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If you stand on the shore, you'd have no idea that any life exists in the Red Sea. The shoreline is mostly barren, dry, rocky desertscape. But, giant striding into this sliver of water tucked between Africa and the Middle East is like stepping through the looking glass and arriving in thriving marine metropolis, full of color. There is the rush of movement, the dance of predators and prey, and the ghostly stillness of shipwrecks. For Europeans, this is their go-to backyard undersea playground, for the rest of the world, it's a trip of a lifetime. Most of the Red Sea is best accessed by liveaboards, which reach as far south as Sudan. You can dive from resorts in Sharm El Sheikh, at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, and Hurghada and Marsa Alam from the east coast of Egypt. Underwater soft corals decorate walls, above them anthias and basslets dance like leaves in the wind, and sharks linger above and below. It's a photographer's dream, and with little current and clear water, a destination for every level of experience. When not diving, you're surrounded by antiquities from the cradle of civilization, including Egypt's pyramids, Petra in Jordan, ancient Israel and the modern marvel of the Suez Canal.

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Destination Information

What to Eat:

As a crossroad between Africa and Asia, you'll find a wide variety of food choices surrounding the Red Sea. Try some Egyptian favorites in both restaurants and from street vendors, such as creamy lentil soups, felafel in pita, grilled chicken and meat, stuffed pigeon, kofta (meatballs) and mahshi (stuffed peppers).

What to Drink:

You'll find that Egyptians like Turkish coffee and tea is also very popular. For cold drinks, a wide variety of fruit juices are available often mixed with milk. Besides the resort bar - where you'll find almost anything you want - the local beers are Stella, Marzen, and Aswanli.

Top Adventures/Shopping/Culture:

Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx; Valley of the Kings; Egypt's Museum of Antiquities; Nile River Cruise

Customs and Culture:

Egypt is a conservative society and visitors should respect local customs and dress modestly. For women especially, covering of the upper arms and legs discourages physical and verbal attention. Respect religious customs, like Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture.

Top Festivals/Events:

Red Sea Jazz Festival, Eilat, Israel, August; Ramadan, July/August.

Electricity and Internet:

220V/50 HZ; Internet common in hotels and tourist areas.

Drink the water?

Only drink bottled water.

Language:

Arabic is the official language, but French and English are widely spoken

When to go:

Year round, with warmest water in summer (June to August)

When to Get the Best Deals:

January.

What to Pack:

3/2 mm wetsuit or rash guard in summer; 5-7 mm wetsuit in winter with hood and gloves, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, comfortable shoes that can get wet for hiking, DAN card, long sleeved lightweight shirts, long trousers for cool nights, a light jacket for cool evenings, for women modest clothing, especially away from tourist areas, small medical kit.

Water Temperatures:

Seasonal averages: 19°C/66°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.

Air Temperatures:

Seasonal averages: 21°C/69°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.

Currency:

Egyptian Pound (EGP); Credit cards are widely accepted.

Visa/Passport Requirements:

Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.

Departure Tax:

Included in your airfare.

Immunizations:

None required.

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Amazing Marine Life

Sea Turtle:

Hawksbill and green turtles can be found swimming in leisurely fashion or napping under ledges on most reefs. Hawksbill and green turtles can be found swimming in leisurely fashion or napping under ledges on most reefs.

Sweetlips:

Named for its fleshy lips, this striking fish features wide black bands running the length of its body, alternating with black dotted lines against its white and yellow body.

Lionfish:

These small spiky swimmers decorate the reef with their lovely venomous spines.

Octopus:

Wily and secretive, the octopus is often found in holes and crannies of reefs and wrecks.

Glassy Sweepers:

These small schooling fish fill caverns and wrecks.

Bluespotted Lagoon Ray:

Golden ray with blue spots makes for a striking find on the reefs.

Anthias:

These small schooling fish brighten the reef with pinks and oranges.

White-tip Reef Shark:

One of the smaller members of the shark family, topping out at 1.5 meters/5 feet long, this iron-gray shark sports bright white patches at the tips of its fins.

