The Red Sea is an oasis in the middle of the desert, a hidden secret that you can only discover if you stick your face in the water. One of the most popular places in the world to dive and snorkel due to the amazing diversity it has to offer, there are a few undiscovered locations along this body of water that you might not know about and we are more than happy to share with you.
Firstly, some facts about the Red Sea. It's 2,250 km (1,398 miles) long, 355 km (220 miles) wide at its widest point and 29 km (18 miles) wide at its narrowest point. Six countries surround the sea: on the eastern shore there is Saudi Arabia and on the southern shore is Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti. At the northern point the Red Sea splits into two gulfs: the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez where Jordan and Israel lie. The maximum depth is an epic 2,211 metres (7,254 feet) deep although around 65% of it is less that 50 metres deep.
The sea life in the Red Sea is incredibly diverse. With around 1100 fish species, 40 of which are endemic to the area, over 200 types of corals, 40 different species of star fish, 25 types of sea urchins, over 100 different types of molluscs and 150 species of crustaceans. You think that's impressive, add the 15 species of sharks along with whale sharks, dugongs, turtles, rays and dolphins and that's a pretty impressive line-up. It's full of colour and surprises everywhere you look.
Egypt is the most popular place to dive on the Red Sea and there are diving villages all down the coast such as Dahab, Sharm el Sheik, Hurghada and Marsa Alam. Dahab is the home to the world famous Blue Hole, one of the most popular dives in the country. Starting at the Bells and ending up in the Blue Hole is the best way to do it. The Canyon is another great dive and you can see both sites in a day. Sharm el Sheik holds one of the best dives in the world, being the SS Thistlegorm, a world class wreck diving spot that really can't be beat.
Hurghada is less touristy so the reef is more intact. Some great areas include the Giftun Island Marine Park and the Carless Reef, but the most popular way to explore the area is by liveaboard and regular trips leave from Hurghada. Discovering the wonders of the Brother Islands and Daedalus is Red Sea diving at its best and truly an extraordinary experience. Marsa Alam is another liveaboard haven but the diving off the coast from here is also very special as not many people venture this far, so the reefs are still in pristine condition. You can swim with Denis the dugong on the Marsa Abu Dabab site or head out to the fantastic Elphistone Reef for an encounter with a shark or dolphin.
The sites off the coast of Sudan are rarely visited by westerners, in fact only around 1200 people a year will dive the Red Sea waters of Sudan. It is quite difficult to organise a dive trip but the effort is definitely worth it. Almost all dive tours leave from the Port of Sudan and travel north because the visibility is better than in the south, which is not so explored, appealing to the more adventurous divers. The Dahrat Ghab and Dahrat Abid reefs are the best reefs of southern Sudan, with amazing drop offs and loads of sharks such as the reef, silver tip and hammerheads.
The best wreck in Sudan is the Umbria near to the port, first dived and made famous by Hans Hass in the late 1940's. Other famous sites in the area include Shaab Rumi with Cousteau's underwater habitat, Sanganeb and Angarosh (meaning 'mother of all sharks') where colourful soft corals and sharks are in abundance. Head to Mesharifa Island in the spring to witness the rare site of mantas mating. If you get to dive in Sudan, it'll be an experience of a lifetime.
South of Sudan is the country Eritrea and diving the Red Sea off the coast here is done by liveaboard. The most popular places for diving are the coastal town of Massawa and the Dahlak Islands. Massawa port is the Red Sea's largest natural deep water port and separated into three parts: Batse Island, Tualud Island and the mainland. There are a lot of interesting things to find in this area but visibility is usually bad due to the plankton.
The Dahlak Archipelago is the place to go for clear waters and fabulous marine life such as sharks, dugongs, dolphins, crabs, turtles, loads of fish and coral, wrecks and pumice stones formed by the underwater volcanoes. The best spots are Dessei Island with the sites of Sehil and Camel, Madote, the very special area of Shomma, Enteara sandbank, Dur Gaam, Dur Ghella, Dohul Bahot and its sister island of Dahret. The main island called Dahlak Kebir has three main sites being Dry dock, Nocra Channel and the wreck dive Urania. You'll probably never see another diver outside your group when diving in Eritrea.
If you mention the country Djibouti, people usually say: where the heck is that? Just under Eritrea, it is on the most south western extreme of the Red Sea at the mouth of the Gulf of Tadjourah and is another liveaboard diving destination, although good luck finding anyone who's actually dived there! It's quite a journey but really worth it. From Sept-Jan the migrating whale sharks make this area their home and you can up close and personal with mothers and their young, especially around Arta Beach. The corals and visibility aren't the best but the vast numbers of whale sharks, and interesting finds such as huge nudibranchs and mobula rays makes up for this fact.
