A traveler’s guide to diving in the red sea
It doesn´t matter where in the Red Sea you go diving, you will see amazing marine life, colorful reef fish of all kinds, macro life, eels, different kind of rays like eagle rays, manta rays and stingrays. Plenty of sharks, anything from reef sharks to the rare hammerhead sharks. You´ll easily spot dolphins and if you´re lucky, even dugongs. As if that wasn´t enough it is also world-famous for wreck diving.
Diving in the Red Sea should definitely be on every diver’s bucket list. And if you don’t have your padi yet (or other qualification) the Red Sea is a perfect place to learn how to scuba dive.
So let´s take a deep dive into the wonderful underwater world of the Red Sea and all that it has to offer in this traveler’s guide to diving in the Red Sea.
A traveler’s guide to diving in the red sea
When to visit | Eilat, Israel | Dive centers Eilat | Egypt | Liveaboards | Good to know before booking a liveaboard | Where to go diving in Egypt | The Brothers | Dahab | Hurghada | Marsa Alam | Safaga | Sharm El Sheikh | St John and the Deep South | Good to know
When to visit
The Red Sea is basically an all year round diving destination. The water is always crystal clear, with unbeatable visibility and marine life present at all times. The high season is considered to be between March and May and between September and November. This said, some of the dive sites could get a bit crowded, but nothing compared to dive sites in Thailand or the Great Barrier Reef.
As with all things in nature, there are certain times for certain things. If you want to spot whale sharks, go between May and November, for sea horses go between April and December and for Manta Rays the best time is between March and September. The fascinating Hammerheads come out to play between June and August.
Diving in the Red Sea can be done either from Eilat in Israel or from Egypt. Eilat is a place for beginners of all levels and definitely one of the best places on earth where to start your diving career. The level of standard is very high, safety is taken seriously and all dives are shore dives. This means that you don´t have to focus on the stress that might come from back rolling off a boat or giant-striding into the deep blue. Instead, you calmly walkout from shore with your gear on and start your dive at a comfortable pace. This also means that dives can be done at any time of the day if you are a certified diver. The currents are basically nonexistent, and the dives are generally nice and relaxing.
Good to know before going is that you need to have insurance that covers scuba diving or purchase one on the spot. If you already have one, make sure to bring proof to show that your insurance actually covers scuba diving. If you are a certified diver, remember that if your last dive was done more than 6 months before your planned dive in Eilat, it is mandatory to do a half-day refresher course before you can start diving on your own.
Dive centers Eilat
The dive centers in Eilat are plenty and most of them are also very close to each other, so you have a lot to pick and choose from. A lot of them offer accommodation of a simpler sort, which can be very convenient. If you are doing a course, sometimes the accommodation is included in the price, so this can be worth checking before booking accommodation elsewhere.
A lot of the dive centers offers day trips to Egypt as well.
- Aqua Sport
Aqua Sport is the oldest and most popular dive center in Eilat, and it is so for good reasons. The staff is knowledgeable, the gear is in good condition, there are all the facilities you need, including a shop, a bar and a restaurant. It is located beachfront and is a popular spot to soak up the sun even for non-divers. There are plenty of scheduled guided dives per day and the atmosphere is vibrant. After a long day of diving, the bar is a great place to relax and share your dive stories.
- Palma Diving Resort
This place is truly amazing! It has a familiar feeling and yet everyone is super professional. The equipment is in excellent condition and even though it is not located right on the beach, it is within walking distance. It has a pool for training, and it is the best place if you want to take any courses. The accommodation is simple, yet great. I really don´t have anything but positive things to say about this place.
While Eilat might offer more relaxing shore dives, the Egyptian side of the Red Sea offers more challenging (yet suitable for all levels, even beginners) and more thrilling dives. This is where you have the biggest chance of seeing the big marine life and this is also where you will find the popular liveaboards.
If you have experience diving, I highly recommend doing a liveaboard, as it is worth every penny spent. If not there are plenty of dive centers around the Sinai Peninsula and a lot of the famous dive sites can be reached from there.
Liveaboards most certainly are the best way to experience the deep blue. You won´t only eat, breathe and sleep diving, you will be able to reach dive sites that aren´t possible to reach on a day trip. You will reach underwater paradises and see things you haven´t seen before. You will always be the first on the dive sites, you will be there for when night turn into day and the marine life is the most active, you will see the hunters hunt and the pray hide. You´ll beat the crowds and you´ll fit more dives into one single day than most people staying ashore will do in their entire trip.
The liveaboards of Egypt really are top of the line, when it comes to everything from accommodation to amenities, knowledge, and equipment. The staff take care of your every need and if you are used to diving, you know this is not usually the most glamorous hobby. So sometimes it is nice to get the best of both worlds. If you are on a budget, there are shorter trips (3 days instead of a week minimum) going from Sharm El Sheik, that are well worth taking.
