Much of the diving in Sinai is easy to access and relatively sheltered from harsh winds and currents, making it a popular destination for those who have little or no experience. It’s an inexpensive place to learn open-water diving and gain a PADI, BSAC or CMAS certificate, entitling you to dive anywhere in the world.
Prices and packages
Prices for diving courses tend to be lower (often significantly so) in Dahab and Nuweiba than Sharm el-Sheikh; the best deals for all destinations are generally to be had online. Boat trips to dive sites usually include equipment, though lunch is often extra (about £E50–60).
Dive packages can be a good deal, costing around €200–260 for ten dives. Liveaboards can work out cheaper than staying in a hotel and buying a dive package separately, averaging around €100 per person per day, including full board. Where equipment rental isn’t covered, count on an extra €25–30 per day. During quiet periods, bookings can be arranged at short notice, but to be sure of what you’re getting it’s best to book in advance.
Dives and courses
The type of diving and the degree of experience required at each dive site are mainly determined by underwater topography and currents. Around Sharm el-Sheikh the chief activity is boat diving. Up the coast towards Dahab and Nuweiba this gives way to shore diving, where you wade or swim out to the reefs. Liveaboards (also called safari boats) allow you to spend days or weeks at sea, cruising the dive sites and shipwrecks of the north Red Sea around Ras Mohammed and the Tiran Strait (or the more southerly reefs beyond Hurghada). They also give access to less-visited sites out of “peak hours”, and the chance to make up to five dives a day.
Choosing a dive centre
When choosing a dive centre, stick to operators that have been around longest and have proper links with organizations like PADI. The Chamber of Diving and Watersports (w cdws.travel) has a list of all legal dive centres in the Sinai, as well as those that have been blacklisted. When visiting a centre, ask to see a card proving the instructor is qualified to teach the relevant course (PADI, BSAC, or whatever), and isn’t merely a dive-master. Many dive centres offer courses not only in English but also in various other European languages. Finally, a number of Sinai dive centres charge an optional €1 per day levy on all divers to pay for the upkeep of the local hyperbaric chamber (see Diving in sharm and Na’ama bay).
Snorkelling is also great fun and much cheaper than diving. Equipment can be rented at most of Sinai’s dive centres (€5–10/day), but if you’re planning to snorkel a lot, it’s cheaper to bring your own gear from home. Note that coral reefs and spiny urchins can rip unprotected feet to shreds; in all events you should only walk in designated “corridors” to protect the corals – if the water is too shallow to allow you to float above them. However cool the water may feel, the sun’s rays can still burn exposed flesh, so always wear a T-shirt and use waterproof sunscreen.
Sinai dive sites
Sinai dive sites
Amphoras Between Ras Um Sidd and Na’ama Bay. This site – also known as “Mercury” – is named after a Turkish galleon laden with amphoras of mercury that lies on the reef.
Blue Hole 8km north of Dahab. The challenge of this 107m-deep hole in the reef is to swim through a passage 60m down and come up the other side: this is highly risky even for expert divers and a number of people – including dive-masters and instructors with prior experience of the Blue Hole – have died here. You can safely snorkel around the rim of the hole.
Canyon Near the Blue Hole. This narrow reef crack, 50m deep, is another famous site, and one that should only be attempted by experienced divers.
Dunraven The Dunraven steamship was en route from Bombay to Newcastle when it steered onto a reef in fine weather in 1873, capsized and sank 25m. Though its 25 crew escaped, the captain was found negligent (he fatuously remarked, “Twenty-five is my lucky number!”).
El-Gharkana Nabeq This luxuriant reef – part of the Nabeq protected area – lies offshore from mangroves and lagoons which are home to rare waterfowl and flora.
Fjord 10km south of Taba. A picturesque cleft with underwater reefs, up to 16m deep. The nearby “Fjord Banana” site is an alternative for less experienced divers.
Gordon Reef Off the coast of Ras Nasrani. The Gordon Reef lies in the shipwreck-littered Tiran Strait, which has sharks and strong currents. Not for beginners.
Jackson Reef Near Tiran Island. A large reef between Tiran Island and the mainland, with a 70m drop-off, sharks and pelagic fish, as well as the shipwreck Lara. Strong currents make it dangerous for beginners.
Maagana Beach 5–10km north of Nuweiba. The reef falls sheer around the “Devil’s Head” to the north, getting shallower and less impressive further south.
Near, Middle and Far Gardens 1–5km north of Na’ama Bay. A series of lovely coral reefs, good for easy diving and snorkelling. The Near Gardens are within walking distance of Na’ama. In 2010 there was a series of shark attacks in the Middle Garden area.
Pharaoh’s Island Near Taba. There’s superb underwater scenery, easy access by boat and a spectacular wall dive at this site, but also strong currents; a diving guide is recommended.
Ras Abu Galum 50km south of Nuweiba. A 400-square-kilometre protected area with a deep virgin reef wall and a range of sea life.
Ras Atantur Between Dahab and Nabeq. Colourful, abundant reef, with a shipwreck – the Maria Schroeder – 10km further south. Access by 4WD.
Ras el-Mamleh 20km south of Nuweiba. A slab of virgin reef wall on the northern edge of the Ras Abu Galum protected area. Access by 4WD or boat.
Ras Mohammed National Park 25km southwest of Sharm el-Sheikh. Wonderful corals, mangrove lagoons, anemone gardens and crevice pools, with shark reefs offshore. It’s also the site of the Yolanda shipwreck.
Ras Nasrani Near Tiran Island. Sheer reef wall riddled with shark caves; the “Light” and the “Point” are notable spots. Large turtles are a common sight on the reef slope. Beware of sharks and strong currents. Not for inexperienced divers.
Ras Um Sidd Sharm el-Sheikh. Within walking distance of Sharm el-Sheikh at the north point of the harbour, this site features exquisite fan corals and fish.
Shark Bay 10km north of Na’ama Bay. Colourful reef just off the beach of a small resort. Good for novices and experienced divers alike, and snorkellers.
Southern Oasis 7km south of Dahab. A gently sloping reef, the Southern Oasis offers easy diving and snorkelling.
Sun Pool 10–15km south of Taba. A gorgeous diving beach along a shallow reef extending as far north as the Fjord.
Thistlegorm Near El-Tor in the Gulf of Suez. This British ship, sunk by German bombers in 1941, was laden with rifles, uniforms, trucks and jeeps – and also packed full of ammunition, which exploded, ripping the ship apart and killing most of the crew. Tubeworms grow out of the bathtub in the captain’s cabin and you can still see many of the armoured vehicles the ship was carrying. Discovered by Jacques Cousteau, it’s a popular dive from Sharm el-Sheikh.
Tiran Island Protected area East of Na’ama Bay. An archipelago with over twenty dive sites, all amazing, although sharks and strong currents means the sites are only for experienced divers unless explicitly stated otherwise.
The Tower South of Na’ama Bay. A sheer reef pillar dropping 60m, with easy access from the beach and mild currents. Good for novice divers.
Turtle Bay Between Ras Um Sidd and Amphoras. This shallow bay has turtles and is good for beginners.
Yolanda Off Ras Mohammed. This Cypriot freighter struck a reef during a storm in 1981; its cargo includes a BMW and scores of porcelain lavatories.