Underwater Photography in Marsa Shagra, Red Sea
Diving in the Deep South of Egypt
Experienced divers and underwater photographers often find better diving down south, where you'll find more currents and swells, big fish and sharks near an area called Marsa Alam. Ephinstone reef is a famous dive site in this area. So is Brother's Reef, which lies half way in between Hurghada and Marsa Alam. Daedalus reef is well known for sharks. Diving this area by liveaboard is common, I suggest catching a boat out of Marsa Alam, not Hurghada which is too far north. There are also land-based options, please enjoy the following article on staying in Marsa Shagra, which is just 15km north of Marsa Alam. - Scott
One year ago I found the perfect dive camp at the Red Sea shores of Egypt.
Its called Marsa Shagra and it is only 20 minutes south of Marsa Alam Airport and about 180 miles north of the Sudanese border. It is also called the deep South of Egypt.
Among European divers Marsa Shagra, which is run by the Egyptian Red Sea Diving Safari is already a popular dive camp with numerous excellent dive sites.
Marsa Shagra Dive camp, on the Red Sea in Egypt
When I got to Marsa Shagra the first time, everything seemed to be so different from other dive camps I have been visiting in the past. The dive camp lays in a remote place in the desert, right along the red sea cost. We got picked up at the Marsa Alam Airport by a Egyptian driver from the dive camp. During the 20 minute drive to the camp we passed Port Ghalib which is a newly built port city with lots of hotel resorts along the coast. Lots of garbage alongside the road is a common sight in Egypt but nevertheless the desert landscape was fantastic. Since we flew in less than 4 hours from Zurich, Switzerland to Marsa Alam I wasn't tired at all and eagerly viewed the passing landscape. When we got to the dive camp we were warmly welcomed by the reception staff, of whom some were European but most of them are Egyptians. Everybody speaks very good English so communicating was no problem at all. We were shown to our chalet room quickly, and one of the staff did carry our heavy dive gear. After checking in first thing we went down to the dive shed were we would keep our dive gear during the whole time and change into the dive gear. It is a open shed where the warm wind blows through. We were informed that since it was our first time here we had to do a check-out dive first, but only the next morning. It made sense since they didn't know us yet.
The dive resort right at the beach, north of Marsa Alam
Everything seemed so perfect and organized. There are several possibilities to accommodate divers. You have the tents on the beach which are the cheapest, the chalets without air-con and the chalets with air-con. We choose the chalets without air-con. As a diver I avoid air-conditioning in order not to get a cold and then not to be able to dive.
The Tent City on the Beach with public bathroom and showers
The chalets above the beach with private bath and shower
Probably the most important building in the dive camp is the restaurant.
It is built oriental style with a beautiful sun deck where we could sit outside overlooking the ocean. The food is very good, I would call it 5 star food. Three times a day they have a huge buffet, decorated like in five star hotels with very tasty European, American and Oriental cuisine. Yes, we ate alot, but we dove a lot and none of us gained any weight during our 10 days stay.
The restaurant with the sun deck over looking the Red Sea
First thing after breakfast we were briefed by our Egyptian dive guide about the procedures. Everybody can dive as much as he wants throughout the day. You take a tank, write on the board where you go, when you go in and when you are supposed to be back. That board is carefully watched by the operators to make sure that everybody is safe back on time. The house reef which starts a few feet away from the sandy beach should get a exotic name ! Its just called house reef north and south. It is very nice, unspoiled with lots of marine life in crystal clear warm water. If you look through the photos on the www.redseadivingsafari.com website you can see how many different marine animals, fish and critters can be found on these dive sites. I am always amazed about the variety when I go through the pictures. The Red Sea diving safari has a monthly underwater photography contest where people can participate with the underwater photos they shoot during their stay at Marsa Shagra. Every month the winner gets a week free to stay at the dive camp ! I was lucky last year and won a week free diving and stay at the dive camp.
The restaurant and the sand beach where the shore dives start
Diving at the Marsa Shagra camp
There are several different ways to dive:
Shore – Shore dive, Shore – Zodiac which means we dove out along the reef until we run out of air and the zodiac picks us up again, Zodiac – Shore dive, or last but not least Zodiac – Zodiac dive. They drive you out as far as you like along the reef and when you finish your dive, you let your balloon surface marker to the surface and they come and pick you up again. Also, everyday there are two truck dives, which means 2 trips every day on a truck to different dive sites. And the best of all, everything I have mentioned until now is an all-inclusive package. On top of that we could choose dive trips which were not free of charge, but in my opinion they were cheap.