For the best chance to see big stuff, like sharks or Manta Rays, look for liveaboards going to Elphinstone reef, Brothers and Daedalus. You will have a lot of time in the open ocean and the best time to go is from April to October. Trips going to Brothers offer incredible wall diving, two large cargo shipwrecks and plenty of sharks. You’ll see anything from the occasional thresher shark passing by, to oceanic white tip sharks, silky sharks, and hammerheads.
If wreck diving is your thing, Egypt is the perfect place for you. Specifically, look for liveaboards that go to the North. For a little bit of both, take the liveaboards that head both South and North.
If you´re looking for the most pristine reefs you should choose a liveaboard that goes to the so-called “deep south” and St. John. There are plenty of swim-throughs, pinnacles, caves and caverns as well as incredible coral formations. The dive sites in the deep south are much less visited than the ones in the north and are therefore unspoiled and just divine. On the way to St. John, some liveaboards stop at Fury Shoals, which is an area with beautiful coral gardens and typical Red Sea fish.
Good to know before booking a liveaboard:
– Most liveaboards require that you´re at least an advanced open water diver to be able to join.
– The night dives here are amazing, so if you feel insecure, make sure to fit in some night dives before booking the trip. If you don´t have the opportunity to do so, the staff is always super professional and will make their best to make you feel comfortable in the water.
– Egypt gets hot and the sun is strong. The liveaboards have shaded areas and AC inside, but make sure to pack accordingly and don´t forget the sunscreen!
– The Red Sea can get pretty rough, so if you get seasick easily, probably a liveaboard isn´t the best option for you.
– Ladies, Egypt is a Muslim country so dress accordingly if the boat stops in any harbour and you want to get off. Cover your shoulders and don´t wear short skirts or shorts.
Where to go diving in Egypt
No matter where you go diving in Egypt, you’re sure to be amazed at the incredible life living below the surface. The area around the North Red Sea extends from Sharm El Sheikh to Dahab, Nueiba, up to Taba in the north near the Gulf of Aqaba. This area offers possibilities for various types of diving activities, ranging from wreck diving on the famous Thistlegorm wreck and Abu Nuhas reef. On the other hand, the South Red Sea has much less crowded dive sites, with reefs and marine life still in pristine condition. The South is a great place to see sharks and go for drift dives, while the North has some wild wrecks and crazy coral formations.
1. The Brothers
Big Brother and Little Brother are two island reefs approximately 70km from the port town of El Quseir, and they are unfortunately only accessible by liveaboard. They are however some of the best dive sites in the Red Sea as their distance and the surrounding currents make the conditions ever-changing and the results are spectacular, especially for lovers of big fish, as sharks and other large pelagic fish are regularly spotted at various times of the year.
Big Brother is around 400m in length with deep-sided walls covered in hard and soft corals. For wreck lovers, there´s the Numidia, sunk in 1901 and the Aida, sunk in 1956.
Little Brother, around 500m from its partner, is often home to schooling hammerheads, thresher sharks and oceanic whitetips, along with equally spectacular coral formations.
Dahab is one of Egypt’s best-loved destinations and is easily reached by a cheap taxi from Sharm- El Sheikh. In Dahab you´ll find the best mix of great scuba diving in a chilled and laid-back atmosphere, that is popular with the backpacking community. Almost all of the diving is easily accessible from the shore, including the extremely popular Blue Hole, best dived from El Bells, and the Canyon, a deep rock crevice with small coral bommies and huge numbers of fish. In Dahab, the big stuff doesn´t come often but there’s plenty to see. In between dives, you chill at the Bedouin cafés and at night you´ll find plenty of nice beach-front bars and restaurants. It is easy to do day trips from here to other dive sites like Tiran, Ras Mohammed and the Thistlegorm from here.
What used to be a small fishing village, has now grown to be the largest resort in Egypt. It is the best location for entry-level diving and dive courses. Many of the reefs are located in easily accessible, shallow, sheltered environments that make learning easy. Even if it is the largest resort and the dive sites are easily accessible, it lacks nothing when it comes to rich marine life. More advanced divers will feel equally at home, with deeper sites and stronger currents available as well. The Giftun Islands are popular with divers of all levels. Day trips to the SS Thistlegorm wreck are widely available, as are trips to the much deeper Rosalie Moller. Hurghada is also the most common departure point for Red Sea liveaboards, with a wide range of itineraries to almost all of the Red Sea’s reefs and wrecks available.
