The best place to see whale sharks in Africa

By James S 21 August 2015

Most people who travel to Africa think solely of big mammal game viewing, with the focus often on seeing the Big Five, and forget all the other animal-viewings possibilities. When you speak to someone about Africa, you rarely speak about the phenomenal marine life that is on offer.

Sub-Saharan Africa offers very good ‘Marine Big Five’ game viewing – whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins – and although specific areas are better suited for certain animals of the Big Five, it offers some of the best viewing in the whole world.

I was lucky enough to finish my last trip to Africa with some time with whale sharks off the Tanzanian coastline. Whale sharks are the largest known extant fish species and grow up to 13m in length (there are unconfirmed reports that even larger whale sharks exist).

Now, I have travelled to Africa extensively, and I have been able to see the majority of animals you see on safari – but none of them compares with viewing five of these giants in just one morning. The experience for me matches that of seeing the gorillas in Rwanda – and anyone who has been lucky enough to do either, will not be able to explain just how special it is!

Whale sharks can be seen all year round on the east coast of Africa, stretching from southern Mozambique all the way up to northern Kenya, and are often found just off shore from a number of little islands. However, if you want to have the best chance of seeing these gentle giants, then you need to focus on Mafia Island, which makes up one of the three islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago.

From November through to May, the whale sharks migrate to Mafia for their mating season and you are almost guaranteed to see them daily. Whilst I was on the island, one of the guests was saying that he saw nine in just one morning!

Although there are a number of diving companies that operate daily excursions to find the sharks, there is one stand-out company – Kitu Kiblu. Set up by Jean de Villiers (the owner of Chole Mjini Lodge). It offers the most sustainable way of seeing the giants (a percentage of the excursion fee goes towards protecting them and it also helps fund research) and focuses on delivering the most intimate experience away from the crowds.

Kitu Kiblu is only used by a small number of properties (Chole Mjini and Pole Pole) – an added reason to stay at either of these properties.

The whale sharks really were the highlight of my last trip to Africa, but they are not the only reason to visit Mafia Island or other areas of the African coastline. Mafia Island alone has over 400 species of fish, rays, octopus, dolphin and obviously sharks! Africa is not always about the safari parks…!

If you would like more information on how to encounter whale sharks in Safari Africa, then feel free to contact us to find out more on 020 8547 2305 or send us an email at [email protected]