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Nungwi was once a quiet fishing village in the northwest of Zanzibar. Today it is one of the island’s main resorts. Numerous hotels line its white sandy beaches and Nungwi is very lively in the evenings.

The coral reefs along the coast are not very spectacular but they do shelter a surprisingly rich array of underwater life. There is an abundance of clownfish, starfish, ghost pipefish, cowfish, razorfish, crabs, shrimps and scorpionfish that can be easily spotted in its shallow waters. 

Snorkeler in Nungwi Beach
Snorkeling in Nungwi Beach.

How to get to the Nungwi Beach snorkeling spot

The recommended snorkeling area is just south of Nungwi village, between the Z Hotel in the north and Sandies Baobab Beach in the south. You can, of course, snorkel in a much larger area, but this is where the reef is the narrowest and most accessible.

You can easily reach this spot by foot from the surrounding hotels, by walking on the beach at low tide or by the promenade that crosses the different resorts and ends at the Z Hotel.

Nungwi Beach snorkeling map, Zanzibar

Water entrance for snorkeling Nungwi Beach

It’s best to explore this spot at low tide, ideally 1 or 2 hours before slack water. This period offers the best snorkeling conditions. You can get into the water closer to the reef and the water is shallower, which makes observation of the underwater life from the surface easier.

Low tide is also when the underwater visibility is at its best, and the sea is the calmest. Avoid snorkeling after 12 noon, as there are many boats and jet skis traffic in the area. They sometimes travel at high speeds and often close to shore.

Enter the water from the beach, being careful with of numerous sea urchins. They are found at shallow depths and are not always visible, like the dreaded flower urchin.

Jointed razorfish and red-knobbed starfish
A pair of jointed razorfish, with a red-knobbed starfish in the background.

Nungwi Beach snorkeling exploration tips

It is recommended to snorkel in a strip of about 220 yards long and 110 yards wide along the beach (see map). While snorkeling from the shore, you will first cross sandy areas, that will gradually be covered with scattered corals and small rocks.

You will soon see small fields of long-spined urchins in which tiny threespot dascyllus hide. There will also be many red-knobbed starfish (↕1-3ft). Valentinni’s sharpnose puffer, yellow boxfish and (rarer) roundbelly cowfish come and go between the rocks.

Snorkeler taking picture of an anemonefish in Nungwi
Shallow waters make Nungwi a perfect spot for underwater photography. Here, an encounter with a pair of twobar anemonefish.

You’ll have to reach the deeper areas of the reef to discover a more lively seabed (↕3-8ft). Here, beautiful coral heads, covered with soft corals, anemones, sponges and clams of all kinds, bathe under the sun. They attract a cohort of reef fish. African coris, Moorish idols, trumpetfish, porcupinefish, damselfish, hawkfish and lionfish are particularly common.

Two species of anemonefish, the twobar clownfish and the skunk clownfish, abound in the sea anemones. They are a favorite of underwater photographers. You might also be lucky enough to encounter pairs of robust ghost pipefish or jointed razorfish. In the sand, try to spot a lizardfish or a small sole, which master perfectly the art of camouflage.

Scorpionfish in Nungwi
A pretty rare dwarf lionfish in Nungwi Beach shallows.

At about 110 yards from shore, a sandy slope slides into the blue. A few heads and pinnacles, teeming with life, are found in some places (↕9-14ft), but can only be explored by skin/freedivers.

This spot usually offers a very calm sea, with no waves. Visibility is average to good, and is cloudier when the tide comes in. Some days, the currents bring many small jellyfish along the coast, making snorkeling very unpleasant.

Roundbelly cowfish in Nungwi Beach
A roundbelly cowfish in Nungwi Beach.

Restaurants and accommodation nearby

Many hotels and restaurants are available in this area of Nungwi. The closest are the Z Hotel, the Sandies Baobab Beach and the Nungwi Inn Cottage, located in front of the spot. Several beach restaurants can offer lunch after a morning snorkeling session.


  • Level required Beginner
  • Maximum depth6ft/2m on the flats, +20ft/6m on the drop-off
  • Water entranceFrom a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersSea urchins, crown-of-thorn starfish, scorpionfish, lionfish
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersLow
  • Access costsFree
  • Restaurants nearbyYes

MAP Spot

These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.