Best Of Marsa Alam, Red Sea

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Marsa Alam is a small town on the western shore of the Red Sea, in south east Egypt. Until recent years it was a relatively unknown dive destination but it has gained popularity thanks to its pristine reefs and the lack of crowds that are found at other Red Sea premier diving towns, such as Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada. Marsa Alam is by far the best place place to explore the southern Red Sea and would appeal to experienced divers look for challenging dives and unique wildlife experiences. The broad array of sites offers the opportunity to dive with dolphins, sea turtles, dugongs, manta rays (May-August), whale sharks (May-June) and a variety of other shark species. Whilst Marsa Alam is particularly suited to experienced divers, the local dive sites also offer a quiet and scenic location for those wishing to learn to scuba dive or experience less demanding dives.

The diving season is year round, though late summer and early autumn have the warmest sea temperature: 29C in August compared to 23C in December. Given that August is also peak diving season, we recommend diving in autumn when the area is quieter and the water temperature is still balmy. Depending on your cold tolerance, we recommend a 3mm or 5mm wetsuit for diving at this time of year. Expect water visibility up to 30m and always carry a dive knife, torch and DSMB with reel when diving. Ask an expert about local dive sites and sea conditions before diving unguided.

Here are our top picks for the best dive sites at Marsa Alam:

Name: Elphinstone Reef (Sha’ab Abu Hamra)

Where is it: This reef lies in the open sea approximately 12km from Marsa Abu Dabbab and can also be reached by a 2-hour boat journey from Port Ghalib.

What makes it special: This dive site attracts divers from around the world looking to dive with oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks. This is one of the few remaining sites where divers can regularly see these shark species.

Details: Elphinstone reef is for experienced divers only. The site is in the open ocean, it is renowned for it strong and ever-changing currents, deep caves and coral plateaus. A dive depth of 30m is sufficient for exploring the reef but there are features to explore at greater depths, drop offs of hundreds of metres and an archway at 52–65 metres. Try Emperor Divers and Liveaboard.com.

When to go: Sharks can be seen year round but are most numerous during October to December.

Name: The Brother Islands

Where is it: These two rocky islands are located 70km offshore from El Quseir, in the south east of Hurghada.

What makes it special: This area has been designated as a Marine Protectorate since 1983 and is known as one of the world’s top dive locations. The islands sheer drop offs provide spectacular wall diving with the opportunity to see abundant soft corals, gorgonian fans and large pelagic species such as grey reef, silky, silvertip and hammerhead sharks, tuna, jacks and the occasional thresher shark.

Details: The Brothers are for experienced divers only and the Egyptian port authorities require a minimum of 50 logged dives to be allowed access. The islands are subject to strong currents and waves, and exploration of the wrecks and reefs beyond 40m are for experienced technical divers only. The Brothers can be reached by liveaboard only and boats depart regularly from Marsa Alam. Try Aggressor or MV Legends from Tekdeep.

When to go: End of spring and autumn for favourable sea conditions and fewer crowds at the dive sites.

Name: Daedalus Reef

Where is it: This remote reef is 80-90km from Marsa Alam and lies within a Marine Park.

What makes it special: This reef is less than 1km wide and, due to its remote location, is visited less frequently than other dive sites in the area. It offers pristine hard and soft corals, deep walls and hammerhead sharks frequent the area.

Details: Daedalus is for experienced divers only and is subject to strong currents, waves and surface swells that make the entry and exit conditions challenging. The abundance of marine life is well worth braving the elements for and both east and western walls provide interesting drift dives. At the southern point of the reef, keep an eye out for thresher sharks. Dive depth ranges from 5 to 40m and the reef is only accessible by liveaboard. Try My-AphroditeAggressor or MV Legends from Tekdeep.

When to go: Accessible all year, though end of spring and autumn are recommended as above.

Elphinstone Reef, The Brother islands and Daedalus Reef are often combined within liveaboard itineraries, making for a convenient way explore the southern Red Sea.

Name: Dolphin House (Sha’ab Samadai)

Where is it: This is an offshore reef and lagoon which can be reached easily with an 80-minute boat ride from Marsa Alam.

What makes it special: This popular reef is home to a large family of approximately sixty spinner dolphins and it is possible to snorkel and swim with the dolphins. The reef also offers great dive sites with swim-throughs, pinnacles and coral formations.

Details: Dolphin House is suitable for non-divers and divers of all experience levels. The conditions are usually easy and there are frequent boat trips to Dolphin House from Marsa Alam. A number of operators offer day trips and liveaboards often also visit this reef as part of their itinerary. Try Memphis Tours, Always Egypt and Emperor Divers.

When to go: Accessible all year.

Name: Abu Dabbab

Where is it: This sandy bay area is located 30km north of Marsa Alam.

What makes it special: This shore dive is popular with divers and non-divers alike and provides colourful snorkelling and shallow diving during which you are very likely to see sea turtles grazing the seagrass meadows. There is also the possibility of seeing guitar sharks and the very rare and endangered dugong.

Details: Abu Dabbab is suitable for snorkelers, novice and experienced divers and dive depths are 4-18m. Emperor Divers offer a half day trip to Abu Dabbab. Abu Dabbab Dive Lodge is based at the bay and offers the opportunity to explore the local diving and enjoy the sandy bay for longer periods of time.

When to go: Accessible all year.

Name: Hamada Wreck

Where is it: This well-known wreck sank in 1993 lies 68km south east of Marsa Alam, off a secluded shoreline south of the Wadi El Gamal National Park.

What makes it special: The wreck is unique in that it is suitable for snorkelers, experienced and novice divers. Certain areas of the wreck can also be penetrated by divers. As a relatively new wreck, the masts and ropes are still intact and are home to young corals, whilst the wreck itself is home to a number of species including napoleons, lionfish and moray eels.

Details: Dive depth ranges from 0-18m and Emperor Divers offer day trips to explore the wreck and enjoy the secluded bay.

When to go: Accessible all year.

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About Author

Kathryn has lived in the UK, Egypt, South Africa and New Zealand and is a trained scuba diving instructor and Great White shark safari guide. She is the author of No Damage (December 2014), the Managing Editor of The Scuba News New Zealand, a freelance writer, public speaker and co-founder of the marine conservation cause Friends for Sharks (August 2014). In 2015 she organised and completed a 10-month global speaking tour in aid of shark conservation: 87 events, 8 countries, 7000 people. Learn more about Kathryn’s book, No Damage at: http://www.kathrynhodgsonauthor.com/books/no-damage/

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