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Diving in Marsa Alam: An Underwater Journey Through Egypt’s Enchanting Southern Red Sea Region

Published 18/05/2023
free swimming turtle in marsa alam

Are you ready for the unforgettable Marsa Alam diving holidays (Egypt)? Prepare your diving gear and brace yourself for the enchanting marine life of Marsa Alam! In this personal review, which is based on my current five diving vacations in this region, I will introduce you to this diving paradise in detail. Marsa Alam is more than just a town; it’s a vast area stretching north and south, boasting a wide variety of diving sites that will leave any diver awestruck.

While the bustling diving destinations of Hurghada in the middle of Egypt and Sharm El Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula may be more well-known, Marsa Alam has been quietly carving a niche for itself in the world of diving in Egypt. With its unique blend of more untouched marine landscapes and tranquil ambiance, this region is emerging as a top contender in the Egyptian diving scene.

In fact, as an avid diver and explorer, I hold Marsa Alam as my personal favorite diving destination in Egypt. Its rich and diverse marine ecosystem, coupled with the region’s stunning and less crowded diving sites, has left me with unforgettable underwater memories.

In this article, I will explore with you all the facets of diving in Marsa Alam. We’ll delve into why this region has won my heart and why it deserves a spot on every diver’s bucket list. From its nearly year-round diving conditions to the breathtaking array of marine life, and from the unparalleled shore and boat diving experiences to the invaluable insights for beginners – we’ll cover it all. So, strap in for an exciting deep dive into the wonders of diving in Marsa Alam, the hidden gem of Egypt’s Red Sea.

Why Is Marsa Alam A Diving Paradise?

The answer lies beneath the surface of its azure waters, in the heart of its bustling marine ecosystem. Marsa Alam is one of those rare diving locations that offers a chance to witness a spectacular array of marine life in a couple of dives. So it’s no surprise that many divers, myself included, consider Marsa Alam to be a diving paradise.

One of the most exciting aspects of diving in Marsa Alam is more or less the guarantee to spot giant turtles grazing peacefully chilling, or eating in the seagrass of its many bays. These majestic creatures are super common sights here; my personal best was 12 turtles in a single dive.

turtle chilling in seagrass in marsa alam

But turtles aren’t the only stars of the underwater show in Marsa Alam. If luck is on your side, you might spot a dugong, a rare marine mammal known as the “sea cow.” These gentle giants are an exciting find for any diver, making the dive all the more memorable.

And it doesn’t stop there. The offshore dives in Marsa Alam offer the thrilling opportunity to encounter some of the ocean’s top predators: Oceanic Whitetip and Hammerhead sharks. Seeing these majestic sharks in their natural habitat is a truly awe-inspiring experience, making Marsa Alam a favorite spot for shark diving enthusiasts.

On top of its rich marine life, Marsa Alam also offers a variety of diving experiences to suit all preferences. While shore diving in Marsa Alam is the most common activity, thanks to its accessible and diverse dive sites, the region also provides numerous options for boat diving trips. And for those who enjoy being on the boat day and night, dive safaris offer a comprehensive, multi-day diving experience. These allow you to explore even the more remote dive sites of the region. We’ll delve deeper into these options later in the article.

What Is The Best Time To Dive In Marsa Alam?

Marsa Alam, thanks to its southern location in Egypt, offers the possibility to enjoy diving more or less throughout the entire year. Compared to its northern counterparts, Hurghada or Sharm El Sheikh, the average water temperatures here usually don’t drop below 23 degrees Celsius. Even during the winter months, from January to March, the air temperatures range between a mild 13 and a pleasantly warm 25 degrees, with the lower range generally being nighttime temperatures. However, from June to September, the daytime heat can be intense, often soaring to 35 degrees Celsius, often feeling more like 45 degrees. Moreover, it is basically never raining in Marsa Alam, so that’s nothing you need to consider at all.

average air- and water temperature as well as precipitation per month in marsa alam (egypt)

Given these conditions, you might wonder, “What is really the best time to dive in Marsa Alam?” In my opinion, there are two ideal time slots to consider:

1. April to May: During this period, the water temperatures hover between a comfortable 24 to 26 degrees Celsius, and the air temperatures range between 20 to 32 degrees. Particularly, May is a fantastic month to visit if you’re eager to increase the chance of encountering hammerhead sharks at Elphinstone, one of the top dive sites that I will discuss in more detail later.

