Safaga: Panorama Reef, Middle Reef, Salem Express, Hal Hal

This cruise brings you, after a first (weight) dive at Abu Dishet, to the area of Safaga, 60km South of Hurghada, where diving sites are already much less frequented and thus less spoiled. Other advantage of this itinerary is that the boat is staying most of the time in protected area, which offers a good night rest and easy diving conditions.

The diving offers a combination of great shallow reef dives, coral gardens and drop-offs (like at Panorama Reef, Middle Reef, Abu Kafan, Fellow Rocks, Ras Umm Hesiwa, Sha'ab Claude and Sha'ab Saiman) as well as famous wreck dives like the Salem Express and the Al Kahfain. Last but not least, this itinerary gives you the opportunity to explore less known but gorgeous diving sites like The Tobias (Tubya Hamra, Tubya Kibeer, Tubya Shiwayya and Arba Erg) and Umm Hal Hal.

Dive sites Safaga tour

Abu Dishet

Abu Dishet is located about an hour south of Hurghada and two hours north of Safaga. The reef extends out from the shoreline and there is an old light beacon on top of the reef at its eastern point. The overall biodiversity is excellent and the coral very healthy. You can see the usual reef fish such as crown butterflyfish, clownfish, lizardfish, goatfish and parrotfish.

Abu Kafan

Abu Kafan is a 300-meter long and narrow reef, rising from depths in excess of 400m and its size and diversity means you need to dive both the northern and southern sections (conditions allowing).

To the north is a sloping plateau which starts at around 15m at the reef and slopes to 30m before dropping away into very deep water. There is a large erg (reef piece) on the northern plateau close to the main reef which forms at 12m channel between it and the reef. Here there is prolific soft coral with the upper parts of the reef are teeming with antheas and all manner of smaller marine life. Turtles are often present in the shallower areas on the north plateau and ensure you spend plenty of time looking out into the blue where schools of barracuda hunt and white-tip sharks can come in closer to the reef with the larger grey reef sharks tending to stay further out in the current.

The northeast wall is quite literally a vertical drop down to 110m where a 10m wide ledge protrudes insignificantly before the wall continues into the abyss. On the wall huge gorgonian fans undulate in the current and although more barren at 30m, purple and orange soft coral, black coral and long whip corals protrude from the reef. As you reach the southern end of the sliver the reef splits forming another separate erg (very similar in topography to the one on the north plateau). This forms an 18m deep channel about 10m wide between the erg and main reef. If the current is running it tends to pick up here and sweep you though the channel. Rather than head south around the main reef and back to the more sheltered area, its well worth a swim back around the outside of this southern erg. Again the reef wall drops away impressively and large pelagic sighting are possible with tuna and trevally often present here.

Al Kahfain

The Al Kahfain is one of the newer wreck dives in the Red Sea, sinking at Sha’ab Sheer, on November 3rd 2005, after having been abandoned by the crew due to a fire. The ship was launched under the name Ulster Queen in 1967 and was a roll-on, roll-off ferry for vehicles and passengers, very similar in appearance to the Salem Express. At 115m long, with a 17m beam and 4m draft she was a sizeable vessel, slightly longer and fractionally thinner than the Salem Express.

Diving the Al Kahfain is an experience as it is still moving with the flow of water, particularly at the bow section. Part of her superstructure and decking have been crushed and peeled away, so huge sections of metal creak and groan. There is often a medium strength current which tends to flow north east along the reef (bow to stern).

The top of the wreck is around 6m and the bottom is at the sea bed which is at 23m.

Arba Erg

Arba Erg, also sometimes known as Tobia Arba, is an area of seven pinnacles rising up steeply from the seafloor to nearly break the surface. There are four main pinnacles to swim around (arba meaning four in Arabic). The dive site offers a lot of variety of fish life, some good healthy coral and even a bit of soft coral. A nice, gentle pace will take you effortlessly between the four main ergs to explore their overhangs and caverns and the fish living within them (puffers, big coral groupers, octopus, lots of lionfish, batfish, blue scale emperors and much more).

Fellow Rocks

Fellow Rocks is one of Safaga's more challenging dives and only visited with more experienced divers and good conditions. It is a pair of small seamounts on a 26m plateau, reaching to within a few metres of the surface. The plateau on which they rest is part of a much larger seamount which rises from several hundred metres. If the current is running you can make a drift dive going into the water as far north of the northern rock as you can and then drift past the east side of the rocks, which seem to be a hunting territory for barracuda, tuna and trevally. If there is no current at all then the dive can be started to the east where there's a deep wall to be explored before coming up over the plateau and making your way west to the rocks at around 22m.

Middle Reef

Middle Reef is quite a large, circular shaped, reef located on an even larger coral encrusted plateau which comes up from the deep ocean. To the northeast is a deep sloping wall with some excellent hard coral growth and large gorgonian sea fans, as well as whip corals. Occasional white-tip sharks, grey reef sharks and the odd lone turtle can be seen here. As you approach the southeast side of the reef, the coral covered plateau comes up to meet you and the main reef splits into numerous small pieces. This can make navigation confusing as the reef and plateau fuse into a beautiful coral garden with all manner of stony, boulder, brain and table corals. Pufferfish, grouper and octopus are rife in this area.

Panorama Reef

Panorama reef is one of the largest reefs in the Safaga-area. It features numerous grottos and overhangs, where gorgonians and soft corals thrive with the frequent nurturing currents. Due to the size of the barrier, there are at least three different dives to be done: the south plateau and the east and west drop offs. Barracudas and white tip reef sharks and occasionally hammerheads and manta rays can be found. The south plateau is somewhat more protected by the current.

