...Highlights: shark action, dolphins, schooling fish & big pelagics...
...Sudan's diving environment: healthy reefs, wrecks, drift diving, advanced divers, off the beaten track...
Sudan may not be a high profile tourist destination, thanks to its history of political unrest. However, scuba diving tourism is very much on the rise as word spreads of its beautiful, colourful, pristine reefs, healthy shark populations, uncrowded dive sites, unforgettable wrecks and big schools of fish. Liveaboard trips either depart from Port Sudan or from the Egypt's Port Ghalib, so it is in fact an easy-to-get-to destination.
Sudan usually attracts more experienced divers and those who may have been to the Egyptian Red Sea before. As such it is considered a bit of a step up from Egypt. Some of the dives may offer challenges in terms of depth or wreck penetration that would be a little too much for beginner divers in places like Sharm El Sheikh. To those in the know, it is simply the best diving in the Red Sea.
Most dives promise delightful coral gardens and schools of fish. Some also feature interesting topography like vaulting coral pinnacles, steep and deep drop-offs or fascinating caves. Add to that a variety of sharks, barracuda and manta rays, sometimes in wonderful visibility and you can begin to appreciate the natural wonder of Sudan. Man too has had a role to play in making Sudan a fascinating liveaboard diving destination as a number of amazing wrecks litter the sea bed. Famous dives like the Umbria Wreck, Toyota Wreck and Cousteau's Conshelf II are quite simply unique and unforgettable.
If you have been to the Egyptian Red Sea before and are looking for something new, or if you simply want to sample the very best of what the Red Sea has to offer, then joining a Sudan diving cruise could be the best decision you make.
Abington is the northernmost reef of Sudan and is marked by its lighthouse. It is a coral pinnacle that rises vertically out of the depths and most diving is done on its northern wall. Here you can find schools of hammerhead and grey reef sharks at depth, and then as you gradually ascend along the wall, you will likely be engulfed by the huge schools of jacks and fusiliers that pass by.
The wall has some impressive gorgonian fans that filter sustenance from the strong currents, and large anemones. Other fish in abundance include bannerfish, lionfish, as well as blue-spotted stingrays.
Experienced divers enjoy the deep diving opportunity that Angarosh presents, a famous site approximately 12 km east of Mukawwar Island and 5 km southwest of Abington. It is also a site which normally enjoys impressive visibility upwards of 25m on average. The topography consists of deep plateaus and deeply-fissured walls which rise to about 10m at its shallowest point. At the northern plateau there are steps at 40, 30 and 18m; at the smaller southern plateau there are steps at 20 and 45m. It therefore lends itself to a deep dive profile, descending deep initially and then working your way slowly shallower close to the wall. There are several caverns to explore in the shallower areas.
Initially you will be on the look-out for sharks which often involves a little excursion into the blue. The dive site's name means 'Mother of Sharks' in Sudanese so it is little surprise that hammerheads and tiger sharks are commonly seen here, as are silvertips and whitetip reef sharks.
Additionally, due to the often strong currents, there is good schooling action at Angarosh featuring the likes of barracuda, bluefin tuna and yellowfin trevally. The often excellent visibility present when seeing the schools allows for some awesome photography. After drinking in the action of the blue you can slowly ascend and be entertained by the vibrant reef. Beautiful soft corals, anemones, and innumerable reef fish will keep you occupied until the end of your safety stop on this dive which combines depth, big fish action and a pretty picturesque reef, all in one.
This is an elongated reef about 2 km southwest of Angarosh and, just like its neighbours, it towers from the sea floor some 450m below, although its walls are not as vertical. The eastern and western walls have many cracks and caverns, and there is a small plateau at the north end of the reef with a beautiful soft coral bommie.
The eastern wall in particular is marked by huge vertical crevices which run down to a depth of 15m. Here you will find hungry giant moray eels, awaiting the opportunity to hunt. Then the wall turns in to a gradual lipped reef slope with densely packed corals along its entire length. Here you can find many anemonefish, goatfish, snappers, unicornfish, and sometimes resting whitetip reef sharks. Beyond the lip, the wall drops away in to the deep and curious Napoleon wrasse can often be seen ascending from the depths to check out events on the slope.
One obvious feature on the western wall is the remains of Freedom, a liveaboard that ran aground here in 1999. Due to salvage operations, all that remains is the hull and the sawn-off bow section. The Merlo reef is frequently visited by liveaboards. Current must be expected here, because of its exposed location, but often not as strong as at the Abington reef.
The northern plateau has 3 levels. The deeper level is beyond recreational diving limits and forms a channel where groups of hammerheads can sometimes be seen passing by. The intermediate level is at 25-30m is where the action is and holds several large coral bommies, around which grey reef sharks may lurk, especially when current is present. There are countless butterflyfish here, as well as snappers and perch.
Other notable dive spots of Northern Sudan include Shambaia, a sheltered reef with fabulous colourful coral formations. Most of the diving here is quite shallow so the sunlight creates excellent photographic opportunities. You subjects could be schools of sweetlips, barracuda, or the occasional Napoleonfish. Mesharifa is a small sand island, situated in a large lagoon and quite close to the Sudanese shore. From August to November, this lagoon is home to dozens of manta rays that are attracted by the abundance of plankton. They gather near the channels where the current brings in large quantities of food for these graceful creatures. As with most plankton-rich waters, the visibility tends to be limited here. Qita el Banna is another large coral pinnacle where the strong currents can attract hammerheads, silvertip sharks, emperors, tuna and bigeye trevally.
This is one of Sudan's best known dive sites and one of the most bizarre ones you will likely ever encounter. While many places claim to have rent-a-quote Cousteau's special seal of approval, this site is one he actually selected as a location for one of his 'underwater living' projects. As a shallow site you may be diving here either in the daytime or as a night dive. Either way it is fascinating and a real piece of scuba diving history.
