Imagine a landscape where desolate, rocky desert meets gorgeous, blue sea, and you’ll be picturing something akin to Marsa Alam. This magical scuba diving destination is located on the Red Sea in southern Egypt, and over the past few decades, diving in Marsa Alam has built itself a reputation as a world-class scuba diving destination.
With healthy reefs, amazing offshore dive sites and built-for-purpose dive resorts, it’s little wonder that avid scuba divers return year after year to this desert region. Marsa Alam is home to sharks, dolphins and dugongs as well as local Egyptians dedicated to protecting the environment.
In 2019, I was lucky enough to spend ten days diving and snorkeling around southern Egypt in conjunction with PADI Travel. Here are my top six reasons you should travel to and dive magical Marsa Alam.
The southern Egyptian coast is famous for sharks. During the right time of year, you might spot hammerheads, oceanic whitetip sharks and reef sharks throughout the region. Whale sharks also make the occasional appearance. For shark lovers, the southern Red Sea is a must.
Marsa Alam, in particular, is home to one of the best shark diving sites in the Red Sea. Elphinstone Reef is located approximately 15 minutes from shore by speedboat but is seemingly a different world. Depending on the season, you can spot hammerheads (spring months) or oceanic whitetip sharks (summer and fall months) around this underwater plateau.
Even when you aren’t searching for sharks in the blue, Elphinstone is a beautiful dive. Gorgeous soft corals cover the wall, which drops to about 100 meters. A typical dive begins with a negative entry, followed by a drift along the wall and then 20 minutes searching for sharks on either the north or south side of the reef, depending on the current.
Because the currents at Elphinstone can be quite strong and the nature of the dive allows for little error, divers must have an advanced open water certificate and 50 dives.
Another popular excursion from Marsa Alam is an area known as Dolphin House (or Sha’ab Samadai). Dolphin House is a highly protected area that is usually home to a wild population of spinner dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins frequent the area as well.
Dolphin House is an underwater cove that is split into three sections by local authorities. Section A is the section immediately inside the cove. No swimmers, divers or boats are allowed in section A. Section B is demarcated by buoys just outside of Section A. Here snorkelers can interact with dolphins when they come out of Section A. No divers or boats are allowed in Section B. Outside of Section B, small boats can use the mooring lines and divers are allowed in the water.
A typical trip for scuba divers at Dolphin House will begin by tying the boat to the mooring lines and jumping in with snorkeling gear to see if the dolphins will come out of Section A. Then, divers can enjoy two lovely and easy dive sites nearby. Of course, there’s always a chance a dolphin will come say hello to the divers at either site.
Swimming with wild dolphins is a magical experience that shouldn’t be missed on any visit to Marsa Alam.
Marsa Alam is one of the best destinations in the world for swimming and diving with dugongs. There’s a small population of five to seven dugongs that live along the Marsa Alam coast from Port Ghalib to Wadi Lahami Diving Village. These marine mammals, which are related to manatees, spend their days feeding in the sea grass fields just offshore, and they are often spotted when they come up to breathe or when they are swimming between grass patches.
Because the population is limited but predictable, skippers in the area are skilled at spotting the dugongs. Therefore, divers and snorkelers have a decent chance of jumping in with these loveable characters.
In fact, Emperor Divers, a PADI dive shop located in Port Ghalib, even offers an exclusive Dive with Dugong PADI Specialty Course.
4. Coral Reefs
Although we get super excited by the big stuff around Marsa Alam, the area’s excellent coral reefs are reason enough to travel. A healthy reef runs along the shore from Port Ghalib south, providing shelter to fish of every color. Squid, turtles and rays are all easy to spot with snorkel gear, and divers can access any number of sites from shore. Of these sites, the Marsa Shagra House Reef and Marsa Abu Dabbab are firm favorites.
Further offshore at sites like Sha’ab Abu Dabbab 4 & 5 or Long Canyon, patches of coral pop up from the ocean floor. For divers who prefer a short speedboat ride to their dive site of choice, these reefs are a good choice. Canyons snake their way through these reefs, allowing for amazing underwater photography opportunities, too.
In addition, the Marsa Alam coral reefs boast easy diving that makes an excellent setting for Open Water courses or even new scuba divers looking to get comfortable with their skills.
Marsa Alam was historically just a crossroads with little to no development. It wasn’t until scuba divers showed up several decades ago that the town began to blossom. The whole area has been developed with scuba diving in mind, so it’s little wonder that the reef and local marine life are highly regarded and protected.
At just about any resort you visit in Marsa Alam, you’ll find the beach entry is limited to a small area in order to prevent visitors from trampling on the coral reef. Huge swaths of the coastline are off limits to swimmers, snorkelers and divers.
Beyond protecting the coastline, local organizations, like HEPCA, are working to protect marine life, including turtles and dolphins.
The area is also home to an innovative recycling program, and the vast majority of resorts in Marsa Alam are working to eliminate straws and other single use plastics.
Together these initiatives are working to create a healthier underwater world.
6. Unique Dive Resorts
As an area developed by divers for divers, you know Marsa Alam is set up for an optimum diving experience. This is especially evident at the region’s dive resorts.
Most of the operations in Marsa Alam run an innovative “unlimited diving” program. The idea is that you pay one price for a day of diving, and you make unguided dives on the resort’s house reef as often as possible. Usually this means you and your buddy will get about four dives in each day.
Then, when you want to go further afield to sites like Elphinstone or Dolphin House, you simply need to pay a small supplement for the guide and boat trip.
In addition, dive resorts frequently offer all-inclusive packages due to the sparse geography, so you don’t have to worry about trekking out of the resort for food or drinks.
Altogether, these unlimited diving and all-inclusive dive resorts make a fun and relaxing way to enjoy a scuba diving holiday.
Many thanks to Red Sea Diving Safari and Marsa Shagra Village for hosting me and showing me the wonders of the local underwater world during my stay in Marsa Alam. You can find more information about my time at this dive resort on the PADI Travel Facebook page.
Are you ready to dive into Marsa Alam? Contact PADI Travel to plan your trip today!