ONCE IT WAS JUST THE remote southern outpost of the Israeli port of Eilat, to the north in the Gulf of Aqaba. Since it passed securely back into Egyptian hands, TABA has been developed for tourism, and there is now an international airport positioned close to the Israeli airport at Ovda, but with the border between them.
Luxurious hotels have sprung up at an area known as Taba Heights, but the best diving is immediately south of the seaside border post, by the Hilton Hotel, with a deep drop-off just metres from the sandy shore.
Its a place where big frogfish are common and pelagic animals pass by twice as they reach the Red Sea cul-de-sac a little further north at Eilat.
For divers who fancy a change from shore diving, a daily dive-boat operates from here, travelling further south to Coral Island. This is the site of a fortress built at the time of the Crusades and largely reconstructed since.
Drive a little further south and there is good shore diving at the little-visited headland of Ras Mamlak.
NUWEIBA used to be nothing more than dustbowl and a ferry port that connected Egypt with the Jordanian city of Aqaba. Since then, a beautiful Hilton resort has been built. It was one of the first Egyptian Sinai hotels and is now well established, with beautifully mature gardens.
You can shore-dive here, and the sheer drop-off continues in the same way as it does for most of the Sinai coast.
Near Nuweiba is a Bedouin village where a deaf-mute boy struck up a special relationship with a wild female spotted dolphin he called Naline. Snorkellers used to tip him a little money to be able swim with her.

THE GULF OF AQABA may be a backwater of the Red Sea proper, separating the Sinai from Asia, but it is an extension of the African Rift, so the water is unnaturally warm for its latitude. This is thanks to thermal vents thousands of metres deep, and gives this area a tropical marine environment closer to Europe than would otherwise be possible.
DAHAB was once little more than a Bedouin village positioned midway between Taba and Sharm el Sheikh,
but then it became a favourite with backpackers and, more recently, the technical diving fraternity.
Thats because it has very deep water immediately off the shore, and two very famous dive sites. The Canyon is a tunnel of reef that splits open in places and descends at an angle for 100m.
The other site is the Blue Hole. Here there is a narrow saddle of reef that bends away from the shore, leaving a large circular lagoon of very deep calm water behind it.
The Blue Hole itself is an arch or short tunnel that passes through the reef, giving a view of a vivid blue window through to the open sea. Alas, the top of the arch is 58m deep, and many unwary divers have perished here attempting to swim through the 25m-wide archway, equipped with only a single cylinder of air and losing their awareness of depth.
You may have read about Tony Blair and other world statesmen meeting in Sharm El Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai but its actually the SHEIKH COAST near RAS NASRANI and the airport where you may have found them.
This is where the really luxurious hotels such as the Four Seasons and the Royal Savoy can be found, cheek by jowl with the Red Sea home of Hosni Mubarak, the President of Egypt.
Other private villas nestle alongside too, and hotels have adopted a novel floating pontoon system to allow their guests access across the top of the fringing reef. They can swim in the deep, clear water that abuts the steep reef wall.
At the same time, a little further south, dive-boats moor within a stones throw of the shore so that other divers can still visit what were famous shore dives, such as Ras Um Sid and the Tower. Out to sea you are conveniently placed for views of Tiran Island (once part of Saudi Arabia) and the four reefs that punctuate the Straits: Gordon, Thomas, Woodhouse and Jackson.
These unlikely names were given to the reefs by Captain Robert Moresby in the first half of the 19th century, as he travelled the Red Sea in his two brigs adapted for cartographical work.
He surveyed the coasts and collected the data that made Admiralty charts renowned among ocean navigators and much of which is still in use today.
The four cartographers on his vessels HMS Palinurus and HMS Benares kindly lent their names to the reefs.

THE WATER SQUEEZES between these reefs, generating swift currents in places, and this is why they are adorned with colourful soft corals and huge gorgonian fans. Divers often encounter larger ocean-dwelling fish here.
Sitting atop these reefs are the wrecks of the Lara (now mainly salvaged) and the Louilla. The Louilla has deteriorated since running aground here in the 80s, and it didnt help when, later, an inattentive helmsman ran another ship into her one night, ripping off her stern section. Even a Cunard cruise ship has run into these reefs.
Divers set off in boats from a private jetty, but of course the dive sites are visited by the vast numbers that leave from NAAMA BAY too, so sites can get rather crowded.
Naama Bay has developed beyond recognition from the days when it had just two hotels in an empty desert of a resort. That was when the Israelis handed it back to Egypt after the Camp David Agreement.
The land that is still occupied as a base for the multi-national forces and observers who monitored the peace process has since become prime real estate. This is a burgeoning holiday resort full of hotels and attractions for sun-seeking Europeans, both eastern and western.
Naama Bays former prominence as a dive resort has already become overshadowed by its popularity with international night-clubbers.
The town throbs every night to the sound of music, and the bright lights of shops and restaurants rival anything the traditional big resorts of the Mediterranean have to offer.
Even so, every morning huge numbers of day-boats depart from the little jetty, loaded with bleary-eyed divers and snorkellers, and those who simply want to swim in deeper waters of the Red Sea.
The urbanisation between Naama Bay and Sharm el Sheikh is almost unbroken, and visitors often merge the two places in their minds. Big residential districts such as Hadaba have grown up to serve those who work in this important tourist zone.
The original old town of SHARM EL SHEIKH is a few miles further south. Formerly another inconsequential Bedouin fishing village, big hotels have replaced the few basic huts that were there only a few years before, and the little bay that used to see the rather scruffy fishing fleet moored at night is now the exclusive province of the bikini-clad sunbather.
What was the military port and later home to the MFO fleet has become the major embarkation point for daily dive boats that leave for Tiran to the north, or Ras Mohammed to the south, or even slip out of port during the hours of darkness for the long trip to Shaab Ali and the famous Thistlegorm wreck.
Its commonly known now as the Travco jetty. Alongside these daily boats youll find the bigger liveaboards that are based at Sharm el Sheikh. They depart on weekly safaris, visiting sites further afield such as Shaab Abu Nuhas with its four well-visited wrecks; Bluff Point and the wreck of the Ulysses; and the nearby wreck of the Rosalie Moller.
They share these sites with boats that depart from the Egyptian mainland proper, from ports like Hurghada and the jetty near to El Gouna.

