Scuba diving in the Red Sea started in the 1950s when Greek and Italian workers began spearfishing while residing in Egypt. Explored by the Austrian zoologist Dr Hans Hass, a well-known underwater movie maker, and the famous French diver Jacques Cousteau, the Red Sea has impressive coral reefs that are a magnet for thousands of species.
- Reasons Behind Choosing to Dive in Egypt
- Diving in Alexandria
- Diving in Dahab
- Diving in Sharm el-Sheikh
- Diving in Hurghada
- Diving in Marsa Alam
- THE BROTHERS
- EL GOUNA
- EL QUSEIR
- How to get there: Direct flights to either Hurghada or Marsa Alam
- MARSA ALAM
- ST JOHN'S AND THE DEEP SOUTH
- SHARM EL SHEIKH
- When to dive in Egypt
Diving has matured since then. Today you will find fully equipped facilities, liveaboard diving, a myriad of programs and internationally certified instructors. The Red Sea resorts of Hurghada, Sharm El-Sheikh, Marsa Alam, El Gouna, and Taba are fantastic destinations that offer diving holidays packages and facilities all year round because of their moderate temperature. It does not matter if you have never dived before. If you are a beginner or a veteran, you will find the right program for you, and you will surely be coming back for more.
Reasons Behind Choosing to Dive in Egypt
Egypt is a scuba diver’s paradise, boasting more than 1,800 miles of coastline, crystal clear waters, mysterious wrecks, and a myriad of multicoloured reefs teeming with marine life. Lapped by both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, the “Land of the Pharaohs” has spectacular underwater environments offering some of the best diving in the world.
Egypt has struggled with safety issues in the past, but today, tourism is alive and well. Most notably known for historic sites and monuments, Egypt also offers some of the best diving in the world at unbelievably low prices, whether you are looking for vibrant, shallow reefs or an exhilarating wreck dive.
Egypt’s reefs are teeming with life; bright corals and clouds of fish sparkle with a kaleidoscope of colour. Egyptian reefs offer ideal conditions for new divers, marine life enthusiasts, wreck divers. It provides this ideality to anyone simply interested in exploring light-filled reef systems with wonderfully calm and clear conditions.
Due to the excellent visibility and the easy access to excess depths, it is an attractive location for technical diving and training. Egypt offers the whole gambit of diving opportunities; wrecks, walls, drifts, pinnacles, shore dives, day boats and liveaboards.
Many of the diving destinations offer access to famous Egyptian historical sites. Still, it is also easy to arrange a holiday split over a couple of locations so you can experience a variety of dive sites and some cultures too.
Egypt has been a favourite of scuba divers for the better part of half a century, especially with its easy accessibility to the Red Sea, which runs along the entirety of Egypt’s eastern coastline. First brought to the world’s attention by Hans and Lotte Haas’ award-winning black-and-white documentary Adventures in the Red Sea and later popularised by Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s 1956 full-colour documentary The Silent World.
The Red Sea counts now as one of the world’s best diving destinations. The clear blue water, a product of increased salinity due to high evaporation over the desert and very little in the way of rainfall, hosts 1,200 species of fish and more than 200 species of coral. The narrow straits of Bab El Mandab far to the south, which connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, allow much in the way of species crossover. Yet almost 20 per cent of the Red Sea’s residents are endemic.
Over the years, much of Egypt’s dive tourism has centred around large resorts such as Hurghada on the mainland and Sharm El Sheikh, situated on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Still, there are plenty of options for dive tourists, and many people forget that Egypt’s northern coastline lies along the shores of the Mediterranean. Here are ten of the best places to visit for scuba diving in Egypt.
Diving in Alexandria
The Mediterranean-based seaport of Alexandria is a must for history buffs and divers wanting an exciting challenge. The dark, calm waters cover many sunken ancient ruins, including Cleopatra’s palace and the Lighthouse at Alexandria, and historical shipwrecks from periods throughout history. Alexandria does not offer bright corals and fish life, but take a day trip to Omu Sukan to see beautiful corals home to triggerfish, turtles, white-tip reef sharks, and a family of citizens eagle rays.
Diving in Dahab
One of Egypt’s best-known destinations for diving the Red Sea, the laid-back village of Dahab has something for everyone. Lighthouse Bay is perfect for beginner divers with amazing reefs featuring vibrant hard and soft corals, moray eels, curious parrotfish, and gobies.
A short drive up the coast takes you to the Blue Hole, a magnificent 100 meter-deep chasm that offers excellent technical dives where you can spot large pelagics like barracuda and tuna. The nearby Canyon is a deep rocky crevice home to spectacular reefs, green turtles, and large schools of bannerfish.