4. Marsa Alam
From Hurghada, it is easy to reach Marsa Alam by car or bus. Marsa Alam offers some excellent Red Sea diving. It is relatively undeveloped compared to Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh though. Which can be a blessing as well
Daily dives are made from shore or a boat, making it a great option for people who wants to combine lazy beach days with some of the best diving in the area. Marsa Abu Dabab is the biggest highlight here. It’s famous for its resident population of dugongs and Marsa Abu Dabab is one of the few places in the Red Sea that these animals can still be seen on a daily dive excursion. Marsa Alam is also a great place to depart from for day trips to Elphinstone reef to spot sharks, including the hammerheads that often school around the north plateau here.
Safaga is located around 70km south of Hurghada. It is a popular destination for scuba diving and most famous for its incredible wall dives, beautiful coral gardens and the wreck of the Salem Express, a passenger ferry that sank in 1991 with the loss of around 470 lives. This site might not be for everyone, but it is an amazing dive site. The dives at Ras Abu Soma are considered some of the best in the region, along with the Tobia reefs, also known as the ‘Seven Pinnacles’. All sites are easily accessible by boat, with some from shore-based diving.
The most spectacular dive site in the region is Panorama Reef, with 200m deep walls. It is the perfect place for drift diving, unbelievable huge hard and soft coral formations and sightings of big marine life are available here. Another dive site, that provides a similar but, if possible, even more, spectacular experience is Abu Kafan and Middle Reef. The coral gardens here are out of this world and not to be missed.
Here you will also find one of the best wreck dives in the world – the Salem Express.
6. Sharm El Sheikh
For many years Sharm El Sheikh has been the favorite destination for scuba divers seeking the diving thrill in Egypt. Here the deep gulf of Aqaba, shallow Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea all come together at Shark and Yolanda reef, making it the most famous dive site in Ras Mohammed National Park.
Sharm El Sheikh has a mixture of easy to more challenging dives, making it suitable for beginners as well as more advanced divers. Between the island reefs in the Straits of Tiran, you will find some fast and thrilling drift dives, but those definitely require some experience.
From here you can easily reach one of the top 5 wrecks in the world – the SS Thistlegorm.
In the past years, the reefs here have rebounded with large schools of fish returning to the area, and pelagic species such as whale sharks and manta rays spotted on a regular basis. Which is fantastic but should also remind you to respect these pristine environments and never touch coral or marine life or disrupt it in any way.
7. St John and the Deep South
There are no more pristine and unspoiled reefs in the Egyptian Red Sea than in the “Deep South”.
Here you find the world-famous dive sites St John’s, Zabargad, and Rocky Island. Unfortunately, they are all only accessible only by liveaboard but then again that also helps keep them more pristine. …and wow is the Deep South something ells!
St John’s offers everything from fairly easy and relaxing dives to dramatic drop-offs and currents. It is the home of the richest coral gardens in the Red Sea and some of the most plentiful and biodiverse wildlife in the region including sharks and large schools of pelagic fish.
If you go further out into the open sea, the strong currents around Rocky Island and its neighbour, Zabargad, you will have some exhilarating drift dives, with regular sightings of manta, hammerheads, Silvertips, and dolphins. The long chain of reefs known as Fury Shoal, often a part of deep south liveaboard itineraries, has become accessible by day boats, providing access to some of these pristine reefs without the need for a liveaboard.
Good to know:
– Dive computers are mandatory. Many people don’t have one and think it won’t be needed. In Egypt as in many other countries, the use of an individual dive computer is mandatory, for your own safety. If you don´t have one, you will have to rent one there.
– Gloves are not allowed. As it is believed that people, in general, are less careful about what they touch when they wear gloves they are not allowed in order to protect marine life.
– Max depth is 30m. Unless you are a tech diver or have a deep dive speciality you can only dive until 30m. That’s the rule for every diving center and there is no way around it.
– When diving without a guide, it is mandatory to have a safety buoy within each buddy team. Some diving centers might not check this, but most will and if you don´t have one you will have to rent or buy one. Most likely you´re cheaper off just bringing one with you.
– Unlike in Israel it is not mandatory to have dive insurance when diving in Egypt. Most dive centers require it anyway and as diving is an extreme sport it is extremely stupid to go diving without proper insurance, so make sure to have it in place before you hit the waters. If your regular travel insurance don’t cover you I highly recommend getting one through DAN, Divers Alert Network.
– Food is not included. Unless you´re on a liveaboard food is not included in most dive trips. However, most companies offer food, including a soft drink for around 6-8 USD/Euros. You will probably be cheaper off if you bring your own food, but remember Egypt is super hot and it might not be the smartest idea to store your food out in the heat half of the day.
– Diving fee for every diver. In Egypt, there are many protected areas, and therefore there is a fixed fee for every diver who goes diving in any of these protected areas. The price is per day and per diver, and normally costs around 5 Euros.
Excited about some diving in the Red Sea? What’s on your Marine Life bucket list to see? Let us know in the comments below.
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