Red Sea Adventure – Scuba Diving in Dahab

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Commandments and Coral Reefs

Thou shalt not step on the coral. That must have been the eleventh commandment, lost to the world atop of Mt. Sinai. The nib of land that separates Africa from Asia is legendary, both in biblical lore and regional conflict. Scuba diving in Dahab on Egypt‘s Sinai Peninsula offers some of the best underwater adventures in the world. The Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea has some of the most dazzling marine life found anywhere And, it’s all right off-shore.

The first thing we notice about Dahab is the friendliness of the people. Everywhere we turn, people are pouring us tea and giving us gifts. Shopkeepers insist we come in for tea and, of course, the sales pitch and display of goods. Even when we’ve convinced them that we really are not interested in buying anything, they still won’t let us leave without a “birthday” present.

Cozy beach-side lounges entice us with bonfires, fresh fish and free salad buffets. The restaurant touts out front, after learning that we just ate, still offer a hearty “Welcome to Alaska! Pleased to meet me!” and bid us goodnight. Expecting more hustle and hassle than elsewhere in the region, we are pleasantly surprised by the local amicability and the low-pressure tactics of the touts and vendors.

Chapel at the top of Mount Sinai

Chapel at the top of Mount Sinai

Diving in Dahab

Dahab is one of the top dive destinations in the world. Since it has been over six months since our last dive, our first day diving in Dahab includes a refresher. After a review of basic skills, we are off to explore Lighthouse Reef in the bay. After lunch, our divemaster, takes us to a site called Islands. The coral outcroppings here are massive, and the sea-life brilliant. Unfortunately, our dive ends in a ten-minute surface swim with thirty bar of air left, because our divemaster lost his way looking for a new exit through a hole in the reef.

The next day we have a different divemaster, who has forgotten her booties. Diane lends her some wool socks. We swim out across the coral to a crack in the reef, and descend 100′ into the Canyon. This is not the place to get claustrophobic. The walls of the Canyon are encased in coral and the submarine hallway teems with fish. We ascend into the aptly named Fishbowl, where we watch a Lion Fish swim by amidst a sea of smaller fish, backlit by the distant sun. Beautiful. Swimming back along the reef we notice bubbles from the divers now in the Canyon, percolating towards the surface of this very large aquarium.

Deep Blue

The Blue Hole is famous for those who like to dive the deepest, and for all intents and purposes, it is bottomless. Plaques adorn a nearby point, commemorating the divers who have died there exploring their limits. The dive begins at Bells, where we fall through the reef into nothing. After leveling off at 90′, we swim along the endless wall, half expecting something to snatch us into the vast depths. As we swim over a ridge, we suddenly find ourselves in the Blue Hole. It is important to keep a close eye on your depth gauge here, as there is nothing on which to get your bearings. Blue everywhere.

Sinai Peninsula and Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea at Dahab, Egypt

Sinai Peninsula and Gulf of Aqaba at Dahab

Our third dive of the day is at Eel Garden.  Here, the reef meets the sandy bottom, where Sand Eels stand and sway like snakes hypnotized by a charmer. They retreat as we approach, and reappear as we swim off. Garden indeed. The swim back along the reef is magnificent, but against a strong current in the afternoon, it is quite tiring after three dives.

S.S. Thistlegorm

That night, a two hour mini-bus ride delivers us to Sharm el-Sheik, where we board a liveaboard yacht and sail around the tip of the Sinai Peninsula into the Gulf of Suez.

After a 7:30 wake-up call and a quick bite, we suit up and jump into our first wreck dive. Because crossing the Mediterranean during WW2 was a risky ordeal, the S.S. Thistlegorm rounded the Cape of Good Hope laden with supplies for British troops in North Africa. However, she was sunk by a German long-range bomber as it entered the last stretch of its voyage. It is in excellent shape (considering) and is full of railway cars, jeeps, and motorcycles. Our first dive takes us around the wreck (which sits on the bottom diagonally – perfect for a safe dive profile), while our second one weaves through some of the ship’s exposed decks and cargo holds.

Ras Mohamed National Park near the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt

Enjoying a surface interval at Ras Mohamed National Park

Ras Mohamed

Our last dive is a drift between Shark and Yolande Reefs, in Egypt’s only national park, Ras Mohamed. Tiny fish pop in and out of the coral, like balloons at a rock concert. Turtles, eels, and rays glide over countless varieties of the most stunning underwater landscape we have ever seen. A very special place. A smaller shipwreck than the Thistlegorm had spilt a load of toilets and sinks along a part of the reef, providing humorous photo opportunities (if only we had a camera) as the coral slowly engulfs the ceramic.

Unfortunately, our dive is cut short by the apparent lack of experience displayed by one of our companions. Using his regulator at the surface (instead of his snorkel) and inflating/deflating his BCD to maintain buoyancy (instead of using his breathing rhythm) quickly brought his tank pressure down to 50 bar while the rest of us still had 100–120. It was somewhat frustrating watching him flail around like a fish out of water, wreaking havoc on the coral.

Mount Sinai

Due to the danger of decompression-sickness, it is not advised to climb Mount Sinai after diving in Dahab or Sharm el Sheik the same day. The Greek Orthodox St. Katherine’s Monastery sits at the base of the 2285m Jebel Musa. It is believed that, after 40 years of very slow travel, a burning bush spake unto Moses at the site of the monastery and the Ten Commandments were given to him atop Mt. Sinai. The beautiful monastery was swarming with tourists, and the quiet spiritual atmosphere one might expect is completely drowned out. We find refuge for lunch can be on the hillside across from the monastery.

Saint Katherine Monastery, Mount Sinai

Saint Katherine Monastery sits at the base of Mount Sinai

The climb up the mountain and the Steps of Repentance aren’t difficult, but the top is very cold and windy. A friendly Bedouin at the tiny shop serves us tea, and provides blankets and a seat beside the heater. A small church watches over the rising and setting sun, and the views are breathtaking. It is obvious why this piece of land has been so desirable through the ages.


Our guide book suggests that Dahab is a wannabe Ko Samui (popular Thai diving resort). We feel that the opposite is true – there are no full moon parties and alcohol consumption is not a priority. However, Dahab exemplifies the lack of originality present in many countries. Neighboring beach cafes have the same menu, the same cats, the same Bedouin girls selling the same bracelets, and play the same music. Invariably, the latter will be Bob Marley’s Legend. Across the road, neighboring shops sell the same perfume, the same papyrus, and the same T-shirts. But, the people are extremely welcoming and the diving in Dahab is epic. The Sinai is absolutely gorgeous and the light of the setting sun on the Arabian mountains, across the silvery blue sea, is sublime.


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