My Red Sea Liveaboard Experience as an 'American' in Egypt
The first time I went to Egypt to experience a liveaboard was back in the pre COVID days of December 2019. It was truly an amazing experience. Based upon that experience I couldn’t wait to do it again. If you have even remotely thought about the idea of doing a Red Sea liveaboard I say do it!
My scuba adventure started back in 2017, I was with the family at a resort in Jamaica, and looking for something to do while my wife sat on the beach reading – One thing you need to know about me is I HATE sand. What’s worse that sitting in the sand at a beach – NOTHING. So I was poking around the resort and discovered they had an on site scuba school. I managed to convince my oldest son to join me is taking the basic open water scuba course. We breezed through the pool sessions and the academics over a few days however were unable to get out open water dives in before we had to leave because of rough seas. As a result it was almost a year later over a thanksgiving weekend trip to the keys to finish off my certification. I had long wanted to learn how to scuba dive – while in college I was part of the varsity swim team and the Diving coach taught the scuba class at the university. A number of my teammates took that class to satisfy their physical education requirement – instead I elected to do fencing. Which was fun but I really wish I had taken scuba diving – I could have participated in the sport I have grown to love almost 25 years earlier than I ended up starting my diving experience.
Since 2017 I have worked hard to build my skills as a diver and continue to work through my professional levels. Enough about me. Let’s talk more about my experience on a couple liveaboards scuba diving the Red Sea in Egypt.
So why Egypt? Because I’m cheap when I travel alone. I’m really a no frills traveller when I travel (that does not mean you can’t travel in style in Egypt – its just not how I travel). I try to get out for a trip by myself every year just to get away from everything and explore. As a result I work to travel as inexpensively as possible. Since I love scuba diving and scuba focused travel is often very expensive travel I wanted to find a low cost destination that had amazing diving. I’m not saying I found the cheapest way to dive. But relative to many experiences provided by dive shops or other organizations I find dive trips to Egypt to be relatively inexpensive. My most recent liveaboard I did this past December in Egypt cost me a little over $1000 USD all in (for flights – I used points, liveaboard cost, marine park fees, and tips). I booked my liveaboard through the padi travel website – searching for dates in December that worked for my schedule and ended up with a week long trip exploring wrecks and the Straight of Tiran for a about $650 (I booked in July and with COVID ect they had a 20% discount on all trips published rates – this included all my dives, free nitrox, meals and a bed. I shared a room with a really nice Catalonian kid who was there with a group of friends. Marine park fees were about 100 EURO (approx $120 usd) and I left right around $200 in tips for the dive guides and the crew (it is hard to be exact because i paid tips in a mix of Egyptian Pounds I had left over from my last trip, some euros I had and USD). The amount I left in tops was much more generous than many of the others who were on the liveaboard for the week. Other costs I had were some beers, an Uber, a hotel for 1 night as the flight schedule I had got me in a day early – that was $20 USD for a night and some food – I had amazing falafel from a small shop down the street from my hotel for about $2 it was so good I ate there 2 times!
How was the diving?
How was the boat?
As noted I have been on 2 liveaboards in Egypt, both boats were similar in size, the first one I went on was a little larger at approx 120 feet in length, and the second one a little smaller at about 105 feet in length. The first boat had room for 20 divers and the second 18. In both cases the boat was almost full. As a single diver on the first boat I ended up with my own room which was nice – extra towel and my own space. The second time I went even though they were not full and there was an extra room they still paired me with another single diver (actually he was with 2 other friends) honestly it was totally fine – only issue was he liked the room warm and turned off the AC at night. We eventually found a balance that worked for both of us. Other than sleeping at night I found I did not spend a lot of time in the room. It was small. We often took naps in the salon, or on one of the decks and hung out in the evening on one of the decks having some drinks and talking about the days dive or other dive experiences. One night had a rocking dance party for the birthday of one of the other divers.
On my first trip I learned that most of the divers on the boat were Germans and the dive guides spoke fluent German. On that boat most of the divers were German and there were 2 Spaniards and Myself. I got paired up with the Spaniards. They were great people and I really enjoyed talking and diving with them. On my second trip almost everyone was from Spain with the exception, of a person from Vienna and another “American” actually he was born in the Dominican Republic but lived in the US. All of them spoke Spanish – I was the only one who didn’t so I missed a lot of the conversations, but really they were all amazing people and super inclusive and switched to english as much as possible when I was around which they really didn’t need to do. Overall everyone on the 2 boats were great – yes there were some annoying things about a few people – for example one person really just was super selfish and didn’t pay attention to the guidelines and almost got lost once. But the Dive Guides on the boat took it super seriously and handled the situation very well. I will say on both boats safety was really a top priority and they took it very seriously. All dive briefings were very thorough and explained a lot about the location, the topography, the depth, the entry and exit and how the dive buddy groups would be handled
The food on the boat was fantastic, lots of great food every day – breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks available before lunch and in the afternoon before dinner. Lots to drink free soda, water, juice, coffee (if you are picky about coffee then be ready it’s all instant coffee) and tea. Beer was available for a charge. You are welcome to bring your own alcohol – I bought a bottle of bourbon and shared it around. On one boat that didn’t have a great supply of beer the divers ordered 8 cases locally and brought it on the boat for their trip!
