Diving Tabarka

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Tabarka, Tunisia

Tabarka Sea Scape

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Country: Tunisia  Area: Tunisia

Water Temp: 15 - 25°C (59 - 77°F)

Visibility: 10 - 30m (33 - 98 ft)

Depth Range: 6 - 40m (20 - 131 ft)

 

Tabarka is in the north of Tunisia, near the border with Algeria. The town lies on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and an extensive coral reef can be found just off the beach. A national marine reserve has been established to protect the reefs and their inhabitants. While much of Tunisia is semi-arid or desert, this part of the country is surprisingly lush. Mountains form a picturesque backdrop for this historic town.

The diving in Tabarka is considered the best in the country, and there are sites that remain accessible all year round. There is a spectacular golf course, and significant archaeological sites in the area date back to Roman times. Many visitors recommend hiring a car (and possibly a driver) to explore all of the activities that the region has to offer. Tabarka is about a two hour drive from the capital, Tunis. Infrequent flights are available between the two cities.

 

Climate

Diving can be done at several sites year round. The best time to visit is between March and November. Monsoons are not an issue, and extreme weather events are a rarity. The general climate is temperate, with hot, dry summers, and wet, cool winters. Water temperatures range from 15 degrees in winter to the mid twenties in the late summer months.

Tabarka, Tunisia, Credit

Marine Conservation

Some of the dive sites lie with in the Tunisian National Marine Park. These sites are home to the healthiest coral, and  greater numbers and more varied sea life. The rarely seen, and highly endangered, Mediterranean Monk Seal have established a colony at one site. As in so many areas, pollution and overfishing are ongoing issues. Take your trash with you when you leave the boat. Make sure nothing goes overboard except you and your equipment!

 
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The Diving

There are seven principal dive sites to the north and west of the town. Four dive centres offer day trips on boats leaving from the central harbour. Arabic and French are commonly spoken, English not as much outside of the major hotels and tourist sites. Keep this in mind when signing up with a shop. You'll want to make sure you get at least a brief briefing in your native tongue!

The fascinating underwater rock formations around Tabarka are a huge draw. Tunnels, caves, and caverns make it possible to visit the same site several times, but enjoy an entirely different dive experience on each excursion. Many argue that the gregarious groupers patrolling the waters are the most fun. If you are in luck, these gentle giants will join you and your group for the tour. Thankfully, they are of a curious disposition, not a confrontational one. 

It takes less than a half an hour to get to Cap Tabarka. The visibility may not be the best, but the groups of super social groupers that come out to greet you more than make up for it. Grouper Rock is a favourite gathering place, and some of the senior citizens weigh in at up to 40 kilograms. They are more curious than fearful of divers, and will on occasion follow a group of divers for ten or more minutes. Juveniles can be seen hiding in amongst the boulders and rocks. Various sea anemones, gorgonian fans and soft coral have attached themselves to stone surfaces, and the ocean floor.

Also within easy reach of Tabarka harbour are The Tunnels. A series of swim-throughs, caverns, and passageways have been created by hundreds of thousands of years of shifting geology. The deepest of these tunnels is 24m, and some are up to 30m in length. The majority are quite narrow, and wide enough to take just one diver at a time. Only those comfortable and experienced in diving in fairly tight spaces should attempt to make their way through the longer, deeper tunnels. There is plenty to see around 15m, including octopus and rays.

La Piscine is a relatively shallow site where dives generally stay above 18m. It is suitable for divers all levels. Keep your eyes peeled for lobster, octopus, and other crustaceans. Sea bream, groupers and other smaller fish can be found at the site as well. La Grotte a Pigeons is another site that attracts both beginner and advanced divers. There are not so many big fish, but schools of small fry form clouds of colour around you . It's also just a short ride from the Tabarka harbour.

Advanced divers should make arrangements to visit Cap Galena. The maximum depth here is 40m, but there is more to see around 25m, and you will burn through your air at a more reasonable rate. The usual cast of characters can be found in and around the coral reef, including bream, wrasse and (of course!) groupers. Shoals of fish seem to like the area, and may swoop in for a quick look.

There are wall dives to be done at Le Sec de Cernie, at an average depth of 20m. There is also a reef worth exploring that is home to many more large groupers. The currents can be strong at certain times; don't let yourself drift away. Sea urchins, soft coral, lobster, and gobies use the reef as a shared residence.

La Galite Islands are 35 miles off the coast and home to well preserved shipwreck. The area is within a nature reserve and a colony of endangered Mediterranean Monk Seals has taken up residence. They earned their name for the folds of skin around their shoulders and necks that vaguely resemble a monk's cowl, and the fact that the seals usually appear alone or in small groups. They are inquisitive, and frequently approach divers in the area. Despite their clumsiness on land, once in the water the seals are transformed into sleek and speedy swimming machines. Don't bother trying to keep up, just let them buzz you and your buddy!

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Getting There

Tunis International Airport is served by several international carriers with direct flights to cities in Europe and North America. It is possible to fly from Tunis to Tabarka, and the flights are reasonably priced, but infrequent. Depending on the time of year they may be available only twice a week.  It is possible to rent a jeep or something with 4-wheel drive to get you the hundred or so miles from Tunis to Tabarka. Hiring a car with a driver may be a better bet; the driving and road conditions can be treacherous. Airport transfers may be arranged for you at hotels and resorts in the town.

A street in Tabarka, Credit

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Going out

Le Festival restaurant is a hit with visitors and the locals keep coming as well. Seafood sourced right off the boat, Tunisian style soups, salads and much more make this a popular spot. Pizzeria Bellevue serves up affordable meals of pasta and pizza from it's beach front location. The Tabarka Beach Hotel is a four-star favourite with visitors to this pretty part of northern Tunisia. The hotel also has a restaurant, bar and lounge. Les Mimosas is another popular hotel located in a refurbished mansion on a hill with views of the the town and ocean. The restaurant and bar serve up good dinner and drinks.

Exploring Villa de Tabarka,  Credit

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Other Activities

There is plenty to do in Tabarka and environs. Nearby Bulla Regia dates back to Roman times, and has a series of underground villas and an excellent collection of mosaics and artefacts. Dougga is probably the most impressive archaeological site in Tunisia and is a viable day trip option. Golf and sailing facilities are located in the town.   

Ville de Tabarka, Credit

Family Friendly

There are plenty of activities in the area to keep the kids occupied. The larger hotels may have kids programs available, and can arrange babysitting services. Small children may be restless during the two hours or so it will take you to get from Tunis to Tabarka, if you cannot hook up with one of the infrequent 20 minute flights from the airport.

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Tips

Some divers have reported faulty o rings being an issue at some shops. It may be a good idea to bring a few along. English is not widely spoken, so make sure you will have a dive master or instructor that can understand at least a little English (if you are also an English speaker!)

Into the sand ,Credit

If you are travelling as a family or in a larger group, holiday home rentals are available in the Tabarka area. They are an affordable, self-catering option that come highly recommended. Dar Mina is one such property.

Local markets are great places to haggle over that one of a kind souvenir you simply must have. As in any crowded tourist area, watch for pickpockets and leave your jewellery at home!

Women travelling alone should exercise a degree of caution. Skimpy dress outside of the resorts will likely attract unwanted attention. 

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