Imagine spending twenty years building the largest manmade structure in the world—leading a workforce of tens of thousands of sweaty, grumpy tradesmen—only, upon completion you realise that everyone’s buggered off to the seaside with their buckets and spades, leaving you to tend the tomb.
I remember my first visit to Sharm el Sheikh, on Egypt’s radiant Red Sea: my mum stood on a lion fish, prompting my dad to pee on her foot, before the portly café owner shoved it into a bucket of steaming hot water, then just as my mother winced, his pet Scarlot Macaw flapped for freedom, and swooped away through an open door. I fully expected Benny Hill to start running around the table (and that’s before I even knew who Benny Hill was).
If that wasn't enough for my fourteen-year old brain to process, the following day our scuba diving instructor yelled “Shark!” and to my utter surprise, everyone jumped into the water. I hesitated, and then figured it's just what you do. Such is the appeal of scuba diving. Such is the appeal of Egypt. Such is the appeal of life at fourteen.
So what do you need to do to enjoy a scuba diving holiday in Egypt? A couple of Egyptian Pounds (EGP) or Euro (EUR) will score you some dinner and digs — but budget a bit more for baksheesh (tips, 10-20 percent is standard). An Arabic language guide would be useful when bargaining for your straw Sphinx, while loading up a Russian one will score you an even-platform with the linguistic-loving locals.
If you haven't earned your scuba diving stripes yet, then visit the informative PADI website about who's in town to teach you. You could do this before you left to save you time, but from my own experience the Red Sea is an excellent place to learn. Aim to bolt on an extra week or two, to shake off the classroom stoop.
It's pretty clear why the Red Sea continues to attract us. The oceans are suitable for beginners through to professionals, with dives ranging from 4-40 metres (15-140 feet), and visibility on a good day can reach 70 metres (230 feet) which in scuba diving terms is pushing twenty-twenty.
If you're worried about catching a chill, don't, the Red Sea itself has comfortable year round temperatures of 21-30° C/70-86° F, while temperatures on land hit highs of 40°C/104°F. All this means one thing. There is never a bad time to visit Egypt, and 12.4 million people can't be wrong — but be quick, experts predict that by 2020, Egypt will be the favoured destination for over 19 million travellers. That's enough for a human wave machine.
Perhaps the most famous dive site in Egypt is the Small Giftun Drift (known locally as the Police Station because, well, there's a police station on the nearby island) offshore, near Hurghada. As the name would suggest, it's a case of idly drifting in the current, above sheer coral walls and iridescent plateaus. You'll share small caves, Gorgonians (Horny Coral) and pinnacles, with thick-lipped groupers and clusters of brilliant fish.
Other dive sites worth sticking your snorkel into, are Ras Ghazlani for the large population of manta rays; the tight and diverse ecosystem of Ras Mohammed, home one of the world's best wreck dives, the Thistlegorm (a 400ft long container ship filled with motorbikes, trucks and rifles); further on, are the shadows of cave-dappled Shark and Yolanda reefs, while nearby, The Anemone City envelops the wreck of the Yolanda and attracts regular pods of porky snorkelers; The Light and The Point feature spectacular 130-foot drop offs; which look small in comparison with the 196-foot drop-off, of The Tower, which is a running ground for herds of sea horses and ghost-pipe fish.
The entire Red Sea is wriggling with marine life. Not least the world's largest fish, the musing whale shark. Schools of Napoleon wrasse, blue spotted rays and butterfly fish dart around groupers, manta rays and angelfish, which flit around hammerheads, jacks, and trevallies.
While there are no shortage of dive schools around the Red Sea, if you're a seasoned diver—or just keen to immerse yourself in the sport—then a liveaboard (meaning literally, "live aboard") is the best way to get around the best sites, and make the most of your time on the Sinai Peninsula.
The readers of British scuba diving magazine, DIVER voted Egypt their 'Destination of the Year 2009'. The DIVER team were unsurpsrised, "It reflects Egypt’s good value for money, the hospitality of its people and the high quality of its diving in terms of both wrecks and reefs." When told about the award, Khaled Ramy, Director of the Egyptian State Tourist Office was pleased, "We're committed to sustainable development, and to the protection of our magnificent underwater environment." Tick. Tick.
If that wasn't enough, the Red Sea Diving College in Sharm el Sheikh scooped the award for 'Best Dive Centre in the World' for the fourth year running, while two of its local rivals took second and third place in the category. Tick.
What do World Nomads say about scuba diving? Will they cover you? Read your policy wording carefully to make sure what you are and aren't covered for.
As with any insurance policy, conditions apply, so be sure to check the policy wording for your country of permanent residence for more information on the coverage available.
So let me get this straight. It's warm all year round. It has some of the world's best dive sites. It has the world's best dive centres. The Great Pyramids are over the hill. It's a gateway to Africa. The insurers think it's a reasonable risk you won't die. And the water's full of incredible marine life.
But I have an article to fini...
Feeling claustrophobic inside the pyramids and enjoying a cruise along the Nile are just two things that surprised me on my trip to Egypt.
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