Dahab – A Personal History
By Said Khedr (Dahab’s first Bedouin to learn to dive)
Hello and welcome to Dahab, Sinai. A place with its own special energy – our little piece of paradise. It’s hard to describe what makes Dahab special to so many people from all over the world, but let me try…
The first time I came to Dahab, I came with my father. It was 1983, and for me Dahab was nothing less than heaven. A palm tree oasis with shining gold sand (this is what Dahab means, ‘Gold’)… and the sea.
This was my first time to see and feel the sea. It’s a feeling that stayed with me for a long time. Back home in the desert, I would close my eyes and see the amazing colours of the coral reef, and the blue water stretching all the way to Saudi on the other side. It won’t surprise you that, when I finished school, I returned to Dahab.
By the time I returned, Dahab had started making its mark on the travelers’ map. Anyone who came for a day ended up staying for a week… or a month. And when they went home, they couldn’t stop talking about Dahab (Dahab has always had this way of making a permanent home in your heart). In these days, Dahab was even more easy going – full of party nights and losing your day on the beach enjoying the breeze. Enjoy today, tomorrow will look after itself!
Of course I had to ask myself, what work would I do in this beautiful place? It was normal for the Bedouin to work in one of the beach cafes or as a taxi driver, but when you look around at the mountains and sea, when you hear the wind and see the stars, it’s hard to do a city job. I wanted to do work connected with nature. A friend taught me to windsurf and later I visited the other world – the diving world.
Today, with more than 4500 dives throughout the Red Sea, I can tell you that Dahab diving has a different style. So what is it that makes diving Dahab so unique? I’d say we have 5 magic ingredients…
1. Dahab has grown up around a Bedouin Village
Many people have come to know the hospitality of the Bedouin people. This is what attracted many of the first divers and instructors to Dahab, and somehow the personalities of the two groups have merged over the years. Now you will find many Bedouin diving and working with divers, and you will find some divers living a more Bedouin style of life. It’s a beautiful mix, and keeps the diving here more personal and less mass market.
2. Shore diving
Dahab has a fringing reef and almost all of our dives are from shore. These days we have a few boats (to Gabr El Bint in particular). A day on the boat is nice, but most divers tell us it’s absolute bliss to have a land-based diving holiday that doesn’t involve a frantic dash for the boat every morning!
In Dahab, we dive when you want to. And inbetween dives, everyone chills out in the beach-side cafes. You feel this most in the South – around Golden Blocks, Moray Garden and Three Pools. These are gentle dives, drifting from one to the other or circling the pinnacles and coral heads that dot the southern dive sites.
Shore diving also has its challenges. Nowhere do you feel this more than Abu Helal – a site with a tough entry and exit, impossible in strong winds or low tide. On the right day though, this is arguably Dahab’s most beautiful dive.
Abu Helal roughly translates as ‘Bay of the Crescent Moon’, but the trick to diving it is to enter by passing over the reef to the coral slopes beyond. Here you find rolling hills and valleys of coral, abundant in sea life. Alternatively, you can drift from Abu Telha – terrific at 25m with massive corals in the shallows. Trigger fish, Napoleon Wrasse, Tuna, Grouper… you’ll find them all on these two sites. And if that isn’t enough, there’s a small canyon in Abu Helal for the technical divers.
3. Unique formations
This is the most famous of our magic ingredients. Sites like the Canyon, Bells and Blue Hole are legendary. Every diver has to do them – year after year after year!
The Canyon is a world class dive, at recreational or technical depths. Entering and exiting through a small laguna, the dive takes you into a huge cavern under the sea bed. Recreational divers drop through an opening to 30m, explore up to the Fish Bowl then turn around and re-trace their bubbles.
At full moon, do a night dive at the Canyon – a quiet peaceful dive, traditionally followed by Bedouin dinner and star-gazing.
The Blue Hole is one of the world’s most famous dives. As you might know, the infamous feature is the Arch, a cathedral like tunnel that connects the Blue Hole to the open sea. Starting at 54-56m, this is for technical divers only. Or for the world’s top freedivers – on a single breath of air!
