Diving southern Red Sea – a trip report from Red Sea Diving Safari’s Marsa Shagra diving village. Experience unlimited house reef diving and one of the most famous dive sites in Egypt: Elphinstone.

Trip details

Destination: Marsa Shagra village, Marsa Alam, Egypt

Resort: Red Sea Diving Safari, Marsa Shagra

When: 7 to 12 April 2010

Duration: 6 days

Number of dives: 13

Together with three friends – Camilla, Björn and Marcus – I went on this “spur-of-the-moment” week long dive trip without having researched it that much. We just wanted to go somewhere fast for a short break.

The Red Sea

For all divers living in Europe, the Red Sea is the most accessible tropical sea and Egypt is, by far, the most popular destination even though you can access the Red Sea from a number of countries. The northern part of the Red Sea (Sharm el Sheik and Dahab) is the most exploited and can be overwhelmingly crowded. The southern part (from Marsa Alam and south) is calmer.

In biodiversity, the Red Sea ranks pretty high. Not as high as the Coral Triangle in Sout East Asia (which has the highest biodiversity in the world) but on par with the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and above the Carribbean.

A number of dive sites in the Red Sea are consistently ranked very high in different polls on the best dives in the world and some of the most famous ones in Egypt are:

  • Ras Mohammed (north)
  • Thistlegorm Wreck (north)
  • Brothers Islands (mid)
  • Elphinstone (south)

On this trip, we had the chance to try out Elphinstone, which is accessible by speedboat from Marsa Shagra,

The resort

Red Sea Diving Safaris have three dive resorts of which Marsa Shagra is the biggest and oldest. You can either stay in cabins or in tents and I must say that the tents are really great. We all stayed in the tents and enjoyed it. I guess the only big con (depending on your personal requirements) is that there is no running water in the tents and bathrooms are shared in a separate building.

The dive operations are very flexible. Diving on the house reef is unlimited – you just need to find a buddy and go in! You can either swim in from the dive shop, or take a very short free speedboat ride north or south along the house reef. In addition to this, there are “truck dives” offered every day, where a bus takes you further north or south to different shore dives. And there are also a number of extra dives trip by boat (to for example Dolphin House and Elphinstone) that cost extra. If you really want to rack up many dives – and nitrogen – this is a great place for you.

I worry about the food whenever I go to Egypt. But I have to say that the food at Marsa Shagra was good and fairly varied. Sure, it is not gourmet food, but it is a well cooked and varied buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The diving

Water temperature in April was pretty cold – 24-26 C. I started off with a 3 mm suit, but soon rented an extra 5 mm shorty to stay warm.

First off, some words about the Marsa Shagra House Reef. The house reef runs north and south from the dive center. It is big enough to be divided into 2-3 separate dives each direction, giving you four to six unique dive sites (depending on how fast you swim). We thought that the further away from the dive center you went, the better the diving became. Lots of Blue Spotted Stingray, some huge Morays, Green Turtles, Batfish and Crocodile Fish.

Batfish patrolling the house reef

Batfish patrolling the house reef

Other than the house reef, we made excursions to Marsa Egla, Marsa Abu Dabbab, Elphinstone and Shaab Samadai (Dolphin House). Of these, Elphinstone and Shaab Samadai merit some more words.

Elphinstone is a submerged ridge with an extremely healthy reef surrounding it. Especially the soft corals are very much alive, and they left me with a purple impression of the dive site. We went there on a windy day in small RIB boats. A very bumby ride to say the least. A number of divers got sea sick and had to turn back. We did two dives on Elphinston – the first dive we went down on the famous north plateau attempting to reach the deep crack at around 40 meters (no nitrox allowed on Elphinstone). My buddy Camilla and I didn’t quite make it down that deep, but stayed at 35,5 meters at our deepest. There is always a chance to see big sharks – especially Oceanic Whitetip Sharks and sometimes Hammerhead Sharks – but we did not see any on the two dives we did at Elphinstone. We did see dogtooth tuna, jacks and barracudas.

Soft corals at Elphinstone

Soft corals at Elphinstone

Personally, I rate the two dives we did at Shaab Samadai (Dolphin House) highest on this trip. At Shaab Samadai, there is a Dolphin sanctuary which is closed, but you can snorkel to the edge of it. But let’s talk about the diving. The site consists of a number of big rocks strewn across a white sand bottom. Visibility is stunning (at least it was when we were there) and the contrasts between the rocks and the white sand in perfect visibility is great. There are a number of longer swim throughs (almost rate as caverns). Spotted Stigrays lie beautifully on the sand showing off the deep blue spots. This dive is all about scenery – not about any specific fish encounters, but it is definitely one of the dives that are etched forever in my memory. My biggest sorrow is that I do not have any pictures from this wonderful site.

Summary

If you live in Europe, the Red Sea offers great tropical diving reachable and doable in a week. Southern Egypt is more unspoiled than the north, and Red Sea Diving Safaris offer great bang for the buck. The house reef is fair and will keep you happy for a day or two. Elphinstone and Shaab Samadai are both top diving spots that should be on each diver’s bucket list.

A quirky thing to end with: they had an Oxygen Bar at Marsa Shagra serving yes, oxygen… This is what it looked like:

Me, Björn, Cammilla and Marcus looking silly at the oxygen bar

Me, Björn, Camilla and Marcus looking silly at the oxygen bar

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