Scuba Diving in Sharm El-Sheikh – What To Expect?
Sharm El-Sheikh Diving has become easier and easier since the city developed from a small fishing village to a major tourist destination on the east coast of the Sinai desert in Egypt – mostly thanks to its amazing dive opportunities. It is sheltered by desert highlands from the powerful north wind that can otherwise make diving in the Red Sea a challenge at times. Sharm’s waters are warm and inviting though, and the city caters to tourists.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links at no extra cost to you.
From banks to car rentals, international cuisine to countless activities on land – everyone will find everything they need for a great vacation here, whether you’re a diver or not. That makes it especially easy when you as a diver go on vacation with non-divers, unlike in some other parts of the world. There’s plenty of stunning nature and diverse activities for everyone.
The dive sites around Sharm El-Sheikh are not just among the best in the Red Sea, they are among the most beautiful dive sites worldwide.
All the good dive sites in Sharm El-Sheikh are only accessible by boat, as opposed to Dahab e.g., where you’ll mostly do shore dives. The water is also a few degrees warmer than in Dahab. You can find my scuba diving guide to Dahab here. If you have enough time, it’s worth it taking at least a day trip to Dahab to discover the famous Blue Hole and the Canyon dive sites.
The dive centers usually pick you up from your hotel between 7 – 8:30 am, depending on how close the dive sites you’re going to do are to the shore.
The boat trip generally includes lunch. Some offer a snack after the first dive (e.g. chocolate cake), and fresh fruit after the third dive. If there are non-divers with you, they can join and just snorkel (at least on most trips, ask before) and enjoy their time on the sea.
Did you know that so far, more than 400 species of coral have been recorded? And that 20-30% of the fish population in the Red Sea can not be found anywhere else in the world?
In this guide, I will first give you an overview of the main diving areas around Sharm, then describe the 5 best dive sites. After, I’ll tell you some more helpful tips regarding the best time to go diving in Sharm, the environmental protection, visa regulations and my recommendation for a safe dive center that will make you part of their big family.
Overview: Diving Areas in Sharm El-Sheikh
There are a few general areas around Sharm where you can go diving. The so-called local dive sites are located along the shores of the city itself. They include e.g. Ras Umm Sid, Far & Near Garden, Temple, and Fiasco. These are usually frequented for check dives and if you’re not an experienced diver (yet).
The Ras Mohammed National Park is a protected area and has some of the best dive sites worldwide, buzzing with life. The most popular dive sites here are The Alternatives as well as Shark & Yolanda Reef (with Satellite Reef close to it).
The next area would be the Strait of Tiran which includes 4 reefs located shortly before Tiran Island, which now belongs to Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, divers are permitted to come here and explore the insanely beautiful and colorful reefs. I’ve never seen that many stunning and diverse corals in my life.
If you like wreck diving, the SS Thistlegorm and the Dunraven are the most frequently visited wrecks around Sharm El-Sheikh. The Thistlegorm is basically a must and a favorite among all local divers. There’s plenty of more wrecks, but some are restricted or lie pretty deep down. Either way, the Thistlegorm is the most impressive one.
Below, I’ve listed the 5 best dive sites around Sharm El-Sheikh. I’ve asked plenty of experienced and/or local divers and these names are the ones that always come up. I personally totally agree with these choices, especially Shark & Yolanda Reef as well as Jackson Reef completely blew me away.
I’ve never seen such a variety of coral as well as fish anywhere else. It’s incredibly busy underwater, just like you’d see it on the streets of Cairo: traffic jam everywhere. Just that underwater, it’s the good kind of busy, not the stressful kind 😉
5 Best Dive Sites in Sharm El-Sheikh
1. Ras Mohammed: Shark & Yolanda Reef
Ras Mohammed is the southernmost tip of the Sinai peninsula, a national park that offers world-class diving. Because of the currents that come from the Gulf of Aqaba, plenty of ocean fishes come here in search of shelter and food.
You may have encounters with gray sharks, and usually see barracudas, snappers, tuna, humphead wrasses, jacks and big moray eels, along with countless small and colorful fishes. The reef boasts giant gorgonians as well as multicolored soft corals.
Shark & Yolanda Reef are the most beautiful and therefore popular reefs in Ras Mohammed. The currents are usually strong so if you just finished your Open Water certification, this dive might be a bit challenging. I suggest you gain some more experience at the local, more easy dive sites before diving Shark & Yolanda Reef.