For recreational divers, the main dive starts at Bells – a chimney-like crack that pops you out at 18m or 28m. Turn away from the wall and you’re in the blue.
The diving is best at sunrise, when you might find giant morays tucked in the wall or maybe an eagle ray gliding beneath you.
On your way to the Canyon or Blue Hole, you’ll find Shoe Stamp (also known as Tia Maria, after its founder!). You have to look hard, but it’s there – a hole in the reef table that opens up to a huge coral head on your right. It’s a short dive, all about the entry. The last time I dived it, a giant Barracuda showed up.
Just to the south of Masbat Bay is another special formation, the Islands – 3 coral islands hidden just beneath the surface. This site is a maze of coral, and the toughest for new dive guides to learn. You’ll also find schools of Yellowtail Barracuda and Twinspot Snapper around the back of the 2nd Island.
4. The small things
Seahorses, rare ghost pipefish and nudibranches, the gentle Garden Eels – Dahab is a photographer’s paradise.
Most of these rare species are found on our doorstep, at Lighthouse reef. Lighthouse has a sloping reef that gives way to pinnacles in the deep, and to sand, seagrass and small coral formations in Masbat Bay. It’s perfect for baby and juvenile fish, and for learning scuba diving. We’ve had students spot seahorses before they’ve even finished their Open Water course!
Eel Garden juts into the Gulf, making its sandy slopes the perfect home for a colony of Red Sea Garden Eels. The current is dangerous in the wind, so you might have to be a patient waiting for a calm day. The coral is best in the strong light of day, but the fish life is terrific late afternoon when the sun drops and the fish come in to feed.
5. Adventure! Adventure! Adventure!
You’ll hear many people say that there’s even more to Dahab than scuba diving! It’s true, today more than ever. Young Egyptians today will tell you that Dahab is Egypt’s adventure sports capital. Scuba diving, freediving, kite and windsurfing, rock climbing, bouldering and deep desert trekking – you find it all here, at world-class levels.
And of course, I shouldn’t forget our famous Camel Diving Safaris. These are unique adventures you won’t find anywhere else in the world. You take a jeep as far as you can, load your tanks and equipment onto a camel, then ride your camel to remote dive sites.
A 1 hour camel trek from the Blue Hole takes you to Ras Abu Galum. It’s the most beautiful coral garden in the area – octopus, turtles, pristine hard and soft coral and loads of reef life! The Protected Area also includes dive sites at A’maied, Nachlat El Rasasa and Ras Mamlah. Half my diving history has been on these safaris. I like to say, “Three Worlds, One Choice”, because they combine the three things that make Dahab special to so many people – diving, desert and Bedouin culture.
Today, Dahab has grown up a bit
Dahab has seen many generations of travelers: the Bedouin fishermen, the hippies of the 80s and backpackers of the 90s. Adventure seekers from Europe started arriving in the mid-late 90s for holidays scuba diving, trekking and windsurfing.
Soon after, freediving, kite surfing, rock climbing and bouldering took off. In the last 5 years, young Egyptians have discovered Dahab, and today you’ll find them arriving any weekend or holiday they can get away from Cairo!
There are people in Dahab who came with nothing, and now have their own places and families growing up here. Once you’re in Dahab, it’s hard to leave. You live near the sea, you hear Dahab’s famous wind. You meet people from all over the world. You can share experiences and learn new things. After 25 years of living in Dahab, I am still in touch with friends living all over the world. When they visit, we pick up where we left off – as good friends always do. So you could say that there is a good world connection in Dahab, and this is an important thing these days.
So now, after growing up in the Nomad life and coming to Dahab, I have my dream – mixing scuba diving, rock climbing, trekking and freediving. And I am happy welcoming friends and helping anyone who would love to discover Dahab and the Sinai.
Desert Divers Dahab and Sinai Rock Climbing Centre