Egypt is more known for the Nile and its pyramids than it is for its diving and recreational sports. But such thoughts would lead you to overlook the potential of the Red Sea, which offers diving sites that can compete with the best diving sites in the world and are better than most. It was wintertime when we visited Dahab, one of the Red Sea's leading tourist towns, so it wasn't not really perfect beach weather. It’s lucky that still plenty to do in Dahab when you’re not on the beach.
|Leave your camel at home, son.|
The quiet streets make for pleasant strolling and there’s plenty of shopping at the market and shops. There’s a pleasant walk around the promenade, dotted with beach umbrellas and signs limiting the riding of camels and horses in the town (although goats are not an uncommon sight). You can enjoy drinks at one of the myriad of restaurants, most of which come with a view of the Red Sea, a view that stretched all the way to Saudi Arabia, that formed a mountainous silhouette on the horizon. At night, there's beers to enjoy (not always an easy thing to find in other parts of Egypt) as well as conversations around a sheesha pipe until the early morning.
|The beach promenade at Dahab.|
Despite being a place of beauty, Dahab has been scarred by recent events. The whole Sinai peninsula was occupied by Israel from 1967 until 1982. After its return to Egypt, large-scale development has taken place, often at the expense of the local Bedouin people, who have been marginalized by people arriving from other parts of the country. In 2006, a series of bombs exploded around Dahab, that killed at least 23 people, mainly foreigners, who clustered around the picturesque centre of town, enjoying the pubs and restaurants. These bombings followed on from others in the Sinai peninsula in 2004 and 2005 and have been attributed to either a group dedicated to improving the lot of the local Bedouin people or to an Islamic terrorist group known as Jama'at al-Tawhīd wal-Jihad. The series of bombings placed stress on the tourist industry in the peninsula, something that it is still recovering from. Slowly but surely though, Dahab is a place that more and more tourists are returning to.
|Our hotel-Saudi Arabia in the background.|
The biggest drawcard to Dahab (apart from the atmosphere) is the diving and snorkeling on offer. We kept ourselves busy in Dahab with an overnight trip to climb Mount Sinai so we only managed to go snorkeling once. It was, however without doubt, the best snorkeling experience of my life and easily the most accessible. We hired gear from our hotel, walked about 15 minutes down the beach, which is a nice sandy beach as opposed to the more gravelly beach that you find in the centre of the town, to the dive spot (a place called the Islands, named after the two large coral islands that are dominant features here) that our hotel had recommended.
|View of the islands diving site.|
We put on our flippers, waded awkwardly out about 50 metres in knee-high water until we hit the edge of a sudden drop-off that signals the start of the reef. Once you drop down into the abyss, you are instantly taken by the clarity of the water (there is great visibility here) and by the abundance of fish you can see. The dense reef has canyons and hills, valleys and peaks that carry a wide and diverse array of species that can be enjoyed even by snorkelers; venomous lionfish, colourful parrotfish, pufferfish, wrasse, trevally, odd looking butterfly fish, all living among the dense coral (over 130 different types) that sustains life here.
|Chill under an umbrella|
For divers, there is the Blue Hole, known as the world’s most dangerous diving spot, infamous for the number of divers who die here each year, leading to its nickname of “Divers cemetery”. Most incidents are associated with divers who attempt to find their way through the reef via a tunnel. The entrance to the tunnel is 52 metres down, below the distance of what even advanced recreational divers dive to. Divers often suffer the effect of the bends, exacerbated by divers who miss the tunnel and continue to descend, hoping to find the entrance of the tunnel. Other divers get disorientated in the tunnel itself. For the less ambitious diver or snorkeler though, Dahab offers a range of safe diving and snorkeling opportunities that are rewarding in the diversity of fish you can see and plenty of places to recount your day's adventure with friends.