Saudi Arabia might be more famous for its holy sites than its dive sites, but this is starting to change…
For the past few years, professional divers have flocked to the west coast of the country to dive the multi-coloured reefs near Jeddah and explore the wrecks of the Red Sea, away from the hordes of tourists who crowd the coral at Sharm el Sheik and Hurghada.
And they are rewarded with pristine water, excellent visibility and the chance to get up close and personal with sharks, dolphins, turtles and more.
Read on for our beginner’s guide to diving in Saudi…
Where can you dive?
The west coast of Saudi borders the Red Sea, and there are dozens of world-class dive sites up and down the coastline.
As well as the big dive schools along the coast, most hotels around Jeddah, Mecca and Medina will offer guided dives and live-aboard trips for more experienced divers.
How much is it?
The dive industry in Saudi Arabia is still small and generally represents good value for money. Most dive schools will give you the option to rent your equipment, but you can bring your own scuba gear with you if you prefer.
What qualifications do I need?
PADI and BSAC memberships are not valid in Saudi Arabia, so you will need to apply for a Saudi-issued Arabic diving license whenever you arrive. Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think – just ask your dive operator and they will sort it out for you.
Where are the best sites?
For shore dives, divers are spoilt for choice along the coast north of Jeddah (for instance, at Al Nakeel Beach, Blue Beach, Sheraton Beach and Al Bilad Beach).
But if you want to get right out into the sea, the choices are endless. Here are a few of our favourites:
This 100-year-old wreck lies at 18m and is just begging to be explored by intrepid divers. Before you reach the ship, you will pass by huge coral fans and black coral bushes, as well as tiny reef fish, manta rays and sharks. You will need to take a torch with you if you want to explore the wreck – it lies on its side and there are lots of dark corners and caverns.
The best place to spot sharks – this reef is shaped like a torpedo and the northern currents attract shoals of fish, which in turn attracts predators such as the elusive hammerhead shark. Simply descend to around 25m and wait… soon you will be surrounded by a silvery tornado of fish, watching nature in action from a front row seat.
This is a 150m high soft coral wall which is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. A deep channel runs through the middle of the reef where you can find sharks and exotic fish, while starfish, nudibranchs and moray eels hide among the corals and sand shelves.
The Farasan Banks are a group of tiny little reef islands scattered all along the Saudi coast – the smallest ones are barely visible when the tide is high, and the bigger ones look like little desert islands. Each reef is home to walls of colourful coral and hundreds of fish and circled by predators such as sharks and rays. Visibility is excellent (more than 50m on a good day!) and the diversity of the site has been compared to the Great Barrier Reef.