Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Red Sea, Egypt
Visited: July 2019
Whether it be wrecks, hammerheads, or stunning reefs, there is a lot to see when diving the world class waters of the Red Sea, so much so, that it is difficult to know where to go first. From north to south you can almost always expect good to excellent visibility, with water temperatures of 21-28 ˚C (70-84 ˚F).
Part of a massive school of snappers hanging around Shark and Yolanda
The north Red Sea is known for the beautiful reefs of Ras Mohammed National Park and some of the top wreck diving in the world, including the SS Thistlegorm, an 125-meter long, armed British merchant shipped sunk nearly 80 years ago on October 6, 1941.
Hurghada, Sharm El Sheik and Dahab cater to flocks of divers annually, but many who travel to Egypt for diving choose to take a liveaboard in order to reach a greater assortment of dive sites or those that are more remote.
Our fearless dive guides from left to right: Mahmood, who has been diving the Red Sea for over 20 years. Jose the troubleshooter. Mousa, our dive guide extraordinaire, and the super beautiful, Noami.
The Southern Red Sea sees less traffic, as currents are stronger and drift dives are likely. This area attracts more experienced divers looking to explore the pristine reefs and see larger pelagics, like oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks. Marsa Alam is generally the entry point for diving in these parts, though some divers do dive as far south as Sudan.
We were offered the opportunity to join a 7-day liveaboard on the Blue Force 3 to checkout Blue Force Diving’s Top Red Sea route. This route covers many of the most popular dive sites in the Red Sea, so we were certainly excited to climb aboard this magnificent vessel.
The currents were reaching potentially dangerous levels in Elphinstone near Marsa Alam during our journey. Fortunately, our crew and captain were very experienced and with some minor re-routing our group still managed to see dolphins and a hammerhead. Here is more on what we saw during our week of living and diving with Blue Force Fleet 3.
We began our journey from the Sinbad Marina in Hurghada, Egypt’s second largest scuba diving destination, which is easily accessible by plane, bus or car. Diving began the next morning with a briefing at 5:45 am. Early mornings often make for the best diving, so we were ready to go, and here is where we went.
Bluespotted ribbontail stingray at Shaab El Erg
This was our checkout dive. The Shaab El Erg is a horseshoe shaped reef just north of Hurghada popular for night diving. I have read that there is muck to be found around it, but we did not really encounter any during our time here. The life we saw here was mainly bluespotted ribbontail rays, a devil scorpionfish… oh, and a dolphin!
I know there are divers who see dolphins regularly (I hate you), but this was the first time I have ever seen a dolphin during a dive, and as it darted through our group my expectations of the week to come skyrocketed.
Divers at the Dunraven Wreck
The Dunraven was a large 80 meter cargo ship that sailed between England and India from 1842-1846, when it struck a reef. Captain and crew spent several hours trying to pump the ship, but were finally forced to abandon ship when all efforts were unsuccessful. All cargo was lost but there were no fatalities.
This Wreck lies upside down in depths from 15-30 meters, with the stern resting in deeper waters. We swam through the bow. The stern is too broken up to swim through, but certainly worth checking out, as are the ship’s propeller and rudder. Entry/exit points can be found on the starboard side at about 20 meters, and the broken hull offers more points for entry or exit, with the deepest at around 28 meters.
There is some nice coral near the wreck, there were some substantial schools of small fish and there were a couple of large moray eels swimming around when we were there. They are memorable not just for their size and brazen disregard of our presence, but also because it did not take long before one became territorial and attacked the other.
This was a battle between two very large, extremely pissed off eels. Needless to say it was pretty epic, enough so that my own adrenaline increased a bit as I did my best to stay out of their way and observe it from a safe distance.
A puffer mystified by his own reflection in Matt's lens during our night dive at Beacon Rock
The Beacon Rock reef was the very reef which the Dunraven struck on its last voyage. We enjoyed a relaxed night dive here amongst the coral and feeding polyps. We also crossed paths with a stonefish that was about as big as a medium-sized dog. I was a bit startled when the light from my torch fell on him, as was he.
