Guide to hotels, flights, diving, excursions and more.
SAMADAI AND SATAYA
- "DOLPHIN HOUSE" REEFS BOOK ONLINE AND THEN PAY ON ARRIVAL.
To book please email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone Steven on +20 1284332337 .
Marsa Alam has two of the most important dolphin habitats in the Red Sea and the world. Samadai reef, more commonly known as "Dolphin House" as well as the lesser known but equally important "Sataya Reef," are both homes to large families of spinner dolphins.
If that isn't enough for you dolphin enthusiasts, you will be happy to learn that many more spinners visit the reefs on a regular basis with occasional visits by other dolphin species such as the bottlenose.
Of the two Samadai Reef is the most easily accessible lying a mere eleven kilometres or six nautical miles south east of the Marsa Alam anchorage, but this also means it is sometimes relatively overcrowded compared to Sataya Reef.
In February 2013, a local conservationist group - HEPCA ( the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association ) took over the management of the site in order to ensure the enforcement of rules limiting the number of visits allowed. Restrictions designed to protect the dolphins and their fragile reef habitat.
SAMADAI REEF - ( for Sataya Reef see below )
Local expert Steven oranizes a day trip to "Dolphin House" from just 45 euros (£40) per person including return limousine pick-up from your hotel, the boat, lunch, tea, soft drinks, all your snorkeling equipment and the legally obligatory ticket that guarantees access to this protected area and helps to fund ongoing conservation efforts. Please note that the time of pick up varies from each hotel and that the price quoted is for hotels up to 60km from the town of Marsa Alam and includes those at Port Ghalib.
Trips to Dolphin House go on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and require 24 hours notice to book as it's important to book ahead to secure entrance to the protected area. Also please bring a photocopy of your passport and a towel.
The boat leaves Marsa Alam marina at 8.30am and it takes about 80 minutes to reach the Dolphin House reef. There you have a very good chance of being able to swim and snorkel with wild spinner dolphins - a moment of a lifetime which will be infinitely more memorable than an arranged photo call with a captive dolphin at a sea aquarium.
And even if you are very unlucky and a dolphin doesn't swim near you, the reef and its' sheltered shallow lagoon offer a fantastic range of marine life and sites including turtles, rays, clownfish, underwater reef pinnacles and an awesome swim through canyon (for qualified divers only).
After your snorkel you will be able to have lunch at noon on the boat as well as soft drinks and tea and coffee. Then after lunch more swimming or you can relax on the boat before returning to Marsa Alam marina at 3pm.
Do remember that included in the sixty euro per person price is the boat charge, lunch, drinks, tickets, snorkeling equipment and permits and limousine pick-up and return for hotels up to 20km from Marsa Alam. Guests staying further away at more distant hotels between 20km and 50km from Marsa Alam will be surcharged 10 euros per person to cover the extra limousine cost.
Prices for divers are given below and include the cost of taxi transfers, entry, boat, lunch, soft drinks, professional guide and all equipment rental charges.
To book this trip email email@example.com or telephone Steven on + 20 1284332337.
SUMMARY OF STEVEN'S EXCURSION CHARGES
SAMADAI REEF - ALL PRICES PER PERSON
Snorkeling excursion all in - adult
Snorkeling excursion all in - child
Except for supplement for hotels
further than 20km but less than 50km
Diving excursion all in
A great chance to get close to dolphins at Sataya Reef.
ALTERNATIVE TRIP TO SATAYA REEF
If you've already been to Samadai Reef or would like to visit a reef favoured by dolphins but which is seldom visited by tourists you can travel further south to Sataya reef around 12km off the Hamata shoreline. The all-in price for snorkeling is just 60 euros per adult which is a great deal given that Sataya is far away in Marsa Alam's relatively unexplored "Deep South". If you would like to get a flavour of what you might see - take a look at the youtube video right.
The trip includes your return transport to Hamata, a freshly cooked meal on board, all your snorkeling equipment, a professional guide and a choice of tea, coffee, soft drinks or bottled water at any time of the day. Here you probably won't have to compete with so many people to get close to the reef's spinner dolphins. To book this trip email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Steve on +20 1284332337.
TELL ME MORE ABOUT SPINNER DOLPHINS
The spinner dolphin population at Samadai, although usually around sixty, can vary greatly on a daily basis from as few as three to as many as 210 one day in 2004 ( according to The Journal of the Marine Biological Association ) and 176 on a single day in 2012 ( Trip Advisor Dolphin House Forum 24.12.12 ).