The name Yolanda Reef stems from the freighter that sunk here in 1981. Though it lies deep down at 200 meters, there is debris found on the reef, including 2 broken bathroom-fixture containers. If you’ve ever wanted a photo of yourself sitting on a toilet or in a bathtub underwater, this is your chance.
About 100 meters (330 feet) northeast of Shark Reef is a shelf at 16-20 meters (50-65 feet) that’s called “Anemone City”. In this area that is 100 square meters (1,100 square feet), you’ll find many huge anemones surrounded by dozens of anemonefish and domino fish. Nowhere else in the world can such an intense gathering be found, and it remains a mystery to biologists.
2. SS Thistlegorm
The SS Thistlegorm was discovered in 1956 and became the most famous wreck in the Red Sea, if not the world. The ship was supposed to transport war material in World War 2 when the Germans bombed it in 1941. The vessel’s stern section was destroyed because the cargo of ammunition exploded, and the Thistlegorm sank down to a sandy seabed 28 meters (90 feet) down.
Most of the cargo is still intact and turns this dive into an eerie time-traveling opportunity. You’ll find railroad cars, an anti-aircraft gun, and 3 Bren gun carrier’s, as well as automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, jeeps, boxed ammunition, weapons, tires, and uniforms.
It takes at least 2 dives to explore the huge SS Thistlegorm wreck.
3. Straits of Tiran: Jackson Reef
The strait of Tiran (45-minute boat ride from Sharks Bay Jetty, a bit outside of Sharm) consists of 4 reefs that stretch across the center of the strait of Tiran Island: Jackson Reef, Woodhouse Reef, Thomas Reef, and Gordon Reef.
They’re actually just the pinnacles of one big underwater ridge. The walls drop down almost immediately to a depth of about 60 meters (200 feet). The entire strait of Tiran is over 250 meters deep though.
You’ll find powerful currents sweeping across the reef that result in an outstanding amount of soft coral. Big ocean fish pass through this area to enter or leave the gulf so you often get lucky and spot some incredible creatures.
Sea turtles e.g. are commonly seen as well as tropical grunts and angelfish. Even gray sharks, whitetip reef sharks, eagle and manta rays as well as dolphins pass by often.
This dive site is not suited for beginner divers as the currents are strong and can be difficult to navigate!
This photo was taken in Ras Gamila, a dive site that marks the entrance to the Straits of Tiran. The magnificent Gorgonian coral forest is out of this world, they’re HUGE!
4. Dunraven Wreck (Beacon Rock)
A one-hour boat ride west of Ras Mohammed is a huge, surface-breaking reef that’s called Beacon Rock, marked by a lighthouse. The highlight here isn’t the marine life, although you can spot sea turtles, pufferfish, oopuhue, and tropical groupers.
An English steamer, the Dunraven, sunk here in 1876, ripping 3 large holes in the reef. At 28 meters (90 feet), you’ll see the stern pointing toward the surface. The entire keel is covered with coral. You can enter the wreck through one of the gashes on the starboard side, and there are plenty of cool photo opportunities as you can see in the following photos. Huge schools of fish chose this ship as their home as you can see in the following video that shows Alun from Elite Diving diving inside the wreck.
Make sure to bring a torch to explore the dark wreck’s inside!
5. Ras Umm Sid
One of the local dive sites of Sharm El-Sheikh, Ras Umm Sid has become famous for its forest of giant gorgonians that cover an area of about 50 square meters (535 square feet) at depths ranging from 15 to 35 meters (50 to 115 feet).
You’ll also see lots of colorful soft corals, small coral fish and vast schools of glassfish, some groupers and every now and then giant moray eels.
This dive site is much easier to navigate and is close to the shore, so it’s more suitable for beginners than some of the other dive sites mentioned here.
Environmental Protection Red Sea
Sharm El-Sheikh was the first area in the Red Sea to be protected by environmental laws. The national park of Ras Mohammed (established in 1989, actually my birth year), employs rangers and scientists who enforce these laws and do extensive research on the area’s geology and wildlife. Thanks to their efforts, partly funded by the EU, the beauty of the underwater world, as well as the beaches, have been kept intact despite the masses of tourism.
Whenever you go diving, I recommend you bring a little mesh bag and pick up any trash you might find underwater, as long as it doesn’t have anything growing on it yet.
