Diving Mtwara

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Mtwara, Tanzania

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Country: Tanzania  Area: Tanzania

Water Temp: 24 - 29°C (75 - 84°F)

Visibility: 5 - 40m (16 - 131 ft)

Depth Range: 5 - 40m (16 - 131 ft)

Humpback whale migration Early Aug to Late Nov
Yellowfin tuna running April to July
Green turtles nesting February to April

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Mikindani is a historic coastal trading town with a blend of Swahili, Arabic and colonial influence. It has a rich and colourful past having once been the regional capital of German East Africa, and was also where Dr David Livingstone based himself prior to embarking on his final expedition in search of the source of the Nile.

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Mikindani sits on the shores of its own natural harbour and is ideally located for visitors to explore nearby Mtwara, and to enjoy diving within Mikindani Bay, visit the nearby Mnazi Bay Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park, or venture further inland to the Selous Game Reserve for wildlife watching.

A key feature of Mikindani is that it is away from the more well trodden tourist routes in the north of Tanzania. eco2 is the only dive operator in the Mtwara district and indeed the wider southern Tanzania region. We enjoy our dive sites to ourselves, and there is a great opportunity for exploratory diving. For those seeking something different from the usual Mafia/Zanzibar/Pemba dive scene of Tanzania, we offer the perfect alternative adventure.

A diver enoying the dive, Credit

In this region the southern Equatorial current meets the African coast. This phenomenon has such a fundamental effect on the ecology of the area that it is now recognised as the centre of biological diversity for the East African coast. Despite being the sole operator in the south, the diving here is world class in its own right. Our sites are diverse and suitable for all ranges of experience, offering a blend of reef diving and muck diving with healthy coral cover and reef assemblages.

Blue Star! Credit


The climate along the coast is more typically tropical than in inland areas, with higher temperatures and humidity throughout the year. During the long rains from mid-March to May there is frequent heavy rain, whilst the short rains fall from December to mid-January. The coolest months are from June to October, and the warmest from December to March.

Diving is year-round in Mtwara, although July, August, September and December are the busiest months, coinciding with European holiday periods. The water temperature tends to reflect the air temperature, with the coolest waters from July to September.

The Reef, Credit

Marine Conservation

The local community through a quarterly beach clean up programme, combining active work with educational and awareness development with participating schools.

Carry out consultancy work, primarily with respect to environmental assessments of coastal and marine environments, and to assess social impacts on marine and coastal resources, and develop programmes that might mitigate such impacts.

Other Year round Marine Life

Frogfish, scorpionfish, lionfish, nudibranchs, cephalopods, sea moths, ornate ghost pipefish, ghost pipefish, pipefish, Humphead wrasse, giant grouper, flatheads, gilded triggerfish, dragon moray, weedy scorpionfish

Information & Photos kindly provided by: Eco2 Dive Centre

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Shore Diving

1. A short drive into Mtwara takes divers to the local Fish Market, where our Cryptomania dive site is accessed. A descent along a semi-submerged wreck reveals schools of juvenile emperor angelfish and snappers, yellow boxfish and the reclusive giant grouper. Making your way along the slope you are treated to a stretch of world class muck diving, with seahorses and pipefish, frogfish, cuttlefish, cleaner shrimps, nudibranchs and lionfish all waiting to be discovered. Cryptomania then slowly transforms into a genuine reef dive as you explore among the corals and their diverse reef fish assemblages, often spotting brown marbled grouper, a variety of moray eels, frogfish and scorpionfish, and possibly even ornate ghost pipefish. We use this site for both training and leisure diving, and dive close to slack tides to minimise the chance of currents. It is a sheltered site and a superb opportunity for underwater photography.

Peppered Moray hiding, Credit

2. Road access to the Mnazi Bay Marine Park enables shore diving at the reefs that lie just off the beach. The dive sites are similar to Coral Gardens (see Boat Diving section), and trips to the Marine Park by road are subject to a per person entrance fee of $20 as well as a travel supplement of $50 for the group.

Boat Diving

There are around ten boat dive areas within Mikindani Bay, each offering a number of sites for different depths, skill levels and marine life. There are also ten dive areas in the neighbouring Mnazi Bay within the Mnazi Bay Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park. We have sites to suit all experience levels, from sheltered shallow sites to deep dives on exposed walls and pinnacles. Most of the diving is reef diving, although we have a superb muck diving site that also holds a semi-submerged wreck. We generally dive around slack tides to minimise exposure to currents, although drift diving is a strong possibility at many of our sites given suitable conditions.