2. October to November: While the air temperatures during these months are similar to the April-May period, ranging from 22 to 32 degrees, the water tends to be slightly warmer, between 26 and 28 degrees Celsius. This is one of the best times to spot Oceanic Whitetip sharks (Longimanus) at Elphinstone.

daily sunshine hours and precipitations days per month for marsa alam (egypt)

However, if cooler air and water temperatures aren’t a deal-breaker for you, the winter months are definitely worth considering for your Marsa Alam diving holidays. Not only will you find the diving spots in Marsa Alam less crowded, but the quieter environment can often result in more intimate encounters with the marine life. However, please take also into consideration that it is in Marsa Alam pretty windy all year around!

Can Beginners Dive In Marsa Alam?

In my experience, Marsa Alam presents a perfect diving playground for beginners. The region boasts numerous easy dive sites, many of which are located within sheltered and relatively shallow bays. These sites offer calm and clear waters, making them ideal for those new to diving.

One of the standout features of diving in Marsa Alam for beginners is the high likelihood of spotting turtles. These serene creatures are often found grazing in the seagrass beds close to the shore, providing an unforgettable first encounter for novice divers. Witnessing such remarkable marine life up close is sure to ignite a lifelong passion for diving.

But Marsa Alam’s appeal isn’t limited to beginners. It also caters to more experienced divers looking for a challenge. Sites like Elphinstone, renowned for its strong currents and sightings of pelagic species, are sure to test and thrill even the most seasoned of divers. If you love strong current diving and playful manta rays, I recommend my dive review report about diving in Komodo.

The beauty of diving in Marsa Alam is that it offers something for everyone, regardless of their diving proficiency. Beginners can enjoy safe and exciting dives within the sheltered bays, while more advanced divers can venture out to the challenging offshore reefs. In this way, Marsa Alam serves as a perfect diving destination, ensuring every diver, regardless of their skill level, can enjoy an enriching and memorable underwater experience.

What Marine Life Can You Expect In Marsa Alam?

In Marsa Alam, the underwater world unfolds like an enchanting play, where each dive feels like a new act featuring an array of fascinating marine life. From the tiniest coral polyp to large pelagic predators, the diversity of Marsa Alam’s marine inhabitants ensures that there’s something for everyone. Here’s my top five list of what you can expect:

1. Turtles

ascending turtle in azure waters in marsa alam

Marsa Alam is, in my opinion, one of the best spots to spot numerous, and often quite large, turtles. They’re typically found grazing on seagrass within the many bays, usually between depths of 6-14m, making them accessible even for beginners. A little tip for turtle spotting: don’t stay too close to your buddy. Let one diver check to the left and the other to the right as you glide over the seagrass plateaus. This strategy increases your chances of quickly finding these majestic creatures. Later in the article, I’ll discuss several ideal spots for turtle sightings.

2. Dolphins

Marsa Alam has its very own Dolphin House, where the chances of encountering dolphins are quite decent—I’d say about 50%. Although it might be harder to spot them during dives, snorkeling is also an option during surface intervals, increasing your chances of seeing these playful creatures.

3. Sharks

oceanic whitetip shark marsa alam

So, what sharks are regularly spotted in Marsa Alam? White-tip and black-tip reef sharks can occasionally be sighted at many dive sites if you’re fortunate. However, the chances of spotting oceanic whitetip and, less commonly, hammerhead sharks increase significantly at Elphinstone. Unfortunately, Elphinstone is more suited to advanced divers. If you’re a shark enthusiast, I recommend reading my article on diving in the North Ari Atoll for more shark-centric diving experiences.

4. Moray eels

free swimming moray eel in marsa alam

Moray eels are a common sight in Marsa Alam. While they might be hard to spot in other diving regions, here, you’re almost guaranteed to see them if you do multiple dives.

5. Dugongs

Last but certainly not least is the dugong, also known as the “sea cow.” Spotting one requires luck, but it’s not impossible. I was fortunate enough to see one, albeit while snorkeling during surface intervals between two dives. Nevertheless, the possibility of a dugong sighting is always there, and fulfilling this dream is a driving force for many divers.

So, whether you’re a seasoned diver or a beginner, Marsa Alam’s underwater showcase promises to keep you enthralled with its diverse and abundant marine life.

