Top Dive Locations: Sharm-El-Sheikh
Sharm-El-Sheikh has been one of the world’s top dive locations for many years.
Located at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, the first pioneers of dive tourism began diving around Sharm in the early ’70s. Since then, the resort town has grown into a sprawling metropolis of hotels and dive centers. Easily accessible from across Europe, Sharm became one of the premier destinations for scuba diving training.
Tourism decreased dramatically in the wake of the tragic downing of a Russian airliner in 2015. It has rebounded since then, but Russia and the UK, the two largest contingents of dive tourists, still do not have direct flights to the resort. There are far fewer divers in the water since before the tragedy. As a result, the reefs have improved significantly, and larger creatures such as sharks and manta rays are spotted more frequently.
One of the reasons Sharm is a top dive location is that it has near-perfect conditions for almost every type of diver. The shallow, sandy-bottomed reefs of Na’ama Bay, Near and Middle Garden, Ras Katy and Ras Bob make for ideal Open Water dive sites. The more challenging dive sites of Ras Mohamed to the south and the island reefs of Tiran to the North can make for some very exciting drift dives. Technical and free divers often prefer to venture 80km north to Dahab, but both communities are active in Sharm.
The Underwater Life
Sharm-El-Sheikh’s location is what makes the coral and fish life so vibrant. The deep Gulf of Aqaba to the east, the shallow Gulf of Suez to the west, and the deep trench of the Red Sea proper to the south all meet at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula. Deep upwellings and currents drive nutrient-rich waters to the surface which in turn feeds the coral and the fish life that inhabits the region.
The Red Sea is connected to the Indian Ocean by the narrow straits of Bab-el-Mandab – the ‘Gate of Tears’ – at its southernmost point. Hence, a lot of the same species found throughout Indo-Pacific waters are found in the Red Sea. From the coral itself to giant morays, manta rays and whale sharks, there is a wide range of critters to be found in Sharm.
Along with the coral and the critters, there are a number of notable wrecks around Sharm. The lesser-known Million Hope and the smaller Kormoran are great dives, as is the Dunraven not far from Ras Mohamed. And, of course, the majestic wreck of the SS Thistlegorm.
Sharm-El-Sheikh can be dived all year, but what makes it so vibrant is the almost never-ending sunshine of the desert. Light penetrates deeply thanks to the clear water, a result of the elevated salt content. It’s a fantastic place for photography and, of course, videography. It’s a location where the DCC feature of the Paralenz really shines.
Top Dive Locations around Sharm
Shark and Yolanda
A favorite dive between two massive coral pinnacles starts by a drift from nearby Anemone City. The 800m-deep, sheer-sided wall of Shark Reef looms out of the blue, teeming with life. In late summer a huge cloud of schooling snapper hangs out where the current splits. Hundreds and thousands of anthias flash in the sunlight. The nooks and crannies are filled with morays, lionfish, and scorpionfish. Swimming from Shark to Yolanda brings divers to one of the richest coral gardens in Sharm, from around 10-15m on the corner of Yolanda.
The second pinnacle is named for the ship that foundered there in 1980. She was carrying bathroom supplies – toilets and basins and bathtubs – now scattered across the reef. It’s best not to sit on a toilet to take a picture – morays and lionfish lurk inside! Huge giant trevally lurk over the 10m-deep saddle between the two, and an excellent place to spend time before making a safety stop at ‘baby Yolanda’.
Gordon, Thomas, Woodhouse and Jackson reef are the four island reefs in the Straits of Tiran. Often prone to strong currents they make for some of the best drift dives in Sharm. Jackson is the most northern and one of the most popular. One of the best ways to dive is to jump at the south-eastern corner. The current usually split here but if it’s not too strong it’s nice to head south for a while over the coral gardens that slope down in the direction of Woodhouse Reef.
There’s usually a few stonefish and blue spotted rays here, and turtles are spotted in the garden on most dives. Turning around and descending for the deepest part of the dive, it’s best to spend the rest of the drift at 18m or above, heading to the north along a steep wall. The coral is stunning but it’s worth keeping an eye into the blue to look out for big fish passing by. A nice drift will bring divers to another lush coral garden, sheltered from the current and a perfect place to safely stop. Back on board, look for the resident population of Risso’s dolphins that hang out between Jackson and Tiran’s Laguna.
The Thistlegorm is a British Second World War freighter sunk by German bombers in 1941. It’s a 3-4 hour journey from Sharm but worth the early start. The wreck is still packed with trucks, motorcycles, weapons, and ammunition. The two steam locomotives she was carrying can be visited 30m off the hull after being blown clear of the ship during the attack. The coal tenders and water wagons remain on the forward deck.
Penetrating the wide-open interior is easy and hauntingly atmospheric. Conditions on the outside can be challenging, often with strong currents and poor visibility, but the ship is always packed with an amazing array of marine life. it is a stunning wreck to dive, a testament to the tragedy of war, and not to be missed.