There is a rich diversity of corals in the area and our sites are characterised by high levels of live coral cover and associated reef fish assemblages. Although relatively uncommon, it is possible to encounter whale sharks, sunfish, oceanic whitetip and reef sharks, as well as dolphins and, more commonly, turtles. Cryptic species abound, with octopus and cuttlefish, a range of scorpionfish, frogfish, seahorses and pipefishes, anemone crabs and shrimps, as well as nudibranchs, frequently observed.

Must be a busy day down there, Credit

Large foliose coral fields extend down to deeper depths, while the tops of the pinnacles support smaller reefscapes. There is a good flushing of water through the site and plenty of reef fish. Being on the edge of Mikindani Bay’s deep drop-off means the site is also visited by pelagics including trevallies, rainbow runners, mackerels and tunas, and occasionally ocean sunfish, giant grouper, Humphead wrasse and eagle rays visit the site. This is usually undertaken as the first dive since it offers a good opportunity to explore deeper waters.

Similar to The Monoliths is Miniliths, just on a smaller scale. Also characterised by pinnacles and bommies, the site slopes into deeper water to East with large areas of foliose coral and has more diverse reefscapes extending towards the western shore that support coral gardens with healthy, well established reef communities. Humphead wrasse, shoals of unicorn and surgeonfish and the occasional great barracuda can also be seen here.

Fantastic resident underwater! Credit

 Lulu Shoal is another deep dive site with steep walls broken by sandy gullies. Coming into shallower waters divers are treated to large shoals of unicorn and surgeonfish and a large group of schooling bannerfish, before heading into diverse coral gardens at shallower depths. Towards the end of the dive, coral bommies at 12m make up the shallowest part of the dive site, so our safety stop is undertaken in blue water enjoying the view below. Larger reef fish such as Humphead wrasse and potato grouper are often encountered here, as well as turtles and pelagics.

Sea Fan takes our divers into a different stretch of the Lulu Shoal reef. At the beginning of the dive there are rock structures marking the drop off to deeper water. The dive first progresses to the reef wall and then to the ridge running along the top. A combination of reef and pelagic fish can be found at this point in the dive, after which the shallower sections of the dive boast a healthy cover of both hard and soft corals, reef fish and cryptic species.

Nudibranch! Credit

To the west of Mikindani Bay is a stretch of reef known as Hulls Rocks. It offers a number of entry and exit points and a variety of dive profiles. It is possible to enjoy a deep dive here, with a gentle reef slope to 18m that then falls away more steeply into deeper waters, as well as interesting coral bommies in less than 10m that conceal a plethora of invertebrates and camouflaged vertebrates. Enigmatic species on this site include leaf scorpionfish, turtles, rays, octopus and triggerfish.

Red Buoy marks a seamount extending upwards from the depths of Mikindani Bay. The dive circles the deep side of the pinnacle with stunning walls and drop offs and views down to deeper reef slopes. The walls are home to scorpionfish, nudibranchs and anemones sheltering porcelain crabs, while red tooth triggerfish hide in crevices as you advance. Pelagics pass the site in deeper water and Humphead wrasse can sometimes been seen coming up from the depths. The proximity to deeper water makes this one of the sites where sharks make an occasional appearance.

Divers in Mtwara, Credit

Shangani Reef lies near the entrance to Mtwara Harbour and combines outer slopes with reef plateaux, reasonable levels of coral cover and associated fish assemblages. Suitable for diving at depths up to 20m, it is often a second dive with a leisurely swim up the reef slope looking for scorpionfish, nudibranchs, moray eels, rays and even the occasional turtle.

Further afield in the Marine Park we have The Buttresses, Pelagic Corner, The Pinacles and Sea Fan Cliff, which can all be excellent drift dives on incoming tides, with turtles, rays, groupers and sharks, as well as jacks, trevally and barracuda, distributed around the slopes and bommies. The shallower dive in the Marine Park is Coral Gardens, with pristine corals, plentiful reef fish, groupers, sweetlips, pelagics and turtles. Due to the distance required to reach the Marine Park for diving, we generally require a minimum of five divers to make the trip. There is also an additional fee payable by each diver of $20 to enter the park, and a combined fee of $125 as a travel supplement for the boat.

