Where is it?
The Red Sea is situated between Africa and Asia, and it stretches from the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba in the north and the Gulf of Aden in the South. Depending on the destination in the Red Sea, the typical direct flight will take approximately four to six hours.
So, why is it called the Red Sea? Some argue that it adopted its name from the ancient Greek sailors who called it Erythra Thalassa - translating into the Red Sea. In Hebrew Yam Suph, translates to Sea of Reeds, while in local Arabic, the name Al-Baḥr Al-Aḥmar means the Red Sea literally. Undoubtedly, the local species of cyanobacteria called Trichodesmium erythraeum plays a role in its name. It changes the colour of water slightly, giving it a brown-reddish tint.
The best guidance to understand its name was given to me by Bruce Lyons - one of the pioneers of UK's scuba diving tourism to Egypt - just before my first trip. It's a combination of several features, but all you need to do is watch the sunset against the backdrop of the mountains and desert, especially when the algae bloom is present. The combination of all gives a fantastic, unforgettable view. It is so accurate, and I enjoy it every time I go to Egypt. The mountains and desert inherit beautiful red colour from the setting sun. The sea receives brown-reddish colour for just a few moments - it is almost a magical biblical transition.
When to travel?
The Red Sea is the closest tropical sea and scuba diving paradise and a year-round destination. The water temperature doesn't go below 20 in winter, February being at its lowest. In summer, the sky-blue waters of the Red Sea reach a toasty 29 degrees topping around September. Air temperature can drop below 10 degrees in winter and reaches the high 40s in August. The accessibility and warm weather makes the Red Sea a perfect diving destination for Europeans. During summer, waters are teeming with schooling fish. The Red Sea is home to over 1200 fish and 200 species of coral - around a fifth of these species are endemic to the Red Sea. While shore and daily boat diving from many Red Sea resorts are the most popular type of diving, a vast number of scuba divers flock to watch larger marine life on more remote reefs, mainly in the South of the Egyptian Red Sea and Sudan.
- October - March is considered a low season when the temperature drops; marine life is fewer but still, even in the peak winter in Europe, the Red Sea seems like a lovely warm escape. It is popular with holidaymakers who don't like the scorching summer sun and enjoy some winter sun. Oceanic whitetip sharks can be seen year-round on the offshore reefs of Elphinstone and at St John's reefs, but the best sightings are during the cooler months.
- April - June on the more remote reefs in the South increase the chances of seeing pelagic life like hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks - places like Daedalus Reef or the Brothers Islands are also frequently visited by blacktips sharks, whitetips, and thresher sharks too.
- June - September is considered a peak season, with temperatures reaching 30-40s topside. Warmer waters make this a popular time to visit, especially in the north, as the local reefs are overflowing with coloured fish. Straits of Tiran are located in Northern Egypt at the beginning of the Gulf of Aqaba and is one of the best dive areas in Egypt. Four amazing dive sites, Jackson Reef, Woodhouse Reef, Thomas Reef and Gordon Reef, make diving here on a liveaboard and day boats from Sharm El Sheikh very special. Make sure you look out in the blue for any encounters with gliding grey reef sharks or a pod of friendly dolphins.
- From November to January in the Gulf of Tadjourah in Djibouti is one of the best places in the world to see whale sharks, some of which find their way into the Red Sea basin.
What to take?
In the days of ever-increasing excess baggage fees, while standard allowances for hand and hold baggage decrease, light travel equipment can make our lives much easier. Below is my typical packing list for the Red Sea weeklong liveaboard holidays:
- Dive Travel Bag - at least 100L to comfortably accommodate all your equipment, plus a smaller backpack for hand luggage. Most gear will be in the main bag alongside all the dive clothing, while all the high-value items such as dive computers and regulators will be in the carry-on.
- Travel Essentials such as reef-safe sunscreen, sunglasses, and first aid kit and divers were handy. It always beneficial to take your first aid kit. Please remember to check if you have any prescribed medication as you will need a letter from a GP confirming you need them andas some of them may be on a banned meds list.
- Regulator Set - if you are on the market for the new regulator set, you may consider a lightweight travel regulator set. A mid-range or entry-level cold water regulator set will do the job amazingly if you are diving in both warm and cooler water.
- Nowadays, most major brands offer travel-friendly BCDs, but I usually stick to my Ultralite Setup with wing, backplate and harness. Travel Fins are usually shorter, so you can comfortably slide them even in hand luggage. Reduced weight and shorter blades don't mean they underperform. Quite the opposite - travel fins are excellent performers - they are designed and manufactured in such a way to give power with every kick.
- Wetsuits are most suited for the Red Sea. It is again down to personal preference. In comparison, most divers will stay content in a rash vest or 1-3 mm full tropical suits or shortie wetsuit over the summer. In the winter months, divers choose at least a 5mm wetsuit. Remember you will be spending around three to four hours in the water every day on a liveaboard, so while you may feel a bit warm on your first dives, having a thicker neoprene on the dusk/night dive will be beneficial.
- Divers Safety - most dive operators require an individual SMB with a Spool or Reel and a signalling device such as a torch. Torches also come in handy during night dives in the Red Sea - as the water is crystal clear, a handheld torch of around 1000 lumens is usually enough. Large knives are not welcomed in the Red Sea, and I usually stick with a small knife or multiple cutting tools.
- Regulator first air, AKA spare and repair kit. While you will never be prepared for all eventualities, and most operators will have some basic spares for your rig, we always carry a small tool and o-ring set in the suitcase, just in case.
Where to dive?