He quickly hurried to a large coral and pushed out a large moray in his attempt to hide. I found myself in the presence of yet another huge moray with a head as big as my own, which was amazing, but I was a bit relieved when he swam away from us. We also spotted a stunning Spanish Dancer nudibranch. It was tucked away inside a coral, but its vibrant color made it impossible to miss.
We were off to a good start and looking forward to the next day, when we would dive the highly regarded Ras Mohammed.
One of the incredible humphead wrasses we encountered at Ras Mohammed.
Ras Mohammed National Park is considered to be one of the top spots for scuba diving in Egypt. It is near the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula and many dive operators in Sharm El Sheak make day trips here, because it can be reach by boat in one hour.
Our batfish escorts during a dive at Shark Reef & Yolanda Reef
It is a good idea for scuba divers to keep an eye on the blue at Shark Reef and Yolanda Reef. This is where most pelagics and schooling fish are spotted. The are is known for the large schools of Trevallies, Jacks and Barracudas that frequent it.
During our dives we saw a few small schools of unicorn fish and barracuda, as well as, a school of batfish and a school of what was probably around 1,500 snappers.
You will probably encounter some toilet seats, which were part of the cargo of a ship called Yolanda that sunk here in 1981. The wreck was popular for diving until 1984 when a storm forced it from the reef. It was rediscovered in 2005 at around 150 meters.
Do take note that the temptation to pose for a comical selfie may arise, but this is a marine park, and you aren’t allowed to touch anything.
You will find Nemo while diving Anemone City
As you have probably already gathered by the name, Nemo fans and those who appreciate anemones and the clownfish who love them, will enjoy scuba diving at Anemone City.
There are plenty of magnificent anemones (Heteractis magnifica) and an assortment of anemonefish, some of which were protecting eggs during our dive, and were not shy about attacking a diver’s mask too until they swam away.
The plateaus of the reef and the coral make this a pleasant dive, which put my me in the perfect headspace for the four wreck dives that followed.
Lionfish at Thistlegorm
If you are interested in diving the Red Sea, you have probably heard of the Thistlegorm wreck. It’s a pretty big deal and a lot of scuba divers consider it to be the best wreck dive in the world. After diving here I have to say, it lives up to the hype. This thing is a beast.
Norton 16H and BSA motorcycles are just some of the cargo that remains aboard the Thistlegorm
As I mentioned above, the SS Thistlegorm is a 125-meter long, armed British merchant shipped that sunk nearly 80 years ago on October 6, 1941 during WWII. It was bombed by two Heinkel He 111 aircrafts, who discovered it while searching the area for ships moving British troops. Though there were some who survived the attack, nearly a dozen lives were lost, four of whom were civilian sailors.
The Thistlegorm was 128 meters / 419 feet long with a beam of 18 meters/59 feet. It was powered by a triple-expansion steam engine, and armed with a heavy-calibre machine gun and an anti-aircraft gun, which is still mounted to the stern.
Cannon shells at the Thistlegorm are dated 1929
With exception of two LMS Stanier Class 8F steam locomotives intended for the Egyptian Railway, everything on board was intended for delivery to British Allied forces. The cargo included tanks, Bedford trucks, several motorcycles, aircraft parts, Bren guns, and cases of rifles and ammunition.
Much of the ship and cargo is still intact, so unless you have side mounts or tech training, you will need at least three dives to see everything. We did a total of three dives here over two days, including a night dive. I think the only thing more eerie than diving the Thistlegorm, is diving it at night.
Swimming with wild dolphins - best day ever!
To lighten the mood during our surface interval our dive guide Noami rallied the crew and divers to board the zodiacs and head out for some dolphin spotting. We were successful in our quest and as we swam about we were soon visited by four friendly and curious dolphins.
We did not feed them, touch them or capture them, but we did have to swim fast and use our freediving skills to keep up with them. Dolphins are very playful and highly intelligent, I don’t think the humor of humans trying to emulate their movements was at all lost on them.
