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29 Dive Centres in Egypt

Egypt

Few countries in the world can fire up the imagination as much as Egypt. It is a nation steeped in ancient history – and with tales of pharaohs such as Tutankhamun and Cleopatra building enormous monuments and mysterious temples chock-full of bobby traps, mummified bodies and treasure, it is easy to see why Hollywood has returned time after time to set their archaeological based action flicks there. From a divers perspective, as it has so many world class dive sites, and it is so close to Europe, it is easy to see why it is a top destination for European divers who are looking to dive some of the best reefs in the world without having to fly half way around the planet.

Sitting on the north-east corner of the African continent, Egypt has shorelines with two major bodies of water – the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the east.

With a total land area of just over one million square kilometres, Egypt is the 29th largest country in the world, and all of it would be desert if it were not for the powerful River Nile – the world’s longest river – cutting through the country, creating the lush Nile Delta on the Mediterranean shoreline.

The capital and largest city is Cairo, with a metropolitan population of over 20 million. Because of the proximity to Europe, many budget airlines fly into the most popular resort towns, meaning you may never need to pass through Cairo, although it is highly recommended to see the Giza Pyramid Complex

Currency

The Egyptian Pound is the national currency of Egypt. Many places (such as large tourist attractions) will also accept USD and British Pound Sterling, however the exchange rate will be extremely poor and you will often have to pay up to 50% more than if you were paying in Egyptian Pounds.

Currency exchanges are common in all major towns and cities, and most of the larger tourist attractions will have an exchange office close by.

Language

The official language of Egypt is Arabic, while the most spoken language is Egyptian Arabic (or Masri) which is a North African dialect of Arabic. Both English and French are widely spoken – especially in the tourist towns and historical monuments.

Religion

The main religion of Egypt is Islam, which makes up around 90% of the population. The remaining population are mainly Christian (including the Coptic Christian faith), and there is a small Jewish population too.

As Egypt is mainly Islamic country, Islamic culture is very prominent in almost all aspects of daily life. Dress should be modest and women should cover their arms, legs, and hair when visiting conservative towns or religious buildings. In the major tourist cities such as Cairo, Dahab or Alexandria, dress standards are more relaxed, but not as much as if you were in European resort towns.

Regardless of religion, Egyptian law states blasphemy is illegal, and they will punish anyone suspected of making blasphemous comments – either spoken or written.

Visa Requirements

British citizens visiting Egypt normally require a tourist visa to enter. This can be purchased online at Visa2Egypt and is valid for up to three months, or alternatively you can purchase one at the airport upon arrival for 25USD, which is valid for a maximum of 30 days.

British nationals who are travelling to the tourist destinations of Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba will receive a free 15 day visa upon arrival, however if you wish to leave these areas or stay longer than 15 days then you must get a visa.

 

Best Things to do in Egypt (Non-Diving)

Visit the Giza Pyramid Complex

Despite how busy the site is with tourists, no trip to Egypt would be complete without visiting Egypt's biggest attraction – the Pyramids of Giza.

Located just west of Cairo, the complex is home to six pyramids, with the largest, The Great Pyramid of Giza, being the oldest and only remaining ancient wonder of the world. Getting here is as simple as taking one of the many shuttle buses to the site, and from there you can either walk around the site, or you can hire a camel to take you around. Guides are available (and recommended) to tell you all about the fascinating history of these mysterious structures.

The complex is also home to another iconic structure – the Great Sphinx of Giza. This giant limestone structure of a sphinx – part human, part lion – has survived thousands of years of erosion from wind and sand. No one knows exactly why it was built, or who built it, but we can all agree it is extremely impressive.

Try Sandboarding

If you enjoy snowboarding, but the cold is not really your thing, why not have a go at sandboarding?

The seemingly endless deserts and giamt dunes of Egypt give you the perfect opportunity to try this novel and exciting sport. With dunes as high as 140 metres, the Great Sand Sea near Siwa Oasis is considered the best place in the world for sandboarding.