Marsa Alam Shore Diving vs. Boat Diving vs. Liveaboard Trip

In Marsa Alam, divers have the luxury of choosing from a myriad of diving options. Whether you’re a fan of shore diving, boat diving, or liveaboard trips, this region has you covered.

As mentioned earlier, Marsa Alam is an exceptional region for shore diving. In fact, the majority of the dive sites here are conveniently accessible right off the beach. If you’re not a fan of boats, or if you prefer to keep things simple and easy, then Marsa Alam’s shore diving options might be just what you’re looking for.

However, if you’re a fan of the high seas, Marsa Alam offers boat diving trips as well. You can either choose to do day trips with comfortable yachts or opt for exciting Zodiac dives. These trips often take you to some of the region’s most outstanding dive sites, each with its unique marine life and underwater landscapes.

porth ghalib in marsa alam

Finally, for those who love the thrill of multi-day diving adventures, Marsa Alam offers liveaboard trips. These trips usually start from Port Ghalib, which is just a 50-minute drive from Marsa Alam town. Here, you can embark on trips like the Brothers-Daedalus-Elphinstone (BDE) or a Deep South tour. These liveaboard trips provide a unique opportunity to explore some of Egypt’s most remote and spectacular diving sites, which are often inaccessible by day trips.

In summary, Marsa Alam offers a range of diving experiences to suit every diver’s preferences. Whether you’re a shore-bound diver or a sea-loving sailor, you’ll find an option that suits your diving style and comfort level.

What Are The Best Shore Diving Sites In Marsa Alam?

As you’re already aware, Marsa Alam stands out for its remarkable shore diving opportunities. Based on my numerous dive trips in this region, I’ve come to have my personal favorites. Here are my top four picks, each accompanied by a Google Maps link for easy location.

1. Marsa Assalaya

Google Maps

turtle eating seagrass at the dive site marsa assalaya in egypt

Marsa Assalaya is a treasure trove that I’ve found especially welcoming for beginners. Just a few minutes north of Marsa Alam, this site offers a tranquil and accessible diving experience. With virtually no current, entering the lush underwater world filled with coral gardens is an effortless venture. The marine life here is quintessential of the Red Sea, teeming with blue-spotted rays, lionfish, moray eels, and barracudas. However, what makes Marsa Assalaya truly special for me is the consistent sightings of turtles, which always add a sense of magic to the dives.

2. Shoni Bay

Google Maps

coral reef at dive spot shoni bay in marsa alam

The second Marsa Alam shore diving site I would recommend is Shoni Bay. It is just a few minutes south of Port Ghalip. With its maximum depth of 25m, the diving experience here feels like navigating through an enchanted garden. The shallow reef is adorned with both hard and soft corals, creating a vibrant canvas of underwater life. Caves tucked away amidst these corals serve as a hideaway for poison fish and stone fish, providing an intriguing sight if you have a keen eye. As you immerse yourself in this underwater haven, you’ll often witness swarms of fusiliers, bannerfish, barbel, and mackerel threading through the coral blocks.

The highlight for me, however, is the stunning platform situated roughly 150m from the main reef. Crossing this distance to reach the platform is an adventure in itself, and the view from there is absolutely breathtaking. Shoni Bay, with its abundant marine life and captivating landscapes, is a diving spot I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

3. Abu Dabbab

Google Map

Abu Dabbab is well known for its excellent shore diving in Marsa Alam. It’s a dive site that I find delightfully diverse and fascinatingly vibrant. This expansive dive site, just a short minibus journey from Marsa Alam, offers a plethora of underwater experiences, with its maximum depth reaching around 20m. The bay is accessible from both the northern and southern sides, each presenting its unique underwater spectacle.

The northern side, often referred to as the “Aquarium,” guides you down a sandy slope to a reef that extends to about 30m. But the real charm lies between the depths of 10-20m, where an awe-inspiring array of marine life thrives.

On the southern side, the dive commences along a shallow reef and soon leads you across a unique meadow of seagrass. It’s here that I’ve observed giant green turtles and guitar sharks, and if you’re fortunate, you might even spot the elusive Dugong! Other intriguing inhabitants of this sandy plateau include the Pyramid boxfish, Crocodile fish, and Stonefish.

crocodile fish in abu dabbab in marsa alam (egypt)

One tip I can share from my personal experience is to opt for an early morning dive at Abu Dabbab. The visibility often deteriorates as the day progresses, and an early start can gift you the best possible underwater views.

