I know watersports don’t typically spring to mind when thinking of activities in desert locations, but the Middle East has some fantastic dive sites across the Red Sea, Arabian Sea and wider Indian Ocean and as scuba diving has become one of my passions since I moved here to Dubai, I thought I would share my favourite dive sites in this region.
Without a shadow off a doubt, diving from Sawadi to the Daminyat Islands is some of the best I have ever done. Much has changed in terms of the resort itself and management of the dive centre over the years (now run by Extra Divers), but life in the marine reserve under the seas remains as bountiful and pristine as ever. It was at Al Sawadi that I swam with a whale shark, which singled me out to play with, getting so close that it took the skin off my hand and arm as it swam into me! Turtles are equally as friendly and inquisitive, and it’s the only place I’ve ever seen seahorses in the wild. The clear waters provide night diving that does not compare to any I’ve ever done and I would highly recommend it.
You can camp on the beach next door for nothing, or stay in the recently refurbished rooms for fairly competitive rates, including breakfast. Other hotels are springing up nearby however for the convenience I would always suggest the Al Sawadi Beach Resort itself. Due to the distance from Dubai (it’s only an hour from Muscat) and time lost at the Oman border crossing at Hatta, it’s preferable to stay at least two nights in order to have two relaxed days of diving.
2. Octopus Rock, Musandam, Oman
Octopus Rock is the furthest point in the Musandam that I have travelled from Dibba, and can therefore only be done as a day trip by speedboat or as part of an overnight live-aboard dhow trip from Dibba. Many companies operate dive trips which can take in Octopus Rock, for advanced divers I would recommend Freestyle Divers or Neptune Dive Centre (both based in Dibba itself) for speedboat trips and Pavilion Dive Centre (based at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai) for dhow trips.
This site is easily my favourite day trip from Dubai, I particularly love the batfish that follow you everywhere, mesmerised by divers’ fins, and the huge shoals of fish that make you feel that you’re in a giant aquarium. I have yet to see the resident seahorses, but the pretty coral and huge variety of fish more than make up for it.
3. Lima Rock, Musandam, Oman
As one of the Musandam’s most popular dive sites, you would think that Lima Rock would be a little tired, but despite the daily numbers of divers passing through, the rock remains a diver’s delight. I have been fortunate enough to have some lovely experiences swimming alongside big leopard sharks here, and I know of plenty of people who have spotted whale sharks in these waters. This spot generally forms part of all Musandam itineraries, and is a great spot for a night dive when on a live-aboard.
I have dived with almost all dive companies here, from speed boats in the hot summer months and from slow and leisurely dhows during the nice winter weather. My preference would again be for Freestyle or Neptune Divers, although all offer a similar service for a similar price.
4. Inchcape 2, Fujairah, UAE
As someone who occasionally suffers from claustrophobia, I would never have thought that I would enjoy wreck diving, however Inchcape 2 is such a haven for marine life, that all anxious thoughts immediately disappear on reaching the bottom, 28m down. Due to the depth, only advanced divers are able to dive here, and bottom time is generally limited to around half an hour. This generally allows for two circuits of the wreck and a peek inside.
Dive trips leave from dive centres on the UAE’s east coast, mostly based in Fujairah, and are often combined with a dive at Martini Rock, The Pinnacles or Dibba Rock (all fantastic dive sites in their own right). There is an enormous resident moray eel (known as Fred to his friends) who makes him home in one of the tyres, and plenty of lionfish, nudibranches, pipe fish and barracuda who take advantage of the shelter provided by the wreck.
For diving any of the east coast dive sites, I would highly recommend Divers Down, who, under the new management, are one of the most professional and friendly dive companies I have ever used, based at the Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort.
5. Martini Rock, Fujairah, UAE
For those who don’t want to venture too far from the land, Martini Rock is a nice easy dive site to reach from the Fujairah and with its beautiful long whip corals, provides a tranquil, swaying paradise for many shoals of fish. Underwater photographers like myself stand to take many beautiful pictures in the shallower waters here, framed by the bright yellows and deep purples of the coral.
As with the Inchcapes, most dive companies on the east coast will offer trips to Martini Rock as part of a day trip, although I would personally always choose Divers Down. Due to the proximity of the site, only a short speed boat ride is necessary, often enabling divers to return to the dive centre for lunch before heading out for their second dive.
In the cooler months, I would always opt to camp on the beach at Dibba the night before diving so as to avoid the early start necessary when leaving from Dubai for a full day’s diving here. However in the hotter summer months there are a variety of hotels on the east coast including Sandy Beach and Meridien Al Aqah, or for those just looking for a simple bed for the night, there are many options in the town of Dibba, such as Seaside Apartments, which offer a very basic apartment that can sleep up to five, for very cheap rates.