The Red Sea waters are shared between a few nations - Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Most UK dive tourism focuses on Egyptian, Israeli, Jordanian and Sudanese waters of the Red Sea and limited access to Djibouti and with Saudi Arabia just starting to open up very slowly to diving tourism. Being just a 4-6 hours flight from Europe, a direct charter flight will take you to Elat, Aqaba, Sharm El Sheik, Hurghada or Marsa Alam for a scuba diving holiday of a lifetime.
Israel and Jordan
Gulf of Aqaba offers fantastic diving with spectacular cascading coral gardens and is popular among beginner divers.
- The Eilat, an Israeli stretch, promotes itself as the scuba diving classroom of the world, with some of the best scuba diving schools, which also participate in coral growth research. Eilat's Aqua Sports Dive Centre is one of the oldest scuba dive centres globally - going back in history to 1962 and the early days of Jacque Cousteau.
- Aqaba Jordan - Apart from the same fantastic coral gardens and biodiversity, the Jordanian reach has a few sunk wrecks/artificial reefs like the Cedar Pride, the Tank, the wreck of C-130 Hercules, and offers a technical dive on the wreck of a massive sunk crane called Taiyong.
The Egyptian Red Sea
It is the most popular destination in the region, offering world-class diving. Shallow lagoons, suitable for snorkelers and open water courses full of fish and coral. Vertical walls and wreck diving full of sizeable pelagic life for more advanced divers - accessible mostly by day boats and liveaboards. There are also some deep mystical sites to be explored if you are a technical diver. The Egyptian Red Sea has it all. The most notable shore diving destinations in the Egyptian Red Sea are:
- Nuweiba is famous for its cascading coral gardens, which, like the gardens of Babylon going from five to a hundred meters. There is also some advanced cave diving around Nuweiba caves accessible by trained divers.
- Dahab - famous for its iconic Blue Hole, this destination is famous for its shore-based diving and a chilled out hippy atmosphere. Suitable for all levels of diving, from beginners to advanced divers. It is also one of the top iconic destinations for technical divers - almost any technical diver considers technical dive under the archway almost a ritual passage.
- Sharm El Sheikh - This is one of the leading Egyptian Resorts enjoyed by thousands of divers annually. Sharm El Shaik is the gateway to the most iconic dive sites, including the world-famous Ras Mohamed National park, Strait of Tiran (wall and wreck diving), Abu Nahas (wreck diving) and the wreck of SS Thistlegorm.
- The coast of Egypt and resorts such as El Gouna, Hurghada Marsa Alam, and El Quseir down to Lahami Bay feature mostly purpose-built resorts and offers fabulous diving along the Egyptian coast. One of the most iconic dive sites along the coast is Panorama Reef, Giftun Island, Abu Nahas, Salem Express wreck, Fury Shoals, Shams Alam, Dolphin House; some are especially good for spotting Dolphins and Dugongs (cousins of manatees who share a similar plump appearance)
- Egyptian Remote Reefs are a destination in their own right, accessible almost only by Egyptian safari liveaboards; they are one of the most popular ways of experiencing the Egyptian Red Sea. They offer a full-on diving experience of 3-4 dives per day (3 hours plus in the water), fantastic food, and almost guaranteed pelagic action at selected routes in chosen months. I dare to say this is one of the best diving in the world and the most iconic dive sites include the Brothers Island, Elphinstone Reef, Daedalus Reef, Zabargad and Rocky Reefs.
Sudanese Remote Reefs
Fewer people visit Sudan for scuba diving due to its turbulent past and sporadic accommodation infrastructure, but Sudan has provided a thrilling scuba diving experience since the 1960s. No wonder no other than famous Jacques Cousteau has chosen Sudanese waters for his pioneering underwater habitat called Conshelf II - the remains of its structure can be seen even today. The crystal blue waters of the Sudanese Red Sea are home to 400 species of coral and over 1500 species of fish. They attract a lot of shark enthusiasts from over the world, wanting to observe sharks, including the famous scalloped hammerhead and oceanic whitetip shark. Sudanese Red Sea is also a resting place of one of the most iconic WW2 wrecks, the Umbria - with a maximum depth of 38meters; this is an exceptional dive for advanced open water divers.
Diving in Sudan is best from a liveaboard, and there are a couple of reliable boat operators who will make sure you access one of the best dive sites in the Red Sea.
Djiboutis Whale Shark Safaris
Djibouti, because of its location, has a lot to offer and some amazing species like whale sharks, pilot whales or even tiger sharks can be seen during the dive. The best dives sites again are accessible by safari liveaboards and include reefs such as Seven Brothers, which are famous for their diverse marine life, including manta rays and whale sharks. Goubet Al Kharab, otherwise known as "Devils Coudron" and Gulf of Tadjourah, are world-famous for encounters with juvenile whale sharks, which linger in these waters for a few months during the year.
Scuba diving from a dedicated liveaboard gives you access to some of the best dive sites in the world and allows you to explore destinations far beyond the reach of those offered day boats.
We have partnered with LiveAboard.com to offer you unique diving experiences across the world from Antarctica to the Virgin Islands, with some of the most popular scuba diving destinations being Maldives, Micronesia, Thailand, Indonesia, Egypt, Mexico, Galapagos and Australia. In fact, there are over 450 liveaboards and 26000 cruises to choose from!
Please note that travel rules are constantly changing. We recommend that you book your holiday with a reputable tour operator who can keep you updated on any changes prior to travel or in a resort. For more information on Maldives Diving Holidays, please contact Dive Worldwide or any other respectable British tour operator.