Marsa Alam is the Red Sea’s Gateway to a remarkable underwater adventure in the Deep South of Egypt. Its marine ecosystem outstands with the diversified reef topography as well as with rich flora and fauna. Dugongs, 10 species of Sharks, Mantas, Rays, and Turtles: they all make Marsa Alam a wonderful diving and snorkeling destination.
The western coast of the Red Sea hosts Egyptian town of Marsa Alam. This destination can be reached within the 3.5-hour car or bus transfer from Hurghada. There is also Marsa Alam International Airport located 60km (37mi) from the coastline. The border with Sudan is situated 2090km (1299 mi) to the south from Marsa Alam.
Port Ghalib serves as the main starting point for most of daily diving trips and liveaboards leaving from Marsa Alam.
Marsa Alam’s underwater expanses abound with vast coral gardens full of different marine species. Some of the islands and reefs were turned into Marine Parks in order to preserve the marine life. That is why Marsa Alam gives a chance to explore one of the richest marine ecosystems.
The underwater topography along the 250km (155mi) coastline is famous for its impressive seascapes with tunnels, crevices, canyons, and lagoons. Perhaps this explains the frequent usage of the words “marsa” meaning “harbor” and “sharm” meaning “bay” in this area.
The most common way of diving in Marsa Alam is daily diving safari trips with one of the dive clubs. The dive club usually organizes a pick-up from your accommodation early in the morning. Then you are transferred to the diving boat and set off till about 4pm with the following transfer back to the hotel. The daily package usually includes 2 guided dives, tanks, weights, and a lunch.
Best Dive Sites Overview
This standalone reef gained the worldwide fame for its beautiful vertical walls going down to 200m (656ft.) as well as for an abundance of marine flora and fauna. The upper 300m (984ft.) long plateau starts from the surface and it descends down with stages at 8m (26ft.), 25m (82ft.) and lower. Elphinstone is recommended only for advanced divers as there can be strong currents.
If you practice technical or deep diving you can discover an archway at the depth of 50-60m (164-196ft.). The upper part of the reef is full of soft and hard corals giving shelter to small reef fish. The place is full of Snappers, Barracudas, Jacks, Tunas, Cornetfish, and big Napoleons. Moreover, Elphinstone gained its popularity due to a high chance of seeing such predators as Hammerhead Shark, Grey Reef Shark, Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Shark, and Silvertip Shark. Occasionally you can spot Oceanic Whitetip Shark, Thresher Shark, and Manta Ray in the blue waters around the reef.
Dolphin House (Shaab Samadai) and Dolphin Reef (Shaab Sataya)
These are the 2 diving destinations famous for the possibility to watch and dive with Dolphins. You shouldn’t expect that Dolphins will stay long with you. Usually, it’s a quick unforgettable rendezvous. However, you can enjoy great coral reefs at both locations. There are lagoons surrounded by labyrinths of reefs with several swims through and drop-offs. Among the usual inhabitants you can expect to see different Shell Mollusks, Nudibranchs (including Spanish Dancer), Morays, Octopus, Anemones filled with Clownfish, Lobsters, Pufferfish, Parrotfish, and occasional Turtle and Whitetip Reef Shark.
This dive site is located to the north from Marsa Alam and it consists of 6 reefs riddled with canyons, tunnels, and caves with the maximum depth of 18m (59ft.). It is the most famous place to spot the endangered Dugong and Green Turtles in its sandy bay. You can also try to find Guitar Shark, Ghost Pipefish, Pygmy Seahorse and Spiny Seahorse which are common in this area. The dive site is superb for underwater macro photography.
Wreck of the Hamada (at Abu Ghoson)
SS Hamada used to be a 65m (213ft.) long cargo vessel. She was traveling from Saudi Arabia to Suez but sank in a bay not far from Marsa Alam in 1993 either due to the fire or after crashing into the reef. The wreck is located between the surface and 18m (59ft.) depth. Underwater photographers adore it for nice pictures especially around the propeller and a bridge as there is enough natural light in the shallow waters and there are no strong currents.
The wreck consists of 2 blocks. If you have a wreck specialty it is possible to penetrate an engine room, a pilothouse, and a cargo hold. Among the residents of the area, you should expect to see Morays, Surgeonfish, Parrotfish, Napoleons, Lionfish, and Butterflyfish.
Daedalus Reef (Abu Kizan)
This 400m (1312ft.) long reef is located within 90km (55mi) from Marsa Alam and usually, it is included in the itinerary of liveaboards. The place is famous for the regular encounter with Hammerhead Shark and large pelagic. This dive site is recommended for advanced divers due to large depth going down to 200m (656ft.).
These are another 2 famous reefs located next to each other about 120km (74mi) from the coast. Brothers were rated as the 2nd best dive spot in the Red Sea. They are usually visited on a liveaboard and they are recommended only for experienced divers due to possible strong currents and large depth.