Some of the extra numbers are sometimes made up of occasional (once or twice per year) visitors but the majority frequent the reef on a year round basis.
When you arrive you may well catch a sight of some spinners surfacing to breath. However you may be surprised to learn that some of them may be asleep.
Dolphins do not enjoy the same depth of sleep as humans as their breathing has to be done in a conscious manner and marine biologists have observed that they sleep with one half of their brain alert while the other rests. So as they sleep they continue to swim slowly and surfacing regularly to breathe.
However you will often encounter active dolphins especially by early afternoon. They are extraordinarily playful and there are even accounts of these dolphins enjoying surfing near the reef.
"I spent a wonderful time watching the divers surfing with the dolphins up and down the waves," recounts one visitor on TripAdvisor "My abiding memory was all of us sitting (and watching from) the boat doing "high 5s." ( Swingingsultan 31 January 2012 )
If you want to learn more about dolphins you will find many interesting questions answered on our dolphins FAQ page.
HOW DOES THE SPINNER GET ITS' NAME ?
The spinner is the most acrobatic of all the dolphins and famed for its' long leaps out of the water. It surges out of the water front first and twists or spins its' body in mid jump before landing on its' side. Whether they do this for a purpose or merely for fun is not clear but it's great entertainment to watch !
WHAT CHANCE OF A "SWIM WITH" EXPERIENCE?
You have to remember that these are wild dolphins and can't be requested to perform as if in an aquarium. It's a little like going on a safari in Kenya and hoping to see lions - it can't be guaranteed - but even if you miss it you'll enjoy a lot of other amazing sites.
SAMADAI DOLPHINS ARE MORE FRIENDLY !
A 2008 research paper on dolphins at Samadai in the Journal of the UK Marine Biological Association stated that there was evidence that "spinner dolphins are clearly easier to approach at Samadai than in other reefs along the southern coast of Egypt, suggesting that in Samadai dolphins were more used to being in the vicinity of people than elsewhere."
However please also read our sections on the environment and the dolphin code in order to understand the importance of cautious controlled interaction with these highly intelligent but vulnerable animals.
MORNING OR AFTERNOON ?
Some guides say that the best chance to see the dolphins will be soon after your arrival. Dolphins are nocturnal hunters and perhaps they are assuming that the dolphins are "late to bedders."
However a 2008 research paper on Samadai noted that "in the afternoon hours (the) dolphins increased their activity patterns" and "were more inclined to frequently trespass from Zone A ("Dolphins Only") into the remainder of the reef area, including Zone B where they would be swimming among snorkelers."
(Journal of the UK Marine Biological Association.)
So there you have it - don't loose heart if you don't see dolphins in the first few minutes after your arrival as your chances will increase during the afternoon. However do bear in mind that environmental rules stipulate that access to the reef for snorkelers terminates at 2pm and for divers at 3pm.
These time limits have been imposed to help protect the reef and the dolphins. Also, by mid afternoon the spinner dolphins start to leave their sheltered resting place in the lagoon for the open oceans to feed and do not usually return until sunrise.
WHICH SEASON IS BEST ?
There is probably a seasonal element also which determines your chance. Earlier studies have shown that the average population number of dolphins at the reef is at its' lowest between February and April but then reaches a peak in the May to July period some six to eight times greater than the winter/spring minimum. Numbers then recede gradually during the autumn until the winter. TripAdvisor comments also seem to indicate that visitors in the summer tend to be luckier but there is no absolute rule as sheer luck still plays a big role.
WHAT'S THE STATISTICAL CHANCE ?
So is it possible to give you any figures to indacte what sort of probability there is ? Well, looking at TripAdvisor postings during 2012, of 23 comments about Dolphin House, 13 were delighted to have swum close to the dolphins, six didn't mention whether or not they had swam with the dolphins and just four said they hadn't seen any. So even if this sample might not be scientifically representative, it seems likely that your chance is probably better than fifty-fifty.
If you are very unlucky on your fist trip and are really desperate to see dolphins then you could could book another trip but there will always be that element of luck.
WHAT IS THE REEF LIKE ?