Diving Elphinstone Reef
One of the favorite trips is the famous Elphinstone Reef , a offshore reef which lays about 6 miles off shore. It is a beauty of its own with lots of marine life. In November we dove on Elphinstone reef everyday during our stay with oceanic sharks out in the blue water. The oceanic sharks came very close to us . They were about 2.5m ( 8 ft ) long. Sometimes we have had 3 oceanic whitetip sharks circling around us and sometimes only one at a time. Whenever we had a surface marker on the surface the sharks would bite it to see if it was food. The dives at Elphinstone reef are drift dives, usually from north to south. At the south plateau starts the area where one can meet the oceanic sharks drifting out in to the blue water. At the north plateau at around 35 m ( 115 feet ) there is a friendly large Napoleon wrasse fish which comes right in front of a diver's underwater camera. Sometimes there are hammerhead sharks deeper down. Read more in our guide to diving Elphinstone and the Brothers.
Oceanic Sharks ( Longimanus ) at Elphinstone Reef
Southern Red Sea Dive Sites
One of my favoured dive sites at Marsa Shagra is Abu Dabbab. Abu Dabbab is a bay with a sandy beach and with lots of sea grass in the sea bed which is only about 12 m ( 40 Feet ) deep which attracts dugongs and large numbers of huge green sea turtles. Many divers had friendly encounters with a dugong there, but unfortunately everytime I was there the dugong was somewhere else feeding.
Huge Green Sea Turtles at Abu Dabbab
Another great dive site which was worth an extra-trip was Dolphin House, a off shore reef which is home to a large number of dolphins as a resting place. Strong restrictions apply about diving and snorkeling with the dolphins there in order not to disturb them.
At dolphin house cave diving is also possible. I am not very comfortable with cave diving, but this cave I recommend to everybody. There are many openings in the cave where the sun is shining through. It's a real nice experience. In the middle of the cave lives a huge Moray Eel which examines the divers who come through.
Cave dive at Dolphin House
I must say that without any exception all Egyptian and European dive guides were at all times very competent and serious about safety. Once they saw us diving they let us go on our own. On organized dive trips I always had my special requests as a underwater photographer and they were always met by the dive guides.
This dive camp I can highly recommend to underwater photographers. It is a perfect place for underwater photography. You can always go back to the same dive site over and over if you like until you get the shot right the way you want it. You don't have to dive in groups, you can dive with your buddy or on your own. Therefore nobody gets in your way when photographing underwater. On some dive trips you dive in groups, but I was always able to stay a little behind with my buddy and photograph the beautiful marine life.
The famous shark specialist Dr.Erich Ritter holds shark weeks in November at Marsa Shagra. Also many other famous divers and underwater explorers have visited these dive sites around Marsa Shagra. On youtube.com there are many movies about Marsa Shagra which can be viewed.
Dive Site Abu Dabbab
Blue Spotted Rays can be found on almost every dive
The House Reef North during a late afternoon dive
Near Dolphin House
How To Get There
Booking is best and cheapest to go through a travel agency. We always book with http://www.fish-trips.com, from Austria. The manager, Tina, is a very enthusiastic diver as well has dived the best sites in the world and knows what divers want.
Direct flights go from several European cities to Marsa Alam. From the USA I would recommend to fly to Cairo and fly from Cairo to Marsa Alam. This way one has a chance to see the pyramids as well.
Best Time To Dive
The Red Sea can be dove year-round. Visibility can be much lower in the spring due to plankton blooms. September to November are considered the best months for diving overall. In July and August it can get very, very hot on the surface. Some people recommend May to November as the best months visability and weather wise, not taking into consideration the summer heat!
Red Sea Water Temps
Expect water temps as low as 20 Celsius in January / February, as warm as 28-29 in July/August, and around 26 in the fall/spring
What To Bring
Summer clothes from March through December, a sweatshirt for the evening is recommended. Because everything is inclusive in the packages you don‘t need money at all. If you want to buy something small from the souvenir shop you can change money at the reception.
There is a coffee shop at the camp near the beach which is open from 6 am to late night. Even there, all soft drinks, beer, coffee and tea is included in the package price.
Safety In Egypt
Egyptians are very friendly and hospitality is highly honored. It is an Islamic country and therefore a certain behavior from visitors is expected . We never felt threatened or uneasy at any time in Egypt. The opposite was the case. Friendliness is overwhelming. Polite curiosity by the locals about the visitor is normal. Although the dive camp lays far away from the exotic centers like Cairo, Luxor, Alexandria or Asuan, it is a fantastic experience to go diving in the middle of the desert at the Red Sea in Egypt.