“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Jacques Yves Cousteau
Dahab lies 80 kliometers north of Sharm el-Sheikh, and many of its visitors claim, with some justification, that it has a more relaxed and calm atmosphere than Sharm el-Sheikh.
Dahab is divided in to a southern part, El-Qura Bay, and a northern part, Assalah Bay. El-Qura Bay, sheltered from waves and an almost constant northern wind, is very popular with windsurfers as it provides them with ideal conditions for their sport.
Assalah Bay, three kilometers to the north of El-Qura Bay, was once the original Bedouin village, and from it came the tourist center most guests associate now as ‘Dahab’. Assalah Bay is divded in to two parts: Mashraba in the south and Masbat in the north, is bordered by a beach of fine, golden colored sand.
It is believed that this golden sand is where the name Dahab originated from as ‘Dahab’ means ‘Gold’ in the local language. Unlike Sharm el-Sheikh, where most of the diving is made from boats, Dahab’s dive sites are all readily accessable from the shore and dive boats are rare.
Recently the area has started to see more liveaboards as liveaboard operators have started to include it in their itineraries.
Dahab’s dive sites are divided in to two groups: north of Assalah Bay (which includes the famous ‘Blue Hole/ El Bells’ and ‘The Canyon’), and those to the south of El-Qura Bay.
Blue Hole & El bells
The Blue Hole is one of Egypt’s more infamous dive sites on account of the high number of fatalities there.
Situated 12 km north of Dahab and 1.5 km from The Canyon, which is more famous than infamous, the Blue Hole is, strangely enough, a large hole in the reef – 150m wide and 110m deep.
The Blue Hole is connected to the sea via a 26m sea tunnel with a ceiling depth of 52m. For recreational divers, the Blue Hole itself is of little interest – its walls are rather barren, with a few hard corals (probably due to sunlight only being able to penetrate the hole to about 15-20m) – but it is a different story for technical divers, who seem to swarm the Hole like flies on a camel.
The Blue Hole, like Sharm el-Sheikh’s dive site Tower, offers ideal conditions for freediving, especially for training and competitions.
Okay, so if the Blue Hole is of little interest to recreational divers, why dive there? A good question – there’s a very nice drift dive available here starting from the nearby dive site El Bells which is 250m north of the Blue Hole.
El Bells is a 30m chimney in the reef, open to the sea, with cavities that widen and narrow in the shape of bells. Access is gained via an opening in the reef plate and you just descend, usually in a head down position, through the bells.
At 30m the Bells finish and at this point you should then start swimming south with the reef on your right, ascending very, very slowly while exploring a beautiful wall that plummets in to the blue. After approximately 30 minutes of swimming, at a depth of 7-8m, is a saddle that allows access in to the Blue Hole.
The reef on the saddle and immediate area is very vibrant with a lot of marine life; if you have enough air, it is worth exploring a little further past the saddle but be cautious of strong currents.
The Canyon is situated 10 km north of Dahab and 1.5 km south of the infamous Blue Hole.
Access to the site is very easy as it is next to the costal road and has plenty of parking spaces.
The site is easy to identify as there are numerous bedouin coffee shops next to the site as well as a sign on the beach welcoming you to The Canyon and points about protection of the environment.
The actual dive begins by crossing the reef plate (about 12m) in to a sandy lagoon with a maximum depth of 3m.
In the south corner of the lagoon is a very small saddle with a depth of 2m that allows access to the outside of the fringe reef, which is a very vibrant coral garden. However, you shouldn’t explore this enticing garden just yet but head directly to the Canyon itself.
Heading west you will find a large fissure that opens up in the reef at 15m (capped at the top with a large coral head referred to as the ‘fish bowl’) and descends in a southern direction to a depth of 54m.
Entry to the Canyon is via the widest part of the fissure (at approximately 20m) where you can descend easily in to the canyon.
Inside you will discover a sandy floor (30m) with almost vertical walls. Heading north while ascending to 17m you will find yourself in a small cave (the ‘fish bowl’) usually populated by hatchetfish and, once upon a time, pigmy sweepers.
Unfortunately the pigmy sweepers have disappeared these days, having been disturbed by divers too often. After exploring the cave, you should return to the entry point and exit the Canyon, NOT via the small opening in the cave.
Once outside, you can explore the coral garden which is usually full of Red Sea Walkman, sea moths, octopi, scorpions, various nudibranchs, and morays (for macro photography, there are few sites better than Dahab’s canyon), while occasionally a large pelagic fish or ray can be found along the drop-off.
We provoke a shark every time we enter the water where sharks happen to be, for we forget: The ocean is not our territory – it’s theirs.
Peter Benchley Author