Crocodilefish:

Flat-faced and frilly, these uniquely camouflaged fish are quite easy to approach.

Barracuda:

These predatory fish are often seen on the reefs.

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Top Dive Spots

Thistlegorm:

This 115-meter/375-foot British army freighter sank during World War II with a cargo of wartime supplies. The ship is largely intact except for the impact area, but the split hull reveals the cargo of trucks, automobiles, motorbikes, rifles, a tank, and even boots. Above the deck, look for orange-spotted and Heber's trevally, schools of fusiliers, teira batfish, crocodilefish, and hawksbill turtles.

Elphinstone Reef:

Spectacular walls at this site plummet below 90 meters/300 feet on both sides. Strong currents make for a perfect drift dive along the steep walls covered with soft corals, sponges, sea fans, and sea whips. Look for barracuda, angelfish, anthias, groupers, morays, Suez fusiliers, oceanic white-tip sharks, white-tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks and the occasional hammerhead.

Straits of Tiran:

Where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aqaba, a cluster of four reefs experience strong currents that create an abundant diversity of coral and fish life. In addition to big swimmers like sharks, barracuda, manta rays, and eagle rays, jacks, snappers, and batfish. The area also offers a large number of wrecks to explore.

Bells and Blue Hole, Dahab:

" The Bells" is a hole in the reef at 5 meters/15 feet, where divers enter to descend through a bell-shaped chimney. Exiting into the open water, divers begin a drift dive along vertical walls until they enter the blue hole, literally a huge hole in the reef measuring 55 meters/180 feet across and over 90 meters/300 feet deep, and sheltering a wide diversity of marine life.

Shark and Yolanda Reef:

Divers enter the water at Anemone City and follow a sheer vertical wall, teeming with anthias and covered with soft coral trees. Pelagic visitors include hammerhead sharks, tuna, schooling barracuda, and snappers. The shallower wall opposite is part of the plateau surrounding Yolanda Reef. Look for napoleon wrasse, jackfish, batfish, stingrays, moray eels, lyretail hogfish, and scorpionfish. Finish the dive above the wreckage of the Yolanda, with its visible cargo of British standard toilets, bathtubs and pipe tubes.

Little Brother:

This raindrop-shaped island is surrounded by deep walls on all sides except on the north, where the reef slopes away from the island before dropping to a deep plateau at 36 meters/120 feet. Silvertips and grey reef sharks frequent the area, as well as the occasional hammerhead shark. Look along the walls for black corals, mammoth gorgonian fans, and dense growths of hard and soft corals. Schools of barracuda, dogtooth tuna and reef sharks often prowl by.

Big Brother:

Renowned for its impressive healthy fish population, this island's reef is dominated by tiny anthias, glassfish and sweepers. The walls are densely covered by huge gorgonians and colorful soft corals. Watch for grey and white-tip reef sharks, hammerhead and oceanic white-tip sharks, as well as the occasional a thresher shark.

Numidia:

This wreck near Big Brother is also known as the Railway Wreck due to the locomotive wheels from her cargo, which now lie in the shallows. A 120-meter/400-foot wooden cargo ship, she ran aground here in 1901 and now rests in at 7 meters/25 feet. Look for soft corals on the metal framework, and follow the hull and masts to greater depth.

Aida:

This 136-meter/450-foot transport supply ship sank here in 1957 and now rests at depths ranging from 27 meters/90 feet to 55 meters/180 feet. The picturesque wreck has been claimed by the reef and is completely covered in soft and hard corals and a haven for all manner of marine creatures.

Turtle Bay, Zabargad:

The largest of Egypt's Southern Red Sea marine parks, this island (whose name means "topaz") is named for the semi-precious stones once mined here. Follow a sandy slope down to 30 meters/100 feet with a maze of dome coral turrets, sheltering pufferfish, sweetlips, cuttlefish, octopus, and other reef denizens. Look for blue-spotted stingrays, crocodilefish, and of course, turtles. Along the walls outside the sheltered bay, oceanic white-tips and grey reef sharks prowl, as well as manta rays stopping by to attend cleaning stations along the ledges.

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