Diving at Sha’b Abu Nuhas
Sha’b Abu Nuhas is the full name of this reef near the Thistlegorm in the northern part of the Red Sea. There is a total of seven wrecks here, so it is no wonder Abu Nuhas is consider one of the top sites for wreck diving in the Red Sea.
The wrecks are in shallow waters, so shallow that not all of the wrecks are completely submerged. These shallower depths make it possible for beginning divers to dive here as well. We dove two wrecks during our time here. The Carnatic and Giannis D.
Divers filming at the Carnatic Wreck
The Carnatic was a British cargo ship that sank in 1869. Adding to the tragedy is the fact that the ship was carrying wine and gold. It took just two months for the British to send another ship to retrieve the gold and wine. This wrecks is still pretty solid and easy to explore.
The Giannis D is a haunting site
This 100 meter long freighter, was built in Japan in the 1960s and originally named Shoyo Maru. It sank in 1983, and now rests in three pieces at around 24 meters. The middle section is dilapidated, but the stern and bow are in fine condition and easy to swim through.
Both wrecks were surrounded with life and quite popular for diver selfies. From here we off to dive the Brothers Islands, which meant the boat would have to make the 8 hour trip overnight.
All aboard were grateful for calm seas and to be aboard a ship as pimp as the Blue Fleet 3. I have traveled much farther in far less comfortable ships and, to be honest, I don’t think I can ever go back now. We were talking with the other divers as we all arrived in Hurghada and every one of us was over the moon when we boarded and looked around at the bar, the salon, the sun deck and, of course, our quarters.
The Blue Force 3 is a liveaboard dream come true, and yes, the food is fantastic and plentiful. You will need to dive 3 to 4 times a day just to burn off everything you eat.
Barracudas at Little Brother
If my memory serves me correctly, this was our earliest start, with a briefing around 4:45 a.m. I am certain we were in the water before 6:00 a.m., so I thankful I had such an good night of rest.
Diving at the Brothers Island can go deep if sharks are spotted so we opted to dive with air instead of nitrox. A hammerhead was spotted during our dive and it quickly dropped to between 50-60 meters. Our guide, Mahmood, had to call a diver back as they were losing the shark and set themselves up for one very short dive.
There are very few divers that don’t want to see sharks and other large pelagics, but with a single 12-liter tank you have to be realistic about your depth and deco limits, besides we were diving alongside a beautiful wall covered in coral and other life that seemed to go on forever. This was a great dive to start my day with.
Our first dive at Big Brother was the Numidia wreck. Somewhere between the boat and where I back rolled into the water, my fin left my foot and was carried away by the current. This dive required a negative entry with an immediate push past the current at the surface, so I needed to get down past the reef to calmer waters to keep from being swept away from the group with my fin.
It turns out this is a pretty serious challenge with one finned foot and another that is basically useless in this situation. Still I kicked, and kicked and kicked until Mahmoodour dive guide, Mahmood, came to my rescue and pulled me passed the current.
Farewell to my favorite set of fins and my sincere apologies to the ocean.
He signalled to make sure I was OK and probably to make sure I was not panicked. I’m not going to lie, I was a little panicked until he grabbed me, but I was fine now, other than some minor embarrassment at losing my fin.
Sending me to the surface in that current would have been risky, especially with one fin, so we silently agreed that I would just complete the dive. Mahmood and my husband, Matt passed me back and forth for the next hour and though I could not dive independently, I got one hell of a tour of the Numidia wreck.
This ship was carrying locomotive wheels to India when it sank in 1901. It is positioned vertical, almost resting on its stern, which is at 80 meters. This is too deep for most divers, but the ship stretches all the way to a shallow 8 meters, so there is a lot to check out in between.
The remoteness of these islands and depths of their waters can be quite dangerous. Pelagics are spotted here mostly between May-August, which is also when currents reach levels safe enough for diving. Some of our divers did film a thresher shark during their dive here.