BOTH DAY-BOATS AND LIVEABOARDS from Sharm el Sheikh visit the Ras Mohammed National Park with its famous walls and unpredictable flow of water. Positioned at the junction of the deepwater Gulf of Aqaba and the shallower, more turbulent Gulf of Suez, the reef walls abut water that is hundreds of metres deep.
Divers must be sure to keep a check on their depth in the clear water here. but they get the chance to see both reef creatures and pelagic fish schooling. Jacques Cousteau reckoned it was one of the best dive sites in the world, and 60 years later we are still inclined to agree with him.
On the Egyptian mainland proper, GAMSHA BAY is going to be a huge resort, and the latest location in a long list of developments expected to be operational by the end of 2009.
Once an ecologically important area of mangrove, EL GOUNA is already a planners dream of what a tourist resort should be like. Low-lying areas have been turned into canals and lakes, and the different parts of the resort are linked by little bridges.
Its all very picturesque, but dive centres based here have to bus their passengers to a distant jetty because the sea at El Gouna has insufficient depth for such boats close to shore.
The dive sites of Shaab Abu Nuhas and Bluff Point are close by once you are on the boat, and returning each night to El Gouna gives divers the chance to visit some pretty stylish restaurants. Getting to El Gouna from the UK involves a flight to nearby Hurghada Airport.
HURGHADA is the big town that was a port long before diving tourism was established in Egypt. As such, it offers all manner of activities besides diving. However, the strip to the south of the main town is where the better and bigger hotels tend to be situated, and many people visit this part without ever feeling the need to venture into the real Egypt that is the town centre.
Liveaboards depart weekly from jetties associated with hotels such as the Marriott and the Intercontinental.
All the dive sites are offshore, so whether you stay in a hotel and return each night after diving or depart in one of the many liveaboards based here and go further afield - to the offshore islands of the Brothers, for example - is down to personal preference.
The Brother Islands are two lonely outposts in the middle of the Red Sea. They are vertical pillars that protrude from very deep water.
Besides the two shipwrecks, the Aida and the Numidia, its a great place to see everything from thresher sharks to schooling flagfish. The Brother Islands are a National Marine Park.
The National Park of the Giftun Islands lies directly outside the port, and its dive sites are a focus for the dive-boats that depart each day. It can get very busy there, even though Hurghada has almost twice as many listed dive sites as the Sharm el Sheikh area.

THOSE PREPARED TO MAKE a slightly longer journey can travel north to Shaab Abu Nuhas and the wrecks of the Carnatic, the Giannis D, the Chrisoula K and another wreck known for its cargo of lentils. These more distant wrecks, and the wrecks of the Ulysses and Rosalie Moller, are usually saved for those travelling by liveaboard.
Travel around 20 miles by road to the south and you will reach MAKADI BAY , a new resort with plenty of hotels. Its dive centres visit more or less the same sites as those from Hurghada.
A little further to the south of Hurghada, built on a promontory of land, lies SOMA BAY. Its notable for two luxurious hotels - one built in a style reminiscent of the Temple of Karnak at Thebes (modern-day Luxor), and the other with a golf course designed by Gary Player. This is where they shot a lot of the material for the award-winning Egyptian Riviera television commercials.
The Sheraton Hotel is adjacent to a very wide fringing reef, so access to the sea and the dive site at the nearby deep drop-off involves a journey on an immensely long jetty. Electric buggies are provided to carry the dive gear.
Day-boats also depart from here to notable sites such as Panorama Reef, a beautiful yet isolated and elongated reef a few miles from the coast.
SAFAGA is a very important ferry port with regular sailings to and from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as well as plenty of freighter traffic. Several reefs directly outside the port have resulted in quite a few losses of vessels, notably the roll-on/roll-off ferry Salem Express.
There was huge loss of life when this ferry hit a reef and its forward cargo door was forced open. Heavily loaded with pilgrims travelling back from Mecca, the Salem Express sinking may well have been the worlds worst maritime disaster, with more lives lost than on the Titanic. Documentation suggests that around 800 people died, but contemporary accounts suggest that it was closer to 1500.
It is now a popular dive site but those divers sensitive to local feelings do not penetrate the wreck.
There are several other wrecks near the port, and gradually different operators are getting permission to dive them. Dont miss the wreck of the Norwegian-owned dive-boat Colona IV.
Safaga is well placed for day-boat diving out at the Elphinstone Reef.
This has all the features of a remote offshore dive site, but within sight of
the mainland. Steep reef walls and a deepwater plateau at each end often subject to strong currents attract various pelagics such as grey reef and scalloped hammerhead sharks.
Elphinstone has become so busy with dive-boats, both day-boats and liveaboards, that the noise of their engines tends to attract oceanic whitetip sharks from where they like to follow shipping in the nearby lane.
These shallow cruisers are opportunistic feeders, and the large quantity of rubbish thrown overboard from international vessels has become an important part of their diet. When they hear the splash of divers entering the water, the similar sound can
be very attractive to them!