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How to Get There

Getting to Tanzania: Tanzania’s international airport is in Dar es Salaam and has flights arriving with Swiss Air, KLM, Emirates, Qatar, Turkish Airlines, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airways and others.

There are also land borders with Tanzania’s neighbouring countries, and for Mtwara the most popular land crossings are from Mozambique.

Mtwara Airport, Credit

Getting to Mtwara and Mikindani by air: From Dar es Salaam there are daily domestic flights to Mtwara with Precision Air and Air Tanzania (it is expected that Fast Jet will start operating flights to the region in the future). The flight takes an hour and fifteen minutes, and airport transfers or taxis to Mikindani take around 20 minutes.

Getting to Mtwara and Mikindani by road from Dar es Salaam: It is also possible to take a bus to Mtwara from Dar es Salaam’s Temeke bus station. We recommend checking with us first to find out which are the best bus companies at the time of your trip. Most buses leave Dar es Salaam at 6am, though there are a small number of later buses. The journey time is about eight hours, but delays can be experienced in the rainy season (March – May). Mikindani is before Mtwara on the road from Dar es Salaam and visitors are able to leave the bus in Mikindani or Mtwara depending on where their accommodation is.

Getting to Mtwara and Mikindani from Mozambique: The closest crossing from Mozambique is by ferry (car and foot passengers) over the Ruvuma River, which brings visitors to Kilambo, around 60km south of Mtwara. However, this only runs during Spring tides on the high tide, so visitors need to check to ensure the ferry is running. If the ferry is not running foot passengers may still be able to arrive by taking a local ferry or dugout canoe from Mozambique. The journey on to Mtwara and Mikindani takes about an hour to an hour and a half (using public buses, or dalla dallas, if you’ve travelled on foot).

When the ferry is not running, cars need to travel inland in northern Mozambique to the Unity Bridge, though the roads are unpaved and travel can be difficult in the rainy season. Arriving in Tanzania, visitors need to make their way first to Masasi, then to Mnazi Moja, where they join the main road south from Dar es Salaam. The journey from the bridge to Mikindani is around 350km. There is a more direct route through Newala to Mtwara, but the road is unpaved and travel times are comparable for both routes.

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Where to Eat & Drink

In Mikindani there are two hotels, Ten Degrees South Lodge, bar and restaurant and the Old Boma Hotel, with restaurants and bars open to non-guests. At Ten Degrees South the bar serves a range of beers, wines and spirits, and the restaurant offers a superb a la carte menu with meals for around $10 per person in a garden setting. There is a sunset platform with views across Mikindani Bay, making it ideal for lunch or sundowners.

Camouflage, Credit

The Old Boma hotel, is a restored 100 year old German fort on the hill overlooking Mikindani Bay. It operates as a training hotel, helping the local community to develop skills for the tourism and hospitality sector.  The restaurant serves a variety of coastal African, Arab and Asian cuisine and a good selection of beers, spirits and South African wines are available from the bar. It also offers a large swimming pool surrounded by Frangipani and Flame trees.

Approximately 10km from Mikindani is Mtwara, where there is a range of accommodation choices to suit most budgets as well as many local restaurants and bars. Mtwara also has two nightclubs; Maisha and the Makonde Beach Club. Both are located in the Shangani district of Mtwara close to the coast.

Mtwara also has two nightclubs; Maisha and the Makonde Beach Club. Both are located in the Shangani district of Mtwara close to the coast.

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Family Activities and diving for Children

The nearby Mnazi Bay Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park (ratified in June 2000) makes for an excellent day trip, with overnight camping also a possibility. The Marine Park can be accessed by both road and boat. Within the park there are superb white sand beaches, seldom visited, plenty of opportunities for snorkelling, and the chance to see hippopotamus in the Ruvuma River.

Other activities based in Mikindani include kayaking and village tours, dhow sailing trips and snorkelling.

Seahorse, Credit

In Mtwara itself there are produce and handicraft markets to explore and a vibrant fish market.

There is also a Museum of Makonde Culture, where visitors can learn about the history and lifestyles of the local Makonde people.

The Selous Game Reserve is the nearest choice for wildlife safaris and it is possible to arrange trips from Mtwara.

Other Activities

Mikindani nestles in a large, sheltered natural harbour in southern Tanzania at the heart of Tanzania’s Makonde country. An hour's drive from the Ruvuma River and the border with Mozambique, the area is an undiscovered wilderness on land as well as beneath the waves.

