The Best Diving in Egypt’s Red Sea, for Pros To First-Time Divers
Egypt’s Red Sea has been a popular scuba diving destination for decades, thanks to its stunning biodiversity and world-class diving conditions. The region is best known for colorful, light-filled coral gardens swarming with tropical fish. These fringing reefs are just the gateway to Egypt’s incredible underwater world, though. Dive a little deeper, and you’ll soon discover much more than what first meets the eye.
In recent years, Egypt’s tourism industry has shrunk down to a shadow of its former self. For savvy divers, that translates to uncrowded dive sites and discount prices, so the time to visit is now. Cash in on your opportunity to explore this incredible region before the crowds of tourists make their comeback.
Drift diving in intense ocean current
Egypt’s far north is known for its super calm diving conditions. That changes quickly as you move down the coast. Current junkies are spoiled for choice in the south, with plenty of opportunities for fast-paced drift diving.
The El Ikhwa, or Brothers Islands, are so remote that they can only be reached via liveaboard. But, these stunning wall dives are worth the extra time in transit. Out here, you can feel the full power of the Red Sea’s strong currents and dramatic tidal shifts. Most dive groups descend onto the coral-encrusted outcroppings, or “corners,” at these sites, where multiple currents meet. Be sure to keep your eyes on the blue as you drift. The Brothers are known for chance encounters with oceanic whitetips and hammerheads.
Even further afield, southern sites like Daedalus, Elphinstone, and St. John’s boast currents on par with Indonesia and the Maldives. Diving around these islands isn’t for the faint of heart. But, adventurous divers will be deeply rewarded. Big fish like to swim in big currents, and these are some of the region’s best spots for large pelagics like sharks and mantas.
Keep in mind that these high-speed experiences aren’t for everyone. If you’re hoping to take on powerful open ocean currents, you’ll need to feel comfortable with a few advanced techniques like making a negative descent — which means going straight down with no air in your buoyancy control device; a tough option if you have ear-clearing issues. It’s best to practice with a few gentle drifts before taking the plunge in these challenging conditions.
Swimming with wild dolphins
Just off the coast of Marsa Alam, lucky groups of divers can hit the waves with friendly pods of spinner and bottlenose dolphins. In fact, the Sha’ab Samadai Reef has so many of these famous residents that it’s nicknamed the “dolphin house.” While they are most frequently spotted on the surface, these underwater acrobats do occasionally approach dive groups. So, be sure to keep your eyes out in the blue. Other exciting species sometimes seen here include dugong and eagle rays. Best of all, this dive site is calm and shallow enough for even the newest of newbies.
Farther north, Shaab El Erg features similar diving conditions and just as much dolphin action. And, this site is accessible from Hurghada and El Gouna, so it makes for a great day trip. Many operators offer a two-tank dive and snorkel package to up your chances of an encounter either above or below water. But the best way to experience this site is via a liveaboard. The dolphins are most active at dawn and dusk, and this protected horseshoe bay is a popular overnight mooring for multi-day excursions so it’s easy to go for a snorkel any time you’d like. If you do have the opportunity to stay the night, this shallow reef makes for an exceptional night dive, too.
Remember that you should keep all interactions with wildlife passive. Never chase or grab at dolphins, and choose an operator that upholds safe and sustainable practices. Any business that feeds or otherwise alters the dolphins’ natural behavior should be avoided.
So many shipwrecks
The SS Thistlegorm is one of the best-known shipwrecks on the planet, and for a good reason. This armed freighter is an underwater playground, packed with cool cargo and plenty of opportunities for penetration. During a dive through her hold, you’ll see trucks, motorcycles, ammunition, and other World War II artifacts like rifles and boots. Above deck, highlights include anti-aircraft guns, a massive propellor and winch, and the opportunity to spot passing pelagics like barracuda and trevally. Lucky groups that visit on a day with good viz can explore the seabed around the wreck. Steam locomotives, ammunition of all sizes, and other wartime relics litter the silty bottom.
