Saudi Arabia is a land of contrasts, rich in ancient history and dazzling cities with dramatic desert scenery throughout. It is one of the least-dived areas of the Red Sea and offers incredible diving among untouched reefs full of life. There are shallow reefs swathed in soft corals, deep walls and challenging wrecks to discover there. Boasting a wealth of reef and pelagic marine life, plus abundant sharks and mantas, Saudi Arabia needs to be on your diving wish list. Read on for our pick of the best places to go diving in Saudi Arabia before the rest of the world discovers this hidden gem.
Diving in Makkah
The Mecca Province, also known as the Makkah Province, is home to Mecca and the main port city of Saudi Arabia, Jeddah. This historically-rich area offers spectacular Red Sea marine life and is home to some of the best diving in all of Saudi Arabia. This is where most of the cities that offer scuba diving in Saudi Arabia are found.
The coastal town of Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s best-known dive destination and offers fantastic wreck diving for all experience levels. As well as hosting famous wrecks, Jeddah has thriving reefs busy with vibrant Red Sea marine life.
There you will find the Ann Ann wreck, the biggest wreck in Jeddah. She sunk in 1977 and is a staggering sight, covered in soft corals. This is a challenging dive, but with the right conditions, you can start at the stern at 32 meters deep and work your way up to 5 meters at the bow.
The Boiler wreck is another one of Jeddah’s top dives, offering deep reef and wreck diving from 45 meters deep up to 15 meters. As well as the wreck itself, there are caves, a tunnel, and a reef wall covered in black, pink and bright red corals. On any given day, you have the chance to see sharks, manta rays, and large pelagic fish at this remarkable dive site.
These are just two of the many highlights of diving in Jeddah. You can go diving from shore at Jeddah’s luxurious resorts or explore further afield by day-boat diving. With a range of dive centers to choose from, Jeddah is an excellent place to get a scuba certification and experience some of the best Red Sea diving there is.
2. Farasan Banks, Al Lith
Al Lith, one of the largest seaports in Saudi Arabia, sits just south of Jeddah and is the gateway to one of Saudi Arabia’s best-loved dive spots; the Farasan Banks at Jabal Al-Lith Island.
Jabal Al-Lith Island is stunning; swathed in white-and beaches and surrounded by mangroves and thriving coral reefs full of marine life. This little island is fast-gaining the attention of tourists and is an unmissable dive spot.
At the Farasan Banks, you can enjoy diving in the light-filled shallows or explore the depths, which plummet down to 500 meters. It’s an excellent destination for novice divers and experienced technical divers alike.
The Banks are well-known for their diverse marine life and boast diverse corals, a mixture of Red Sea reef and pelagic fish, plus numerous sharks. White-tip reef sharks, grey reef, silky, and hammerhead sharks can all be found there.
3. Five Sisters, Rabigh
Another great city for diving, Rabigh sits between Jeddah and Yanbu and offers excellent coral reef diving. It is most famous for hosting the Five Sisters Reef: a series of five coral atolls just offshore from Rabigh.
The Five Sisters Reef is Rabigh’s most popular dive area and offers outstanding diving. This area is completely untouched, and each atoll has different underwater landscapes, including steep walls, plateaus, columns, and anemone beds. The dive sites are teeming with a wealth of reef life and are covered in corals. Added to that, schools of pelagic fish, hammerheads and mantas are often seen in the blue.
Diving in Madinah
The Madinah Region hosts another of Saudi Arabia’s top dive areas, Yanbu. This ancient port city north of Jeddah dates back to around 500BC and was an important rest stop for traders navigating one of the world’s oldest trade routes, the Incense Route.
Today, Yanbu is a major port and fast-growing tourist destination, surrounded by azure waters, gorgeous beaches, and untouched reefs. With access to areas such as the Seven Sisters Reef, Yanbu truly deserves its nickname ‘the Pearl of the Red Sea’.
4. Seven Sisters. Yanbu
Seven Sisters Reef is known for one thing – hammerhead sharks. This reef hosts these unmistakable sharks almost year-round and offers excellent reef diving as well. There are beautiful shallow coral landscapes to explore, plus plunging walls patrolled by schools of barracuda and snapper.
5. Abu Galawa, Yanbu
Abu Galawa is part of the Seven Sisters Reef and is an underwater world covered in corals and visited by numerous sharks, including hammerheads. It is one of the most rewarding dives of the Seven Sisters Reef system.
