Praia do Tofo, a tiny beach town on the coast of southern Mozambique’s Inhambane province, is the kind of place that can captivate a diver and never let her go. For a place that feels lost in time, Tofo is relatively easy to reach from the developed world — all it takes is an international flight to Maputo or Johannesburg, a second, puddle jumper airplane to the tiny strip of tarmac that acts as Inhambane airport, and finally a local taxi with at least 20 other people, and possibly a chicken or two, to the town itself. Somewhere along the journey, the fields of long, lush grass that still hide unexploded mines leftover from the Mozambican civil war give way to sweeping dunes, and the metaled road disappears into fine sand. The town itself is barely big enough to deserve such a title; there’s a haphazard market selling fresh fish and prawns the size of a man’s forearm, as well as an array of brightly colored African souvenirs, and not much else. There’s a range of accommodation varying from the most basic imaginable to the relatively luxurious and, of course, the dive centers around which this town has blossomed in the last decade.
Beyond the tiny town lies the beach, one of the many things that make Tofo so special. The eastern coastline of Southern Africa is bordered with beaches such as these: endless stretches of white-gold sand, untouched by hordes of sunbaked tourists. There are no jet-skis, no banana boats or booze cruises. The Indian Ocean crests and breaks upon the shore, and beyond, the vast expanse of unbroken blue reaches all the way to the horizon.
Tofo is famous for its marine megafauna, and particularly for the whale sharks that congregate in its coastal waters throughout the year. It’s possible to take snorkel trips with these magnificent creatures, but there’s much more to Tofo than the whale sharks. The reefs that lie just offshore are some of the best I’ve ever explored, combining beautiful coral and good visibility with some seriously amazing creature encounters. One of my favorite sites is cleverly named The Office, allowing for a never-ending stream of “long day at the office” jokes to be bandied about during the surface interval. This is a particularly special site because of its location: as one of the furthest sites from shore, it boasts some of the most pristine coral growth in the area. Similarly, with a maximum depth of approximately 90 feet (28 meters), it attracts an exciting range of ocean-going species that the shallower inshore sites do not. It is home to a manta-cleaning station, and is one of Tofo’s best places to see these beautiful creatures up close. The dramatic topography of The Office manifests itself in a magical maze of gullies, pinnacles and ledges. At the drop point, divers are often greeted by a resident, permanently petulant potato bass, while each new ledge offers up new excitements, from sleeping whitetip reef sharks to grazing turtles and the incredibly rare small-eyed stingray. There is practically no limit to what you can spot at this site, with personal highlights including a pod of dolphins, several mantas, a zebra shark, and most amazingly of all, a female humpback whale, seen while I was on scuba.
The current at this site is sometimes strong, and that plus the site’s depth make it suitable only for competent divers with an advanced certification or higher. For those not quite there yet, don’t despair — there are plenty of easier sites off Tofo, and there’s nowhere I’d more highly recommend for spending several weeks earning further qualifications and gaining dive experience. Like all addictive activities though, spending time in Tofo should come with a warning: there’s a good chance that once you’re there, you may never want to leave.
- Average water temperature: 75 to 85 F (24 to 29C)
- Average visibility: 65 feet (20 meters)
- When to go: Year-round
- For more information: www.peri-peridivers.com