa underwater photos

Underwater photos taken in South Africa

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Underwater videos taken in South Africa