Egypt’s recent troubles are having a devastating effect on tourism. After watching daily news reports on TV, reading the national newspapers and surfing the web for more information it is easy to see why Foreign Offices across the globe are warning against all but necessary travel to Egypt; airlines are reducing the number of flights or, in extreme cases, cancelling all flights to the country. But are these measures really necessary – or even justified? After all, the troubles are confined to small pockets in some cities and some parts of the Sinai Peninsula. Southern regions of the country remain peaceful, remote and unaffected by the unrest of the revolutions.
As an avid supporter of Egyptian tourism and a Red Sea veteran, with over 20 diving tours to date, you can imagine my surprise when, on a recent flight to Egypt in the April school holiday, I got up to stretch my legs and found many empty seats. April marks the start of the holiday season here in the UK and as such this would normally be one of the busiest periods of the year with holiday makers bustling to part with their hard earned cash to reach the diving capital of the world.
It is no secret that divers have for decades classed Egypt’s Red Sea as their second home. It’s a safe bet that any diver with over 50 dives in their log book would more than likely have registered half of them in one of the many resorts dotted along the Sinai’s coast.
Most surprising, however, was the fact that when we landed at Marsa Alam International Airport we noticed that our plane was the only plane on the tarmac. As soon as we had disembarked and were in the arrivals terminal our group of six managed to purchase the necessary visas and pass through immigration and the baggage hall in record time. Security at the airport was, as usual, evident but relaxed. There are, as you would expect, armed guards but those can be found at every airport across the world.
Once out of the terminal we were warmly greeted by our tour Rep and driver and then it was all aboard the minibus for the two hour scenic journey to our destination, Red Sea Diving Safari’s eco village Marsa Nakari. With the Red Sea mountains to the right and the Red Sea itself to our left we headed south. I should point out that at no time did we have, or was it necessary for us to have, an armed guard or escort. We passed many large hotels standing empty and construction sites, with partially built structures, lying idle. Our driver told us that the Egyptian Tourist Board can no longer gauge the holiday seasons. Before the troubles began it was possible to accurately estimate how many guests would arrive at any one time; now there’s just a trickle of guests arriving each month. This is a far cry from the thousands of travellers from around the world who would have descended on this land of historical and natural beauty every week.
The quietness of the area became even more obvious when we reached our holiday destination Marsa Nakari. This particular eco village can cater for 160 guests, and offers every conceivable diving adventure possible; truck dives, day boat diving, zodiac dives, shore dives on its outstanding house reef as well as more demanding technical dives. However, because of Egypt’s troubles and international concern for the safety of travellers to the country, our group of six divers were, for part of the week, the only guests on site.
We had a fantastic time: the service was second to none, the food was delicious and plentiful and the diving out of this world. I suppose the one positive to come out of all of the uncertainty, is that the reefs have had time to rejuvenate and are absolutely teeming with marine life. Also, divers aren’t tripping over each other while trying to take those all important shots of a clownfish or flamboyant nudibranch. I imagine that the diving here is now much like it once was back in the 1980s with just a few divers exploring an unknown reef at their leisure. This resonates along the entire length of the Red Sea. No longer are the reefs a victim of their own success – bleached white, damaged by fins or overcrowded with divers. They are, once again, vibrant, colourful, living underwater landscapes.
Unlike other hotel complexes Marsa Nakari isn’t surrounded by a fence and there are no security guards patrolling its perimeter. In fact the whole Egyptian population could have popped in at any time of day or night for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake and yet not once did I feel threatened or afraid for my, my wife’s or our fellow holidaymaker’s safety. We enjoyed truck dives, visiting deserted beaches and diving with fan tail rays and guitar sharks. We took advantage of the unlimited diving on offer, squeezing in as many dives as possible throughout the week. And at the end of the stay a unanimous vote by the four novice divers in our group revealed that they would return in the very near future.
So why are you staying away from the Red Sea? I couldn’t say, but while you sit at home contemplating the answer, I will be busy booking my next trip so that I can, once again very soon, enjoy the warmth, hospitality and superb diving that this fascinating country, with its warm and hospitable people, has to offer.
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To find out more about Patrick visit www.exclusivelyscuba.co.uk.