Egypt, Scuba Diving the Red Sea

It has taken a long time for me to be ready to write about our time in Egypt. We spent the first two weeks diving the Red Sea and another two weeks between Luxor, Alexandria and Cairo. We will never go back unless it is to very strategically go just for diving, but there are other places to dive so, probably not.

We spent one week in Port Ghalib and one week in Safaga. We flew into Hurgada and got a private transfer for the trip to Marsa Alam, approximately four hours away. The transfer was under $100 and a very nice car was waiting for us when we arrived. The first thing I noticed was the privacy curtains in the back of the car, which even when pulled open blocked a lot of my view. Our driver asked us if we’d like coffee (we had taken a red eye so yes!) and stopped at a little shed still in the airport parking lot. He returned with Turkish coffees, piping hot. Lovely! Except the first thing he does is take off suddenly so I spilled the thick hot coffee all over the white shirt I was wearing. Ugh. We don’t carry much so each item of clothing is important!

The four hour trip passed quickly as we viewed the desert scenery. Our accommodation in Port Ghalib was comfortable, although not in the most convenient of locations. It was very hot there in October and we were some distance from the marina, although the hotel was called Marina View. This was the first real sign we had that everything in Egypt was a lie. I just checked their website and it says they have an indoor pool, absolutely not! I don’t know why you’d want one. This leads to the second thing we learned, they’re lying even when it’s absurd. But the staff were incredibly helpful and friendly and it was clean so we were fine. They had a free breakfast served outside (by the indoor pool!) with tons of aggressive flies, or in a non air conditioned dining room. A typical Egyptian breakfast of bread, highly processed slices of pressed meat, hard boiled eggs, olives and a few other odd things that didn’t really excite us. It was nice to not have to go find something to eat in the morning though and they were very attentive while serving breakfast.

I mentioned we were too far to walk to the marina in the sun and heat. Normally we don’t mind having to catch a bus or cab to our destination. Also, it was rather inexpensive there, so it really didn’t phase us, in concept. Reality became a very difficult lesson. The first time we asked the front desk how to get to the marina he suggested calling a taxi for us. Great! In due time a minivan pulls up and the front desk person told him where to take us. Off we went! Then we pulled over and picked up a very fragrant fellow walking along the side of the road. They appeared to have some arrangement and we thought it odd and uncomfortable, but ok. Then we picked up four more. At this point Dan is in the front seat and I am squashed in the middle row with a gang of very smelly men. They picked up one more and Dan was saying “No, no room!” but everyone was yelling in Egyptian and they just left the van door open with one guy half hanging out. I swear I was waiting for a goat or chicken to join us. We let a couple guys off and then they dropped us. We have taken some odd transport before, but this took the cake. When it was time to return it was a similar experience but Dan was ready for them. He protested when we stopped for more but to no avail. After getting back we spoke to the front desk and learned what we suspected, that the taxis act more like buses and that’s just how they do it. He offered to arrange private taxis for us in the future so we did that for the rest of the week. Those drivers tried to overcharge us routinely, although we prearranged the fees and they talk on the phone while driving erratically but at least we weren’t crammed in with too many other riders.

There really wasn’t much around the hotel. The advertised restaurant and bar hadn’t been open for years. There was one restaurant around the corner that was outdoors in the heat and flies and wasn’t open reliably. We were forced to eat at the tourist restaurants along the marina. It quickly became apparent that the 5 or 6 restaurants all had the same menu, camel burger anyone? Given how long some took to get the food out it’s probable they were all using the same kitchen. The food was uninspiring and you had to endure the gauntlet of pushy men trying to get you to come to their restaurant for the “best food in town”. The seating was also outdoors but there were fans so you could find a table in front of one which helped with the heat and the flies.

We booked 5 days of diving with Emperor Dive. They assured us they had wetsuits to fit anyone. I told them what size we would need. “Yes, yes of course. We have many of all sizes.” We went in to get our gear sorted the day before our first dive and they gave us their largest suits to try on. I couldn’t get into it. Dan even less so. He was standing in front of the dive shop manager with the suit completely unzipped and they were swearing to him that it fit. ???!!! It will loosen up in the water. Ummm, no. When we insisted the emperor was wearing no clothes they finally said they would send for larger sizes from their other shop for the next day’s dive. Of course, referring back to our first lesson in Egypt, this was a lie. Lucky for us, the water was a beautiful 80 degrees and we didn’t need/wouldn’t have worn a wetsuit even if we had it. Oddly, everyone else wore wetsuits on every dive.

The boat crew were wonderful and our diving was the best either of us had done. The coral there is brilliant. There are underwater fields of many varieties of live coral swaying in the current. The water is clear, warm and beautiful. There are an abundance of dive sites to visit. The fish are gorgeous, plentiful and very large compared with the same kinds we’ve seen in other places. Giant clams everywhere. Just beautiful diving. The crew were so helpful getting our gear ready, helping this old lady with her tank, right there to help you out of the water, we couldn’t fault them in any way. It was absolute luxury diving. They prepared nice lunches and snacks and we never wanted for anything. I’m definitely spoiled now! And the price is extraordinarily reasonable for boat diving.

All good!

After a really nice week of diving Marsa Alam we transferred the shorter distance to Safaga where we had booked a week at Nemo Dive Club and Hotel. This included all meals, so we didn’t have to mess about with finding food elsewhere after a day of diving. It was walking distance to the boat as well so the week was easier in terms of logistics, we just had to show up and eat or dive. The food was plentiful and decent, the diving and service on the boat was exceptional and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. The hotel was very basic, but it was all we needed and it really did have its own beach. We enjoyed our walk down to the boat each morning, the locals were friendly and fascinated with Americans. Unfortunately, the amount of trash in the streets and on the beaches was horrifying. It makes us fear for their beautiful sea’s future. It was astonishing to see children playing in the water with waves of trash. What are they thinking?

In all, we recommend diving the Red Sea from Egypt. Don’t expect there to be thriving resort towns with lots going on. Don’t combine it with other sightseeing in Egypt (more on that to come), but the diving is extraordinary.

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