Africa's Best Destinations for Swimming With Whale Sharks

  • 01 of 05

    The Ocean's Gentle Giants

    Africa's Best Destinations for Swimming with Whale Sharks
    ••• Whale Shark. Seanscott/ Getty Images

    With an average length of around 32 feet/ 10 meters, whale sharks are the largest fish on Earth. Swimming alongside one for the first time (and indeed, every time afterwards) is a humbling experience, and one that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Despite their large size, whale sharks feed on plankton and present no threat to humans. They are impossibly beautiful, their navy blue skin scattered with a constellation of bright white spots. Unfortunately, they are also highly endangered, with populations worldwide devastated by overfishing, accidental by-catch and fatal vessel strikes. To encounter a whale shark in its natural environment is therefore a true privilege, and in this article, we look at the best places in Africa for doing just that. 

    NB: When booking your whale shark encounter, make sure to choose an ethical operator with a background in conservation and strict guidelines for shark-friendly interactions. Whale sharks are easily disturbed by our presence, and...MORE should never be touched, chased or otherwise harassed. 

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  • 02 of 05

    Tofo Beach, Mozambique

    Africa's Best Destinations for Swimming with Whale Sharks
    ••• Whale Shark Approach. James R.D. Scott/ Getty Images

    Mozambique’s Tofo Beach is renowned as the whale shark capital of Africa, and for good reason. A colorful fishing and diving village located on the secluded shores of the country’s beautiful Inhambane Province, Tofo is home to a resident population of whale sharks, making year-round encounters possible. However, the best time to visit Tofo is between October and March, when plankton blooms inspire huge aggregations of whale sharks numbering up to 50 individuals. Tofo is home to several dive centers (including Tofo Scuba and Peri-Peri Divers), all of which offer dedicated whale shark snorkelling trips. The abundance of food also attracts another bucket-list species, the manta ray; while those that visit out of season (June - October) can expect to witness East Africa’s annual humpback whale migration.

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  • 03 of 05

    Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti

    Africa's Best Destinations for Swimming with Whale Sharks
    ••• Whale Shark Spots. Reinhard Dirscherl/ Getty Images

    Bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, the tiny East African nation of Djibouti is one of the continent’s lesser-known destinations. However, between November and February, it is also one of Africa’s premier whale shark spots - thanks to prolific plankton blooms in the Gulf of Tadjoura. At this time, nomadic whale sharks arrive to take advantage of the seasonal bounty, and with water temperatures averaging a balmy 86ºF/ 30ºC, there’s no limit to the amount of time you can spend in the water. Five Star PADI Dive Center Dolphin Services offers whale shark snorkelling tours, which can be combined with a number of other excursions. For scuba divers, this includes trips to La Faille, the chasm between the African and Somali tectonic plates; while terrestrial activities include visits to super-saline Lake Assal, the lowest point in Africa. 

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  • 04 of 05

    Mafia Island, Tanzania

    Africa's Best Destinations for Swimming with Whale Sharks
    ••• Whale Shark Silhouette. Jurgen Freund/ Getty Images

    Situated halfway between the border with Kenya in the north and Mozambique in the south, Mafia Island is a hotspot for whale shark research. Every year between October and March, the island hosts long-lasting whale shark aggregations, which see groups of sharks feeding on large upwellings of plankton. Most of the sharks are sexually immature males measuring 26 feet/ 8 meters or less, and can be encountered via half-day tours with local operator Kitu Kiblu. For those that want to get involved with whale shark conservation, Kitu Kiblu also offers an internship program that allows members of the public to take part in an ongoing whale shark photo identification project. Those that visit at the beginning of the season are also likely to spot humpback whales and hatching sea turtles.

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  • 05 of 05

    Nosy Be, Madagascar

    Africa's Best Destinations for Swimming with Whale Sharks
    ••• Whale Shark from Above. Reinhard Dirscherl/ Getty Images

    Perched just off the northwest coast of Madagascar, Nosy Be is one of the island nation’s most exclusive destinations. It is best known for its spectacular diving, untouched beaches and upscale resorts; but between October and December, it’s also a whale shark’s paradise. In season, sightings are almost guaranteed, with some local operators offering a 95% success rate. Nevertheless, very little is currently known about Nosy Be’s whale shark population - but the newly established Madagascar Whale Shark Project aims to change that. So far, studies suggest that the number of whale sharks visiting Madagascan waters is increasing every year - in sharp contrast to decreasing sightings at other hotspots. Whale shark season also overlaps with the best time for spotting manta rays, humpback whales and Bryde’s whales.