The Red Sea offers some terrific diving – both shore-based and from a liveaboard. DIVE readers report on some of the best bargains. Interviews by Kate Quarry
Jenny Cowling, 24
I’ve been diving for six years, but never outside the UK, and I had some time off and wanted to go away. I got a big loan from my mum, went through the ads in DIVE magazine, and did a bit of searching on the Internet. I decided to go for the Red Sea, because it was the closest and cheapest warm-water diving I could find in February. Friends recommended a liveaboard, as they can get to the sites before the dayboats.
The Orchid, which I booked through Red Sea Divers, offered a reasonable standard of boat on a budget. I booked two weeks before I left, and when I got there I found that most of the other passengers had done the same. Dive tourism in the Red Sea is so well established that you can get a good holiday that is cheap. The water could have been warmer, but there was guaranteed sunshine and the air temperature was warm.
All the cabins on the boat were en suite, and I had no problem bunking in with someone I didn’t know. The boat is advertised as five star, but to my mind it isn’t. It’s a great boat, but it’s not five star! The one thing that could have been better for the money was the food, but we discovered at the end of the trip that we’d had a stand-in chef, so I think that diving any other week the food would have been better.
My favourite dives were the Chrisoula K and the Giannis D; they were well worth the trip. I wasn’t too impressed with the Thistlegorm – it had been over-hyped. I’ve dived better wrecks in Britain.
On our last day we had rooms at the Hilton Sharm Dreams included in the holiday price. We could shower and use the pool or wander round Sharm El Sheikh. Sharm is really touristy, but I quite liked it. A lot of the fun of diving is who you dive with – I was lucky to have an instant rapport with some of the other divers on board.
Mark Skelton, 23, lives in Birmingham and until recently was studying geology and astrophysics at Cardiff University. He is currently working as a diving instructor to ‘tide himself over’.
I’ve been on budget holidays to the Red Sea twice, both times taking groups from Cardiff University SAC, and both trips were organized through Goldenjoy which was the most efficient company we approached.
On the first trip, in 1999, there were 18 of us and we stayed at the Sonesta Beach Hotel in Sharm, and dived with the Red Sea College. The trip included flights, six days’ diving, and half-board accommodation all for £450 each.
Lunch on the boat was about £4, and we paid minimal amounts for soft drinks. It was a wonderful trip, we dived twice a day and the Sonesta was a lovely, low-rise resort. We were diving the islands in the Strait of Tiran and the marine park at Ras Mohammed. While diving Ras Mohammed we saw quite a few sharks – whitetips, silvertips, blacktips – and the dive guide even claimed to have seen an oceanic whitetip, but no one else saw it! One day, as the boat was taking us back to the resort, we saw dolphins and were even able to dive with them: they spent around 30 minutes with our group.
The second trip was in August 2000, and there were 23 of us, 12 from the original trip to Sharm. We stayed at the Hilton in Hurghada which, being towards the end of a strip of hotels, is not very central. This didn’t matter though as it laid on its own entertainment every night. We dived with Divers’ Lodge, who were excellent, and the price – £429 – included the same things as the other holiday. Hurghada is particularly good for scenic diving and has some very pretty reefs. On one particularly brilliant dive we saw sharks and then, as we turned a corner, a large manta.
I’d say that both locations had good diving, although Sharm does have more variety and slightly better sea life. Attempts are being made to preserve the reefs in the marine park at Ras Mohammed, and we saw that mooring lines had been installed at Jackson and Gordon Reefs to stop people anchoring on the coral. Those two reefs were really nice. The fish populations in both areas were good: we saw large numbers of jacks, clownfish, morays, triggerfish, emperor angelfish and sweetlips.
On one of our trips, one of the charter flights was half an hour late one way, but all the other flights were on time. I’ve encountered much worse delays when going on skiing trips. Student trips are always a bit questionable, but we were all amazed by how good the holidays turned out to be, and how well everything went.
Anne Lewis, 29
At the start of 2001 I’d just got paid my bonus at work, so I decided to look for a last-minute offer on a diving holiday. I found one on the Regal web site: in total it was £638 per person for flights, accommodation, breakfast and two dives a day for six days. The deal included £100 off the flights and accommodation and a ‘buy one, get one free’ offer on the diving package. We stayed at the Aida Verdi Hotel in Hurghada, which was brand new – we could still smell the paint in our room! Despite being just completed, the showers leaked, but everything else about it was very nice and the breakfasts were good. As the hotel is German-owned, most of the other guests were German and Italian, with a few English.
We were diving with Emperor Divers, who were very helpful, and the dive guide was fantastic: I couldn’t complain about anything. We did two dives a day, and had lunch on the boat, which was 25 Egyptian pounds (about £5), a price that included all the drinks. On the first few days it was quite windy, but that didn’t affect the diving, as the boat just went to more sheltered areas, and the last couple of days were flat calm.
