A tropical country with hot and humid coasts, temperate inlands, and dry north and northeast regions, it’s always sunny in Kenya… which makes its marine parks and their dive sites all the more enticing.
Watersports may not be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Kenya; after all, this East African country is mostly known for being home to some of the finest flora and fauna in the world. Its national parks and wildlife reserves are home to lions, elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, buffalos, and other animals that most of us only get to see on the television and in magazines.
However, Kenya has its fair share of underwater treasures and attractions too. With consistently warm and sunny weather mixed with excellent water temperature, the diving conditions in Kenya are generally great regardless of the season. During the months of July and August however, the water visibility lessens because of silting and high seas.
If diving in Kenya is in your bucket list, it’s best to schedule your visit during the months of October to March when the temperature, rainfall, and humidity throughout the country is just right. Kenyan waters are usually calm and relaxing.
Experienced technical divers who are looking for a challenging dive might have to turn their attention elsewhere; but for new divers looking to gain some experience and who want to spend a relaxing time underwater, Kenya’s diving destinations won’t disappoint.
Watamu Marine National Park
Many divers claim that this is the finest marine national park in the country, and for good reason. For starters, Watamu Marine National Park is an important nesting area for the rare and endangered Green Sea Turtle. These turtles, which can grow up to 1.5 meters (5 ft.) long and have a teardrop-shaped carapace, lay eggs on the beaches of Watamu several times a year.
The green sea turtles aren’t the only underwater creatures that have taken shelter in this national park. Just 300 meters away from the shore, you’ll find numerous and colorful coral gardens where a vast number of fish species and strange-looking sea creatures hang out. With approximately 600 species of fish, 110 stony coral species, and innumerable species of mollusks, crustaceans, and invertebrates, Watamu’s underwater life is nothing short of diverse.
For first-time visitors and beginner divers, the national park has numerous resident experts that will keep you company during your underwater trip – introducing you to the park’s main coral gardens and naming many of the fish you encounter. Aside from the main coral garden, there are other interesting diving spots throughout the Watamu National Marine Park.
The northern part of the park is famous for the following dive sites:
- The Larder, where encountering pick-handle barracudas is common fare
- The Pothole, which is located on the inner edge of the main reef
- Turtle Reef, which is a bit deeper than other dive sites in Watamu and is where turtles and other exotic fish species can be found
300 meters from shore is the central part of the park – the main Coral Gardens. Here you’ll enjoy the sight of manta rays, turtles, and various fish species that reside there.
The southern end of Watamu National Park can be rough and dangerous. Sitting by the mouth of Mida Creek, divers have to be careful of the tidal wash that passes in and out of the creek. Written permission from the Park Warden is required to dive at this site.
However, if you can get written permission and the waters in the south end are safe, be sure to visit the Rock Cod Caves, where weird and wonderful sea creatures dwell including a 200 lb. Grouper.
Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park
Sitting on the southern coast of Kenya near Shimoni and to the south of Wasini Island is the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park. With a total area of 39 sq. km, the national park boasts 4 small islands – all of which are enclosed by coral reef and rich sea life.
With its shallow and warm waters, excellent water visibility, unspoiled corals, and amazingly diverse marine life, Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park offers an eye-opening experience to first-time divers and a relaxing drift dive to diving veterans. The marine national park is home to about 11 top-notch dive sites with depth ranges anywhere from 5 to over 30 meters.
One such dive site is the Mako Koke Reef, which is 4 km to the west. With a colorful rejuvenating reef, numerous fish species take up residence and feed here. With an easy dive profile, snorkelers and beginner divers can enjoy the colorful sights and serene underwater atmosphere without too much hassle.
The Outer Kisite, on the other hand, is an excellent spot for underwater photographers. At this dive site, an encounter with pistol shrimps, gobies, and pipe fishes is almost guaranteed. This paradise under the sea is also filled with crustaceans (like large lobsters), invertebrates (like octopus and moray eels), sting rays, turtles, and more. Divers who take the plunge at the Outer Kisite usually encounter dolphins while exploring the reef or see them playing from a far while on the boat.
At the shallower end of Outer Kisite is Inner Kisite. With a maximum depth is only 8 meters, this is great diving spot for beginners and veteran divers who need a refresher. Keep your eyes peeled for turtles and crocodile fish.
Then there’s the Coral Garden (or Pink Reef as some call it). This reef has depths of between 8 and 15 meters and is famous for hosting pink soft corals as well as a wide variety of tropical fish.
And for dolphin-loving scuba divers, a visit to the Dolphin Point (diving depth 3 to 12 meters) should be on your to-do list. Needless to say, this dive site got its name from the playful dolphins that take shelter in the reef. There are over 200 dolphins of different kinds (bottle-nosed, spinner, etc.) in the reef. If you’re fortunate enough, you may even cross paths with a humpback whale, especially from October to December.
Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve
With a park area of 10 sq. km and the reserve spanning 200 sq. km, this marine national park and reserve is one of the biggest diving destinations in Kenya. Situated at sea level, the park’s coastline (700 km. in length) offers an average of 8 hours of sunshine a day.
In addition to coconut palms, pristine waters of the Indian Ocean, mangroves, white sandy beaches and sheltered lagoons, Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve’s climate produces ideal living conditions for corals.
The reef, which extends 230 km from Shimoni to Malindi, is home to over a million species of marine life. Solid flavia, ancropora, and convoluted brain corals are just some of coral species that have taken shelter in Mombasa’s reef.
The sea creatures living in the waters of Mombasa Marine National Park and Reserve are just as diverse as the corals. From butterfly fishes, angelfish, the stripped zebra fish, endangered hawksbill and leatherback turtles, to dolphins and many more in between, a wide variety of marine life can be found thriving at Mombasa’s park. It’s of little wonder why many experienced divers rate it alongside the Red Sea and the Great Barrier Reef as a diving destination.
Language: English and Kiswahili
Currency: Kenyan Shilling (KES)
Dive Season: Jul. to Sept. (Shallow Dives) / Oct. to Mar. (Prime Diving Months)
Climate: Tropical to Arid
Air Temperature: 26°C to 32°C
Water Temperature: 21°C to 32°C
Visibility: Up to 30 meters (between November and March)
Skill Level: Beginner – Professional