Tofo isn’t a hotspot on most tourist circuits – it is a popular beach destination regionally but unless you are really into diving you probably haven’t heard much about it. However, it should be on the bucket list for all scuba junkies! I have been hearing about diving in Tofo so much over the years, but it hasn’t all been positive. My imagination has been running wild trying to visualize what it would actually be like. Many people say it is too hyped up and the diving is actually not that great. Just the week before a dive master at Rocktail Camp told us that Tofo was “decimated” and there was nothing left to see. What a debbie downer thing to say!
I know it is certainly true that the overfishing of the Mozambican coast had drastically changed the marine environment in the past 10 years. Huge Chinese and Russian trawlers have moved in and are literally wiping out the marine life in huge swathes of the coast. They are now targeting whale sharks and manta rays for more of the nonsense traditional Chinese medicine. Mantas have more recently been added to the list of sought after “cures.” Since they are filter feeders, their gills are thought to have the ability to “filter” any illness out of the body. In years past it was almost guaranteed that you would see Mantas if you dove in Mozambique. Nowdays, sadly, it is pretty rare.
Like Ponta, we were again pleasantly surprised by how small and overall non-touristy Tofo was. For being one of the more popular beach spots to visit in Moz, it is relatively underdeveloped. The town consists of a few streets lined up against a small strip of beach. Mostly small guesthouses, backpackers and a few mid-sized hotels, but no large chain resorts.
We chose to stay at Pariango Backpackers because it was the cheapest spot and I was totally enamored with their beach “teepees.” Once I saw the turquoise door – there was no way I was going to sleep anywhere else! The cost of the teepee was about $25 a night and they also allow camping in their lot – although they don’t have proper campsites. Pariango has an attached surf shop so it is always was packed with surfer “bro bros” in all sorts of hilarious outfits. We enjoyed watching their interesting habits – such as tai chi / yoga in the yard.
It is easy to walk across the whole town in less than an hour. There is a small local market where you can go to buy produce, fresh seafood and enjoy the local cuisine of matapa for next to nothing. They have a row of bottle shops and even a small “hardware” shack.
We were surprised at how awesome Tofo’s restaurants were. A new Japanese place called Sumi was opened a few months ago by a South African who is married to a Japanese woman. She has trained all the chefs so that everything is really authentic. We have had no access to Japanese food in Botswana – so this was a super exciting find! It was so amazing that we went back to a second night!
We also tried an Italian place with a pretty silly name (“What You Want”) and they had surprisingly excellent homemade pasta. But our best discovery was a local shack called Brankos on the main drag that served seafood on a hot rock. We ordered scallops and tuna which was served in heaps and marinated in an incredible garlic and onion sauce. We also got some soft shell crabs and a couple of drinks for only $25! Then we found out that Natalie Portman and her husband were eating at the same place just before we got there! Just missed them – how random is that!
We also enjoyed some lunches at Happi – a vegan restaurant attached to Liquid Dive center that has a new menu each day. I especially loved Guju’s Sunset Bar and Restaurant which had funky Indian inspired neon décor. They served a curry of the day and great sundowner cocktails. Their patio was the perfect place to watch the sunset.
The real reason to visit Tofo is for the diving. There are multiple dive centers but the main ones are Tofo Scuba, Liquid and Peri Peri Divers. All three have great reputations and I liked that they all share info about what they see to help everyone have better dives. All the dives sites are offshore and the good ones require a 20-45 minute boat ride (so this is not a good spot to go if you get sea sick). There are a few closer sites that are shallow but this is not where you want to go if you are a serious diver. All the action happens at a collection of deep sites to the north and south.
There is a channel close to the mainland heading south that has rich with upswellings of plankton making it a hot spot for whale sharks and mantas. We dove on the southern sites of Hogworts, Manta Reef, Giant’s Castle and Rob’s Reef. During the surface intervals we would cruise slowly through the channel looking for whale sharks. If there is a good sighting, you hop in with your snorkel and swim with them! We got lucky the first day to see a giant manta ray swimming around us at the surface!
All of the dive centers generally offer two tank dives with a 1 hour 30 minute surface interval. If everyone is very keen, Tofo Scuba will rarely do a third dive at one of the closer shallow reefs. There is no decompression chamber anywhere close to Tofo, so they are incredibly safety conscious and conservative with the dives.
On our very first dive at Hogwort’s we got so lucky to see a giant oceanic manta ray. It was a fantastic sighting too! He swam around us for over 15 minutes with good visibility. We decided to name him Grandisomo (for obvious reasons!). We were rewarded with another manta sighting at Manta Reef on our last dive.
We had no expectations to see mantas here – so it was an incredible surprise. Mantas are my favorite sea creature and I will never cease to be utterly speechless when I see one. Their grace, beauty and sheer grandeur is awe inspiring. I just LOVE them!
We also had another spectacular sighting of a whale shark swimming past at 25m deep. It is pretty rare to see them swimming deep so we were soo excited!
The north sites are a bit different. Not as much of a chance to see mantas or whale sharks but much higher chance for other types of sharks and interesting creatures like the small eyed sting ray and giant bow mouthed guitar fish which frequent the area.
We visited Reggie’s Reef and The Office in the north. We were most impressed with our first sighting of a leopard shark. These beautiful sharks are similar to nurse sharks in that they filter feed and are not dangerous. They are decorated with leopard spots and have a long whip-like tail which is similar to a thrasher shark. You can swim very close to them making for awesome encounters!
The topography of the dive sites around Tofo is unique in that they are very deep – the reefs all start around 20m. There is not much soft coral and the reef mainly consists of various rock formations. You swim between large rock spires, trenches, caves and archways which really does make you feel like you are in a giant’s castle (hence the dive site with this name!).
I found the sites to be most interesting and a great change from the more shallow soft coral dominated reefs we had been diving in Ponta and Rocktail. However, for people who are really big fans of vibrant soft coral and small creatures – Tofo is not going to be the best place for you. Ponta, Vilankulos and Pemba offer better macro diving.
Tofo is a place of big current and big creatures – they say it is where you go to swim with giants and we definitely did just that! I know that we got very lucky with our sightings and that Tofo is the kind of place where your dives can be really hit or miss. If you don’t end up seeing any of the big stuff, you don’t have much coral to admire and there is much less interesting small stuff to fall back on. However, I would say it is well worth the gamble, because the payoff was so amazing for us!