Diving in South Egypt
As more and more divers discover the diving areas of northern Egypt, attention has begun to turn to the dive sites of southern Egypt. South Egypt offers warm, clear waters and lush coral gardens without a hint of pollution, along hundreds of kilometers of almost uninhabited coastline.
For our purposes, South Egypt is the area along the Red Sea coast from just south of Hurghada all the way to the southern border with Sudan. With the Eastern Desert to the west, this rugged, arid region is one of the most isolated areas in Egypt, where the only sign of human habitation is often a solitary army post hundreds of kilometers from the nearest town. Although the teeming Nile valley lies only a couple of hours away from the coast by road, this region can sometimes feel like the land that time forgot, its small towns seemingly unchanged since medieval times.
Temperatures in July and August can reach 45 degrees (113 F), while in winter the temperature in the surrounding desert can sometimes drop below freezing at night. Rainfall is minimal but what precipitation there is generally falls in December and January.
Diving here is fantastic. Stick a pin in the map almost anywhere on the coast, and you would most likely find prime dive site of pristine beauty. This is an area of elaborate coral gardens, maze-like labyrinths of caves and canyons, drop-offs and gentle slopes, shallow undersea playgrounds and submarine valleys.
Most of the reef fish species abound in huge numbers, and display little of the timidity which has become common further north. Huge schools of snapper, surgeonfish, barracuda, fusilier and jacks are extremely common, while solitary reef fishes are present in numbers usually reserved for schooling species in other parts of the Red Sea. Grouper reach incredible sizes, big moray eels fill nooks and crannies in the reef, colorful angelfish of many species abound, and looming giants such as Napoleon Wrasse and huge bumphead parrotfish patrol the waters along the reef's edge. The sandy bottoms along the coast support a variety of rays, as well as oddities such as guitar sharks and crocodilefish. Other sharks, including reef whitetips, grey reefs, hammerheads and even the majestic whale shark, have all been seen in these waters.
The area's other marine residents are sea turtles, squid, cuttlefish and octopus. This is also one of the few places in the world where wild dolphins have been know to play with divers in the water. There are even areas where that most elusive of marine mammals, the Dugong, have been seen by divers.
The corals are incredibly diverse and healthy. All the soft and stony species are represented, in extensive reefs composed of every conceivable mixture, where big beds of single species such as Dendronephthya forests or fields of Acropora tables, alternate with complex jumbles of dozens of species. Huge gorgonian sea fans and castle-like bommies of massive corals feature on many reefs, and carpet anemones and bubble corals can be found throughout the area.
Water temperatures range between 29 degrees (84 F) in the summer to the lower twenties (70s F) in winter. While habitual cold water divers may be content with a lycra suit or shortie wetsuit, locals wear full suits even in summer, and opt for 7mm (0.28in) suits with hoods or even drysuits in the winter months. Prevailing winds largely determine dive conditions here, especially as much diving is done from shore or long-range boat, where sheltered access or anchorage is vital. Wind-driven waves, particularly in the autumn and winter, can limit access to some sites, and divers would be well advised to practice entries through heavy surf.
Visibility is generally very good, with averages over 20m (65 ft), and highs far beyond that. As with any tropical sea, however, seasonal fluctuations can bring seriously reduced visibility in the form of plankton blooms or other natural phenomenal
Dive Operators and Facilities
Access to the dive sites tends to be limited by the constraints of the region's limited infrastructure. Where there are dive centers, access is generally by jeep along the shore. With relatively few offshore reefs, boat diving is not really a necessity here, although it may eventually develop as it has in the north. For more remote areas, long-range live-aboards or shore-based safaris are the only options. Both the logistics of access and supply, and the necessity of official permission to visit much of the southern coast, make individual expeditions prohibitively difficult.
Until recently, the nearest dive base to these sites was Hurghada, and diving here was very much an adventure. In the last few years, dive centers have begun to appear along the coast, first in Safaga, then in El Quseir and points south. There is now a small number of high-quality dive operators arranging diving on the south coast, and, as interest in the region increases, this number is bound to rise. In addition, several live-aboards now spend the summer months based out of ports along the south coast, and other boats form the northern ports have added south coast destinations to their itinerary.
Local Dive Etiquette
Divers are expected to follow a 'hands-off' policy when diving in the region. This means careful attention to buoyancy and constant vigilance to make sure no part of your body, from fin-tip to fingertip, comes into contact with the reef.
Most dive centers and live-aboard operators insist on an initial checkout dive to evaluate divers' skills. The responsible diver will accept this constraint as a courtesy to the operator and a necessary precaution to safeguard the region's exquisite reefs.
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Last Updated: May 30th, 2011