Sales Consultant Anna Williams describes the highlights from a recent Southern Red Sea liveaboard trip on board Emperor Elite, and why you should consider it for your next diving holiday.
There are so many options for diving worldwide, but even narrowing your choice to Egypt leaves you with the unenviable task of deciding north … or south? The northern itineraries are a piece of cake to get to (a quick hop from Hurghada Airport) and are also a great choice for your first liveaboard or wreck dives. The Southern trips, on the other hand, seem tantalisingly exciting. There is the lure of the bigger pelagics, mantas in the remoter regions that you just won’t see further north. You may get lucky like I did and see schooling hammerheads and a massive pod of dolphins intent on entertaining us (or maybe it was us entertaining them?)! Although there’s a promise of big fish action, the southern Red Sea has often been overlooked, with the impression that it’s frustratingly remote – but this is no longer the case!
Reaching the Southern sites once involved a long minibus ride at the end of a crowded flight, often arriving late in the evening. At the time of writing, Marsa Alam takes some effort to get to from the UK. However, with direct charter flights to Marsa Alam starting from November 2023, suddenly liveaboards from Port Ghalib will be a 15-minute transfer from the airport. This will open up the fabulous national park dive areas to more divers, in areas where everything is reputedly bigger, better and worth the travelling the distance for.
I was super excited to join the Emperor Elite – the top of the fleet vessel – on its ‘Simply the Best’ itinerary. Intrigued to find out if the vessel and itinerary would live up to the name, I joined a diverse group of divers on the minibus from Hurghada. The journey really wasn’t bad, a 3-hour drive, chat, and snooze later, we arrived at the port. We unpacked, stowed our dive gear, had dinner, and got the usual paperwork and safety briefing out of the way before heading to bed.
Early the next morning, we enjoyed the breakfast buffet, before listening to a comprehensive presentation outlining the schedule for the next few days. We were all happy to hear that we’d be diving in three groups, spread out to ensure we’d be more ‘dive team’ than ‘dive soup’ on the dive deck as well as underwater. The allocation of buddies for the solo travellers was suggested according to experience level and, feeling much more in the swing of things, we prepared for the diving week.
There’s a saying on the Emperor Elite: ‘if your hair is wet, it’s time to eat, if it’s dry, it’s time to dive!’ Another is ‘respect the bell’, as this means it’s time for a dive briefing … or the buffet’s open. The food was exceptional – varied, healthy and filling (with a good dose of tasty post dive snacks and pastries thrown in for good measure). The diving too with its walls and drop-offs, pinnacles, and swim throughs kept us all on our toes listening to the next briefing. We welcomed the bell to pace the day – who wears a watch on holiday?
I was hoping for vertiginous walls, spectacular coral, varied topography and plenty of big pelagic action, since those are the major attractions on these trips. I was not disappointed.
After a checkout dive to get comfortable with the 12L aluminium tanks, do a weight and distribution check (the sea here saltier than I am used to) and a mandatory SMB deployment to the satisfaction of the divemaster, we headed off to our first dive sites at the extensive collection of reefs at Abu Dabbab. With huge, hard corals and pinnacles offering a playground for many reef fish, the topography here is a world apart from that in the north.
Our itinerary was subject to some change. A weather front sweeping south of the Brothers would have meant an uncomfortable crossing. The crew gave us the choice of heading to Brothers on our way back (weather permitting) or pressing south to Fury Shoals of which I’d heard many great things … Fury Shoals it was!
Our next dive was at Dolphin Reef, where a pod of 50 to 60 dolphins appeared on cue and spent a good half-hour hanging out with us all snorkelling. My favourite dive site, Sha’ab Claudio at Fury Shoals, could have amused us for a couple of days. There was so much to explore - swim throughs, corridors, hidden entrances to the caverns, and a cathedral within the reef, with a roof which featured openings onto breaking waves on the top of the reef. It was truly spectacular – all this with no current, baby sharks, moray, fabulous corals and depths no greater than around 18 metres. The captain and crew managed to get us there when no other liveaboard was in sight, so we were really able to take our time exploring.
Leaving Fury Shoals for two days at Daedalus (diving on the north-eastern side) we were rewarded with a couple cruising hammerheads, a lone manta and a turtle chomping down alongside the wall. This was the site of the so-called vertiginous walls, which dramatically drops away into the blue. There are so many dive sites there, including one named “Nemo City” – as the name suggests, it features a huge colony of anemone, home to the eponymous Nemo, which is always a favourite with photographers who are eager to capture the cheeky chappies defending their patch.
This was where, on returning the following day, we found that Nemo City had transformed into ‘hammerhead hood’ – a group of 15-20 hammerhead sharks were slowly cruising the area at a pretty respectable 25 metres. That was definitely the highlight of Daedalus and we felt elated!
We cruised back north, to the long narrow Elphinstone reef, which gave us a couple of very pretty wall dives with some beautiful soft corals. Here we did encounter some strong current on the northern plateau and dropped behind the reef for a lovely colourful drift towards the south, spotting thousands of bright orange anthias and other rainbow-coloured reef fish.
Our final day was spent back at the numerous reefs of Abu Dabbab, enjoying swim throughs and pinnacles, around which blue-spotted ray snuffled into the sand, and at the heart of which we could see morays poking out from their domains. If all of these different topographies weren’t enough, our final dive was on the sandy turtle grass. We hoped to get lucky with a turtle or two, or even a dugong – alas, it wasn’t our day, but we did get a close up encounter with a gargantuan stingray.
Night dives are not permitted in Egypt in the National Parks, but we managed two at Abu Dabbab on the first and fifth days, rounding out a really superb and varied week.
The crew were absolutely faultless. They worked together as an amazing team, from the kitchen staff who catered for a range of dietary needs (including vegetarians vegans, allergies and gluten-free) to the outstanding dive crew, for whom nothing was too much trouble. The guide and instructors went beyond the call of duty to help less experienced divers. We all came away from this trip with fantastic memories and more than a little better off.
If you're tempted to choose the Southern Red Sea for your next liveaboard diving holiday, speak to a member of our team today.