The Great Red Sea Coast Roadtrip
Divernet
Where should you base yourself next time you go diving in Egypt It used to be either Sharm or Hurghada, but now El this, Wadi that and Marsa the other are vying for your attention. Hitching rides in minibuses, 4x4s and pick-ups, plus the odd taxi, John Liddiard decided to check them all out...

AS USUAL, THE AIRPORT ARRIVAL HALL AT SHARM EL SHEIKH IS A CONFUSION of numerous queues and a total lack of directions. I am assaulted by tour reps hustling to line up in the wrong place, and the whole set-up has been re-arranged since I was last here.
     Eventually I find the bank hidden round the back, and buy my visa stamp before moving on to the immigration queue.
     Outside, I spot Simon from Poseidon Divers holding a welcome card. My first of many connections made, travel shock diminishes. It is all metaphorically downhill for a while.
     The journey to Dahab across the Sinai mountains takes an hour or so by Toyota minibus. Stargazing through the clear desert night is facilitated by the driver leaving his lights off; something you soon get used to on Egyptian roads at night.
     The air is dusty and dry. By the time we arrive, I have consumed a 2 litre bottle of water and am making good progress into a second bottle. Even so, when beer is offered I donÕt need asking twice. I just need to unwind.
     As with many of my diving adventures, the idea for this trip had been hatched at a Dive Show. The managing editor and I had been debating how to do something different about the Red Sea. Ideas spurred more crazy ideas. The scope of the project grew to cover all of the Egyptian Red Sea in a hectic three-week road trip.
     In the end I managed to schedule eight locations at two days each, with the odd extra half-day here and there. The northernmost centre was Dahab in the Sinai, the southernmost Wadi Lahami, almost at the Sudan border.
     I went through a number of working titles: Mad Red Sea Project for Diver Magazine; Red Sea Quick and Dirty (quick because of the taxi drivers and dirty because there would be little time to wash); Red Sea Pole to Pole; The Incomplete Guide to Almost All of the Red Sea; The Secret Red Sea Diary of John Mole, age 42.
     The Red Sea is full of spectacular coral reefs, so my real challenge, and the challenge I presented to each dive centre, was to show me what was different about its patch.

DIY TOURING

If you want to do your own thing and travel around in Egypt as John Liddiard did, its easy simply to e-mail a dive centre and book a couple of days diving, or just turn up (though there is a risk that it could be full). Those centres which work through UK tour operators are generally cheaper if booked through the agent.

A taxi between major towns will cost£15-30 for most journeys. Bus services range from ridiculously cheap through to air-conditioned coaches. Timetable information is not aimed at tourists and schedules can be unpredictable.

The ferry from Sharm el Sheikh to Hurghada costs£27 each way and runs every other day (www.travco-eg.com/ferryboat.htm).

FACTFILE

SINAI: Fly to Sharm el Sheikh from Gatwick (Thursdays and Sundays) or Manchester (Sundays), flight-only from£279. Fly from Heathrow every Sunday, flight-only from£319. (Explorers Tours, 01753 681 999, www.explorers.co.uk).
DAHAB: Seven-night package including transfers, accommodation, a RIB trip to Gabr el Bint and five days diving around£230 (ex flights). Five days diving£144 or£16 per dive (Poseidon Divers, 07748 377432, 0020 626 40091, www.poseidon divers.com).
SHARM EL SHEIKH: Seven-night package including return flights, transfers and B&B from£293. Six days diving£145. One days diving£35. (Explorers Tours, see above; Ocean College, 0020 69 664305, www.ocean-college.com).
EGYPT: Fly to Hurghada from Gatwick (Fridays), flight-only from£274 (Crusader Travel 0208 744 0474, www.crusadertravel.com). Flights to Hurghada are also available daily via Amsterdam.
WADI LAHAMI: Seven-night package including flights, transfers, full board and six days diving, 3-4 dives per day,£725 (Oonasdivers, 01323 648924, www.oonasdivers.com; Red Sea Diving Safari, 0020 2 3371833, www.redsea-divingsafari.com).
MARSA ALAM: Seven nights including transfers and full board accommodation in African huts£170 (ex flights), en-suite chalets£226. Five days diving with two guided dives each day by boat or jeep and unlimited shore diving£120. Add£20 per day for offshore boat trips (Deep South Diving, 0020 12325 8869, www.deep-south-diving.com).
EL QUSEIR: Seven nights package including flights, transfers, B&B at MÅ¡venpick resort£609. Ten house-reef dives£165. Diver numbers are restricted so book diving in advance (Hayes and Jarvis, 0870 90 37 737, www.hayesandjarvis.co.uk; Subex, 0020 65 332 100, www.subex.org).
HURGHADA, SAFAGA, EL GOUNA: Seven nights including flights, transfers Ð B&B Hurghada£336 or inclusive of 15 dives£433; B&B Safaga£363, half-board El Gouna£402. One days boat-diving including transfers to boat and lunch£29. Four days or more£26 per day. Six days diving with two days from each of Hurghada, Safaga and El Gouna£191 including transfers. (Crusader Travel, see above; Easy Divers, 0020 65 548816, www.easydivers-redsea.com).




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