CHANGES TO OPERATING PROCEDURES at Port Ghalib further south mean that many liveaboards have now moved up to Safaga and pick up passengers arriving at Hurghada Airport here instead.
When Lord Elphinstone, Governor of India, was transported home in 1827, his party disembarked Moresbys survey vessel at EL QUSEIR, from where he travelled overland to the Nile and north to Alexandria. El Quseir has remained an inauspicious little port that has a couple of hotels and with them dive centres to take you out to nearby reefs.
It has been more famous for its phosphate dock, but this seems to have been downgraded recently, and its almost certain that the town will be more fully developed for tourism.
Further south still, ABU DABAB is a shallow bay that was used by safari liveaboard boats as a safe anchorage before they went back into port the following morning.
The seabed was mainly composed of seagrasses with a modest little reef. Divers soon discovered that there were a number of ancient green turtles complete with their attendant shark suckers, or remoras, living here. Shark-like guitarfish were found among the weeds and, latterly, mimic octopus.
Suddenly this bay took on an importance with the diving fraternity, reinforced ten-fold by the discovery that a pair of rare dugongs (sea cows) also grazed here. Diving needed to be controlled if this ecologically important area was to be preserved, but by the time this bureaucratic decision was taken, the inevitable hotel and resort complex had already been built.
Liveaboard boats no longer anchor here, but go straight into PORT GHALIB for the night, or head further north.
Port Ghalib has changed. It started as a roughly built harbour for a handful of boats that operated in southern Egyptian waters, but in the past few years has seen rapid development.
The rather basic Coral Beach Hotel is still a favourite with divers, though it has neither coral nor beach.
Instead it has a small harbour, from where its dive centres day-boats depart. But, as port fees have risen, many of the liveaboards that formerly operated from here have found new harbours.

THE OWNERS OF PORT GHALIB are attempting to turn it into the Red Sea equivalent of Portals Nous in Majorca or Puerto Jose Banus in Marbella, and
as such are marketing residential developments, a golf course and new luxury hotel complexes designed to attract the well-heeled tourist as opposed to budget-conscious divers.
The nearest airport to Port Ghalib also serves MARSA ALAM, an unimpressive and otherwise unimportant Egyptian town, but which serves as a centre for a number of hotels and dive camps along the coast.
At the time of writing, only Thomsonfly flights owned by TUI arrive here from the UK, and if you are not travelling with an operator owned by TUI you may have difficulty getting a flight directly into Marsa Alam.
Thats another reason why boat operators have gone further north, to be nearer to Hurghada airport. Its a pity, because the Fury Shoals and the area south of Ras Banus known as St Johns has been a very popular diving area famous for its caves, habilis (deep reefs) and hard coral formations.
HAMATA has a flyblown pier in the style of old-fashioned Egypt. However, it does give passengers a chance to avoid wasting days in sailing by travelling several hours south by road from Hurghada to join their liveaboard vessel.
The distant Daedalus Reef, midway between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and surmounted by its Victorian-era lighthouse, is an ideal place to see schooling hammerheads.
Hamata is also ideally placed for dive sites close to the southern border of Egypt and for special visits to the wreck of the once-British destroyer that lies sunk outside a secret Egyptian naval base at PORT BERENICE. Make sure that all the necessary permissions from the coastguard, the security services and the naval authorities are in place first!
Rocky Island and Zabargad used to mark the border with the Sudan. Now there is a no-diving zone either side of the border that runs to the south of this.

Diving
Diving can be combined with camel-trekking in Sinai
oceanic
oceanic whitetip shark
on
on the wreck of the Salem Express
colourful
colourful coral at Ras Mohammed
dive-boats
dive-boats can gather in numbers at sites such as the Thistlegorm
diver
diver at Little Brother island
liveaboards
liveaboards at sunset
Lionfish
Lionfish are a familiar site in the Red Sea
Divernet
butterflyfish
butterflyfish flutter by
Divernet