Dive Instructors have to be the worst clients to enter dive shops; they expect perfect divemasters, with dives that are picture book beautiful, cheap, quiet and very fishy! What a tall order! The Red Sea has been top of my dive wish list for some time, so armed with the internet and a credit card, I surfed for information and best prices. Before leaving Ireland, I had booked and paid for a 2-week return flight to Sharm el Sheikh airport and 1-weeks self-catering accommodation in Dahab. The rest was left to chance!
Dahab is a Bedouin town, an hour’s drive north of Sharm el Sheikh. Dahab means ‘gold’ in Arabic, undoubtedly referring to the beautiful beaches that sweep straight from the mountain to the sea. It was once on the hippy trail, but in recent years Dahab has become more conventional, with a number of big complex hotels situated on the outskirts of town. The main tourist strip along the seafront has recently been paved for pedestrians, where many restaurants, shops and dive centres all tout for business. Other activities offered are; windsurfing, kite surfing and desert safaris on camel, truck or quad bike.
Dive Centres range from busy factory style set ups, to those that offer a more relaxed, personable service, which is what I wanted. So I wandered along the seafront following my nose and ended up at Desert Divers, a pure stroke of luck!
Desert Divers is a Bedouin run dive shop and a hidden jewel. Wander in and you will find an Oasis of calm and relaxation where glasses of delicious Bedouin tea are offered on arrival, on departure and at every other opportunity. The first person I met was the owner Said, who was welcoming, friendly and helpful, as were all the staff. My buddy was immediately booked onto an advanced course for the next day and Said calmly promised and delivered me my perfect, anticipated dive holiday.
The majority of Dahab’s 25 or so dive sites are reachable by truck/jeep, making most of them, shore dives. Each day the trucks are packed with equipment, tanks and oxygen before heading off for 1 or 2 dives. The 9am start is invariably delayed, involving another tea break, however the whole atmosphere and general relaxed attitude of the place make any hold-ups go right over your head. Occasionally we lunched out near the dive sites, in one of the Boudouin restaurants that can be found along the beach.
My first Red Sea dive was amazing, there were huge numbers of pipefish lying on the sand, lionfish hiding in the corals with unicorn fish hunting around us, and the beauty and number of corals delighted me. Where I had worked in Thailand, the sighting of a unicorn fish or a lionfish was a noteworthy experience, on the house reef in Dahab ‘Lighthouse’, they were everywhere. The parrotfish were huge, the bream cavorted around us, the octopus slide carefully over the corals hoping not to be seen. The wrasse, angelfish and butterfly fish were all differently coloured to what I had been used to in Asia. It was magnificent.
Dahab has gained a reputation as an accident blackspot and as such the dive shops there are very safety conscious, a divemaster or instructor must escort all divers. Navigating these sites is simple, however the depths are great and novice divers could end up far deeper then planned. The dive community in Dahab are all very protective of their reefs, which is promoted in dive briefings; no souvenirs from the sea are allowed, no touching, no teasing – it is good to see so many people working towards this common good.
The Blue Hole is probably Dahab’s most notorious dive site, a hole in the reef about 70m wide and with an arch to the open sea at 56m deep, it is renown because many divers have died here, pushing the limits to pass through the archway. Adjacent to the restaurants at Blue hole, there are a number of memorial plaques on the cliff face, a harsh reminder of the dangers involved.
That aside, the Bells to Blue hole was the best dive I did in Dahab. Bells is a 1.5m wide chimney, which starts properly at 12m and continues to 30m and is wonderful to descend down head first, although you need to control your rapid decent in such a tight space. The dive along the sea wall is fabulous, like diving along an undersea cliff, and when you look up to the surface the view is incredible. Life on the cliff teams with anemones, black corals and sea fans. After a 100m or so, we crossed the saddle of the Blue Hole at 7m and did a circuit inside. Turning to see if my buddy was ok, I was amazed to see a pod of 8-10 big 1m yellow fin tuna, dancing around each other about 3m from me, but they were gone in minutes, hurtling down into the hole.
On my last day, we headed south of Dahab to an area called Islands. I was pottering along with my nose in the corals, searching for nudibranch or seahorses, when I looked up to see the most enormous Napoleon Wrasse cruising along taking no notice of the interest he caused. What a fantastic sight and such a noble, giant fish, what an incredible shame that these creatures are so near to extinction, because they are a gastronomic delight in Asia!
Dahab is a rapidly growing tourist destination with many activities on offer. The locals are already building an extended network of roads in anticipation of the growth. This may well mean that it will lose much of its Bedouin charm, however the town has a very laid back, appealing atmosphere, which I hope, survives the development. The diving is good with lots of life and great visibility. With local divemasters looking after the reef, promoting its conservation it should be well protected! Even as I left, Desert Divers were hosting a ‘reef watch’ program for the following 2 weeks, which was positively attended by volunteers. I will definitely return to Dahab, and was very close to upping sticks and moving there immediately, but as with all holidays the memory is fading with the suntan.
The flight is only 5 hours and fairly painless.
Week One; The 3 bedroom apartment was fantastic, 5 minutes back from the seafront, in the village. Set in the garden of a wonderfully friendly, helpful couple called Barbara and Fathy, it was quiet and comfortable, with a kitchen we rarely used, and all for only $35 a night. http://www.swipin.ch.
Week Two; Mirage resort, just off the spotless beach, north of the main strip. It was quiet even when full, with a sunken seating area for smoking the delicious hubbly bubblys (and I don’t smoke). An air con room was $15
Dive shops or Private Guiding
There are so many dive shops in Dahab now and from what I hear, they are multiplying like bacteria. There are also a number of factory style dive schools, who bully and boss you into doing what suits them and not necessarily, what suits you. I was really lucky to find Desert Divers who offer a wide range of activities from diving, to camel safaris to yoga training and a host of other adventures. Prices are competitive and negotiable. http://www.desert-divers.com/
Alternatively, you can get yourself a private guide who will take you away from the madding crowd to the quieter sites. Giving you a lot more control on how you want to dive, and dive times that suit your air consumption. Hemaid, a Bedouin divemaster who speaks great English, has his own trucks (or camels!) and has been private guiding for several years. His prices are good – a 2 dive day including equipment is $45 per person – $35 if you have your own equipment. [email protected]