Scuba Diving in the Egyptian Red Sea
Egypt, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, bears testament to some of mankind’s earliest triumphs. The pyramids of Cairo are one of the Seven Wonders of the Worldand the nearby Museum of Egyptian Antiquities houses the legendary treasures of Tutankhamen. At Luxor, in the Valley of the Kings, wall paintings in the tombs of the ancients have amazed viewers for generations.
But Egypt is much more than ancient monuments and pyramids. It’s a cruise down the Nile, a luxury hotel and hot nightlife, it’s a vast invigorating desert and, especially for divers, it’s theRed Sea. Just beyond where the cool, azure waters lap the desert shores lie beautiful reefs, millions of fish, fantastic visibility, sheltered reefs, towers, pinnacles, walls, coral gardens and wrecks. The all make up a siren call to scuba divers and mark the Red Sea as a world-class scuba diving destination.
The coastal area runs from the Israeli border at Taba around the Sinai Peninsula through Sharm el Sheik to the Suez and south along Egypt’s eastern coast to the border with Sudan. Each area tempts divers in its own special way and the stretch from El Gouna through Hurghada and Safaga combines the Red Sea’s delights with proximity to Luxor and Cairo.
No matter how impressive the above-water attractions are, the real jewelin the Egyptian crown has to be the simply staggering diving in the Red Sea.
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HOT DIVE SITES:
Pharaoh’s (or Farun) Island
Situated in the northern reaches of the Gulf of Aqaba, is one of Taba’s most renowned dive sites. It’s noted for fascinating endemic marine life: frogfish (or toad fish or angler fish), which may be of the oddest and ugliest (in a fascinating way) fish. Once a Phoenician port, this small island lies a mere 250 metres/275 yards off shore and a restored castle overlooks the relatively uncrowded dive sites. Small pinnacles and walls dropping to 25 metres/80 feet feature healthy coral, schools of bream and batfish and the ubiquitous moray eels. It’s a great place to bring non-diving friends and family, with plenty of topside exploration and snorkeling available.
Dahab on the southeast coast of the Sinai Peninsula, is synonymous with shore diving and it shows that some of Egypt's best dives don’t require long boat trips or early starts. A world-class dive site proves the point: Canyon is an advanced dive starting at about 18 metres/60 feet and dropping to more than 50 metres/165 feet. At some points, it features overhead environments and it always demands respect and appropriate training. For those with the appropriate experience and skill, the rewards are steep walls and stunning seascapes within an easy swim from shore. At the other end of the scale are myriad dive sites suitable for beginners. Infact, almost anywhere you can find access around Dahab, you’ll also find a classic fringing coral reef worth exploring.
This marine reserve with a modest entry fee has a host of dive sites characterized by steep drop offs, fabulous coral reefs and the possibility of encounters with barracuda, tuna and even bigger pelagic species. That's if you can tear your eyes away from the gorgonians and marine life that populate the caves and ledges punctuating walls that drop past recreational dive depths. The frequently strong currents often dictate drift dives and, given the many dive site options, it’s usually possible to have a relatively uncrowded dive. The protection coming with marine reserve status really pays off here with abundant marine life and great diving.
Ras Mohamed National Park
The first Egyptian national park is still one of the best. It is about 12miles/20 kilometres south of Sharm el Sheik at the southern tip of theSinai Peninsula where the Gulf of Aqaba meets the Gulf of Suez. Due to the mixing of these waters, the area hosts healthy coral reefs and myriad reef and pelagic fish species. Some say this is one of the richest, most diverse marine environments in the world. This protected (and patrolled) area covers some 480square kilometres/185 square miles and you can assess it by day trip or live-aboard dive boat. At two of the featured dive sites, Shark and Yolanda reefs, currents are often significant while makes drift dives common.
Close to Safaga in Soma Bay, this is a great dive for newly certified or less experienced divers but it’s also fun for seasoned professionals. Not far off the beach, seven coral pillars nearly rise to the surface from about 14metres/45 feet of depth. Many reef fish, including Napoleon, or Humphead, wrasse, puffer fish and lionfish, call the area home. It’s also a well-known night diving spot.
Straits of Tiran
Situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, the straits form a natural constriction and consequently the diving is spectacular. Divers privileged to have visited the reefs here (Jackson, Gordon and Woodhouse among many others) often speak of them only in respectful whispers. Washed by strong currents, these reefs are favorite haunts for marauding jacks, barracuda and sharks that prowl the reef edges on the lookout for their unwary, or injured, smaller cousins. Enormous moray eels slip through the coral heads and crevices, which teem with anthias and myriad other reef dwellers.
This ship, once only known to local fishers snagging their nets on it, is a popular destination for divers out of Sharm el Sheik. It has become a popular dive site due to its accessibility and relatively shallow depths. The wreck lies in pieces, upside down, on the bottom and gaping holes in the hull let divers peer cautiously inside and enjoy the abundant marine life attracted to the structure.
Sunk at anchor during World War II, this British armed merchant navy ship sits at 30 metres/100 feet near Ras Mohamed National Park. She was stuffed with cargo when she went to the bottom and motorcycles, trucks and two steam locomotives (some distance from the wreck) are still evident today. Jacques-YvesCousteau dived here in the early 1950s and this is a very popular dive site tothis day. Off the bow, reef sharks hold station facing into the current and divers regularly encounter barracuda, tuna, moray eels and lionfish, among a plethora of other residents.
Locate a PADI Dive Shop
Depths: From 5 metres/15 feet to recreational dive limits and beyond for properly trained technical divers. There are plenty of sites with depths in excess of 100 metres/330 feet for intrepid tec divers.
Visibility: 15-70 metres/50-230 feet.
Currents: Can be locally significant and drift diving is often an option. PADI Professionals areadept at finding sheltered sites for new divers.
Water Temperature:21-30° C/70-86° F year round
Dive Season: All year.
Weather: 21-40° C/70-104° F all year.
Access: Boat diving, shore diving and live-aboard dive boats are options. The region is well served by PADI Dive Centers and Resorts.
Skill level: Non-diver to advanced, including tec.
Scuba Gear: Full tropical equipment. Egypt has many PADI Dive Centers and Resorts well stocked for equipment rental or purchase. Bring as much of your own equipment at practical.
Length of Stay: Up to two weeks, depending on point of departure.The region accommodates tourism well and relatively inexpensive flights also make Egypt a long weekend option for many travellers.
Featured Creatures: The Red Sea offers an amazing diversity of fish on nearly every dive. Thousands of anthias sweeping across a coral wall will compete with coral groupers, wrasse, blue spotted rays, butterfly fish and angelfish for your attention. But, don’t get too caught up in the action – you might just miss that majestic whale shark gently cruising by.
Language: Arabic, but given the importance of tourism, you’ll hear English, Russian, German, French, Italian, Polish, Czech and more spoken.
Currency: Egyptian Pound (EGP). The Euro (EUR) is also generally accepted and expected as the form of payment for certain services such as diving, excursions etc.
Tipping: Knownlocally as baksheesh, tipping is expected but not commonly included in bills. Tip as you feel appropriate, but 10-20 percent is standard.
Transportation: Taxis are readily available with stands outside most hotels and tourist areas. Make sure taxis have a working, visible meter.
Major Airports: Divers enter at Hurghada (HRG) and Sharm el Sheik (SSH) International airports. You can also fly through Cairo (CAI) and connect to your destination from the same terminal.
Religion: Predominantly Muslim
Electricity: 220v/50hz type C and F outlets
Airport Entry/Exit fees: Usually included with your flight or trip package.Check with your travel agent or airline.
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