Diving in Zanzibar is a bit of a bucket list item for many people. As Zanzibar is a huge island that encompasses almost 1500km of coastline so you’d expect to have a huge collection of dive sites on offer.
However, if you’re staying in Zanzibar whether it’s Nungwi, in Matemwe in the Northeast, or in the South near Paje, it’s likely you’ll come across the option to dive at the famous Mnemba Atoll.
Where is the Mnemba Atoll
Mnemba Atoll is the most famous Conservation area in Zanzibar. It consists of a seven by four kilometers reef, containing the tiny Mnemba Island. Visibility in Mnemba Atoll is usually great with an average of 20 to 30 meters.
Mnemba is famous for encounters with Common Dolphins as well as its picturesque reefs and searing blue ocean water. The dive sites around the island are part of the Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area (MIMCA) and boast some of the best visibility conditions in Zanzibar.
It is located on the north east side of Zanzibar right across from the town of Matemwe.
How to visit the Mnemba Atoll
Mnemba Atoll can only be visited by boat. There are literally endless amounts of tour companies official, and unofficial that will take you to this island. There are no ferries because the Mnemba Island is a private island for people keen to spend $1000+ a night on a private island getaway.
In my opinion, it doesn’t look that worth it because there are so many tourists all day. Whether that’s day trippers visiting the island or the countless boats that park in front of the reef, it doesn’t feel so exclusive. I’d much rather stay at the Park Hyatt in the Maldives for the private island experience.
Booking a snorkeling or diving tour
The easiest way to visit the island is just to organize a snorkeling or diving trip out here. There are numerous dive shops in Matemwe and in Nungwi that will make the trip. From Matemwe, you can find snorkeling trips for around $30-40, and slightly more from Nunwgi. I’d recommend organizing the trip with a local tour company as you will have more room to bargain.
If you’re staying at an upscale resort, they will charge you two times the price easily. If you’re a self sufficient snorkeler, you don’t need to be pampered and spend more money. The snorkeling in Mnemba is easy to navigate.
Is the Mnemba Atoll Worth visiting?
The Mnemba Atoll is world famous for its protected marine park status. It’s home to so many different species of fish and the crystal clear blue water surrounding it makes it a snorkeler and diver’s paradise.
From Zanzibar, there are countless trips every day that visit this island and its marine park. In recent years, the popularity of this island has exploded to the point that there are just too many boats visiting on a daily basis. In normal non-coronavirus times, my dive guide told me there can be easily 100 boats moored in the sandy reefs nearby. It’s so busy that they often times had trouble finding their boat upon surfacing.
In addition, this puts so much strain on the marine ecosystem which has probably attributed to the decline of fish population in recent years. I came during Coronavirus times and saw many fish while diving. However, this was a new development according to my dive guides. In normal years, you can see more divers than fish at times.
I think I would definitely skip visiting the Mnemba Atoll in normal times. There are just so many other options in Zanzibar when it comes to diving and being a part of the cattle diving at this atoll is too much.
Diving the Mnemba Atoll
Diving the Mnemba Atoll is one of the top things to do as far as water activities in Zanzibar. The nearest town to Mnemba Atoll is Matemwe, the town where I stayed in the lovely Zanzibar Sunrise boutique hotel.
From Matemwe, there are two dive shops: One Ocean and Divetogether in the town where you can easily book dive trips to Mnemba. They visit the Atoll almost every day since they are located right there. The price for two dives with equipment was around $125 or so. I negotiated a discount during COVID times but I suspect these prices are pretty set in stone.
You don’t need to stay in Matemwe to dive this site however. From Nungwi for example, many of the dive shops there will make day trips to Mnemba. Whether this means they actually take the boat the entire way, or drive to Matemwe and then set sail is another question. Spanish Dancers in Nungwi is a decent dive shop to use.
If you’re starting your trip from Nungwi, expect to pay a day trip premium to Mnemba as the boat ride can take over one hour each way. Most of the dive shops in Nungwi were charging $30-$40 supplement for visiting Mnemba.
How is the diving in Mnemba Atoll
The diving in Mnemba is better than I thought. Zanzibar doesn’t really get the best reviews when it comes to diving due to the immense coral bleaching suffered in recent years. While the corals are bleached, the fish life is still very strong. I saw big schools of yellow snappers, angelfish, and the like. It is like a lite version of Mafia Island which I was diving just the week prior.
In addition, this is one of the best places to dive or snorkel with dolphins. They regularly hang out here and can be seen from the boat or under water. We actually saw a small pod of dolphins here at the beginning of the dive that made the dive. Other than that, the corals here are not so pretty, and definitely pales in comparison to Timbatu island off Zanzibar’s west coast.
While traveling in COVID times, there were another six or seven boats in the area diving and snorkeling. During normal times, the crew told me that you could see upwards of a hundred boats in the area. So many boats that it was easy to get lost surfacing from a dive and trying to find the right boat. This sounds awful in my opinion and this type of cattle diving would be something I’d avoid at all costs.
There is better diving in Zanzibar
I think Mnemba gets all the attention because of how famous it is and that you’re visiting this beautiful little island. However, the diving here was perhaps great 20-30 years ago, but it’s no longer what it was.
Of course, if you want to visit Tanzania for diving, the best place to go is Mafia Island south of Zanzibar. However, if you are in Zanzibar, I’d suggest diving in the southeast by Paje, and specifically with the Rising Sun dive shop that dive in a special area that no one else really knows about.
Snorkeling in Mnemba Island
If you’re not a diver, then of course you can book a snorkeling trip to visit the same reefs. Snorkeling can be booked with the same dive shops where you’re staying, or you can simply ask your hotel to do it for you.
Normally, the snorkelers and divers will be on the same boat. At the same reefs, the divers will jump into the blue while the snorkelers will hang out at the surface.
If you’re a fan of snorkeling, this is THE place to do it in Zanzibar. The concentration of different types of fish, sea urchins, and shellfish is insanely high here.
The reefs are mostly shallow here, no more than 5 meters which allows you great views of the reef. If you can do a little free diving, then that’s even better as you can witness that schools of fish around you.
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