Diving in Tabuk
Tabuk Province is less well-known for diving than other areas of Saudi Arabia, yet it boasts the longest stretch of Red Sea coastline in all of Saudi Arabia. It is home to the Red Sea Project and NEOM, two impressive coastal development projects that will put Tabuk firmly on the map of enviable places to go diving in the Red Sea.
Go diving in Tabuk before the rest of the world discovers this dive area. You will be rewarded with crystal-clear, warm waters and pristine coral reefs few people have ever dived. If you like exploratory diving, Tabuk could be the place for you.
Kathryn Curzon, a conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.
British freediver sets new national record with 112m dive
British freediver Gary McGrath has set a new national record at the prestigious Vertical Blue freediving competition in the Bahamas.
Using only a monofin for propulsion, Gary swam down a measured rope to a depth of 112m (367ft), returning to the surface to receive a white card from the AIDA International judges to validate his dive.
Gary, 41, held his breath for three minutes and 13 seconds to complete the dive.
Freedivers descend underwater on a single breath of air and the atmospheric pressure on their bodies increases as they go deeper.
At 112m deep the pressure is 12 times greater than the surface, meaning the air in Gary’s lungs would have shrunk to less than a twelfth of its original volume – around the size of a golf ball.
Freedivers train to cope with the physiological strains placed on their bodies by their sport, and Gary uses his background of yoga and meditation to help his physical and mental preparation for deep dives.
He has also had to overcome physical challenges after contracting Covid last year during preparations for a previous national record attempt.
Gary said: ‘Diving below 100m is a totally unique environment, it’s my therapy.
‘This year has been extremely challenging for my mental health and freediving has helped me overcome that for sure.
‘At depth I have complete isolation from the everyday world we live in. Down there it’s just me and nature. It’s that escape that all freedivers crave.
‘There are moments of extreme mental clarity and purity that I can only achieve when underwater. The flow state that a deep dive allows me to experience is unique and addictive.’
Gary, originally from Twickenham, began freediving in 2006 and has been competing since 2008.
A former tree surgeon, he became a professional freedive instructor in 2014, and he and his partner Lynne Paddon run Yoga and Freedive Retreats in Ibiza.
Remarkably, he completed his 112m national record dive on Tuesday (August 9) despite being forced to compete wearing a borrowed monofin which was a size too small for his feet.
His entire kit bag containing his monofin, bifins and two wetsuits was lost by an airline as he travelled to the competition.
Despite his careful preparation, Gary said he suffered nerves on the morning of his national record dive, and relied on a phone call to his partner Lynne, who helped him focus on breathing techniques and visualisation to calm his nerves.
Speaking immediately after his dive, he said: ‘That was all for Lynne – this whole week has been about her. I could not do it without her. I hope that everyone finds someone they can click with, it’s the most magical thing in the world.’
Gary also thanked supporters who helped him to crowdfund to raise the money needed for him to travel to the Bahamas and compete.
Vertical Blue is considered one of the most elite events on the freediving calendar and has been dubbed the ‘Wimbledon of Freediving’.
Owned and run by world record freediver William Trubridge, the event takes place in a 202m (663ft) deep sinkhole known as Dean’s Blue Hole, off the coast of Long Island.
The previous British national record of 111m was set by Michael Board in 2018, also at a Vertical Blue competition.
All Photographs courtesy of Daan Verhoeven (www.daanverhoeven.com)
Film Review: Thirteen Lives
Ron Howard’s recreation of the 2018 rescue of a Thai junior football team is impressive. Even though we know what happens in the end the tension and drama played out is palpable.
On 23 June 2018, 12 members of a Thai junior football team, the Wild Boars, and their coach became trapped deep in the Tham Luang cave system by rising flood water. The film details the incredible international rescue efforts that ensue. And Ron Howard has judged the tone perfectly. There is no Hollywood glitz and glamour and the two leading actors: Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, who play John Volanthen and Rick Stanton respectively, capture the intensity of the situation perfectly.
The diving scenes are claustrophobic in the extreme. Although I suspect that the visibility was even worse than the film depicts as you have to be able to see something in the dramatization! All the way through the film I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the extraordinary feat these divers pulled off. The skill and bravery required still impresses after watching films, hearing them speak in public and reading about the rescue.
I loved that, whilst the divers took centre stage in the film, the heroic rescue efforts of the water engineer and his team was also given the attention they deserve, as well as the incredible Thai Navy Seals and the thousands of people that flocked to the region to help.
Thirteen Lives is a must watch movie about an incredible cave rescue. It’s sober tone hits the mark. The cinematography is skilled and creates an impressively tense experience. It is available on Amazon Prime right now.
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