The amount of marine species on these small islands is incredible. They are full of Anemones, Sponges, soft and hard corals. It is possible to see Hammerhead Shark, Grey Reef Shark, Thresher Shark, and Whitetip Oceanic Shark here.
There are also 2 wrecks. Aida used to be an 82m (269ft.) long steam vessel. It sank in 1957 and now it is located between 30-60m (98-196ft.). Numidia is another wreck which used to be 150m (492ft.) long cargo vessel which is now located between 10-80m (32-262ft.).
This dive site is located to the south from Marsa Alam. The area around Zabargad Island was announced a Marine Park. Besides Khanka Wreck and Neptuna wreck, you can find walls starting from 10m (32ft.) and going down to 30m (98ft.) with further drop-offs. There are small crevices and caves around the Island. You will enjoy a large amount of reef fish and pelagic, including Bluespotted Stingray, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Crocodilefish, and Turtles. August is the Turtles’ hatching season there. It is possible to make night dives in this area. The dive site is usually visited by liveaboards from Marsa Alam.
Best Dive Season
You can dive in Marsa Alam in any month of the year. You should only note that July and August are the hottest months. While the strongest winds and waves are coming usually between November and March. Some of the dive sites, like Elphinstone, might not be dived in bad weather.
The water temperature in Marsa Alam varies between 22°C (71°F) between January and April and 26-29°C (78-84°F) during other months. The visibility stays between 20-40m (65-131ft.) in deep waters, while you might face 10-15m (32-49ft.) in some sandy bays or wrecks. The visibility also gets worse during the season of plankton which usually occurs between April-June. Nevertheless, it is plankton which attracts Whale Sharks and Mantas to this area.
The coastguards request divers and snorkelers always to have their passports aboard and checks are performed from time to time.
There are entry fees introduced in order to enter Marine Parks. Usually, they are about 5 USD daily per person in order to enter the territory of Brothers, Zabargad Island, Rocky Island, and Daedalus Reef. You can check the details with your dive club.
The area around Marsa Alam hosts over 1000 species of fish, about 10% of them are endemic for the Red Sea, and more than 300 types of corals.
Among the smallest attractions in the Marsa Alam area, there are Nudibranchs, Seahorses, Ghost Pipefish, Longnose Hawkfish, Lobsters, Crabs, Shrimps, and others.
However, if you are looking for their elder brothers, then the area will not disappoint you. You can come across 10 types of Sharks: Hammerhead Shark, Grey Reef Shark, Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Shark, Whitetip Oceanic Shark, Thresher Shark, Tiger Shark, Nurse Shark, Silky Shark and even harmless Whale Shark. Guitar Sharks which are closer to Rays are also present around Marsa Alam.
Moreover, you might see Mantas, 4 species of Turtles and about 8 types of Dolphins. One of the endangered and rare species in Marsa Alam area is Dugong. These amazing creatures are more often seen during snorkeling or diving in shallow areas with seagrass.
If you wish to see some specific underwater creature than you’d better come for Thresher Sharks between October and January; for Whale Shark between May and June; for Hammerhead Sharks and Manta Rays between May and August; for Turtles hatching season at Zabargad in August; for Oceanic Whitetip Shark between October and December.
The choice of accommodations in or near Marsa Alam is wide enough. You can choose between luxury 5-star resorts and hotels and other hotels, including simple tent accommodations reminding the Bedouins style of living. There are many resorts integrated with dive centers as diving and snorkeling are the main activities in this area.
Red Sea Diving Safari Accommodations
This is a PADI Dive Resort providing accommodations in one of 3 villages in the area of Marsa Alam. Marsa Shangra is located close to Elphinstone Reef. You can snorkel right on the house reef of the Resort. Marsa Nakari stays close to the Dolphin Reef. Wadi Lahami is the most southern solitary place of Egypt. It is located next to unique mangrove area which shelters a great variety of rare birds, including Pink Flamingo. The Resort provides a choice of Tent, Royal Tent, and Chalet in all of the villages.
Tents are equipped with 2 single beds and hand-made furniture. There is a public-shared bathroom for the guests of Tents. Royal Tents are bigger than Tents and they are equipped with either double or single beds, mini-fridge, furniture, and fan. If you prefer a standard or deluxe room, then it might be better to choose Chalet. They come with en-suite bathrooms and terraces.
Kahrama Resort and Gemma Resort
These 2 resorts are incorporated with Blue Submarine Egypt 5-star PADI Dive Center. Kahrama Resort consists of 3 Hotels: Calimera-Habiba, Kahramana Beach, and Sentido Kahramana Park. The latter has an Aqua Park on its territory. All of these resorts offer services on the basis of all-inclusive accommodation packages in either Rooms or Chalets with private terraces.