Diving the Salem Express wreck is an emotional experience
It was now time to head north, where we would dive the Salem Express wreck in the morning. Every wreck dive tugs at the heart, but the Salem Express wreck is particularly tragic. This is primarily because almost every woman and child aboard was asleep in their cabin when this roll-on/roll-off car and passenger ferry struck the Hyndman reef and sank in just 15-minutes on December, 17, 1991 when the bow visor was bent and forced open.
The official number of passengers aboard has been debated for decades, because many believe the official passenger count was off considerably, but out of the hundreds aboard, only 160 survived. Survivors were not found or rescued until the next day as the distress signal sent by the boat went unanswered during the night.
Salem Express lifeboats the passengers never had time to get to
This wreck rests on its starboard side and has several points for entry/exit. Doors to the cabins remain closed, out of respect to the dead that were not recovered. If you decide to dive this wreck it is important to be respectful and that you not touch anything, as luggage, clothing, cassette players, cars and other personal belongings remain visible. Depths are between 12-30 meters and though you really need to do two dives for this wreck, one is really enough for most people.
We moved on to reef diving from here and I have to say, the timing was perfect. Here are the reefs we dove we on our way back to Hurghada.
Dive guide Noami assists a diver with his SMB
Our first stop was at Panorama Reef, one of the more popular sites in Safaga. We dove the south side of this reef where there is a plateau at around 30-meters and a drop-off covered with Gorgonia. Hard and soft coral are abundant here and we crossed paths with a small school of unicornfish here as well.
Squid chasing our torch light during a night dive at Small Giftun
The next dive was at Ras Abu Souma where the a sandy slope pours down from the reef. It is a sandy bottom site with some coral patches, several of which were inhabited with moray eels.
In the evening we enjoyed an excellent night dive at Small Giftun. Large squid, octopus, moray eels, meter long box fish were spotted by divers, along with several types of pufferfish.
A porcupine puffer spotted during our night dive at Small Giftun
We dove here the next morning, and though Small Giftun is said to be a drift dive, we had calm waters. Like our night dive, the reef was full of life. During the day we saw many blue-spotted rays, puffers, anemones and clownfish, and some shy black gobies that disappeared too quickly for our cameras
Saying goodbye - time to wash our gear and hang up our wetsuits
Our final dive before returning to the Sinbad Marina in Hurghada was at Abu Rhamada. The beautiful shallow waters of Abu Rhamada made for a stunning and peaceful dive over 80 relaxing minutes. During the dive we spotted three octopuses and several black pipefish before take a few final selfies with our buddies.
I know there are still a lot more diving to be had from Egypt. However, diving the Top Red Sea route with Blue Force 3 allowed me to dive a considerable amount of the sites comfortably. Here is a link to more information about the Blue Force 3 and its Top Red Sea route.
Seriously, how cute is this puffer?
Hurghada is a city that thrives on tourism, much of which is scuba diving and water sport related. Getting here is relatively easy. You can check your visa requirements and possibly apply for one online at Visa2Egypt.
Direct flights to the Hurghada International Airport are available from Aswan, Luxor, Cairo, and many European cities, typically at reasonable prices.
There are daily busses to Hurghada from Cairo and Luxor. The most established carrier is Go Bus, but there are also local unmarked busses that are harder to find but less expensive, both had a/c and we did not notice much difference in the level of comfort or service.
The unmarked bus we took from Taba to Sharm El Shiek took about 9 hours and cost EGP 110 / USD 7 each. The Go Bus from Cairo to Hurghada took around 8 hours and cost EGP 225 / USD 13.50 each.
Do take note that you have to add about 2-3 hours to whatever travel time is estimated for these busses. If it should take 4 hours, count on 6 hours. They have to stop for routine security checks, meal breaks, staff changes. Pick a reason, the bus will stop.
Blue Force Fleet arranges one night at a nice hotel for you on the day you leave the boat. If you are coming early, or staying on for a while, you can book through any hotel booking website or app.
Hotels prices in Egypt are very reasonable. We arrived early, so we paid USD 17 / EGP 282 for a basic room with a/c at a small local hotel with a swimming pool. Many places also charge only a little extra to include breakfast with your booking.