Samadai reef forms a horse shoe shape 1.4km long and 1km wide with a shallow sandy partially enclosed lagoon at the northern end of around 6-7 metres in depth and around 350 X 400 metres surface area, providing a shelter with calm quiet water for the resting dolphins.
The surface reef lies to the north and east of the lagoon shielding it from the prevailing northerly winds but the dolphins need only two minutes to swim to the open waters with the reef dropping gradually down to 15 metres depth near its' southern edge but then with sudden steep drop-offs descending to 200 metres on the western and 600 metres on the eastern side.
It is however a very safe place for swimming providing you follow the advice you will be given on arrival and the sea at Dolphin House is beautifully warm year round (23C in January and 29C in August) while the underwater visibility is excellent at up to 30 metres.
Divers will be well rewarded as there is a beautiful underwater cave-like canyon on the western edge of the lagoon which takes about five to ten minutes to swim through.
And you won't be disappointed if you don't see dolphins because the reef is also home to a highly diverse range of flora and fauna, hard and soft coral, occasional barracuda and reef sharks (in deeper waters) as well as a myriad of fish species.
One of the underwater highlights, not far from the anchorage, is an amazing "amenon city" - plant-like animals with poisonous (too touch) tentacles - with a large number of colourful clownfish. Remember the star of the animation film "Finding Nemo" - Now you've got the picture !
Divers and swimmers should be cautious and carefully follow your guide's advice, as although the lagoon is generally a relatively sheltered and safe place to swim with mostly light currents, there are places around the reef where the currents can be strong.
WHAT TO TAKE ?
Probably the most important - swimwear, a towel and also your passport (or a photocopy) in case Egyptian police wish to check it on your return the Marsa Alam anchorage.
Check if your tour operator will provide you with your diving or snorkeling equipment. The latter (mask, snorkel and fins) can usually be bought at most hotels if you need to take your own. Diving centres can loan diving equipment and there is a diving shop in El Quseir.
You should also, if possible, take sun cream, an underwater camera (if you haven't got one you might be able to buy a disposable one) and binoculars ( if you have any ) for spotting any surfacing dolphins.
WHAT ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT ?
When your organizer arranges your trip he will have to buy a 105LE ticket for you to gain entrance to the Dolphin House area.
30 per cent of this money goes to HEPCA and is spent on maintaining the mooring system, another 30 per cent goes to Egypt's National Parks to help with conservation initiatives and the remaining 40 per cent goes into the coffers of the local Marsa Alam City Council.
A HEPCA representative is present daily to check tickets and monitor activities on site.
So your visit and your ticket are, at least in part, contributing to the cost of maintaining the fragile ecosystems of the Red Sea and Egypt's national parks.
IMPORTANT ENVIRONMENTAL RESTRICTIONS
A maximum of ten boats daily are allowed to enter the reef area carrying not more than 175 snorkelers and 100 divers. Boats with snorkelers are allowed access between 10am and 2pm while boats with divers between 9am and 3pm. Don't worry about being turned back. If your organizer has already obtained a ticket to enter the reef area this guarantees that you will be allowed in.
The first thing you will notice on entering the lagoon is that there are buoys clearly marking off the snorkelers and divers areas from the "dolphins only" resting area. So please keep within your designated area. Don't worry as your guide will point them all out to you when you arrive.
If you go snorkeling you will have to wear a lifejacket partly for safety and partly to prevent the occasional over enthusiastic snorkeler diving under the water to chase the dolphins.
However perhaps the most important rule is to never touch or feed the dolphins. It will be tempting but can be surprisingly risky as they are large, powerful and sometimes unpredictable and can inadvertently injure a swimmer or diver.
Touching can also lead to the transmission of human diseases to which dolphins may have no immunity and long term may serve to damage their independence and survival instincts.
So if a dolphin approaches you try to remain as inactive as safely possible - do not try to engage it in play. You should only be a passive quiet spectator. Never follow or chase a dolphin but allow it to decide if it wishes to approach you.
If you are on a boat watching a school of dolphins then please do not whistle or call out to them as this may scare them. And if you are relaxing on the boat in the reef area please keep any conversation or music at a reasonably low volume.
Also be extremely careful about swimming close to female dolphins with calves. A calf will look significantly smaller than an adult and will usually swim in close association with its' mother. The most likely time to see calves here is in the May to July period and especially in June.
SAMADAI CODE OF CONDUCT FOR BOATS
Boats should approach dolphins extremely slowly, cautiously and never head on.
