Sudan is the largest country in Africa with a population of 28 million people but itsn’t really on the tourist map due to a history of war. The Sudanese coast stretches out for 400 miles along the Red sea between Egypt and Eritrea. The diving in Sudan is a far cry from the usually crowded dive sites in Egypt and the reefs are vitually untouched by men.
Dive trips to Sudan are a little harder to organize than the Egyptian part of the Red Sea but the effort is absolutely worth it! The diving is fantastic and you are mostly by yourself on the dive sites.
The diving can be generally categorized in three areas: the North where you will see an enormous variety of fish depending on the time of year you go there will be manta rays, hammerheads and whale sharks. The Central region offers the classic dive sites close to Port sudan and the third and last region is the South where you can expect the true adventure: waters where very few divers have gone before you and deep dives with sharks of any type, barracudas, tuna and much more. There is only one safe anchorage in the area and the boat will return to the safety of the lagoon every evening.
Dive Sites in Sudan
The first dive spot the Don Questo sailed to was the wreck of the Umbria. The Umbria was an Italian freighter and rests at only 45 minutes sailing from Port Sudan. During the wa,r the captain sunk the ship to prevent it from falling into the enemy’s hands. The wreck has a few entrances to cargo holds that are easy to enter. Old trucks, type Fiat “Lunga” can be found at a depth of 13 meters on the first deck. Some of the other holds contain empty wine bottles, cables and a lot of bombs, that have been piled up there for years.
After the Umbria the Don Questo sailed to Sha’ab Rumi, the reef where Jacques Cousteau carried out his Conshelf II experiments in the Sixties. Here, Cousteau’s “oceanauts” were practically living at the sea bottom. The old tool shed for storing the diver saucer, a small submarine, the strange Sea Urchin and the remnants of the fish tanks are still there and overgrown with hard and soft corals.
The south point of Sha’ab Rumi is famous for its sharks. We dived Sha’ab Rumi for 2 days. During our first three dives we met schools of hammerhead sharks. At the first encounter, this rather unusual shark circled at a relatively large distance at a depth of 35 meters. The next day however we encountered a group of 30 specimens. Their graceful movements impressed us and they seemed undisturbed. The white sides of the sharks made them seem alternately visible and invisible. A diver’s dream came true. These are the hammerheads schools Cousteau spoke about.
While swimming back across the south plateau, the current picked up and 10 gray reef sharks constantly circled around me. These sharks allow divers to observe them and create excellent photo opportunities. They were present during every dive. In the near vicinity of the sharks we saw a big shoal of barracudas.
Standing on the bridge of the Don Questo in the morning strong winds came up and the sky was cloudy. The original plan to dive Quita El Banna was abandoned by captain Lorenzo. He suggested sailing from Sha’ab Suadi (diving the Blue Belt wreck) to Merlo Reef and from there to the northern reefs: Abington and Angarosh. And so we did…
The Hammerheads of Angarosh
When the wind was slowing down we got the opportunity to go over to Angarosh. Two days of spectacular diving followed. Hanging in the blue I realized why this place is called ‘mother of all sharks’. At first I saw a gray reef shark who came right up to me followed by… a couple of hammerhead sharks. After these sharks a big school of at least 30 hammerheads started to swim around. ‘Um El Garosh’ presented itself as one of the best dive spots for hammerheads. The hammerheads faded out into the blue. Then more hammerheads showed up. They circled around. We really got a good chance to meet these magnificent fish very close and we felt almost hypnotized by hammerheads. They were swimming over us and under us. Some left the school and swam right over the plateau to return to the school again a minute later. Within 7 minutes the whole spectacle was over, because our diving computers signaled us to go up again. Reaching the plateau at 25 m we enjoyed the abundance of soft corals and a big school of over 1,000 barracuda’s circling around. What a dive: we couldn’t have asked for anything better.
We returned from the northern reefs back to the south. After a morning dive at Sha’ab Rumi, where the hammerheads were present again, the Don Questo left for his last destination: Sanganeb.
The wind made Captain Lorenzo decide to dive the south plateau. This plateau is characterized by a number of pillars of beautiful hard and soft corals. Anthias and other small fish hover around these pinnacles and the brightly colored soft corals wave in the slight current. In between these pinnacles a number of gray reef sharks were swimming. They patiently circled around us hoping that we would supply them with some food. One of the sharks was already familiar with human presence, because we saw the unfortunate remains of a fishhook, line still attached, dangled from its mouth.
During the afternoon dive a large black shadow emerged from the blue: a manta ray! We watched it for several minutes before it disappeared into the open sea again. Its mouth flaps were large and its width was approximately 5 meters. Between the beautifully grown over coral pillars 6 gray reef sharks kept circling and the Red Sea once again showed itself at its best.
Compared to Egypt, there are not many vessels operating in the Sudanese Red Sea. Most boats we saw looked poorly maintained and old. Be careful with who you book your trip and ask for references. It took us a year of careful research before the right vessel was found. Most ships are run by Italian owners, but there are also several German and a French operators organizing dive trips.
We chose to dive with the Don Questo. This vessel is run by 2 friendly Italians.
The Don Questo used to be a research vessel built in England and was refurbished into a liveaboard in 1991. She is the only liveaboard in Sudan that has recompression chamber on board! Which is a nice added safety feature being on an ocean where medical help can be far away.
We chartered the whole vessel and they organized a trip schedule to accommodate our wishes. Three to four dives a day were no problem, which is unusual by Sudanese standards. Usually you have to pay extra dollars for every extra dive. The ship has 2 compressors onboard which made filling tanks no problem.
The Don Questo travels at an average speed of 9 knots, even with stronger winds. This offers guests the opportunity to dive the top northern reefs (Angarosh, Abington Reef) without any problem.
There is ample room for 19 divers on the spacious dive deck and gear can be neatly stowed in a box underneath your tank. Two zodiacs brought us to the reefs and a hydraulic platform lifted the entire zodiac (with divers!) out of the water. An ideal situation for photographers and cinematographers with a lot of equipment.
The captain is a former chef and trained his cook to prepare “Italian style” dishes. Lunch and dinner are both hot meals, and consist of a variety of fresh pasta, fish, meat, vegetables and rice or potatoes, followed by dessert. Fruit, coffee, tea and lemonade are provided during the day. Sodas, beer and other alcohol are available at an extra charge.
When to Visit Sudan
Sudan can be dived year round. The water temperature lies between 22-26 centigrade in the winter to a warm 30C in the summer. The summer land temperatures can reach 50C in teh summer, It is hot in Sudan so bring plenty of sunscreen and a hat. In the winter they go down to a pleasant 25C.
Getting to Sudan
From Cairo, the capital of Egypt there is a once a week flight to Port Sudan with Sudan Airways (saturday evening). A fairly new option is to fly to Yemen first () and get on a flight to Port Sudan on Yemen Airways.
Beware that Sudan is not cheap. Port taxes, visa and the relatively expensive flight from Cairo to Port Sudan add extra costs to the trip.
After checking all passports a custom officer guided us in pairs to a table, where all bags had to be opened and searched. On our way to the harbor we passed a few military road blocks and after 1 hour we arrived at our liveaboard, the Don Questo, for a 14 day dive trip.
The last night was spent in Port Sudan’s Hilton, the next day visiting the local Saturday market of Port Sudan, where the friendliness of the people, the brightly colored garments of the women and the pleasant temperature were apparent.
After all, Port Sudan is a very relaxed place in a country, where there are still war troubles down south.