I found myself sending a lot of time on the various decks outside lounging on the chairs or couches, reading, sleeping or just chatting with people.
Overall the boats are in pretty good shape, if you are looking for a more upscale option – definitely go with some of the more expensive options and look for when they were last renovated. The first ship I went on was a little newer and have been more recently renovated than the second so the cabins we a little nicer, the boat was less beat up visually. The second one was definitely due for renovations (in fact is was going in for some repairs right at the end of our trip as their season was done for a few months). Actually the sister ship was starting some renovations beside us when we left for our trip. So if you really care about a boat that does more than give you a place to sleep, take you to dive sites and has some areas to lounge around you might want a more upscale option. If you care mostly about diving and having a great time with all sorts of people and really focusing on the diving – just find the boat that meets your schedule and hits the dive sites you are interested in.
What are some tips?
I cannot claim to be an expert on liveaboards and Egypt but I can share my experiences and little things I picked up from my own time as well as experiences of others who have done many many more liveaboards.
- Get your Egyptian tourist visa in advance online, its pretty quick but does take a few days to get processed, so I recommend getting it a few weeks in advance. The first time I travelled to Egypt I did it this way. The second time I totally forgot and didn’t prepare with enough time. You can get it at the airport. But you need cash – $25 USD you go to one of the bank / money counters and make the payment and get the voucher. Depending on how you enter the country – like if you fly into Cairo it is easier but if your connection take you directly to Sharm El Sheik or Hurghada those counters are not always open depending on when you arrive.
- Bring a few clips to hang / dry your stuff on the railing – I typically put my towne and suit on the railing between dives and often swapped between 2 bathing suits
- Compact fast dry towel – one of the microfiber ones it nice to have to dry off quickly. Often you dry off after the dive then jump in the shower in your room and you either need / want 2 towels. These are compact for travel and dry quickly.
- Depending on the time of year may influence what type of hat you bring, but definitely if you are going in the cooler months like November – February you will want a knit cap. It is windy out there on the Red Sea so baseball caps aren’t great but will help retain some heat.
- I think hoodies / sweatpants / long sleeved shirts / t-shirts are really all you need. You spend a lot of your time either in diving gear, bathing suits and then lounging around so be comfortable. And you don’t need news clothes for every day. Pack light and save space for your dive gear. A couple of sweatshirts / hoodies will last you the week.
- Definitely want at least 2 bathing suits for under your wetsuit so you can alternate between them and let them dry between dives.
- A save a dive kit is a must – you are out an a boat doing a lot of diving stuff will go wrong – last trip I blew an O-ring just before a wreck dive having the spare on hand helped me quickly swap it out and get in the water. Also my kit has various clips, tools etc that you will find you need for a variety of different things. Finally since my reg set is yoke I usually use my own din to yoke converter as I find the ones the boats have are often rusty and can have bad seals.
- An adaptor for DIN tanks to Yoke – if you have yoke regulators I really recommend you bring your own adaptor – its cheap and simple
- If you are Nitrox certified dive Nitrox! Some boats offer it for free others for a small fee. With all the dives you are doing the little bit of extra oxygen is worth it. The boat will have an analyzer so you don’t need you own. If you are not Nitrox certified get it before you go or most liveaboards will have courses offered – take the class while you are on the boat!
- Consider 15L tanks – these are bigger tanks – but the nice thing is they are steel so you need to carry less weight on you belt / pockets. Also you will then have plenty of air to enjoy the amazing sites you visit. Often the 12L (standard sized tanks are typically aluminum, in the US these are often called Aluminum 80s)
- If you can take the time to stay a few extra days and check out Luxor – So much history truly amazing sites. The valley of the Kings, the temple of Karnak, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and so much more. I booked a number of my excursions via Trip Advisor. But also the hotel hooked me up with a private guide for some of the amazing sites and a amazing sunrise hot air balloon ride. When I was in Luxor I stayed at a small family run hotel on the west bank – the Cleopatra hotel – for $13 USD / night and that included breakfast and dinner. I pretty much had the whole hotel to myself. It was amazing.
Would you do it again?
Without a doubt – I cannot wait for my next trip to Egypt. Amazing diving at an unbeatable price. Please reach out to me if you have any questions about my experience.