Once at thirty metres they should maintain that distance and only move parallel with the dolphins.
They should never chase dolphins but let the dolphins decide if and when to approach the boat.
They should always give way to dolphins if the dolphins wish to swim across the intended course of the boat.
They should never make any sudden movements or changes in direction.
They should only use the pre-defined mooring facilities.
They should turn off engines as soon as its' safe to do so.
They should never compete with other boats. If there is already a boat in the area of the dolphins wait until it is your turn.
They should never follow dolphins inside the lagoon and they should maintain a distance of at least 200 metres from the reef.
They should only navigate near the reef for the purpose of mooring and at a very slow speed never exceeding 2 knots.
They should not drop people in the water when the sea is rough or were there are other boats.
RUBBISH AND LITTER
If you see any rubbish or litter on the reef or floating in the sea please make every reasonable effort to remove it.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE 2001-3
At the start of this millenium Marsa Alam changed virtually overnight from being a remote coastal village in to one of the Red Sea's top diving resorts. In the first year, 2000, some six thousand tourists went on diving or snorkeling trips in the region, but by the next year that figure had increased by over twenty fold to over 130,000 and in 2002 it reached 225,000.
Dolphin House Reef suddenly became a popular but unregulated attraction with up to thirty boats with hundreds of tourists mooring daily. Many inexperienced divers and snorkelers inadvertently damaged the reef or disturbed the resting dolphins who normally sleep during the day time and dolphin numbers declined.
So in 2004 new environmental regulations restricting the number of visitors were introduced together with a zoning plan and education initiatives to help protect both the dolphins and their beautiful, but fragile, habitat. Observers noticed an almost immediate increase in the resident dolphin population.
So far these new measures seem to have achieved a successful balance between enhancing Egypt's tourist industry, a vital part of the local and national economy, while at the same time sustaining this invaluably precious and unique ecosystem.
DOLPHIN HOUSE PHOTOS AND VIDEO CLIPS
A pod of spinner dolphins at Samadai Reef. Photo by Annetee 2014 - one of Steven's happy customers.
Divers swimming with dolphins at Samadai Reef
May 2008 - 3.33 minutes - over 65,000 views
Spinner dolphins are highly social & playful animals.
Photo Jackiemora01 2008. Source Wikimedia Commons
Pod of dolphins at Samadai Reef
Feb 2007 - 1.56 minutes - over 17,000 views
Tourists snorkeling alongside dolphins at Sataya Reef.
A snorkeler performs acrobatics with a dolphin.
4 July 2013 - 5.13 minutes.
Relative size of a typical adult spinner dolphin.
Drawing by Chris Huh. Source - Wikimedia Commons.
A dolphin with her calf. Photo by Faraj Meir - 2006.
Source - Wikimedia Commons.
Dolphins are inquisitive and playful but let them decide if they wish to approach you. Photo - Sheilapic76.
Source treehuger.com Creative Commons.
You will usually see dolphins swimming together in a pod. Photo - J.D.Ebberly Flickr Creative Commons.
The reef also sees occasional visits from bottlenose dolphins. Photo - in public domain - Truncatus. Source - wn.com.
A large pod of dolphins at Samadai Reef.
July 2012 - 1.48 minutes - over 100 views.
Dolphins at Samadai Reef have been seen surfing.
This photo not taken at Dolphin House.
Photo by Bird Brian Source Flickr - Creative Commons.
Dolphins play in the surf. Photo email@example.com - Creative Commons. Photo not taken at Dolphin House.
Dolphins at Samadai Reef - February 2013.
Youtube - 4.09 minutes - over 100 views.
Please DO NOT touch, kiss or feed the dolphins.
This photo was not taken at Dolphin House. Photo - Loren Sztajer. Source IBTimes.com Creative Commons.
Dolphins swim away. Do not follow them when they do. Photo - Redazione. License - Creative Commons.
Divers explore the reef's caves and canyon.
January 2013 - 3.26 minutes.
Pod of Dolphins off the Marsa Alam coast
July 2007 - 1.40 minutes - over 28,000 views
Divers swim through a cave-like canyon at Samadai reef - November 2009 - 3.04 minutes.
Another youtube clip of divers exploring the Coral canyon and caves at Samadai Reef. September 2010.
Diver swims among a large pod of dolphins.
November 2011 - 4.58 minutes.