AddressTofo Beach, Mozambique
A traditional fishing community turned diver’s paradise, Tofo Beach is a coastal town in southeastern Mozambique. At first glance, it seems like your typical African backpacker destination with sandy, palm-lined roads, friendly local people, and a profusion of affordable beach bars and restaurants. The beach stretches in a swathe of golden sand from one end of the bay to the other, and travelers are drawn by the promise of good surf and a barefoot-and-bikini nightlife scene. Tofo’s biggest claim to fame, however, is the world-class reefs located just offshore, and the bucket list marine creatures that call its waters home.
Marine Life in Tofo Beach
Tofo is renowned as one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks, the world’s largest non-cetacean animal. Adult whale sharks average around 32 feet in length, and yet despite their colossal size are harmless to humans. Unlike most other destinations where whale sharks are seasonal visitors, these spotted giants are resident all year round off Tofo Beach. They are usually seen by snorkelers on ocean safaris, feeding near the surface. The conditions that make Tofo so ideal for whale sharks also make it a haven for manta rays. Both species, the reef, and the giant oceanic manta are frequently spotted at cleaning stations on the reef. The 2009 research that confirmed the reef manta as a separate species was published by scientists based in Tofo.
From June to October, Tofo welcomes hundreds of humpback whales as they travel past on their migration to and from the nutrient-rich waters of the Southern Ocean. It’s common to hear (and if you’re lucky, see) them underwater, or to be treated to an acrobatic show of breaching, pectoral slapping, and tail lobbing from the dive boat. Other marine life highlights include bottlenose dolphins, five species of sea turtle, smaller sharks like the zebra shark (known locally as the leopard shark), and white tip reef shark. The reefs teem with colorful fish, and Tofo is known as the best place in the world for encounters with the rare small-eye stingray. This species was filmed underwater for the very first time off Tofo in 2009.
Dive Conditions and What to Expect
Water temperatures are typically warm, fluctuating between 72 and 82 degrees F depending on the season. Visibility varies drastically according to several different factors, including the weather, the season, and the dive site, and can be anywhere from 16 to 100 feet. Shallower dive sites may experience some swell, and current is almost always present (most Tofo dives are drift dives along a reef wall). Many of the best dive sites have maximum depths of around 75 to 100 feet, which means that they’re only suitable for advanced divers. Nevertheless, with more than 20 sites to choose from, there are options for beginners as well.
A certified divemaster or instructor leads all dives. It takes anywhere from five to 45 minutes to reach the dive site by boat, and the vessels used are inflatable RIBs or rubber ducks. You’ll need to be reasonably physically fit to dive at Tofo, as launches are conducted from the beach through the surf rather than from a jetty or harbor. To get into the water, you’ll backward roll off the edge of the boat. Dive centers offer single and double tank dives, with the interval between back-to-back dives affording excellent opportunities to keep an eye out for whale sharks, whales, and dolphins on the surface. Many operators also offer night dives.
Dive Site Highlights
Probably Tofo’s most iconic dive, Manta Reef is a favorite with underwater cameramen and marine biologists on account of its amazing biodiversity. The flat plate reef and surrounding pinnacles teem with marine life including large schools of snapper, trevally, and triggerfish. There are two cleaning stations that attract the mantas for which the reef is famous. Manta Reef is shallower than Tofo’s other top reefs and therefore offers a longer bottom time. Depth: 65 - 85 feet
One of Tofo's deeper dive sites, Reggies includes a large cave where you'll often find a sleeping loggerhead turtle or a snoozing zebra shark. This is one of the best dive sites for shark sightings, whether it's a whitetip reef shark sheltering under one of the overhangs or a grey reef shark swimming out in the blue. Three cleaning stations attract plenty of marine life with potential customers, including mantas, potato groupers, and small-eye stingrays. Depth: 80 - 100 feet
Dives at Hogwarts typically start with a visit to a pinnacle situated off the main reef wall, where a large honeycomb moray eel can usually be spotted. The reef itself is littered with overhangs and swim-throughs, all of which act as potential hiding places for turtles, potato groupers, and rays. Two cleaning stations afford the best chance for a manta sighting. Macro life also flourishes at this dive site, including frogfish, leaf fish, garden eels, and nudibranchs. Depth: 75 - 100 feet
Giant’s Castle is an impressive reef wall that runs for over a mile from north to south. It takes its name from the unusually large size of its resident marine life–including huge potato groupers, honeycomb moray eels, and trophy trevally. The dive site has multiple cleaning stations and is considered one of the best choices for ray sightings (both mantas and small-eye stingrays). Bowmouth guitarfish are often seen as well. Depth: 75 - 100 feet
Amazon is the furthest dive site from shore, requiring a 45-minute boat ride to get there. Because it’s so remote, it’s also one of the most pristine Tofo reefs, with abundant marine life and unspoiled corals. Visibility is usually great at Amazon, and if you want to see predatory sharks and large schools of game fish, it deserves a place at the top of your wish list. Trips to this dive site are almost always conducted as a double tank dive to make the journey out there worthwhile. Depth: 85 - 100 feet
Recommended Dive Centers
As with any other dive destination, it’s essential to choose a licensed dive center with reliable equipment, responsible divemasters and instructors, and a real commitment to marine conservation. Our top three Tofo dive centers are Tofo Scuba, Peri-Peri Divers, and Liquid Dive Family. All three offer PADI courses (including nitrox certifications, which come in handy for Tofo’s deep sites), fun dives, and ocean safaris.
Liquid has 11 of its own beachfront cabins, all with a private terrace and modern, Scandinavian-style interiors. Tofo Scuba offers dive-and-stay packages for guests at Tilak Lodge or Pariango Beach Motel, while Peri-Peri provides a 20 percent discount for guests staying at several different lodges. These include TripAdvisor’s top two choices, Baia Sonambula Guest House and Mozambeat Motel.
The Best Time to Visit Tofo Beach
In Mozambique, June, July, and August are the coolest months with average temperatures of between 68 and 77 degrees F. This is also the driest time of year, and the best time to travel in terms of the weather with plenty of sunshine and minimum humidity. The lack of rain also means reduced run-off from the land and therefore better underwater visibility. The summer months (December to April) are the hottest and wettest, with average maximum temperatures of around 87 degrees F. Rain usually takes the form of brief but powerful afternoon thunderstorms.
In terms of wildlife sightings, whale sharks and mantas can both be seen all year round. However, from October to March, seasonal plankton blooms can attract feeding aggregations of up to 50 whale sharks (while also reducing visibility on the reefs). June to October is humpback whale season. Essentially there are pros and cons to every season but Tofo is always a rewarding destination. Whenever you go, make sure to consult your doctor about malaria medication since this potentially fatal mosquito-borne disease is a constant concern in Mozambique.
Tofo Beach is located roughly half an hour by road from Inhambane, the capital city of Inhambane Province. The easiest and quickest way to get there is to fly into Inhambane Airport (INH). LAM, Mozambique’s national airline, offers direct flights from Maputo and connecting flights from Johannesburg in South Africa (one of Africa’s biggest air transport hubs). Most dive centers and lodges can arrange a private pick-up or taxi transfer from the airport to the beach.
If you'd rather save money, consider traveling to Tofo Beach by road. Tours2Moz runs a comfortable and reliable shuttle service from Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport to Tofo every Monday and Thursday. The journey takes roughly 15 hours. For those on a shoestring, it's also possible to travel by local bus from Maputo. Enquire at Fatima's Nest Backpackers in the capital about bus transport to their location in Tofo. This journey takes between eight and 10 hours without delays (although police checkpoints and vehicle breakdowns are not uncommon).