About 18 months ago I went to Sharm, and I’d say that Hurghada has more big fish – we saw dolphins and mantas on the surface, lots of moray eels, blue-spotted rays and big triggers. I particularly like pufferfish of all kinds, and there were lots to see, especially masked puffers. We didn’t see any sharks, but there had just been an algal bloom, so we didn’t expect to see any. One day we paid extra to go to Abu Nuhas – which takes between three and four hours each way in the boat – where we dived the Giannis D and the Carnatic. The visibility was better than it had been around Hurghada, and it was calmer. The Giannis D was one of my favourite dives: it’s so complete as a wreck, although it’s at a strange angle which makes you feel a bit odd!
In the evenings we explored Hurghada, which was easy – even though it’s about 25 miles long, there are cheap minibuses that will take you anywhere for one Egyptian pound – about 20p. Some of the drivers try to charge you more, but they back down if you insist. We had a look at the ‘downtown’ area, where residents shop. There are coffee bars where the local men sit, and we saw a butcher’s shop which had half a cow with its tail still attached. We ate at the hotels and food was cooked to a good standard.
I’d heard reports that Hurghada wasn’t so good, but I liked it, and I’d definitely go there again. I’ve heard that in the week before Christmas the prices of dive holidays are low, so I’m hoping to get another last-minute offer then, although I’m not sure who I’ll be able to persuade to come with me at that time of the year!
John Dux, 48
We decided we wanted to get away from the terrible weather for half term, so we booked a week’s diving in the Red Sea. This is the second holiday we’ve had with Oonasdivers, and we’re going on a liveaboard holiday with them in June. The first time we went out ‘blind’ and simply came across them. I really liked their informal attitude: they don’t say, ‘It’s Tuesday, so you must dive here.’ They’re flexible and relaxed people, and good company out of the water. The holiday was about £500 each, including flights, diving, accommodation and breakfast. We stayed at the dive club, as they have rooms there: my wife and I had a suite with a living room, and there was plenty of space.
We dived twice a day, staying on the boat all day. The food was great and the crew excellent. All the dayboats are good, and the crews are professional. There were usually eight or nine divers on the boat, with an unchanging core of four or five. If there were particular places the divers wanted to visit, the crew did their best to arrange it. Because I’d been to Ras Mohammed before, I wanted to go there again, so that was organized. We did some great dives on Shark and Yolanda Reefs, and also dived the Strait of Tiran, the Tower, which I think is a absolutely fantastic dive, and some other really pretty reef dives.
Because of the time of year, the water was a bit cooler than when I had visited the Red Sea in 1999, so there weren’t as many big fish. But I’m more interested in the small stuff anyway – the animals you find in the first 10m, especially nudibranchs. I was given an underwater camera for Christmas, so I tried that out. I did pretty well for a beginner and got some good shots.
By the dive club there’s a sandy beach, and a hotel behind it with a pool which the divers can use, although any dive training is done in a roped-off area in the bay. In fact, my daughter qualified as a diver while we were out there. There’s plenty to do in the evenings, too: in the Na’ama Bay and Sharm area there are various watering holes and lots of good restaurants. As a holiday it was a lot of fun.
The real guide
Shop around with the tour operators below, and check out the last-minute bargains listed on the DIVEChannel web site and Last Call on page 93. If you are flexible about when you can go, incredible deals can be found.
Crusader Travel tel 020 8744 0474,
web site: http://www.crusadertravel.com.
web site: http://www.divechannel.co.uk.
Dive the Red Sea tel: 01305 861410,
web site: http://www.divetheredsea.co.uk.
Dive Tours tel: 01244 401177,
web site: http://www.divetours.co.uk.
Diving World UK tel: 020 7407 0019,
web site: http://www.divingworld.co.uk.
Explorers Tours tel: 01753 681999,
web site: http://www.explorers.co.uk.
Goldenjoy Sports tel: 020 7794 9767,
web site: http://www.goldenjoy.com.
Hayes and Jarvis tel: 0870 89 28 280,
web site: http://www.hayes-jarvis.com
Longwood Holidays tel: 020 8551 4494,
web site: http://www.longwoodholidays.co.uk.
Oonasdivers tel: 01323 648924,
web site: http://www.oonasdivers.com.
Red Sea Divers tel: 0870 443 0311,
web site: http://www.redseadivers.com.
Regal Holidays tel: 01353 778096,
web site: http://www.regal-diving.co.uk.
Scubaway International: tel: 01273 746261
web site: http://www.scubaway.com.
Tony Backhurst Scuba Centre tel:
uk, web site: http://www.scuba.co.uk.