Despite it's long coastline, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has only recently started to attract dive travelers. Encompassing the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, which separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman, the UAE - especially Dubai - has long been known as a retail-therapy and duty-free destination, rather than an sporting attraction.
The country is exploding with growth, and the UAE sports some exhilarating nightlife, particularly in Dubai with plenty of choices for cuisine and accommodation. But even with the sun, sand, shop and indulge mentality, dive travelers will be itching to wade in the water and explore. There are several regions to dive along the east coast as well as the Gulf of Oman. Popular areas include Fujeirah, Khorfakkan and Musandam along the Gulf of Oman and Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi along the Persian or Arabian Gulf.
In all of these areas there are a variety of sites that range from shallow to beyond recreational dive depths. That means you'll have sites that cater to all levels of training and experience
Historically, Dubai has always been a thriving seaport and, where there are ships, there are shipwrecks. In this case - tons of them, each with is its own thriving ecosystem.
On the east coast of the country, the shorelines and reefs are virtually untouched - revealing a land that would look unchanged and familiar to ancient seafarers.
But, it is the mysterious and massive whale shark that has put the UAE on the dive map. The elusive, gentle giants - locally called al djer, seem to flock to these waters.
Persian Gulf, Dubai:
Off Dubai, you’ll find the sea littered with wrecks and most are within 30 minutes of any PADI Dive Center or Resort along the coast. Each of the wrecks, have become unique, self-contained marine kingdom. Want to get your wreck on?
The top of this massive 351-metre/1151-foot supertanker starts in 35 metres/115 feet while the bottom touches down at 80 metres/262 feet. This is definitely a technical dive. She sunk after suffering from a catastrophic fire and allegedly cost famous insurer Lloyds of London £28 million. According to wreck expert Ned Middleton, this was the largest loss ever underwritten by the insurer. Their loss, however, is certainly our gain.
Sunk after explosion in 1961, this 121-metre/399-foot wreck sits on her starboard side in 20 metres/ 66 feet of water. Having been down for more than 40-years, the wreck crawls with marine life. Eagle rays, barracuda, guitarfish and even whale sharks like the visit this shallow wreck.
East Coast, Fujairah, Gulf of Oman.
What’s remarkable about this side of the UAE is how the stark scenery remains unchanged over such vast stretches of time. The region's first marine traders would be able to navigate here today without a problem. Plus, the underwater seascape is not only protected, but also varies wonderfully.
A better name might be swarm rock for the fish soup of Marine life congregating here. With a maximum depth of about 12 metres/39 feet, you can explore to your heart’s content. Soft and hard corals provide a gaudy backdrop for several species of parrotfish, eagle rays and reef sharks. As a bonus, the site is only about five minutes from the Al Aqah Resort.
A sizable rock pinnacle that starts at 5-metres/16 feet and quickly drops to only 20 metres/66 feet, Martini Rock is in a protected marine park and boasts a wide variety of ornamentation — pink and purple soft corals, whip and rod corals. It’s strictly a no-touch site wrapped in the slow, stealthly moves of lionfish, eels and rocks-imitating scorpionfish. You'll also see the big, easily-recognizable critters such as snappers, sea turtles and barracuda. When you're done, end your dive at the top of the rock - conveniently positioned at the perfect safety stop depth.
Dibba abounds in hard corals and specializes in big, healthy table corals. But, that’s just the backdrop for the parade of rays, sharks, turtles and rivers of trevally. The reef starts at 15 metres/49 feet and reaches for the sun - falling just short of its goal as it tops out at 3 metres/10 feet.
The Inchcape shipping company donated this intact wreck, which sits upright in 32 metres/104 feet of water. Trevally, barracuda, snapper and just about any other schooling animal gathers in the current over this wreck. A resident moray eel, named Fred, rules the wreck along with his minions, rays and scorpionfish.
Depths: Can range from 5 metres/16- feet to beyond 40 metres/140 feet.
Visibility: Under 5 metres/20 feet to more than 50 metres/160 feet, depending on region and season.
Currents: Currents are slight to moderately strong off Dubai and some sites are current-dependent off Fujairah.
Water Temperature: 33° C/91° F in summer and 22° C/75° F in winter.
Dive Season: Diving is available throughout the year, but be prepared for chilly water during winter months.
Weather: Because the UAE is a desert, temperatures can significantly vary with the seasons. That means you can see a range from 15° C/60° F in winter to more than 45° C/106° F in summer - even occasionally topping 50° C/122° F.
Access: International airports and domestic flights service the country and it is just about 8 hours from Europe and Asia. The infrastructure is quite modern.
Skill Level: From novice to technical with plenty of of opportunities for deep wreck diving for advanced divers.
Scuba Gear: Most dive centers and resorts offer full equipment hire.
Length of stay: A week, with time split between the Persian Gulf region and the east coast. Leave a day for shopping.
You can find whale sharks, guitarfish, sea turtles, eagle rays, clownfish, cuttlefish, trevally, barracuda and a lots of macro life.
Currency: Dirham (AED).
Tipping: Tipping is not mandatory, but it is common with the exclusion of taxi drivers. Definitely tip your divemasters and live-aboard crews.
Transportation: Taxis and local transportation within towns is available.
- Dubai International Airport (DXB)
- Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH)
Electricity: 220v/50Hz and Type I electrical outlets.
Airport Entry/Exit fees: A visa is required for some nationalities. Check the UAE government portal for complete information. The UAE has no departure tax.
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