Your life may depend on choosing the right diving centre; always check that the instructor is qualified, with valid ID and insurance, not merely photocopies. Many are freelancers who change jobs frequently, so even the best centres sometimes get bad instructors. As a rule of thumb, it’s safer to dive with the large outfits attached to the resorts than with backstreet operators taking clients sent by budget hotels (whose recommendations can’t be trusted). Of Hurghada’s hundred or so dive centres, most are run by Europeans and tend to have higher standards than the locally managed outfits. The ones listed below are affiliated to HEPCA and are thus subject to monitoring.
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The dive centres that are members of the Diving Emergency Centre Organization (DECO; t 0122 218 7550, w deco-international.com) encourage clients to pay around €6 for three weeks’ cover, which includes free use of the decompression chambers in Hurghada, El Gouna or Marsa Alam, doctor’s fees, as well as equipment and medicines used in treatment, though not hospitalization or any transport for the injured person.
Most dive sites within day-trip range are to the east and northeast of Hurghada. Inexperienced divers should be wary of the northerly reefs, where the currents are strongest. While many liveaboards go as far north as Ras Mohammed, sites to the south are regarded as more prestigious. All of the following are within day-trip range unless stated otherwise.
Never hand over cash to someone on the street who promises to arrange a trip; book through a dive centre. A four- or five-day PADI Open Water course costs around €350, while an Advanced Open Water course will set you back about €250. Scuba equipment is included in the price of courses, but otherwise costs around €25 extra per day. The average rate for a day’s boat diving is €50–60; most trips include two dives and lunch. For longer trips, several centres including Colona can arrange liveaboards and diving packages (mostly lasting for a week) that go south to sites near Safaga, Marsa Alam, Wadi Gimal and Wadi Lahami, or even as far as the Zabargad Islands, about 100km southeast of Berenice. Expect to pay at least €90 per person per day.
If you don’t fancy diving, there are also opportunities for snorkelling, the gear for which can be rented for €5–6 a day from most dive centres. The small reefs offshore from the Shedwan Hotel complex in Ed-Dahar and the Jasmine Village in Hurghada have been subject to noticeable damage though they do offer snorkellers a glimpse of the fish and corals that are more common further out to sea. Most dive centres offer snorkelling trips (around €25–40/day) and can recommend good locations at the Giftun Islands or elsewhere where you may also spot dolphins. An especially good deal is offered by Prince Safaris, run by friendly Bedouin brothers, who can arrange snorkelling trips to the Giftun Islands for about €25.
Abu Hashish Cave An underwater cave in a reef that was once used by dope smugglers to hide their wares.
Abu Ramada Island South of Giftun Island, this island is surrounded by a coral reef covered in psychedelic-hued soft corals; a good place for drift diving.
Abu Ramada Gota Also known as the “Aquarium”, this spot has amazing standing ergs and 1500-year-old stony corals, with a profusion of bannerfish, sweetlips and spotted groupers.
Brothers Around 70km northeast of El-Quseir, these two islands – Little Brother and Big Brother – are home to two shipwrecks and several types of sharks, including hammerheads. Popular liveaboard destination.
Careless Reef North of Giftun Island, and only accessible in mild weather conditions, this popular reef has two coral towers and is home to an extended community of moray eels.
Dolphin House Reef A horseshoe-shaped reef 15km south of Marsa Alam, widely used by dolphins as a nursery for their young. HEPCA has installed buoys to prevent boats from entering.
El-Fanadir Located to the north of Sigala, this is one of the best dive sites in the area, with a beautiful reef slope and large table corals.
El-Fanous These coral gardens, located just off Big Giftun Island, are good for both diving and snorkelling.
Giftun Islands Most of the reefs on the Big and Small Giftun Islands have been ruined by years of dive boats dropping their anchors onto the coral, and are now mostly visited by snorkellers. Two notable spots for both snorkellers and divers are the Small Giftun Drift (fine reef wall and lovely fan corals), and the Stone Beach on the northeast side of Big Giftun.
Shadwan Island Halfway to Sharm el-Sheikh (so out of day-trip range), with sheer walls and deep trenches attracting reef and oceanic sharks.
Thistlegorm This wreck is cheaper and slightly easier to reach from Sharm el-Sheikh.
Um Gamar Island Sheer walls and caves, brilliant for drift diving. You can swim through a cave filled with thousands of silvery glassfish.