The Red Sea is a world-class diving destination, well-known for colorful and varied dive sites off Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada, and Marsa Alam. But it’s also the home of a hidden gem and whale-shark hotspot: Djibouti. This tiny country is at the southwestern tip of the Red Sea and is centered around the Gulf of Tadjoura. On land, you’ll find unusual landscapes such as salt lakes, volcanic plateaus, canyons, and sunken plains. With a great mix of land and water activities, Dijibouti is a top diving destination with no crowds.
Liveaboard diving is the main way to access scuba diving in Dijibouti, though there are some land-based dive operators.
The waters are home to diverse marine life, including over 200 species of coral, sponges, large schools of fish and giant nudibranchs. Whale sharks congregate from November to February during plankton blooms. Divers or snorkelers commonly see juveniles, which stay close to the coastline. You may also see beaked and pilot whales, grey reef sharks and nurse sharks.
The average water temperature ranges from 80 to 84 F (27 to 29 C) and the diving season is almost year-round. The Djibouti winter months are the best time to see whale sharks. The summer months have the best water visibility, with the exception of July and August when there is high rainfall and lower visibility. Both novice and experienced divers will both find plenty to choose from in Dijibouti.
Is it safe to visit Djibouti?
The U.S. State Department advises travelers to exercise normal precautions in Djibouti and there are no travel alerts as of publication. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all travel to the border with Eritrea (current as of February 2018). The border with Eritrea is, however, on the other side of the country from the departure point for liveaboard safaris from Djibouti Marina.
Liveaboard safaris visit three main dive areas in Djibouti, all within the Gulf of Tadjoura and heading north into the Red Sea. Liveaboard safaris do not cruise within the Gulf of Aden to avoid any risk of piracy.
Djibouti has its own international airport, Djibouti Ambouli International Airport, and flights depart to and arrive from Paris, Istanbul, Dubai, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Madagascar.
Travelers should have yellow fever and typhoid vaccinations and consult with a medical professional before arrival, as malaria is a risk in Djibouti. Divers should check if their anti-malarial medication will cause problems for diving, such as dizziness and blurred vision.
The Best Scuba Diving in Djibouti
Gulf of Tadjourah
Where it is: This basin lies at the entrance to the Red Sea and is surrounded by Djibouti coastline on three sides.
What makes it special: The turquoise waters within this gulf offer some of Djibouti’s best and most colorful diving. The coral reef is pristine, thanks to low tourist numbers, and is home to incredibly diverse marine life. There are caves and sea walls, but the highlights are undoubtedly the whale sharks and manta rays that frequent the area.
Details: Dive-site depths range from 15 feet (5 m) down to 90 feet (30 m) within the Gulf, so there are sites for both novice and experienced divers. Some parts of the Gulf have strong currents, making them best for experienced divers. Whale-shark encounters are usually at the surface on snorkels.
When to go: November to February is the best time to visit for whale-shark and manta-ray encounters. The M/Y Lucy is the only liveaboard that visits this area.
Ghoubet al Kharab
Where it is: Ghoubet al Kharab, or the Devil’s Cauldron, is a cove of 656 feet depth (200 m) that connects to the Gulf of Tadjourah by a narrow body of water.
What makes it special: High mountains surround this stunning cove, a unique and impressive dive location. It has very deep waters and juvenile whale sharks congregate in the area, giving it a reputation as a whale-shark nursery. The cove is also part of the junction between the African and Arabian continental plates, making it possible to dive around underwater volcanic islands. Large pelagics and sharks frequent this area.
Details: The currents can be strong within the cove and the waters are deep, making it best for experienced divers.
When to go: The winter months are the best time to visit for whale sharks and the M/Y Lucy makes a stop here during liveaboard safaris. The MS/Y Elegante offers trips to see whale sharks during November to January each year.
Where it is: The Sawabi Islands, or Seven Brothers, are a remote chain of volcanic islands in the Bab El Mandab strait at the entrance to the southern Red Sea.
What makes is special: Coral reefs surround this collection of islands, offering several sites to explore. Deep, drift, and wall dives are all possible. Additionally, the coral reef at each island is healthy, with numerous types of coral. Manta rays and whale sharks are present year-round. Wreck lovers can enjoy the wreck of the White Lady, or La Dame Blanche.
Details: Not to be confused with The Brothers dive site in Egypt, this area has dive depths ranging from 15 to 60 feet (5 to 20 m). Divers of all experience levels, including snorkelers, will find suitable sites. Some of the dive sites, however, are best for experienced divers due to the strong currents.
When to go: The Sawabi Islands are accessible via liveaboard diving and safaris run from November to February.
Where it is: This is a dive site within Ghoubet al Kharab and deserves an additional mention.
What makes it special: Whale sharks are frequently present, but the highlight is seeing the crack that separates two tectonic plates. Earthquakes cause the fault to shift, close and open in different areas over time. This results in a continually changing dive environment. This fault is a deep, diagonal crack covered in corals, which divers can swim through.
Details: This is a shallow dive at 26 feet (8 m) and is suitable for all experience levels.
When to go: You can dive the Djibouti Crack as part of Ghoubet al Kharab liveaboard safaris, which operate in the winter months.
Kathryn Curzon, a diver and writer for Liveaboard.com, contributed this article.