Diving in Sharm el-Sheikh
Sharm is Egypt’s most popular diving destination, with many Red Sea dive resorts. It is home to the national park of Ras Mohammed that offers some of the best diving in the region. Shark and Yolanda Reefs have striking corals teeming with trevallies, jacks, and barracuda, while Anemone City has interesting underwater topography and plenty of anemones and clownfish. The Straits of Tiran offer fast drift dives along vast walls of coral, while the world-famous wreck of the SS Thistlegorm is a challenging dive with harsh currents but well worth the effort.
Start your Egyptian dive adventure today with excellent dive packages and stunning Red Sea liveaboards.
Diving in Hurghada
Hurghada is the largest resort on the Red Sea and a diving mecca. Home to many reefs tucked into shallow, sheltered bays. It is an excellent spot for entry-level diving. Challenging sites for more advanced divers include impressive wrecks at El Gouna and Sha’ab Abu Nuhas.
Hurghada is the primary departure point for Red Sea liveaboards, which head out into the southern Red Sea. A day trip to the Giftun Islands promises stunning hard and soft corals, dramatic drop-offs, and exciting caves for experienced divers. You will also see hefty napoleon wrasse and schools of pelagic fish like barracuda and tuna.
Diving in Marsa Alam
Offering tranquil respite from the crowds at Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, Marsa Alam is a fantastic spot for shore diving in the Red Sea. Also, you can explore colourful reefs and see large schools of fish without spending hours on a boat. It also offers day trips to impressive dive sites, such as Elphinstone, where you can spot white-tip and hammerhead sharks.
Do not miss a chance to dive with the resident population of dugong at Marsa Abu Dabab, one of the last populations in the Red Sea of these docile creatures.
With most of the diving focused around Egypt’s Red Sea resorts, it is easy to forget that the northern coastline lies along the shores of the Mediterranean, and scuba diving in Alexandria affords visitors the chance to dive into Egypt’s historical past. From the remains of Cleopatra’s palace around the sunken island of Antirhodos and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, to more modern historical artefacts from the Napoleonic Battle of the Nile and the Second World War.
Visitors can also dive the clear waters of the Siwa Oasis, a three-hour safari through the desert in which old Roman ruins are located. This is not a dive spot for bright coral and fish. There is little of either. The water is often murky and the temperatures much more relaxed, but for scuba diving history buffs looking for a new adventure, the ancient city of Alexandria and its rich history may well be something worth dipping your toes into.
How to get there: direct flights to Alexandria are available from Turkey, Dubai and Greece, but there are few other options from most of Europe. A better alternative is to fly into Cairo and take the 2.5-hour bus ride to Alexandria.
Big Brother and Little Brother are two island reefs approximately 70km distant from the port town of El Quseir and only accessible by liveaboard. They are some of the best dive sites in the Red Sea as their distance and the surrounding currents make the reefs suitable for advanced divers only. However, the results are spectacular for those ready to brave the ever-changing conditions. Primarily, it is terrific for lovers of big fish, such as sharks and other large pelagics that show up regularly at various times of the year.
Big Brother is around 400m in length with deep-sided walls, all manner of hard and soft corals are in abundance, and wreck enthusiasts will love the Numidia, sunk in 1901 and the Aida, dropped in 1956.
Little Brother, around 500m from its partner, is often home to schooling hammerheads, thresher sharks and oceanic white-tips, along with an equally spectacular array of coral formations.
How to get there: The Brothers form part of a range of different liveaboard itineraries, with some spending more time around the reefs than others, some departing from Hurghada and others from Port Ghalib (Marsa Alam). Direct flights are possible to both locations (Hurghada more than Marsa Alam), but the liveaboard operators usually arrange all flights and transfers based on the itinerary.
Dahab is one of Egypt’s best-loved destinations, a wonderful mixture of excellent scuba diving in a chilled and laid-back atmosphere. It is popular with the backpacking community and a relaxed contrast to the overwhelmingly touristy Sharm El Sheikh, 80km to the south. Almost all diving is easily accessible from the shore, including the extremely popular Blue Hole, best dived from El Bells, a narrow (but easy) entry to the exterior wall. It also includes the Canyon, a deep rock crevice in a gently-sloping reef interspersed with small coral bommies and vast numbers of fish. Big stuff passes by only infrequently, but there is plenty to see, and chilling in the Bedouin cafés is a relaxing way to spend your surface interval.
The central area of Masbat is full of beach-front bars and restaurants (in a good way) and comfortable budget accommodations, with more prominent hotels just south in Mashraba. Day trips to visit Tiran, Ras Mohamed and the Thistlegorm are available if you do not mind an early start.