Abu Simbel Temples

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Egypt, the Abu Simbel Temples are enormous rock carvings of some of Egypt’s ancient pharaohs.

It was originally built to mark the old Egyptian border with Nubia, and its purpose was to demonstrate the strength and power of the Egyptian pharaohs and to intimidate anyone who might think about invading.

Upon visiting the site, you must walk past these enormous, imposing statues before entering the temples, and on certain days of the year, the sun penetrates the cavernous structure and lights up the spooky temple interior.

Sail the River Nile

Explore one of the worlds greatest rivers via a multi day river cruise.

This 4,000 mile long river carves through Egypt, and its banks are some of the most fertile and green land on the entire African continent. It has been the main source of fresh water for humans and agriculture for thousands of years, and is considered to have played an essential role in powering the Egyptian empire thousands of years ago.

Those opting to take a cruise down the river can do so either on a historic steamship or modern liner, and you will spend the days soaking up the desert sun as you sail by stunning historic cities and ancient monuments – stopping along the way so you can shop at traditional markets or visit some of the amazing sites.

 

Scuba Diving in Egypt

As a number of the best dive sites are very far from shore, the Red Sea is best dived via liveaboard. These large, comfortable boats will cover vast areas of either the northern or southern sections of the Red Sea, and they are definitely the best way to get the most out of your diving holiday.

Zabargad, Rocky Island & St John’s

As it is the most southern diving destination in Egypt’s Red Sea, not many divers make it to these relatively isolated reefs and rocky outcrops. Those that do make it here often report that is is the best diving in Egypt, and because of the ease of getting there from Europe, it is fast becoming one of the most popular dive locations in the world.

Zabargad Island is a small island roughly 80km from Berenice. It is surrounded by gentle slopes encrusted with hard and soft corals, and gentle but consistent currents make this a prime destination for drift diving. It is also home to a 75m shipwreck that is still in very good condition, and at a depth of only 24m it is perfect for exploration.

Rocky Island is only 6km south of Zabargad, and here you will find stunning fringing reefs and deep vertical walls. Strong currents whip past the walls, and they attract year round pelagics such as dolphins, turtles, hammerheads and manta rays.

St John’s is an extensive reef system lying 40km south-west of Rocky Island, and just east of Elba National Parks. The reefs around St Johns are known for their abundant soft corals, as well as schooling pelagic species.

Ras Gharib

Because of Ras Gharib’s location on the Gulf of Suez, it is home to a number of wartime shipwrecks. As of now, four major wrecks have been mapped in the area, but divers and historians believe there to be many more.

The most famous wreck in the region is the SS Scalar – a Shell Oil tanker that was bombed by German planes during WWII. Today it can be visited by divers of any level as the bow and the stern sit as shallow as 10m.

Three further ships are waiting for exploration in the same region. The SS Turkia and the MS Bakr were both also sank by German war planes, while the MV Aboudy met its fate during a storm. All of these wrecks are either entirely or partially shallower than 18m, making them great sites for Open Water divers with an interest in wreck diving.

Sharm el-Sheikh

Sharm el-Sheikh is the most popular dive region in Egypt, so there is very little chance that you will be the only dive boat on the dive site. There are more than 30 amazing dive sites close to shore that can be visited on a day trip, and many more further afield that require a liveaboard to explore.

The best place for diving on a day trip is within the Ras Mohamed National Park. Here you can find gentle slopes, pinnacles, and deep walls – all encrusted with beautiful corals and plenty of marine life to keep you interested.

The region is also home to possibly the most famous shipwreck in the world – the SS Thistlegorm. This British merchant navy ship sank after a collision and subsequent bombing in 1941, and now she rests at a depth of roughly 30m.

The SS Thistlegorm was being used as a cargo ship to resupply the allied war effort, and in her hold she was carrying trucks, motorcycles, rifles, and armoured vehicles. Much of the cargo is still intact and can be easily seen by diving into the hold – although sadly a number of divers have taken “souvenirs” so she is no longer as pristine as she used to be, and she is also rapidly disintegrating due to natural rusting.