The best diving in Djibouti is in the north, around the 7 Brothers Islands (known to the locals as the Sawabi Islands) in the Bab El-Mandab Straits, which requires you to have your advanced certification or at least 20 dives due to the strong currents. There are a few great sites around the islands such as La Marche and Boeing which deep, drift and wall divers will love, with pelagic fish, sharks and whales also in the area. Wreck lovers can enjoy the La dame blanche and Le Jardin Japonais is the only site in the area that all divers can experience.
The diving off the coast of Saudi Arabia is some of the most untouched diving in the Red Sea, if not the world and because the country has the longest coastline of the Red Sea you will find so many options. Very few people have experienced the fantastic reefs and they are best explored by liveaboard. It is very difficult to enter the country so it's better to organise a trip before you go, the country also has very strict guidelines that you must follow so be sure to do your research and follow the rules to the letter. The area of Yanbu is 300km north of Jedda where you can dive the Gotha el Sharm reef with its beautiful corals and the north side of the reef is the Shouna Wreck. The Seen Reefs consist of seven fabulous site, some of the best reef diving in the Red Sea with steep walls, huge fish, great visibility and many species of sharks. The coral atolls of sha'ab Gurush, Sulflani and Sadiki in the north are also exceptional dives.
The other popular area is the Farasan Banks to the south of Jeddah and diving into two areas being the Farasan Archipelago and the Farasan Banks. Mar Mar Island is the first site you'll reach with lots of hard corals and big pelagic fish. The islands of Dohra, al Jadir, Malothu and the Gorgonia, Bandu and Long Reefs are also in this region. The reefs of Jabbara and Mudar will get your heart racing with excitement if a curious Tiger Shark happens to pass you by! The underwater landscapes, mountains of fish and corals and all the glorious big stuff at your fingertips and your dive experience in Saudi Arabia will be complete.
Travel further south from Saudi Arabia and you'll hit the country of Yemen, another pretty much untouched diving destination. You can choose to explore the Red Sea by liveaboard, or find a quiet sea side town and try your luck finding a dive centre to take you shore diving, a great adventure either way. The Farasan Bank are shared with Saudi Arabia but the southern banks are in on the Yemen side and home to the Kamaran Islands and some great diving. The shallow fringing reefs are home to loads of fish and the mangroves hold a very unique ecosystem. The islands are a famous turtle nesting sites and full of painted lobsters which might be added to the menu if you're lucky!
The Zubair islands are in the extreme southern Red Sea with over 10 rocky, volcanic islands to explore, you're in for some great scenery both above and below the water. The best sites include Quoin Rock, Shark Shoal and Maha's Rock, with manta rays, lots of coral and large pelagics. At Low Island you can dive inside a volcanic crater and in the south the remnants of a freighter with lots of interesting debris. The Hunish groups of islands only opened to the public a couple of year before and the Katharina M charter is the only liveaboard operating continuously in the area. For beautiful, colourful corals head to Maha's Island, High Island or the Abu Ali Islands. For sharks, giant groupers and barracuda head to Southwest Rock, Cust Rock, Pin Rock, Ship Rock and Three Foot Rock. For large schools of Jacks and Tuna you'll enjoy Adder Ail Island or the red snappers and lobsters at Shark Island.
Although not technically a part of the Red Sea, a special mention goes out to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez for diving in Jordan and Israel, where all sorts of great sites await you. The corals are much more alive than in Egypt but there are not as many of the big fish. In Aqaba, Jordan the Cedar Pride Wreck is a great dive or Paradise 1 and 2 and Gorgonian 1 and 2 for nice reef diving. In Eilat, Israel the Japanese Gardens site is the most diverse, or there is a place to dive with dolphins and although it's not recommended to support animals kept in captivity, actually the enclosure is huge and you are not allowed to touch them at all so the animals don't get distressed, so with these things in place, it might be the best place to dive with them if it was on your list of things to do.
As you can see, the Red Sea is an epic diving adventure and one not to be missed out on. Get away from the touristy areas and experience untouched diving at its best. You will enjoy your experience much more if you choose to take a liveaboard, which is the best way to see the remote dive sites that not many people visit. Enjoy your trip and be sure to let us know of your favourite spots!
(By Kelly Luckman)