The Red Sea is the stuff of legend for most divers. It is the epitome of all that is enticing and fascinating about tropical reefs, with fabulous coral walls and gardens stocked with mythically beautiful sea life. Its exploration was pioneered by the giants of diving’s early history: Hans Hass, and Jacques Cousteau whose maiden voyage there in Calypso in the early 1960’s brought diving, and the Red Sea, to the hearts and minds of a whole generation.
But diving is not the whole story. Away from the aquatic realm, the Red Sea region is a rich and varied patchwork of peoples, cultures and landscapes. Made up of eight separate nations, each with a distinct blend of ethnic and religious groups, each with its own unique and beautiful geography, the Red Sea is as fascinating above the waves as below them.”
The Sinai Peninsula, bordering the northern Red Sea, has been the gateway between Africa and Asia since time immemorial and a battle-ground for millennia. Prized for its strategic position and mineral wealth, Sinai is also revered by various disparate cultures as the site of God’s revelation to Moses, the wanderings described in the book of Exodus and the flight of the Holy Family. As Burton Bernstein wrote “it has been touched, in one way or another by most of Western and Near Eastern history, both actual and mythic”, and is the supposed route by which the Israelites reached the Promised Land.
Although mostly wilderness, Sinai looks far too dramatic – and too beautiful – to be dismissed as “24 000 square miles of nothing”. The south of the Peninsula is an arid moonscape of jagged ranges harbouring Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine’s monastery, where all year round, pilgrims climb the “Two Thousand Steps of Repentance” from the site of the Burning Bush to the summit where God delivered the Ten Commandments. Farther north, the vast Wildnerness of the Wanderings is streaked with colour and imprinted with tank tracks (a legacy of Arab/Israeli wars), remote springs and lush oases which can be reached by camel trekking or jeep safaris, providing some insights into the Bedouin culture.
Northern Sinai is visited by almost no Western tourists. The broad sand valleys and wind-carved sandstone formations of the north extend here from El-Arish all the way to the Suez Canal.
By contrast, the south has the lure of exquisite coral reefs and tropical fish in the Gulf of Aquaba - one of the finest diving and snorkelling grounds in the world.
Most of Sinai’s population are the Bedouin who claim descent from the tribes of the Hejaz and thus rate themselves amongst the purest of Arab genealogies. Traditionally, each tribe roamed its own territory in search of grazing and settled around local oases. Tribal and family honour were paramount and raids and camel-rustling were a perpetual cause for blood feuds which persisted for generations. Though devout Muslims, the Bedouin retained pagan superstitions and practices from the “time of darkness”, with their own brand of common law instead of regular Islamic jurisprudence. By providing employment and exposing the Bedouin to Western comforts, the modern coastal tourist resorts have had a profound effect on traditional lifestyles. Many Bedouin men now earn their living by taxi driving or construction work, whilst for the women, who are still confined to the domestic sphere, changes have been less fundamental
Visability & Temperature:
Seasonal temperature changes play a big part in determining visibility. Winter tends to be the period of best visability in Northern Red Sea areas with waters too cool to support algae and planktonic growth. Conversely, in the South, it is the Summer which offers best visability as the blistering hot surface temperatures translate into sea temperatures too hot to support the growth of marine microorganisms. No matter where you dive in the Red Sea blooms of planktonic growth can crop up at any time bringing the visability down. Fortunately these are rare occurances and the normal visability is excellent ranging from 10-50+ metres.
Travel agents often promise water temperatures in the excess of 26°C (80°F), which is true for most of the Red Sea for much of the year. In fact, during the peak of Summer water temperatures often exceed 30°C. However, during the winter in the north temperatures often fall as low as 20°C (68°F) with a surface wind chill before and after the dive making it seem even colder. Therefore, atleast a 5mm or 7mm wetsuit is advisable for diving the Red Sea in winter months. It is not uncommon to see a local diveguide in a drysuit during this period, but we've gone soft and readily accept the title of "woosie". During the summer a lycra or 3mm suit is usually adequete.