When we think of the ideal dive destination, tropical islands and swaying palm trees often pop to mind. We seldom think that desert destinations could offer good diving, but they can — if you know where to look. Here’s our roundup of the best scuba diving in the desert.
The southern Israeli port of Eilat sits on the Red Sea, near the border with Jordan and the Jordanian town of Aqaba.
You can reach most of the dive sites in Eilat via shore entry, with numerous slopes and drop-offs of between 65 and 130 feet (20 to 40 m). All are a few minutes’ swim from shore, which makes Eilat perfect for beginners as well as experienced divers.
What can you see: Eilat offers diving for all tastes with wrecks, caves, walls, ancient Acropora corals and diverse marine life. Part of Eilat is a nature reserve where you’ll see a wide diversity of tropical fish and well-preserved coral. A whale shark mother and calf often pass by during the summer.
When to go: July and August, when the water temperature is around 84 F (29 C), is generally the high season in Eilat. September and October still see warm water with fewer crowds and is also a good time to go. Low season is in January and February when the water temperature can drop as low as 66 F (19 C). Visibility averages at about 130 feet (40 m).
With a coastline of 1,056 miles (1700 km), Oman — the oldest independent state in the Arab world — offers extraordinary diving.
What can you see: With between 1,300-1,500 different species of fish, Oman has a number of unique specimens loosely labeled as ‘Arabian’ species. The water in the Northern Arabian Gulf is exceptionally salty with temperatures between 73 to 86 F (23 to 30 C). The most diverse marine life resides in the southern areas of the Arabian Sea.
The Daymaniyat Islands are a group of nine islands spread out over 31 miles (50 km). They shelter nesting populations of green and hawksbill turtles, which you’ll often see on dives. Plankton blooms make for poor visibility but also hold the potential of whale-shark sightings. Water temperatures here can dip to 72 F (22 C) with maximum depths of 66 to 91 feet (20 to 28 m). The Daymaniyat Islands also offer the chance to see moray eels, scorpion- and stonefish, and leopard sharks.
Muscat offers sites with a variety of tropical fish and coral, as well as the MS Mimoona wreck, which lies between 26 and 52 feet (8 and 16 m).
The Royal Navy of Oman sank the Al Munnasir in 2003, and the wreck lies between 26 and 85 feet (8 and 26 m). Although fairly new, it already houses a variety of fish life including large shoals of fish.
When to go: The average visibility in Oman is around 16 to 33 feet (5 to 10 m) with the best visibility during May. While whale sharks often appear between September and October, winter months generally have bad visibility and water temperatures can dip to 68 F (20 C).
Jordan offers some of the best diving in the Red Sea with gardens of coral and an abundance of fish life. Many dive sites are accessible via shore entry, although most dive operators offer boat trips as well.
What can you see: Aqaba features the C-130 Hercules, a four-engine turboprop military transport plane, purpose-sunk in 2017 in 56 feet (17 m), as well as The Tank, an M42 American “Duster” tank. There are plentiful reef and wall sites as well, featuring giant morays, black coral, frogfish, cowtail stingrays, seahorses, ornate ghost pipefish, and napoleon wrasse.
When to go: September to October and April to May are good times to visit, with water temperatures between 73 to 79 F (23 to 26 C) and air temperature around 95 F (35 C). From June to August the air temperature can go as high as 122 F (50 C) while February to March often have strong winds, sand storms, plankton blooms and large waves.
Although rumors have circulated that diving is banned in Morocco, fortunately this is not true. The dive industry in the country is underdeveloped, however, which means pristine, empty dive sites on the northwest coast of Africa. Dive centers are few and far between; Tangier is your best bet.
What can you see: You’ll often see pods of dolphins, as well as sea turtles and blue conger eels. On the untouched reefs you might find groupers, cuttlefish, skates and schools of barracuda. While some dive sites have little to no current, others have strong currents and are best for experienced divers.
When to go: The water temperature ranges from about 59 F (15 C) in the winter to about 77 F (25 C) in the summer.