The coral reefs along the Marsa Alam coast are a real treasure trove for the diver. Here you can get close to spinner dolphins, bottle nose dolphins, turtles, several species of shark, bumphead parrotfish and the enchanting but endangered Dugong "sea cow," not to mention the myriad varieties of colourful coral.
These reefs are mostly free from the environmental damage suffered by some further north. And whereas the dive sites near Sharm and Hurghada suffer from over crowding, the Marsa Alam sites, being further from the larger resorts, can often be enjoyed without having to constantly bump into other divers.
The best conditions for diving are during the summer months when the water temperature averages nearly 30 degrees centigrade although even in January it's a not unpleasant 24 degrees. Accordingly a 3mm wetsuit is suitable for the period from May to September while a 5mm wetsuit would be more appropriate during the relatively colder months.
The winter months, December to February, also tend to have longer periods with higher wind speeds and rougher seas.
When planning your trip, be aware that during the months of April and May visibility under water may be adversely affected by the seasonal plankton boom. Also be aware that Marsa Alam can be a windy location (usually more so than Hurghada), especially during the winter months. If sleeping on board a boat remember to close those port holes or your vessel will be the next diving attraction !
In our view the best diving sites are
1. Marsa Abu Dabab
Diving depth - up to 25 metres.
Location - close to shore - wade in from beach.
30km north of Marsa Alam.
Visibility - 5-20 metres. Best in deeper area.
Suitable - for all diving levels.
Despite the absence of a coral reef and not infrequent poor visibility, Marsa Abu Dabab is perhaps the most popular of all Marsa Alam's dive sites and for good reason as it is probably the best place to get close to sea turtles and the dugong. Fortunately the bay has recently been closed to boats making both snorkelling and scuba diving easier and more relaxing. It is also a dive site suitable to all skill levels.
You have a very good chance of seeing Abu Dabbab's semi-permanent dugong sea cow residents Dennisand Dougal. A Dugong is a large herbivorous marine mammal, brownish or dark grey in colour, with no dorsal fin or hind limbs but with paddle like forelimbs and a dolphin like tail.
Dugongs love the shallow sheltered waters of Abu Dabab because of the abudance of their favourite food - sea grass. Consequently they are sometimes refered to as "sea cows." Sadly, despite having a lifespan of over fifty years, the Dugong's days may be numbered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Dugong as a species threatened with extinction.
The shallow surf free waters in the bay are also an excellent location to see large turtles. These suprisingly large animals are usually happy to allow divers to approach close to them, which makes for a great photo opportunity. They are often accompanied by remora fish which cling to their shells and help to remove parasites as they feed.
Guitar sharks also frequent the shallows. These are an endangered species and one of the world's rarest sharks. It has bizarre but beautiful looks, as if a sting ray had been crossed with a real shark, but don't worry, it's not aggressive. However never touch them as a flip of its' tail could dislodge your mask.
For more information and latest offers on diving and snorkeling packages email email@example.com or visit the Emperor Divers website
2. Elphinstone Reef
Diving depth - 20 to 70 metres (60 - 200ft)
Location - 50km north east of Marsa Alam
and 10km from the shore.
Visibility - 20-30 metres.
Suitable for experienced divers only.
The top of the reef plateau here, some 300 metres long and 30 metres wide, is between one and 40 metres deep, but at its' edges there are near vertical cliff walls. The west drop off is a little less vertical than the east and sandier with some overhangs and small caves.
Elphinstone is an excellent choice if you are looking for shark encounters with reports of various frequenting shark species but particularly the large and usually solitary oceanic whitetip. Divers report up to four sitings on a single dive. Please be cautious of these magnificent animals and never feed them. One diver writes that the oceanic whitetips
"have a tendency to be very curious of divers and from time to time "bump" or "nose" divers, especially near the surface."
( DiveSiteDirectory.co.uk )
The reef attracts an enormous variety of sea life including jacks, tuna, blue lunar fusiliers, black snapper and lone giant barracuda watching the reef from a distance.
Legend tells that a large arch at the southern end of the reef, some sixty metres below the surface, contains the sarcophagus of an unknown pharoah and divers have reported a coral encrusted rectangular shape near by.
Beware that the current, although it normally flows north to south, can be unpredictable in direction and strength.