How to get there: Fly into Sharm and take an inexpensive taxi to Dahab. The ride is approximately 1.5 hours through some magnificent desert scenes.
El Gouna is a privately-developed, purpose-built resort located approximately 25km north of Hurghada. It is very little in the way of an ‘authentic’ Egypt here, but it has been very well designed with a range of boutique hotels, spas and private villas available for rent. The resort is famous for kitesurfing and boasts an 18-hole golf course, all set in an environment that is a lot more tranquil than the hustle and bustle of Hurghada. Visitors can enjoy the freedom to walk around without constantly being hassled to buy souvenirs, and the nightlife is a lot more subdued than some of the more flashy elements of Sharm.
The waterfront at Abu Tig is a beautiful place to spend an evening, with some excellent restaurants. El Gouna is a favourite amongst wreck divers for its proximity to Sha’ab Abu Nuhas, where lie the famous wrecks of the Chisola K, Carnatic and Giannis D, among others. Sha’ab El Erg and Dolphin House, less frequently visited by the day boats from Hurghada, is home to a large pod of dolphins, and encounters are every day.
How to get there: Direct flights to Hurghada are available from most European countries, and transfers to El Gouna will be arranged by your hotel or accommodation.
El Quseir is an ancient town of some 5,000 years, once one of the most important ports in Egypt due to its proximity to the Nile. Lying approximately halfway between Hurghada to the north and Marsa Alam to the south, El Quseir has remained relatively unaffected by the massive growth in tourism that formed the resorts of Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh. Much of the diving is from shore, with plenty of shallow locations for entry-level divers and training, but divers with certification beyond entry-level will find more to enjoy. Large pelagics are only occasional visitors, but the unspoilt and vibrant reefs are filled with all of the famous denizens, from the ubiquitous lionfish and blue-spotted ribbon-tail rays to sea snakes and guitarfish.
Divers wanting to find bigger stuff can take day boats to the legendary Elphinstone reef, famous for frequent encounters with oceanic white-tips in the latter half of the year, or explore the haunting wreck of the Salem Express. Visits to see the 4,000-years-old rock inscriptions at Wadi Hammamat or the ruins of the ancient port of Myos Hormos round out a trip to the historic destination.
How to get there: Direct flights to either Hurghada or Marsa Alam
Flights to Hurghada are far more frequent, with a transfer time of around 1 hour 45 minutes. There are fewer flights to Marsa Alam, but as the airport is about 20km north of the city, transfer times to El Quseir are reduced to approximately one hour.
Once a tiny fishing village, since regular tourism began in the 1980s, Hurghada has become the largest resort on the Egyptian mainland. It is an exceedingly good location for entry-level diving and dive courses. Many of the reefs are located in easily accessible, shallow, sheltered environments, yet teeming with the Red Sea’s rich marine life. More advanced divers will feel equally at home, with deeper sites and stronger currents.
The Giftun Islands are popular with divers of all abilities and, like El Gouna, just a short drive to the north. The proximity of Sha’ab Abu Nuhas and its wrecks are popular with wreck divers from beginner level to advanced tech. Day trips to the SS Thiistlegorm are widely available, as are trips to the much deeper Rosalie Moller, which, unlike Thistlegorm, is rarely visited from Sharm. Hurghada is also the central departure point for Red Sea liveaboards, with a range of itineraries to almost all of the Red Sea’s reefs and wrecks available.
How to get there: Regular, direct flights to Hurghada are available year-round from most of Europe. Alternative routes involve flying to Cairo and catching an internal flight to Hurghada.
Marsa Alam is home to some excellent Red Sea diving in a location growing steadily in popularity since the international airport opened in 2003 but is still relatively undeveloped compared to the scale of Hurghada and Sharm. Daily diving is from shore or boat, so it is an excellent option for people who do not like spending all day at sea but still want to visit some of the best dive spots in the area.
Around 60km to the north, Port Ghalib is the departure point for many liveaboards heading towards the deep south of the Red Sea, and Marsa Alam is the airport of choice where possible. Marsa Abu Dabab is a particular highlight, famous for the resident population of dugong, one of the few places in the Red Sea that these animals can still be seen on a daily dive excursion. Marsa Alam is another great place to depart for day trips to Elphinstone to spot sharks, including the hammerheads that often school around the north plateau.
How to get there: Direct flights to Marsa Alam are available but much more limited than Hurghada, which may be a better alternative for the plan but means an extra 3 hours’ transfer by road. Flying via Cairo and taking an internal flight is also an option but may add an extra day to the travel time. Package prices via tour operators are the best option.