Pink little creature, Credit

The Mnazi Bay-Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park is an hour away by boat or car and makes an excellent day trip for divers, beach lovers or wildlife watchers. Overnight camping is possible in the Park and there is also a basic Lodge.

Established in 2000 having been identified as an area of high biodiversity value, the Marine Park covers over 650km2 of land and sea from the southeast of Mtwara to the mouth of the Ruvuma River on the Mozambique border.

In the south it is possible to see crocodiles and hippopotamus on the Ruvuma River and visit one of the turtle nesting beaches. It is also possible to hire local canoes to explore the mangrove channels and creeks. The coastline offers superb white sand beaches, seldom visited, plenty of opportunity for snorkelling, and sand dunes and ancient ruins to explore. It's also possible to arrange dhow trips with local fishermen to visit the small offshore islands of Namponda and Mongo or to try your hand at line-fishing.

Oh so orange! Credit

Other activities from eco2 in Mikindani include humpback whale watching during the migration season from August to November, kayak hire, village tours, dhow sailing trips and snorkelling at some of the dive sites.

In Mtwara, there are local produce, spice and general markets, a vibrant fish market and a number of craft centres where visitors can learn about the Makonde people’s culture and see Makonde carvers local Tinga Tinga painters in actions – crafts and paintings are available to buy from a number of outlets.

The Selous Game Reserve is the nearest choice for organised safaris to see some of the wildlife that has made Tanzania one of the most diverse safari destinations in the world.

The Makonde Plateau is home to the famous Makonde wood carvers who traditionally used hardwoods such as Dalbegia melanoxalon, locally called Mapingo, to create masks, ornaments and cultural carvings. The wood is also called African Iron Wood and is one of the few woods so dense that it sinks in water. Nowadays, carvings are often made of lighter woods, and covered in "kiwi" boot polish to create the 'ebony' effect. Visiting the Makonde Plateau offers no tourist facilities but is a chance to see the unspoilt Tanzania.

The dive, Credit

About 60km inland from Mikindani, Lukwika-Lumesule Game Reserve covers 444skm2 and is the most southerly game reserve in Tanzania and one of the least visited wilderness areas in Africa, while the Msanjesi Reserve to the north of Lukwika-Lumesule is part of the elephant corridor between Lukwika and the Selous. Between them, these reserves have permanent watercourses, meandering through pristine savannah woodland with rocky outcrops, and support populations of lions, elephants, hippo, crocodiles, buffalo, Sable antelopes and Kudu.

For the more adventurous traveller (you need to hire vehicles and be prepared to travel on dirt roads) it's possible to visit the Rondo or Makonde Plateaus. The Rondo Plateau extends to an altitude of 900m where the Rondo Forest Reserve supports large areas of semi-deciduous hardwood forest. Identified as an important biodiversity site, it hosts more than 100 endemic plant species, a variety of monkeys and small mammals and the endangered Rondo dwarf galago, a primate species first discovered in the 1990s.

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Mikindani is within a malarial zone so you may wish to consider taking prophylaxis. If you intend to dive we recommend avoiding Larium. You should also travel with appropriate clothing and repellent to reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes.

Mtwara and Mikindani are relatively remote and medical facilities in the area are limited. We recommend that travellers take out adequate insurance both for medical emergencies and for diving emergencies (we usually recommend DAN – Divers Alert Network). The nearest recompression chamber is on the island of Zanzibar.

Underwater, Credit

It is possible to pay using US dollars at both eco2 and Ten Degrees South, as well as in many other places throughout Tanzania. However make sure you have recent notes, as those dating from before 2006 will generally not be accepted. Notes should also be clean and not torn. When changing money higher denomination notes attract a better exchange rate ($50 or $100).

Travellers’ cheques are very difficult to change in Tanzania and we do not recommend that guests should bring them.

We recommend bringing a surge protector to protect your electrical goods and chargers against damage. The electricity supply in Tanzania is unreliable and surges when the power goes off or returns are fairly common.

Hello world! Credit


Domestic airlines do not offer a sports luggage allowance, and check-in baggage allowances are normally 20kg (though excess baggage fees are much less than on international routes).

 Divers bringing their own equipment should ensure that they have any spares that they might need as there are no outlets for dive equipment in the south.

 Those wishing to take courses are also advised to download and review the PADI medical questionnaire from www.padi.com. If any of the questions require a ‘yes’ answer, they should visit a diving doctor at home to get medical clearance to dive, before coming to Mikindani.

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