Abu Dabbab is also an excellent snorkeling spot, perfect for enjoying its vibrant marine life in shallower waters. For those seeking a bit more adventure, there are additional dive spots accessible via a zodiac (Abu Dabbab II & III), which I’ll elaborate on in the subsequent sections. All in all, the dive site of Abu Dabbab truly offers a captivating experience for divers of all skill levels.

4. House Reef Abu Dabour

Google Map

house reef abu dabour concorde moreen beach in marsa alam on sunrise

House Reef Abu Dabour, conveniently located in front of the Orca Dive Club within the Concorde Moreen Beach Hotel, is one of my personal favorite dive sites. The reef provides two distinct entry options: a shorter route from the Jetty or a more adventurous albeit slightly demanding route from the beach, leading you through a captivating canyon.

house reef abu dabour concorde moreen beach marsa alam entry with schools of colorful fish

The reef, with its maximum depth of 40m, boasts an impressively diverse drop-off, beautifully adorned with various marine life. Each dive at Housereef Abu Dabour offers a unique experience, constantly changing and surprising even the most seasoned divers. What particularly endears me to this site is the occasional sight of dolphins gracefully passing by. It’s an underwater paradise that continues to captivate me with each dive.

What Are The Best Boat Diving Spots in Marsa Alam?

Let’s shift our focus from the shore and cast off into the aquatic wonders that Marsa Alam offers via boat. In this segment, I’m going to spotlight my top four spots for day boat tours and zodiac dives, leaving out multi-day safari tours for now. Whether you’re an experienced diver or a novice eager to extend your underwater explorations beyond the beach, these diving locations are guaranteed to deliver unforgettable experiences. So, without further ado, let’s embark on this voyage and uncover the enchanting underwater worlds of these top 4 Marsa Alam boat diving spots.

1. Elphinstone

Google Map

oceanic white tip shark (longimanus) at dive site elphinstone in marsa alam (egypt)

Elphinstone is truly legendary among divers and should be high on the bucket list for every Egypt diving holiday. It is a dive site that can be accessed via a Zodiac ride of 30-45 minutes, contingent upon the weather and sea conditions. Though it’s part of certain Safari Tours like the BDE, finding day boat tours to this location is quite the challenge. This solitary offshore reef emerges about 100 meters from the ocean depths, boasting striking biodiversity and mesmerizing underwater landscapes. It’s an adrenaline-pumping experience as encounters with Oceanic white tip sharks, and hammerheads can be the highlight of the dive, adding an exciting touch to your underwater adventure.

Hammerheads are usually found deep, between 30-40 meters, while Oceanic white tip sharks often surprise divers by appearing in the shallower parts, sometimes even during the final safety stop. Be prepared for the currents here, they can be tricky, and for this reason, it’s restricted for advanced divers with a log of 50+ dives.

turtle in corals at elphinstone in marsa alam (egypt)

The reef is divided into four distinct diving regions, with the northern and southern plateaus blanketed in soft corals and gradually sloping down to impressive depths. The western wall is a haven for turtles and moray eels, while the eastern side presents an awe-inspiring landscape teeming with Red Sea Anthias. Diving at Elphinstone is like being a part of a thrilling underwater story that unfolds differently each time you dive. This top diving spot in Egypt is definitely worth taking on a fairly strenuous Zodiac ride!

2. Abu Dabbab II & III

Google Map
Google Map

beautiful corals at abu dabbab II

Abu Dabbab II & III provide a captivating zodiac dive experience that’s hard to forget. These expansive sites offer a diverse range of dive profiles, each showcasing its own unique allure. The diving sites are adorned with awe-inspiring hard coral formations and scattered pinnacles, contributing to a coral garden that is abundant in flora and fauna.

As you journey from the north reef table towards the south, you’ll encounter the ‘Heaven One’ wreck, a cruise ship that caught fire and met its watery demise in 2005. While the wreck’s superstructures are mostly destroyed or decayed, it nonetheless adds an element of exploration and intrigue to the dive.

