With approximately 1700 miles of coastline opening on to two oceans (the Atlantic and the Indian) and its different climate areas, South Africa offers a wide range of underwater environments. Of course, the South African coastline has no shallow coral reef, but it has instead seagrass meadows, rocky coves and kelp forests, with plenty of amazing and endemic marine species. There you can get up close to surgeonfish, octopuses, scorpionfish and butterflyfish, as well as penguins and sea lions.
The two hotspots for snorkeling in South Africa are the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal and the south coast of the Western Cape (from the Garden Route to Cape Town).
The KwaZulu-Natal coast, bathed by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and bordered to the north by Mozambique, is thought to be the home of the southernmost coral reefs in the world.
Near the Mozambique border, Kosi Bay, Mabibi, and, above all, Sodwana Bay are among the best snorkeling spots in the province. Cape Vidal, near Santa Lucia, and the tidal pools of the Dolphin Coast, north of Durban, are also great options.
The Aliwal Shoal reef made up of sponges and coral, and situated off the coast of Umkomaas (about 30mi/50km south of Durban), is famous as a site for blacktip reef sharks.
On the other side of the country, on the Western Cape coast, the atmosphere is completely different. There is hardly any coral, but superb landscapes of minerals, sponges, sea anemones, and whole forests of kelp.
Here tropical fish give way to cold-water fish the further west you go. All along the Garden Route, you’ll find one top-quality snorkeling spot after another: Knysna, Mossel Bay or Plettenberg Bay are the best bets.
Near Cape Town, you can swim with seals, providing cold water doesn’t bother you.
In KwaZulu-Natal, the climate is subtropical. The water temperature rarely falls below 68°F/20°C, which makes snorkeling possible all the year-round.
The coolest months are June and July (about 77°F/25°C), while average temperatures reach their maximum in December, January, and February (about 86°F/30°C).
In Western Cape, the climate is of the Mediterranean type, and the influence of the ocean can be felt. You should opt for the summer period (September to April, about 82°F/28°C, with the water at 64°F/18°C) because the winters are cool (about 64°F/18°C), the water temperature falls sharply (59°F/15°C) and the wind blows all along the coast.
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Common on the Indian Ocean coast, for instance in Sodwana Bay rock pools
Frequently sighted in the Indian Ocean coast spots
On the Indian Ocean coast; occasionally sighted in Dolphin Coast Tidal Pools
On the Indian Ocean coast; sometimes found in Dolphin Coast Tidal Pools
Frequently sighted in rocky areas
Tidal pools with fish and invertebrates
Level: Free shore access
Shallow reef with a great diversity of tropical fish
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