Diving in the Red Sea, Egypt
From a young age, I’ve always had a deep curiosity for the country of Egypt. A place steeped with such infinite history, exotic legends and myths, strolling camels, rolling deserts, enigmatic pyramids and impressive temples is sure to capture any imagination, and after avidly watching Indiana Jones in my youth, Egypt solidified as a place of beauty and magic for me. During my archaeology degree at university, I revelled in the legends and artefacts of the golden ancient period and dreamt of the time that pharaohs stalked the lands. We’re all familiar with the images of the grand Pyramids of Giza and the Luxor Temple (which should be seen if you get the chance), but there is something that Egypt can offer that will really blow your socks off. This is for all the water sport fanatics, as if you’re into diving, the Red Sea is the place to be for world-renowned scuba diving and snorkelling.
Sharm el Shekh (“Bay of the Sheikh”) is the main administration centre of the Sinai Peninsula, a good 8 hours away from the bustle of Cairo. It was a quiet fishing port back in the 1960’s until people discovered the magic that lies in the seas! The 60km strip of coastline provides long and awesome stretches of ice white sand and scorching sun. If you can cope with temperatures hitting around 40°C and cope with sweating every last drop of moisture out of your body, then you’ll be ok in the heat of the summer months (April to October), but the ‘winters’ have a lot cooler temperatures which still kick a UK summer’s ass.
The Sinai Peninsula attracts people from all over the world, not only for it’s sheer beach bum attraction, but for the clear waters that harbour top coral gardens and amazing underwater marine life. People have been bold enough to say that it has the best diving in the world as the coral life is utterly thriving. The kind of wildlife you can spot in the deep will have you a bit confused whether it’s real or you’re actually tucked up in your hotel room dreaming.
Ras Mohammed is the national park of south Sinai on the tip of the peninsula. 220 species of coral lurk in the Red Sea and it all begins real close to the shoreline, making it scenic for diving newbies who have to train close to the beach. Some of the coral spans with a width of 30m – 50m in some places and you’ll get to see 800m deep reef walls and coral gardens.
Sea turtles will glide alongside you as you swim through the warm waters and if you’re lucky, you might even encounter a Whale Shark. Unlimited species of sea urchins, starfish and rays all mooch about beneath the surface and with visibility 50m or more, your underwater sightseeing will be unspoilt. Moray eels and lionfish have been spotted from merely looking into the waters off the jetty at Shark Bay. Another way of lazily seeing the fishies without getting your hair wet is by jumping on board a glass bottomed boat. The Seascope Submarine has a deep hull that descends 3 metres down enabling you to chill on the observation deck with a view of the teaming sea life.
But lets face it, if you’re at the Red Sea you should really actually get IN the Red Sea. The top diving spots in the area is of course the Ras Mohammed national park, Ras Om El Sid and the Straits of Tiran. Tiran Island and the Gulf of Aqaba (the southern coast between the national park and Tiran Island) also have supreme underwater paradises, but is further afield meaning a longer boat trip is necessary. Definitely take a full day trip, which will include lunch, as that means you can stop at numerous stops and it won’t be too rushed.
Sharm El Shekh and the surrounding coastal resorts have a huge amount of tour operators and diving schools that you can choose from, such as Sharm El Sheik’s most established dive centre, Sinai Divers, and the experienced Shark’s Bay Diving Club. Resorts like the luxurious Marriot and Stella di Mare have their own diving companies attached making your trip easy to arrange without the hassle of haggling at the beachside surf shacks. The Four Seasons Resort also offers great tours to Tiran Island with their on-site diving and water sports centre, plus they do snorkelling tours for those who aren’t keen for diving. The exotic waters are warm enough for you to snorkel without a rash vest or scuba suit, but I’d definitely recommend a t-shirt or industrial strength sunscreen, as the Egyptian sun is unforgiving and relentless!
If you fancy embracing adventure and the mysteries of the deep blue, go for a dive around the wreckage of SS Thistlegorm. Sunk by a German bomber plane in World War II, the wreckage has lain on the bottom of the sea providing a deep-sea museum and war grave that is both incredible and emotional to witness. You can visit it for a day trip or during a weeklong safari, but you do need to be a trained diver to take the plunge. It is suggested to take two dives to get around the whole wreck, but it’s worth it as you’ll be immersed in a real piece of history.
For all water enthusiasts or snorkelling fans, the Red Sea is the place to be for seeing insanely good coral life! If you’re planning on tripping over to Egypt, don’t forget, take only photographs and leave only footprints (or bubbles of breath in the sea) – lets try keep this tropical underwater paradise pristine as we can, for all to get a chance to witness its splendours.
*this post has been made possible by Thomson Holidays
Image 1 via Four Seasons, image 2 & 7 via google image reuse, image 3 via Wikipedia, 4 & 5 via diversion dive travel, image 6 via dive and travel, image 8 via holiday check, image 9 via daily mail, image 10 via Wikipedia, image 11 via sublime diving.