Safaga is located around 70km south of Hurghada, a popular scuba diving destination famous for wall dives, beautiful coral gardens, and Salem Express’s wreck. This passenger ferry sank in 1991 with an estimated 470 lives. 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 readily available by boat, with some shore-based diving depending on whether you stay in Safaga or near Soma Bay.
Perhaps the most famous dive site in the region, Panorama Reef, is home to spectacular 200m deep walls and perfect for drift diving, substantial hard and soft coral formations and sightings of grey reef sharks, barracuda and schooling jacks. Abu Kafan provides a similar, even more spectacular experience, and Middle Reef is home to some of the most luxurious coral gardens in the region. The Salem Express is considered one of the best wreck dives globally, a well-respected but sombre dive, with the hull encrusted in coral. Makadi Bay, around 30km to the north, is also an excellent choice, offering a halfway house between the dive sites of Hurghada and Safaga, but not as well known to tourists.
ST JOHN’S AND THE DEEP SOUTH
The most unspoiled and pristine reefs in the Egyptian Red Sea, the Deep South contains such famous names as St John’s, Zabargad and Rocky Island, all accessible only by liveaboard. St John’s ranges from reasonably easy diving to much more dramatic drop-offs and currents, home to the wealthiest coral gardens in the Red Sea, spectacular gorgonian forests and some of the most plentiful and biodiverse wildlife in the region, including sharks and large schools of pelagic fish such as jacks and tuna.
Further out to sea, the strong currents around Rocky Island and its neighbour, Zabargad, allow experienced divers to experience some thrilling 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 thanks to new developments in Hamata. It provides access to some of these pristine reefs without the need for a liveaboard, albeit a long (180km) trek south by road from Marsa Alam.
How to get there: Departure to the deep south is most often from Port Ghalib, with the closest airport being Marsa Alam. As with other destinations, it is often easier to fly to Hurghada and make the three-hour road trip to Port Ghalib, but liveaboard operators generally fulfil the travel requirements.
SHARM EL SHEIKH
For many years, Sharm El Sheikh has been the favourite Egyptian destination for scuba divers and has probably contributed more to the European dive business than any other resort in the world. Situated at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, the deep gulf of Aqaba, the shallow Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea proper all come together at Shark and Yolanda reef, the region’s most famous and most frequently dived hotspot in the national park of Ras Mohamed.
Sharm has an excellent mixture of easy to challenging dives, suitable for both entry-level training and fast drifts along the island reefs in the Straits of Tiran. Following the drop in tourism after the 2015 Russian airline disaster, the reefs have rebounded with large schools of fish returning to the area and pelagic species such as whale sharks and manta rays spotted regularly. Although some shore diving is available, most diving is conducted by boat to explore the best reefs and one of the world’s most famous wrecks, the SS Thistlegorm.
How to get there: Direct flights to Sharm are available from most European countries; for those who might have been hibernating over the winter. Direct flights from the UK resumed in October 2019, and there are now plenty of options available.
When to dive in Egypt
Diving in Egypt is year-round, but the best time to visit is from late July to early December, depending on location, with the water temperature rising to over 30°C in August and September. The water temperature drops significantly between January and April, dropping to around 18°C in Dahab and even more fantastic on Alexandria’s Mediterranean shores (it even snows there from time to time). However, the deep south remains a more tolerable 23°C on average. Incessant winter wind makes long trousers and fleeces essential, especially if you are out at sea. High seas during these months can affect liveaboard itineraries.
Based on the current (February 2020) UK FCO travel advice, there are no travel advisories to any mainland resorts or the South Sinai resort (including the airport) of Sharm El Sheikh. The UK’s FCO currently advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba, but there are no reports of problems associated with any of these active resorts. Visitors from other countries should check their own government’s travel advice, but it is worth noting that a widely reported November 2019 Gallup Poll ranked Egypt the eighth safest country in the world.
Visitors are required to purchase a visa to enter Egypt. These can be purchased on arrival at the airport, and the current fee is US $25. Free entry stamps are available for visitors who plan to stay in Sharm, Dahab, Nuweiba or Taba for up to 15 days but note that this does not cover the national park of Ras Mohamed (including the Thistlegorm and Dunraven wrecks). Just in case, all divers visiting Sharm (and Dahab) are advised to purchase the visa. A popular myth is that travellers who have previously visited Israel and have an Israeli stamp in their passports will be denied access. The decision, technically, is up to the immigration officer on the day, but highly unlikely that European visitors will be denied entry.