Visa Regulations important for scuba diving in Sharm El-Sheikh
A quick note on the visa situation: Once you arrive at the airport, you have two visa options.
- Option Nr. 1: Sinai Only Visa.
Make a note on your immigration form that says “Sinai Only” and you will be able to spend 14 days in Sinai without paying for a visa. Important to know: You can not leave the Sinai with this visa, and even some parts of Sinai won’t be accessible to you. I recommend getting the full visa though, as you may miss out on trips beyond the cape of Ras Mohammed.
- Option Nr. 2: Full Visa.
At the airport, you buy a visa stamp for $25/25€. This will allow you to stay in Egypt for 30 days and you may visit the whole country. If you’re planning on seeing the pyramids, doing a Nile cruise or diving on the other side of the Red Sea (Hurghada/Marsa Alam), this is the visa you need.
Best Season For Sharm El-Sheikh Diving:
The climate is cool in winter (20°C / 68°F) and hot in summer (40°C / 104°F). Water temperatures reach up to 30°C in summer and go down to 20°C in winter. Below you’ll find a table with water temperatures for every month:
Generally, I’d say that May to October is the best time to go diving in Sharm El-Sheikh. There’s usually more marine life in summer, including big animals. Mantas visit more often from the end of April on, Whale Sharks from May on. You may also encounter White Tip Reef Sharks, Thresher Sharks, Hammerheads and Tiger Sharks. Sharks are usually found in the split currents, meaning where different currents meet, so they don’t have to work/swim so hard.
A 5mm wetsuit with a hood is best from the middle of November to the end of March. For the rest of the year, a 3mm wetsuit is sufficient.
Sharm El Sheikh Scuba Diving Center Recommendation
I usually travel solo and I’ve had a few bad experiences, so I know how important it is to find a trustworthy dive center where you do not have to deal with security concerns and, as a woman, harassment. Unfortunately, though it’s not dangerous, sexual harassment is quite common here in Egypt and can be really frustrating.
To do my research for this Diving Guide to Sharm El-Sheikh, the team of Elite Diving sponsored 4 days of boat diving. I’m so happy I had a fantastic time with them, nothing like my bad experience with a different dive center in Dahab in April this year.
There’s a lot of bad sheep out there, like in any industry, and it’s important to go with a dive center that is responsible and trustworthy – as a diver in general (safety first!), but especially if you go alone as a woman. I can wholeheartedly recommend Elite Diving, you feel like you’re going diving with family and not with strangers. ⠀
They have such a great team! From Alun, the Welsh owner who is a real entertainer and has lots of great stories about the area in store (which turn the dive briefings into a highlight of itself), to his lovely wife Moyra, their scuba fanatic son G as well as all the guides and boat crew.
Kraken Universal Smart Phone Underwater Housing
My go-to underwater housing that fits pretty much every smartphone and is safe to use for up to 80 meters. If you have a good quality phone camera, your photos will turn out great.
Samsung Galaxy S9 G960U 64GB Unlocked 4G LTE Phone w/ 12MP Camera - Midnight Black
This is the smartphone that I'm using. Pretty much all my underwater photos in this article and others have been shot with the Samsung Galaxy S9.
It's not too expensive that I would be screwed if I lost or broke it, but has one of the best cameras for phones under $1k. Also, transferring images is so much easier than with iPhones and you can simply extend the storage by adding a bigger SD card.
Mares Smart Wrist Dive Computer
I really like my Mares Smart dive computer, it's perfect for beginner and intermediate divers. I have it in white/purple, so for the girls who like to be stylish but don't want to spend a fortune on the white Suunto D4, this is a great budget alternative.
The different color options also make it easy to differentiate your computer from others, which can be very helpful at times, especially on a liveaboard.
Coral Reef Guide - Red Sea to Gulf of Aden South Oman
This is a great book if you want to know what you looked at after your dive in the Red Sea.
It's one single guide that covers all forms of marine life, including coral. Each species is illustrated with an underwater color photograph along with biological and physical descriptions.
Dive+ : We Love Ocean
This app is a lifesaver when it comes to editing underwater photos and videos. In just one click, it turns your blue, boring photo into a colorful image that looks like in real life.
If you get the free version, your photos will be watermarked with your username. If you pay for a subscription, there are no watermarks and you can batch edit your photos and videos - big timesaver!
If you’re traveling to Egypt, make sure you make the most of your trip by reading the following articles: