Diving and Desert Adventure in Dahab, Sinai, Red Sea
Tanis is often asked about how she came to settle in Dahab. Here’s the story, published in H2O Magazine and ‘Escape’ all the way back in 2005!
In the beginning
My first trip to the Red Sea was to Dahab – a palm-fringed bay in the midst of a vast arid landscape. A place where desert mountains meet the sea in the most dramatic way. Plus a fringing reef that stretches as far as you can see – further in fact. And here is the best bit – neither boats nor jeeps access some of the best parts of this reef, so the only way to them is by camel!
My first Camel Diving Safari
I was lucky. I stumbled across Dahab and then I stumbled across Said. He’s from the first Bedouin to learn to dive, and his Camel Diving Safaris are almost legendary amongst the Dahab crowd. He discovered the most impressive sites south of Dahab (Gabr el Bint) on his first ever safari. He and a group of friends, all guides and instructors, were keen for a bit of exploration. He organized the camels, sorted out a portable compressor, packed the Bedouin tent and off them went. They snorkeled and dived the whole coastline from Dahab to Sharm, most of which is Protected Area.
In between dives, they spent time exploring the desert wadis (valleys), chilling out on the beach, cooking over the open fire and enjoying incredible nights under the stars. This is what we call our million star hotel – truly the most beautiful in the world. Even my first safari, a day trip to Gabr el Bint, gave me a small taste for the Bedouin life. It was a very nice taste that led me to become Said’s business partner, but before I tell you about that, let’s talk about diving Gabr el Bint.
Gabr el Bint
My first Camel Diving Safari. It started about sunrise. We took the jeeps until the route became impossible by vehicle. There were four camels waiting for us at this point. We stopped for half an hour to eat a simple Bedouin breakfast – fresh bread and goat’s cheese, accompanied by lots of sweet Bedouin tea. While we enjoyed our breakfast, the guides packed all of our equipment onto the camels – tanks, weights, the lot! It’s amazing what a camel can carry! Then it was our turn. Onto the camels, a bit of a lurch as they stand up and then we’re off. Packed properly, the camels are surprisingly comfortable.
We ambled along the coast for just over an hour to get to Gabr el Bint. Some of the Camel Diving Safari locations have small Bedouin settlements nearby (like Ras Abu Galum), but Gabr el Bint is just empty beach with beautiful dives left and right. On the right, a nice wall with a little canyon. ‘Nice’ is a bit of an understatement. This wall is as alive as it could possibly be. There is a tree coral here so big that you really have to think twice about whether you’re in the sea or back on land. It’s our marker to turn up the slope, head for the small lagoon area and make our way back to the exit. There’s a Blue Spotted Ray waiting for us in the lagoon and, to top it all off, a big Big BIG Napoleon Wrasse at the edge of the reef wall accompanied by a not-quite-so-big but still impressive Grouper. Now that’s a nice dive.
After the dive we relax with yet more tea, while our guides finish off lunch on the fire. Chicken, rice, salad and tehina – simple and tasty! After lunch we’re got time to explore the beach and snap millions of photos of the mountains (the desert mountains are so beautiful and seem to change every five minutes with the light). Thankfully I’m with two other crazy photographers, so I don’t feel the need to hold back.
Time for our second dive. Straight into the blue towards a school of snapper, the off to the left to meet the coral slope. The highlight of this dive is a wall of giant sea fan gorgonians that stretches as far as you can see. We have an extra treat – a turtle is just ahead of us swimming in the same direction, so we have good company all the way to the gorgonians. Up the slope, over the saddle and a beautiful end to the dive… Everything loaded back onto the camels, before a final cup of tea and the journey back. As the sun starts to sink in the sky, we ride the camels homeward along the beach. The jeep meets us for the final leg, bringing us into Dahab around sunset.
Desert Divers Dahab
So that’s the story of how Said and I came to start Desert Divers. Today (ed. remember this was written in 2005!) we’re a PADI 5-star Scuba Diving Resort and Desert Safari Company based in Dahab. Which brings me on to our next favorite topic – the Sinai Desert, and what else you can do in Dahab…
Deep Desert Safaris
Traveling through the Sinai desert is an incredible experience. You are in some of the most remote places you will ever find. Mountains, wadis, deep canyons, high plateaus, unexpected palm tree oases and Bedouin hospitality everywhere you go.
Some people don’t have much time, so they spend just two or three days in the desert, but by far one of the most popular safaris is five days trekking deep in the desert mountains and canyons around Wadi Arada. We travel by camel, because we’re in areas the jeeps can’t go. Sometimes we ride the camels, but mostly we walk alongside enjoying the peace and quiet of the desert. Fresh air, stunning landscape and another chance to stay in the million star hotel.
Yoga, Rock Climbing and Freediving
Friends who are divers, but also yogis, climbers or freedivers, have helped us introduce new ways to enjoy the special energy of the Sinai. Today you can join in rooftop yoga classes, or take to the desert for three to five days on a yoga safaris. Yoga and freediving is also a popular combination, because they complement one another so well.
Rock climbing is in its infancy in the Sinai but day trips are possible from Dahab, and there are excellent routes in the high mountains around St Catherine. There is also the chance to find and map more routes. One of our favourite wadis has the potential for thousands of routes, but so far there are just five! (update – we’re now up to nearly 50 sports routes and more than 400 bouldering problems! Check out the Sinai Rock Climbing Guide)
The really nice thing about Dahab and the Sinai is that you can combine all of these things. Many people come year after year, even a few times a year, and they never get bored. So if you ever fancy diving the Sinai way, with a bit of desert and a lot of Bedouin culture mixed in, we’d love to welcome you to the Sinai!
There is also 1 more person I mention when people ask me about coming to Dahab, the Dive Master on my Open Water course. Having survived February temperatures in Wraysbury Pond near London to get my Open Water, I picked up a Lonely Planet for Egypt and read (with dismay) about various dive resorts in Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh. When the Dive Master asked me where I was going for my first scuba diving holiday, I shared the worry that although I loved diving (even in 5c water!), I wasn’t at all impressed with the idea of an area lined with 4 and 5 star all-inclusive resorts. He told me that Dahab was probably my sort of place, and the rest is history.
The trouble is that I never saw the DM again to thank him when it all worked out so swimmingly. So if you were a DM at Wraysbury in February 2002, get in touch – we’d love to take you on a Camel Diving Safari!