Shore diving is the norm in Dahab. The nicest reefs are to the north of the lagoon; the reefs at Asilah are meagre, except for the area around the lighthouse, and much of the seabed is covered in rubbish. Experienced divers should look out for occasional free “trash dives”, organized to clear the rubbish, mostly plastic bags blown into the sea, which sea turtles can mistake for jellyfish and choke on.
Most divers head 8km up the coast where you can find the Eel Garden, Canyon and Blue Hole dive sites, trips to which are arranged by most dive centres. The Canyon is a dark, narrow fissure that you reach from the shore by swimming along the reef and then diving to the edge of a coral wall. It can be frightening for inexperienced divers, as it sinks to a depth of 50m, but there’s plenty to see at the top of the reef. Further north lies the notorious Blue Hole, which has claimed several lives (usually experienced divers who dive too deep for too long). This spectacular shaft in the reef plunges to 80m; the challenge involves descending 60m and swimming through a transverse passage to come up the other side. Divers who ascend too fast risk getting “bent”; inexperienced divers should not attempt this dive under any circumstances. Fortunately, the Hole can be enjoyed in safety by staying closer to the surface and working your way round to a dip in the reef known as the Bridge, which swarms with colourful fish and can even be viewed using snorkelling gear.
The main destination for day-long dive safaris is the Ras Abu Galum protected area, a 30km stretch of coast with three diving beaches, accessible by jeep or camel. Naqb Shahin is the closest to Dahab of the three, and has fantastic coral and gold fish, but the sea is very turbulent, so many divers prefer Ras Abu Galum or Ras el-Mamleh, further north. All three sites have deep virgin reefs with a rich variety of corals and fish.
While renting equipment is generally costlier than in Sharm el-Sheikh, diving courses are normally cheaper. Competition means cut-price deals, especially when business is quiet, but you should keep a sense of perspective – the rockbottom outlets are unlikely to be rigorous about your safety. The more established centres charge around €35 for an introductory shore dive; around €90–110 for a one-day dive in Ras Abu Galum; around €120–150 for a diving trip to Ras Mohamed; around €125–170 for a diving trip to the Thistlegorm; and around €200–250 for a PADI Open Water course.
Free diving and snorkelling
Expert training in free diving – which is done on a single deep breath, without the aid of scuba gear – is available from Lotta Ericson of Freedive Dahab (t 0100 545 9916, w freedivedahab.com), who offers a two-day beginner course (€170), as well as more advanced courses lasting up to four days. Most participants find they can hold their breath for up to four minutes after the longer course, enabling them to dive to 15m or deeper. As for snorkelling, for a more ambitious jaunt than just wading out from the shore, arrange an excursion to the Blue Hole (€10–15 for a half-day), which can be done through a number of operators, including Desert Divers.