Not all of Egypt’s wrecks are the result of war. The Salem Express is a spooky and controversial dive site, due to the tragic loss of life that took place when she went down. This passenger ferry ran aground and sank rapidly, claiming the lives of hundreds of religious pilgrims returning from Jeddah. This dive site is made especially eerie by the large number of personal artifacts that divers encounter. Luggage, televisions, and a children’s tricycle are among the spookiest finds. Some sections of this wreck have been sealed for diver safety, and out of respect for the deceased.
If you can’t make it to either of these showstoppers, don’t worry. Nearly every port in Egypt has diveable shipwrecks nearby. Sharm el-Sheikh’s Yolanda and Million Hope are great for beginners. The Aida and Numidia make fantastic additions to Brothers Islands liveaboard itineraries. And, out of Hurghada, the Kingston, Carnatic, and Giannis D all make for excellent day trips.
Remember, you should never enter a shipwreck without proper certification and training. Doing so can be dangerous. But, with so many impressive wrecks on offer, Egypt is a great place to complete your wreck specialty.
Wall diving into the very deep
Dahab is one of Egypt’s best-known areas for diving, and its legendary Blue Hole is the region’s top attraction. This dive site is among the planet’s most famous for technical diving, with depths extending well beyond the recreational dive limits. And, if you want to go deeper, Dahab is an excellent destination for students of tech and trimix diving, which is diving with a mix of three gases for deep descents. If you don’t plan to dive the Blue Hole, don’t worry. This area has plenty of exciting wall dives on offer. Nearby canyons and crevices offer all the same deepwater thrills, without the need for tech certification.
Further south, the diving in Ras Mohammed and the Straits of Tiran continues to impress. These steep walls are heavily encrusted with hard and soft coral that swarm with colorful reef fish. The topography is interesting in this area too, with plenty of caves and outcroppings to explore. These nooks and crannies are frequented by sea turtles, moray eels, and massive grouper fish. Pelagic sightings are frequent here, especially during summer months, so remember to glance out in the blue every few minutes. You never know when a tuna, shark, or trevally might buzz past.
If you’re after dizzying sheer vertical drop-offs, Egypt’s deep south won’t leave you wanting. Areas like the St. John’s Islands and Fury Shoals showcase plunging walls and up-close encounters with large pelagics. These dive sites are remote and completely exposed to the elements, so come prepared for challenging, open ocean conditions and plenty of current.
Sharks, and lots of them
No matter where you dive in Egypt, you have a pretty good chance of spotting a shark. Which species you encounter depends on which region you choose to visit. Thrill-seekers flock to dive sites like Brothers Islands, Daedalus, and Elphinstone, hoping to come face to face with large pelagic predators. Here, encounters with reef sharks and oceanic whitetips are frequent. And, lucky dive groups might encounter schooling hammerheads cruising past in open water.
In recent months, new restrictions for shark interactions have taken effect around the Brothers Islands. You should always dive with environmentally responsible operators that avoid unsustainable practices like hand feeding.
If you have the time for a longer trip, and don’t mind challenging conditions, head to southern Egypt’s more remote dive sites. These hard-to-reach areas are top destinations for shark diving, and you’ll bump into way fewer dive groups on the reef. The St. Johns Islands and Fury Shoals are known for hammerhead sightings, especially along their plummeting walls. Other species are occasionally spotted here, as well. Watch out for shy threshers and silvertips emerging from the depths, especially during early morning dives.
Some divers prefer day trips and calm conditions. But even that doesn’t mean you won’t see sharks in Egypt. The waters around Ras Mohammed are full of surprises. During summer months, whale sharks make regular appearances here. These gentle giants are usually seen on the surface or feeding in shallow water where they are easy to snorkel alongside. Nearby sites in the Straits of Tiran face the open ocean, so sharks of all shapes and sizes pass through. Reef sharks, hammerheads, and even tiger sharks can turn up along these deep walls.