Under the Sea

Under the Sea

Three destinations offer unparalleled aquatic experiences By: Brandon Presser - Originally seen in Explorer Magazine
Mnemba is an underwater paradise like nowhere else. // (C) 2013 Rich Carey
Mnemba is an underwater paradise like nowhere else. // (C) 2013 Rich Carey

Getting There

South African Airways (SAA) offers daily nonstop flights from New York (JFK) to Johannesburg, with same-day connections to points throughout South Africa and Southern Africa, including Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Daily direct service from Washington, DC, (Dulles), provides travelers with an afternoon option and same-day connections within South Africa. Connections are available from 30 cities in North America through code share services offered through United Airlines, US Airways, Air Canada and JetBlue. www.flysaa.com

Take a manatee safari, relax in a sand-swept atoll or surf against a metropolis — all of these activities are possible along the coasts of South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Cape Town, South Africa
Southern Africa’s urban counterpoint to the miles of wilderness beyond, Cape Town is a thriving metropolis at the tip of the continent. Splashed across an unforgiving landscape, the city extends far beyond its gridiron core to encompass dozens of scenic beaches nearby. Cape Town basks in its reputation as an active city and coastal haven with open-air cafes and artist ateliers, but when the weather is good everyone grabs their surfboards and heads to the shore.

If you’re looking to take the plunge with a bit of guidance, an online search yields dozens of surf schools. DIY-ers can simply join the legions of locals at Muizenberg, a great place for beginners not far from the city center.

For something more scenic — and also a bit more challenging — try Llandudno, halfway between the posh enclaves at Camps Bay and Hout Bay. Keep clear of the granite cliffs along the northern ridge, and you’ll glide along one of the most idyllic seascapes around.

After a long day on the water, you have two top-tier choices for your evening retreat. Those seeking an inland counterpoint under the iconic Table Mountain should head to the suburban wine lands of elegant Constantia. Here lies Steenberg (www.steenberghotel.com), one of the oldest farms in South Africa, now boasting a stunning boutique hotel, a golf course and an acclaimed vineyard.

Cape Town’s downtown marina, known as the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, has several lodging options of which the Cape Grace (www.capegrace.com) pays most faithful tribute to the region’s nautical past with carefully appointed antiques and a perfected seafood menu at the award-winning on-site restaurant.

Coastal Mozambique
Imagine a coastline with a thousand miles of uninterrupted sand, gentle tides the color of lapis and cool marine breezes that flirt with the lazy palms above. Unexplored Mozambique offers beaches so pristine you’ll swear you’re on the set of a Corona commercial. But travel in South Africa’s northern neighbor isn’t limited to lazy afternoons under the tropical sun; this infinite, oceanic realm is perfectly suited to the adventure traveler.

Head to the Bazaruto Archipelago, a group of islands about halfway up the coast where the country’s seaboard dimples inward. It is here that you’ll find Africa’s last remaining colony of dugong (manatees). Like a veritable underwater safari, cruising around the lagoon is a fun way to monitor these gentle creatures. Snorkeling through the shallow reefs is also encouraged — expect mobs of neon fish and dozens of curious turtles. In the evenings, sunset cruises on a dhow — a traditional one-mast boat with lateen sails — come complimentary with your stay at Azura (www.azura-retreats.com).

Expert Africa (www.expertafrica.com) organizes package trips to Mozambique — a recommended option, as navigating this newborn nation can be quite difficult for the uninitiated.

Mnemba Island, Tanzania
Luxury travel’s best active offerings come in the form of a sand-swept atoll, the shining star in the constellation of Zanzibar’s coastal islets. Located north, just beyond Mozambique, Mnemba is a private island paradise with 11 simple bandas (huts) made from elaborately woven thatch, twigs and stone.

An underwater paradise like nowhere else, the island sits atop an unfurling fringe reef that’s home to an encyclopedia’s worth of sea creatures. Private guided dives (two complimentary dives per day) are the norm, as the island has two dedicated scuba pros ready to take guests out whenever they choose.

To book an all-inclusive experience, contact AndBeyond (www.andbeyond.com) for what is sure to be an unforgettable vacation.

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