Feature: Diving off Zanzibar Island

With an abundance of reefs, islets and atolls, as well as water temperatures around 27°C (although reportedly rising) and clear visibility, Zanzibar Island is not surprisingly a very popular dive destination.

The reefs are home to hard and soft coral, and many species of colourful tropical fish, along with seahorses, barracudas, marlins and turtles.

At popular beach destinations like Nungwi, Kendwa, Matemwe and Paje, there's a host of dive companies to choose from. As a rough guide, introductory 'discover scuba' dives for beginners cost about US$100 each (about US$150 for two dives); a two-day 'scuba diver' course is US$300 to US$400; a four-dive 'open water' course around US$500. If you're already experienced, it costs about US$100 to US$120 for two dives or US$250 to US$350 for six.

Charges vary between companies, but bottom-line price shouldn't be your main decider. Instead, carefully consider the experience of the company and their attitude to training and safety (including medical forms and client-staff ratios), the personality and qualifications of the instructors, and the quality of the gear.

Other items to note:

  • Do not touch live coral, and instruct dive boat captains not to drop anchor on live coral.
  • Beware of fake 'PADI-registered' dive centres. Check the real ones at www.padi.com.
  • Do not dive if you feel ill or dehydrated, eg especially after a night of partying.
  • Even if holiday time is limited, don't dive too deep too quickly.

If you suffer a dive-related decompression illness (DCI, commonly known as 'the bends'), it's essential you seek medical help. Reputable dive companies will know the drill. Alternatively contact Zanaid Clinic in Zanzibar Town; the doctor here is experienced in dive illnesses, and will advise next steps (eg X-ray). The doctor can also be reached via the diving emergency number (0777 788500). Once the nature of your illness has been assessed, the doctor may call in other medics or technicians to assist. It may also be necessary for them to send you to the hyperbaric chamber in the village of Matemwe on the east coast of Zanzibar Island.