Dahab

For those divers who prefer land based holidays, Dahab, on the Egyptian Sinai peninsular offers you the chance to visit one of the most famous dive sties in the world – the Dahab Blue Hole.

The blue hole is just a few km north or Dahab, so it can be very easily dived as a part of a day trip. It is an ocean sinkhole that is surrounded by very shallow reef, and inside the blue hole it reaches just over 100m deep. There is a shallow opening to the open ocean known as “the saddle”, and once over that saddle the bottom drops to more than one thousand metres! At 55m, technical divers can explore an ocean cave known as “the arch” - which is a 26m long tunnel that connects the blue hole to the ocean ocean.

Both the blue hole and the surrounding area are home to huge amounts of life, and the site is popular for divers of all levels. The blue hole is a hotspot for technical divers and free divers due to the ease of access, relative lack of current, and extreme depth.

Sadly, the Blue Hole is also considered to be the most dangerous dive site in the world, with as many as 200 lives being claimed in recent years. The majority of these were cases of inexperienced divers hoping to catch a glimpse of – or even to swim through – the arch. Should you visit this area, always remember your limits, and never let anyone take you deeper than you are certification allows.

 

When to Visit Egypt

Because the Red Sea is very enclosed, Egypt is great for diving year round, however the region does have quite extreme variations in water temperature throughout the year. Between May and August, the water temperature reaches close to 30°C, however between January and early March it can be as low as 22°C. Because of this pretty extreme variation, you must plan ahead what exposure suit you will need. It is recommended to use either a 5mm or 7mm full suit during the winter, and a 3mm shortie or full suit during the summer.

Between the end of May and the end of July, whale sharks are frequently spotted in the northern Red Sea, and less frequently in the south. The warming water promotes plankton blooms which can reduce viability, however the additional plankton in the water attracts feeding manta rays. This time is also the best time of the year for spotting hammerhead sharks throughout most of the Red Sea.

The winter months may be colder, but the diving is still fantastic. The visibility is best when the water is coldest, and most creatures are active year round, such as dolphins, grey reef sharks, and dugongs. Some animals seem to prefer the colder months, with thresher sharks being spotted more commonly in winter than in summer.

Another important thing to prepare for is air temperature. The summer months can be very intense, with day time temperatures reaching 40°C or more, while the winter months are a much more pleasant 20°C.

 

A few things to Beware of…

Tour Touts

Whenever you visit any major tourist spot such as the Pyramids, you will likely be bombarded with touts selling tours and tickets for things you don’t really need.

A very common one is to be told that it is a five or six mile journey to the Pyramids from the taxi and bus station. They will then charge you for hiring a camel to take you there, but instead of going the direct route which is a five minute journey at walking pace, they will load you onto the back of the poor camel or horse and go parallel to the site for an hour before turning around and eventually taking you to where you basically were to begin with.

The touts can be extremely aggressive and in your face. If this happens, firmly say NO and keep walking, ignoring any attempts they make to talk to you.

Crazy Drivers

The drivers in Egypt are some of the craziest in the world, and the lack of any road law enforcement makes the situation even worse. It is not uncommon for drivers to reverse on a motorway after missing an exit, and most places don't have traffic lights so cross roads are extremely congested, and the drivers are not shy about using their horn.

The best way to drive safely is to only use the transport provided or offered by your resort or accommodation. These drivers are used to dealing with tourists, and will often driver slower than the taxis.

The Heat

Egypt can get extremely hot. During the summer, average temperatures are in the late 30s, and on the odd day 45c+ is not unheard of. Make sure you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, and it is best to try to rest between 12:00 and 15:00 when the sun is hottest. Most of the locals will be resting during this time anyway.

Once you leave the cities and towns, the majority of the county is open desert, so there is very little, if any, shade available. Always use sunscreen and take a hat with you to all places.

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