Over the years, tourism to the tiny town of Dahab had been growing, but the industry came to a near halt after the April 2006 bombings.
More than two years later, with checkpoints and police stations cluttering the Sinai peninsula, visitors are returning to Dahab to enjoy the beauty of the Red Sea and relax in the tranquil town.
Situated on the northeast coast of the Sinai, about six hours from Cairo and a far cry from the commercialization of nearby Sharm El-Sheikh, Dahab lies on blue waters of the Gulf of Aqaba. Accommodations to fit every budget abound, from camps for the most frugal traveler to the flashy self-contained Hilton Resort. Snorkelers, sun worshippers, and desert enthusiasts can find plenty to do around Dahab, but the town’s true appeal lies in diving.
With over 20 unique dive sites in and around the town, warm water and clear visibility, diving conditions in Dahab are superb. Deciding who to dive with, one is spoiled for choice as an assortment of dive shops line Dahab’s boardwalk, catering to a wide selection of nationalities. English, French, Russian, and German-language shops tout trips to the dive-sites and offer courses from a one day Introduction Dive to the month-long Dive Master.
My diving experience started with the Open Water course, which is designed for people who have never been diving. It takes four days and upon certification one can dive anywhere in the world to 18 meters. The course began with an hour and a half of video tutorials explaining the theory and practice of diving, from what a tank is to how to breathe through the regulator.
The next morning, I entered the water with my instructor and learned how to assemble my equipment, practicing underwater skills in a shallow section of the sea. I learned how to remove and recover the regulator, how to clear water from my mask, and other skills I might need in the event of an underwater emergency; then, we descended to 12 meters for my first dive. As ironic as it sounds, my initial glimpse of the ocean floor made me think I was swimming through an aquarium – hundreds of colorful fish encircled me and seemed even closer than they actually were, a trick of the plastic mask, the water, and the light. Three days later, I was a certified Open Water diver. I had become addicted and began my Advance Open Water course, which would allow me to dive to 30 meters and hone my underwater skills through a series of five specialized dives to different sites. With so many sites to choose from, diving in Dahab can easily become an obsession. Popular sites include the world famous Blue Hole, a hole in the ocean floor over 100 meters deep, surrounded by reef. The dive begins with descending head first through The Bells, a small hole in the reef which tunnels into open water on one side and reef on the other, and concludes with a short swim over the hole during which the only visibility is 360 degrees of blue. The Canyon contains an underwater cave, as divers descend into the darkness, the coral closes above their heads. The Lighthouse follows a reef teeming with fish around Dahab’s shore and makes for an interesting night-dive. The Eel Garden is a sandy area in which scores of garden eels creep out of the sand and stand, swaying in the water, vanishing when divers get too near. Dahab also offers plenty for those who are not interested in diving; many hotels in the area arrange snorkeling trips to the different diving sites. There are camel treks, horse rides, and nearby Bedouin villages to visit. Conditions are also ripe for wind surfing, while those wishing to spend their holiday worshipping the sun can find cafes with lounges serving cold fruit shakes meters away from the water.Two years after the deadly attacks, visitors are slowly returning to Dahab’s reefs. Hotel and dive shop owners agree, although it has yet to match the tourist flow of 2005, by offering a unique experience to descend into another world of fish and coral, Dahab is gradually reconstructing its image as a serene heaven for divers.