Gemma Resort is located in Dorry Bay. It features accommodation in Rooms, Deluxe Rooms, and Junior Suites. There are 2 restaurants and 4 bars on the territory of the hotel.
Blue Submarine Dive Center owns 2 boats and buses for transfers and it services all of these locations.
This 4-star Resort is located in Port Ghalib and Emperor Divers Dive Club can be found on its territory. The Resort features 2 pools, a gym, a Shisha Corner, a restaurant and several bars.
Shams Alam Beach Resort
Shams Alam offers Rooms with terraces and views over the sea, pool or mountains. Each room has a balcony or a terrace. Among the facilities of the Resorts, there is a pool, Spa, sauna, and a fitness center. Wadi Gimal Dive Center is located on its territory.
The best way to explore the deep south of the Red Sea for advanced divers is to join a liveaboard. There are many boat operators providing services in northern and southern parts of Egyptian Red Sea including some world famous operators like Aggressor Fleet as well as big local operators like Tornado Marine Fleet. Liveaboards starting from Marsa Alam usually head to Brothers, Rocky Island, Daedalus Reef and Zabargad. Most of them also pass via Elphinstone.
A standard itinerary usually covers several destinations during 1-week safari. The package consists of accommodation, non-alcoholic drinks, meals, 3-4 dives a day, weights, belts, and tanks. Most of the liveaboards have Nitrox facilities for certified divers.
M/Y Cyclone is part of Tornado Marine Fleet servicing the destinations in the Deep South of the Red Sea. She is 32m (104ft.) long vessel which can accommodate up to 20 guests in twin deluxe cabins. There is a dive deck and sun deck with a heated Jacuzzi.
Being part of Tornado Marine Fleet, M/Y Hurricane represents a 36m (118ft.) long luxurious liveaboard. She provides accommodation up to 22 guests. Each cabin is very spacious. It is equipped with music and lights controls, fridge, and en-suite bathroom. There is a sun-warmed spa pool on the upper deck. There are 2 Zodiacs attached to the vessel.
MY Emperor Elite
She is one of the boats from Emperor Fleet which won an award as the best liveaboard in 2011. She is 38m (124ft.) long vessel providing 24 guests with accommodation in 11 Standard Cabins and 1 Master Suite. Each cabin has a minibar, a flat-screen media player, a hairdryer, and bathrobes. Dinners are accompanied by a complimentary wine. You can use free Internet aboard. There are 3 sun decks and a big dive deck with a platform.
M/Y Mistral is a 34m (111ft.) long luxury diving vessel to serve up to 20 guests. You can stay in double cabins in the upper or lower decks. There is a special separate room for underwater photographers and their equipment. You can relax in Jacuzzi on a Jacuzzi deck, on the sun deck with loungers and in a saloon and a dining room. There is a spacious diving deck at the back. The boat is accompanied by 2 Zodiacs. The vessel is a part of Tornado Marine Fleet.
M/Y Whirlwind is a 36m (118ft.) long award winning vessel for 20 persons. She reminds a floating luxury 5-star hotel with the highest level of services. Twin cabins are equipped with a wardrobe, a cupboard, and en- suite bathrooms. The sun deck has a Jacuzzi. She is one of the boats from Tornado Marine Fleet.
Other Activities For Non-Divers
You can enjoy unforgettable snorkeling around the area of Marsa Alam. One of the most popular sites for snorkeling is Abu Dabbab Dugong Bay. It is situated in the northern part of Marsa Alam region. The bay has a sandy bottom and it is surrounded by beautiful reefs which protect it from the waves. If you are lucky you might come across Dugong feeding with sea grass as well as Turtle, Guitar Shark, Giant Stingrays and other inhabitants. If you are not staying at Hilton Marsa Nubian Resort or at El Malikia Resort, you will be asked to pay an entry fee of 12 USD.
Wadi El Gemal National Park
If you fancy not only underwater adventures but terrestrial eco-tourism as well, then you’d better take an opportunity to discover one of the best Egyptian parks. Wadi El Gemal National Park is located 50km from Marsa Alam. You can enjoy birds and wildlife watching as well as desert tours there. If you wish to help as a volunteer, you can take part in turtles nest counting and beach clean-ups.
Besides wildlife, you can also visit archeological sites including Emerald and Gold Mines which are situated on the territory of the park. The area where Marsa Alam is now situated used to be the center of the ancient stone mining industry in Egypt. Gold, emerald, lead, and copper were developed here. This place was also known as Cleopatra’s Mines.
Karnak Temple Complex
Within 4.30-hour drive, you can reach a magnificent open-air complex of monumental gateways, chapels, and temples which were built by order of Senusret I in 1930th BC. This is Karnak Temple Complex, the 2nd most famous Egyptian location near Luxor. You can take a daily trip from Marsa Alam to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.