Diving in Egypt was definitely one of the highlights of my year living there. Nothing rivals the Red Sea and its vast beauty! Lucky me, I got to dive some of the top diving sites in the world as part of my PADI certifications: Open Water and Advanced! In less than 2 weeks and for under $600 US dollars, I got both PADI certifications, paid for accommodation and meals. Can’t believe it? Then keep reading and let me show you how diving in Egypt can be cheap and nothing short of amazing!
Where I went diving in Egypt: Dahab
First I will tell you: I did not get certified in Sharm El Sheikh nor do I recommend it. Why? There are 5-star PADI dive shops in Dahab as well, where I got certified, and for a fraction of the price that you would pay in Sharm or any other Red Sea town (i.e. Hurghada, Marsa Alam). Moreover, accommodation and restaurant prices are much more reasonable in Dahab! While many think that Dahab only caters to backpackers and travelers on a budget, there is an emerging wave of tourism in Dahab for those who seek creature comforts, but for less than those westernized all-inclusive resorts in Sharm El Sheikh or Hurghada. Also, most budget accommodation in Dahab is still very good, which will surprise many budget travelers in a good way =) now that I have told you why Dahab is the best Red Sea town for diving in Egypt and getting certified, let me tell you about my experience!
Where and how I got my PADI certification in Egypt
I stayed, got certified and did most of my diving in Egypt from Penguin Village, Dahab. While I would recommend Red Sea Relax Resort more so for accommodation (stayed here on subsequent visits to Dahab), the dive instructors at Penguin were great. However, I will tell you that I visited Dahab at least 6 times, and the last time I stayed at Penguin I had a mixed experience, with a staff member acting weird and rude to me, so take it as a grain of salt and I’m just recommending the dive instructors that were there back in the spring 2008. Just a heads up!
Back to diving in Egypt: The price was right and the locations chosen for diving were amazing. Imagine you actually practicing in the sea instead of a pool!? Most exercises before our actual dives were done at the shallow shores of Dahab’s famous “Lighthouse,” seeing fish and all before even being able to dive. By the way, this reminds me, you should definitely do the “Knowledge Development,” or videos and books part, at home instead of waiting until you arrive to Egypt, as it will take a good chunk of your morning for 4 days if you are doing the Open Water cert. and even more than that if you decide to also do the Advance cert. back-to-back. PADI eLearning is the best way to do this, which involves watching the videos/reading/testing part at home through the Internet and then doing your confined + open water dives once at your destination. It is the best way to not only save time, but also money! Simply go to a local dive shop or even eBay to buy your diving book and materials needed. At this point, I wouldn’t recommend buying any diving equipment except for maybe the diving mask. Why’s that? It is better for you to have a couple of dives logged and be comfortable with (rented) equipment before you venture on buying your own. This way, you will know more what you are looking for, what you like, etc. It’s kind of like learning how to drive before you buy a car? *wink*
Open Water PADI Certification dive sites
During my Open Water certification, the diving sites visited were The Canyon Gardens, Moray Gardens, and the Lighthouse. Usually, you don’t even dip your toes in water for the first two days of the diving course. However, what my diving instructor (Hamdy!) at Penguin did was divide a day in two, with the instruction part in the morning and confined diving skills in the afternoon. This was great, as that meant us not being stuck in a classroom for two days before we actually got into the water. What Hamdy did was simple: He would put up videos of a chapter or two, makes us take the corresponding tests, and once all students passed these sections (we all always did), we would do the confined diving related to those videos/tests. Best method possible! 🙂
After 4 days, I had a PADI Open Water certification: It really was that simple! You learn the “buddy system,” which involves how to check for your partner’s equipment and what should work how, you enact certain moments of “distress” such as your mask drifting away and you having to swim to get it, if your mouthpiece/AIR is taken out how you would be able to get it by simply turning/twisting your arm a certain way, how to get water out of your mask while you are 18 meters deep, etc. You also must pass a small swimming test, involving a swim (about 200-400 m) in the open sea. Then, ding ding! You are officially a diver! =D If your instructor feels like you are ready you may get your Advanced certification right after your Open Water, back-to-back. While policies may differ from dive shop to dive shop, Hamdy thought I was ready for the challenge and invited me to get my Advanced cert. right away–and for the price and thrill, I couldn’t say no!
Getting my Advanced PADI Certification and other dive sites
And what a thrill getting my Advanced PADI certification was! I mean, not only was I diving in Egypt, but I was diving some of the top dive sites in the world, all included in the price of the already-a-bargain diving cert. It was so great in all possible aspects! For this cert., the dive sites selected were The Canyon Gardens, the actual Canyon, the Blue Hole, and The Bells. Just Google those and be impressed. Some of the most vibrant, most beautiful corals and schools of fish–they were all underwater dreams.
The PADI Advanced certification is very practical: You barely spend time in the classroom (yay!). It involves a deep dive (between 18-30 metres/ 60-100 feet usually; we did it at 30 m/100 ft.!) and three other “Adventure dives” of your choice. Our group chose a night dive (at Eel Gardens); a drift dive (The Bells–but current wasn’t that strong though); and underwater nature study (at Moray Gardens or The Canyon gardens, one of the two). Our main deep dive, though, was at the Blue Hole and let me tell you, it’s been one of the most surreal experiences of my life, pretty up there with how The Canyon looks once you are inside! Diving in Egypt is sure an unforgettable experience.
More advanced dive sites in Dahab and beyond
After getting certified, I decided to do some extra dives at the Blue Hole, The Islands and Abu Helal. The latter was amazing, barely any divers go there; dive shops around didn’t really take you unless you mentioned it, making it an unspoiled, virgin hidden gem. One of my favorites for sure! However, the highlight of my trip for sure was…*drum roll*…
Yes, WRECK DIVING! *gasps* AHHH!!! The shop I went with was surprised, as I had few dives logged, but they said “if Penguin Divers sent you here, and you have your advanced certification, then they must really think you are ready” and so I went! The site is called the Thistlegorm, a WWII British vessel carrying supplies, which was bombed by the Germans and sank in the middle of the Red Sea. It is among the Top 5 best diving spots/ best wreck dives int he world. It is an overnight boat trip, so we drove from Dahab to Sharm El Sheikh. Then, you sleep on the boat overnight, heading out early to the Thistlegorm.
I believe you get 3 dives that day. First, on your way to the site, you eat a delicious Egyptian breakfast. Then, you dive the Thsitlegorm twice: First time is the deepest dive, at about 30 meters deep, and it is to circumvent the ship and see its vastness from the outside. It is truly awe-inspiring, if also rather eerie. You hear the haunting sounds of the ship, the exact same ones we all heard while watching the Titanic sink with Jack and Rose vying to survive. Yes, eerie indeed…
On your second dive, you actually enter the ship. This was the coolest thing ever. We got to go inside the Captain’s cabin and even see his tub, then go to the different storage rooms and see several motorcycles and even cars still fairly intact. It is so amazing how much of the cargo inside the ship is still so well preserved after so many years underwater. Needless to say, my breath was taken away.
The boat trip, which came to be the most expensive part of my trip ($80-90 USD), also included a dive at the Shark and Yolanda Reef in the Ras Mohamed national Park, which by the way has some of the most crystalline turquoise waters I have ever seen in my life (and I’m from the Caribbean!). Visibility was about 100 feet or better–yes, that unbelievable. You may see pictures of this beautiful Yolanda reef/wreck right here.
That should be my review of PADI certifications and diving in Egypt! Hope you enjoyed this thorough photo essay. Feel free to ask me any questions about it!