Ras Umm Hesiwa

Ras Umm Hesiwa is located to the east of nearby dive site Sha'ab Saiman and has some of the finest hard coral in the Red Sea. Located right on the northeast tip of a large outcrop area of coastline, known as Ras Abu Soma, Ras Umm Hesiwa is essentially a wide coral encrusted sandy plateau which slopes from 15m down to 30m before dropping away sharply into the depths. The coral slope has huge acropora table coral and boulder corals, often with giant moray eels tangled within their confines. White-tip sharks and grey reef sharks often frequent the northern parts where they cruise effortlessly in the current, alongside schools of barracuda.

Salem Express

The Salem Express is a dramatic dive. Around 500 people perished here, in one of the worst marine tragedies of all times. The 100-meter ferryboat was on its way back from Mecca to Safaga after the annual Muslim pilgrimage in December 1991, when it hit the reef during a stormy night and sunk rapidly without giving the opportunity to the crew and passengers to board the lifeboats.

It is now home to a thriving underwater life, including a famous resident frogfish, blue-spotted stingrays, angel and butterfly fish. The ship itself is covered in a large quantity of hard and soft corals. It is one of the largest wrecks in the Egyptian Red Sea - roughly the same size as the Thistlegorm.

The Salem express lays at a depth of 30m, the top of the boat is at 12m.

Sha'ab Claude

Sha'ab Claude is another small cluster of ergs which collectively are part of Sha'ab Sheer. The main erg at Sha'ab Claude has 3 to 4 smaller pinnacles very close together stretching away from it in a southwesterly direction. The base of the main reef piece is around 10 to 12m on the south where the boats moor. Here there is a sandy seafloor and as you explore the ergs to the southwest this drops down to around 20m. There ergs have lovely soft corals and large groups of masked butterflyfish and Red Sea bannerfish congregate here. Blue spotted rays are common and there is a channel or tunnel which is formed between the ergs and makes for an easy swim-though and some good photographs. Heading through the tunnel and around to the north there is a lovely coral garden at around 14m with brain coral, boulder coral and stony coral, which is home to many spotted grouper. To the southeast of the reef is another small erg at 15m which splits at its shallowest and also has some lovely orange and purple soft coral which is teeming with antheas, tangs and small rainbow wrasse.

Sha'ab Saiman

Sha'ab Saiman undoubtedly has some of the best hard coral in the Red Sea. Located just to the east of the very northeastern tip of a large outcrop area of coastline, known as Ras Abu Soma, Sha'ab Saiman is an elongated piece of reef, separated from the main coastline reef. This creates a sand canyon between Sha'ab Saiman and the coastal reef which at it shallowest is only 7m from the surface and slopes away to over 40m to the west.

On the outside of Sha'ab Saiman is a 15m plateau, with coral heads and coral encrusted boulders, which slopes away to the north. It is here on the north side of the reef that the hard coral is stunning. Acropora table corals are layered one on top of the other. Cone coral, raspberry coral and patches of yellow weaver coral cover the slope and stretch well into the coral garden. Marine life is also in abundance with the usual colourful wrasse, antheas and parrotfish staying close to the coral whilst schools of yellow fin goatfish, blue-lined snapper and sweetlips cruise around the plateau area and the canyon.

The Tobias

The Tobias are several dive sites (Tubya Hamra, Tubya Kibeer, Tubya Shiwayya and Arba Erg) that are just off Safaga. Very easy dives with little or no current which normally comes from the north if at all. The Tobias have all the usual Red Sea suspects but in more abundance and thus more than worth to explore.

Tubya Hamra

Tûbya Hamra is the eastern part of the large reef which circles the tiny Island of Tûbya. Tûbya Island itself is little more than a large flat rock which breaks the surface and it is directly east of here that the Tûbya Hamra dive site is located. You will be dropped further out to the east by a zodiac and drop down the sloping wall to 30 metres +. The reef wall is an ideal site for all levels of diver. Schools of fusiliers and snappers frequent the area as do Red Sea bannerfish and butterfly fish and it is not uncommon to see blue spotted rays.

Tubya Kibeer

The boat will moor on the southern side of the reef where there are a number of ergs. Ideal for all levels of diver there is rarely any current here. Best is to get dropped on the north side, where the reef drops down to around 22 - 24m and a sandy seafloor. Head south with the reef on your right shoulder which will take you down the eastern side of the reef (this side has more coral growth than the west side). There is nice soft coral and plenty of hard coral - cone coral, raspberry coral, table coral and the odd patch of yellow waver coral (which looks rather like a large lettuce).

Tubya Shiwayya

Made up of 5 main reef pieces and a number of other smaller pinnacles intermingled, the shape of the dive site resembles an upside down capital letter "Y". There are a number of interesting swim-throughs for careful divers; one located on the south-western reef tip at 5m another on the south-eastern reef tip at 12m and a third in the central reef pinnacle at 6m.

Umm Hal Hal

Umm Hal Hal is a pair of small ergs (pieces of reef) located a sort distance to the southeast of Middle Reef. The seabed to the west drops down to around 15m and whilst essentially of sand composition this area is covered in a beautiful hard coral garden with acropora table corals at the base of the reef and all manner of stony boulder corals. Large grouper lurk between the hard coral and puffer fish tuck themselves in the overhangs. To the north, gorgonian fan corals sway in the current and white-tip sharks can be seen. To the east of the ergs the seabed drops away a little deeper to 25m before sloping down to a wall which drops away into the depths, with the chance to see pelagic fish and large groups of barracuda. South of the southernmost erg are several small coral boulders in close formation. The gully created between the reef and these coral boulders is home to large schools of goatfish and blue-lined snapper, and blue lunar fusiliers cruise the reef in large numbers. The upper parts of the reef are swarming with antheas and small wrasse which stay close to the abundant soft coral.

Mirette Hotel, Villa n°1
Hurghada, Red Sea

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