3. Marsa Alam Dolphin House / Shaab Samadai

Google Map

The Marsa Alam Dolphin House, or Shaab Samadai, has established itself as a pinnacle of attraction for divers visiting Marsa Alam, especially due to its resident spinner dolphins. This renowned dive site has played a crucial role in boosting Marsa Alam’s diving tourism over the years. This horseshoe-shaped reef, a two-hour boat ride from Marsa Alam, is an exciting day trip destination. However, to safeguard the marine inhabitants, a daily limit of 200 divers and snorkelers has been set by the Egyptian government.

group of dolphins in marsa alam

The dolphins find sanctuary in the protected lagoon of the reef, while the main diving area is formed by the coral towers at the southwestern tip. The area has been divided into three zones: Zone A for dolphins, Zone B for snorkelers, and Zone C for divers, to balance recreational activities with environmental conservation. Along with the rich garden of hard and soft corals, divers can also encounter turtles, anemone fish, moray eels, and seaweed ghost tatterfish.

caves at dive spot dolphinhouse in marsa alam

Seasoned divers can explore the intriguing cave system within one of the reef blocks. The likelihood of encountering dolphins is around 50%, and although snorkelers often have better luck spotting them, the exquisite coral and cave systems make this site a worthwhile visit, dolphins or no dolphins.

4. Marsa Mubarak

Google Map

eating turtle on seagrass at marsa mubarak in marsa alam

Sailing just 30 minutes from Port Ghalip, you’ll find Marsa Mubarak, an illustrious dive site often paired with other sites like Halq Soliman for a full-day yacht tour. Once a significant national park, Marsa Mubarak boasts a bay flanked by north and south reefs, with a sandy bottom and a vast seagrass area nestled in between. This marine habitat is a haven for turtles and the elusive Dugong, offering divers the chance to explore the fascinating underwater life that thrives here.

Venture outside the bay, and you’ll find yourself amidst a stunning coral garden. The site, with a depth range of 3-25 meters, welcomes all levels of divers, including beginners, offering them a chance to encounter a diverse array of marine life, from octopuses, scorpion fish, and barracudas to nudibranchs, turtles, and the iconic Dugong.

How About Marsa Alarm Diving Prices?

Diving in Egypt is in general not super expensive. Diving prices in Marsa Alam are no exception here. It is notably affordable, especially when compared to many other dive destinations worldwide. This value for money is further enhanced when considering the relatively low cost of accommodation in the region. A standard shore dive, using your own equipment, is generally priced between $30 to $40. Yet, the real savings can be found when purchasing dive packages of 10 dives or more, often reducing the cost to under $30 per dive.

It’s important to note, however, that these rates usually exclude additional costs for transportation and boat tours. For instance, a full-day boat tour inclusive of lunch and two dives typically ranges between $90 to $130. As for liveaboard experiences, the cost varies significantly. While you may find super budget-friendly options on sale for around $1000 a week, most liveaboard trips will cost you somewhere between $1400 to $2000.

How to Get to Marsa Alam?

If you’re planning your Marsa Alam scuba diving trip, the best option for your travel itinerary would undoubtedly be to fly directly into the local Marsa Alam airport. This airport’s proximity to most hotels and dive centers makes the travel experience seamless and efficient. However, if direct flights to Marsa Alam are unavailable, don’t be discouraged. An alternative route involves flying into Hurghada, a larger airport with broader connectivity. From there, a 3-4 hour ground transfer will bring you to Marsa Alam. While this detour may seem a tad inconvenient, in my personal experience, the unparalleled beauty of Marsa Alam’s dive sites makes the journey more than worthwhile!

Some Final Thoughts

In conclusion, I can’t emphasize enough just how special Marsa Alam is and offers, in my opinion, the best diving in Egypt. This hidden gem of the Red Sea is a sanctuary where marine life is as rich and diverse as it is captivating. From the thrilling encounters with oceanic whitetip sharks at Elphinstone Reef to the playful dances with dolphins at Shaab Samadai, each dive site has its own unique charm. Yet, it’s the heartwarming encounters with the resident turtles which make Marsa Alam truly stand apart for me. The joy of watching these gentle creatures glide through the azure waters is an experience that words can barely capture.

turtle in azure waters in marsa alam in egypt

So, for what are you waiting? Ready for your Marsa Alam diving holidays? No matter if you are an experienced diver or you have just discovered your interest in scuba diving, Marsa Alam’s underwater world is ready to welcome you! So, it’s time to book some flights and get ready to explore the stunning beauty of Marsa Alam. Trust me; this is an adventure you’ll remember for a lifetime!