3. Samadai Reef
As of early 2008, Pioneer Divers (contact details further down) were offering excursions to Elphinstone from 20 euros per person but you might also be charged 15 euro for diving equipment and possibly extra for lunch and if you want your own private guide.
For full details about this dive site please see our Elphinstone page
(also known as "Dolphin House" )
Diving depth - 10 to 15 metres (32 - 49 ft)
Location - approx 20km SE of Marsa Alam.
Suitable for all diving levels.
This reef is one of the most popular as one of the world's most important dolphin habbitats. A large family of around sixty spinner dolphins have made it their permanent home.
However, back in the summer of 2003, a sudden increase in the number of site visitors - between 500 and 800 daily - led to a sudden decline in the dolphin population.
So subsequently access to the reef has been limited to protect the dolphins with buoys in the water to mark separate zones, with an area for dolphins only, another for divers only, another for snorkellers only and another for mooring boats. Visiting times are also restricted to between 10am and 2pm and the number of ticket permits sold restricted to 100 snorkellers and 100 divers daily.
The spinner dolphins are a nocturnal animal and return every morning to the shallow waters of the reef to rest. Visitors are discouraged from feeding or playing with the dolphins as it is not natural for them and may cause distress.
The reef itself is crescent shaped with a small lagoon of sand and sea-grass within, which is rich in marine life including the usually elusive sea horses. Divers can also explore some underwater caves and at least twelve coral towers. You should only explore the caves with an experienced guide.
As of 2013, local expert Steven ( email firstname.lastname@example.org ) is offering snorkeling excursions to Samadai including the boat trip, all equipment, a professional guide, private taxi pick-up and return to your hotel, a lunch and a ticket to gain entry to the lagoon for just 60 euros per person.
4. Abu Dabab Reefs
Or an all-in diving package, including all equipment, a private taxi pick-up and return to your hotel, a lunch, professional guide and your entrance ticket for just 120 euros per person.
For more information see our Dolphin House page.
Diving depth - 15 to 25 metres
Visibility - 20 to 30 metres.
These lie a few miles out to sea from Marsa Abu Dabab (see above). Averaging 15 to 25 metres in depth these are fairly shallow. You can dive down to the wreckage of a small ship which sunk after a fire in 2004. Dolphins frequent the area and although you won't always see them, they have been known to spend up to 10 minutes at a time with divers. You can also explore the beautiful coral garden and an underwater cave system.
There are six reefs in total, and the name "Abu Dabab" can be translated as Father's stepping stones. According to local mythology, when an earthquake struck it was because the Gods were using the stones to cross the sea.
5. Abu Ghoson Shipwreck
(sometimes called Abu Ghusun or Abu Gosoon)
Diving depth - 0m to 18m.
Visibility - 15 to 30m.
Location - 68km SSE of Marsa Alam.
suitable for all diving levels.
Easy wade in entry over sandy bottom. The cargo ship, the Hamada, sank in 1993 and lies on its' starboard side in two sections. It has attracted many types of coral and marine life including Napoleons, Lion fish, Surgeon fish, Butterfly fish and Moray eel.
The port side of the ship protrudes just about the water line at low tide. Suitably qualified divers may be able to swim into parts of the wreck including the pilothouse, engine room and cargo hold. Almost everything on the ship had to be abandoned and now items ranging in size from telephones to a fork lift truck have become surprising homes for many types of marine life.
It's a bewitching dive site and a beautiful reminder of the delicate harmony and balance between man and nature.
As of 2013 Steven is offering an all-in diving package to Abu Ghoson including all taxi charges, lunch, professional guide and all equipment at 105 euro per person. Email email@example.com.
More info about Abu Ghoson on our shipwrecks page.
Looking for a diving course or trip ?
Steven is a top local expert with knowledge of all the major Red Sea diving sites - email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can also check out the Emperor Divers website.
Steven sometimes offers courses and trips running from the Mirage Moon Resort, just 2km north of the small town and anchorage of Marsa Alam and 68km south of the airport. This is one of the best locations as it boasts one of the area's only natural lagoons and it is close to some of the best dive sites. This is because being further south than most it is nearer to the Red Sea's least explored and still virgin reefs.
Steven offers scuba diving courses, guided scuba dives, snorkeling, kitesurfing and windsurfing.