A series of underwater habitats were constructed and anchored to the reef at Shaab Rumi in a sort of submerged village, named Conshelf II. In 1963, 5 oceanauts (and a parrot) lived there for a month as immortalised in the documentary 'World Without Sun'. Medical discoveries included that hair grew more slowly and wounds healed more quickly than at the surface. They also learned about new behaviour patterns of marine species as well as discovering a few new to science by exploring the area in a submersible.
The main building, the Starfish House, had a central hub with 4 arms that radiated outwards. Electricity, air-conditioning, fresh water and television were all available. Cousteau even brought champagne down to celebrate his 26th wedding anniversary although it wouldn't bubble under the increased pressure. After 26 years it is no surprise there was a lack of fizz.
Remains of this Sudanese underwater village litter the sea floor. The hanger for the submersible, some shark cages, and a tool shed are the only things still intact. Only experienced wreck divers should explore the confined spaces of the structure.
Your approach to this dive site is heralded by the site of an impressive erection in the form of a grey stone British-built lighthouse. Sudan was granted independence from Britain only in 1956, and you can scale this imperial relic during your surface interval. Britannia no longer rules the waves here and beneath them, since the reef has been under nature conservation since 1990, it is clearly the pelagics who are in charge.
Rising from the depths of the sea some 800m below, Sanganeb Reef is something of a hotspot for nutrient-rich upwellings that beckon all the marine life from the surrounding area. The southwest plateau of this 12 sq km reef is especially good. Large schools of barracuda, jacks, mackerel and snappers are regularly seen. Sharks you might spot include whitetips and grey reef sharks and, if you are lucky, hammerheads can be seen in deeper sections of the blue.
Back on the reef, the walls and plateaus are the very model of coral health. Vibrant and robust table corals and soft corals are blanketed by hundreds of anthias and fairy basslets colourfully fluttering hither and thither. Black corals host many examples of the curious long-nosed hawkfish.
The occasional Napoleon wrasse and humphead parrotfish might also cruise by. You may notice that the sharks appear more curious than normal. This is because they used to be fed here and, although they apparently are no more, they still behave with an air of expectation.
The location of Cousteau’s underwater research laboratory was not chosen by chance. Shaab RumI is about 40 km northeast of Port Sudan and the area is renowned for its shark encounters, include grey reef sharks, silky sharks and silvertips. During the November to April period this is also one of the best places to see hammerhead sharks.
The expansive reef plateau at 20-30m is made up of pretty coral gardens with plenty of soft corals and reef fish. The great variety and volumes of marine life, the health of the reef, and presence of apex predators, makes this sites one of the most photogenic in the world. Each dive can lead to a new experience. There are large schools of barracuda, bigeye trevally, black and white snapper, and sweetlips, as well as up to 20 grey reef sharks, which hunt in the strong currents.
The area is populated by hundreds of cleaner wrasse that attend to the sharks and barracuda. Bumphead parrotfish also roam the reef, munching on the hard corals, and groupers lurk among the coral heads.
The Blue Belt Wreck lies at the northern end of Shaab Suedi, an 11 km long reef that runs parallel to the coast, north of Port Sudan. The cargo ship sank in 1977 with its load of cars, trucks, tractors and spare parts, which explains the automotive moniker. In a vain attempt the refloat the vessel, the cargo was removed to the surrounding sea bed. The wreck was originally lying upside down on an incline from 20m to a maximum of about 36m with vehicles scattered all around the slope. But in 2013 the hull slipped off the reef and beyond the range of recreational diving.
In any case, it is the cargo rather than the ship that makes this a unique dive site. Finning around the edge of the wreckage site you can see the trucks and cars which are becoming consumed by the sea. Some look like living, flourishing reefs whose manufactured identity is betrayed only by a jutting tyre or sponge-encrusted steering wheel. Others are clearly big hulking metal vehicles most treasured by some divers for the resultant comedic photographs of them sitting in the driver's seat, although this is not for the faint-hearted as you need to remove your BCD. The place resembles a flooded wrecker's yard and is a fascinating juxtaposition of nature and industry.
Just to the north of the wreck is a reef area with fabulous table coral formations. Napoleon wrasse and mantas are sometimes seen here.
This site is deservedly considered to be one of the finest wreck dives in the world and one of the jewels in the crown of Sudan scuba diving. This Italian war supply vessel was built in 1912 in Hamburg and met its watery fate in 1940 when enroute to Eritrea. Scuttled by the Italians to avoid letting it get into the hands of the British, the Umbria sank at Wingate Reef, close to Port Sudan, still loaded with a huge cargo of bombs and weaponry.
Lying on its port side at a 75° angle in shallow water with a maximum depth of 38m and a minimum of only 5m, the Umbria has become completely "marinated" and you have plenty of bottom time in which to explore. It is bejewelled with encrusting algae, sponges, corals and featherstars. Marine life that call the Umbria home include innumerable cleaner shrimps, a large school of snappers, circling spiney fish, butterflyfish and barracudas.
Reputedly the ship sank with some 350,000 bombs on board and you can see stacks of them in the hold, together with grenades, detonators, and other objects. But it is the cargo of trucks that many scuba divers find most interesting and reminiscent of the Thistlegorm wreck to which the Umbria is often compared. These are Fiat 1100 Lunga vehicles, specifically designed for off-road use in the Italian colonies of the era.
At a length of 155m, you can get a good look around on a single dive, however there is plenty of scope for multiple investigations. There are 2 anchor chains running to the seabed because the Umbria was moored when she sank. The anchor winch and rail are now covered with corals. Visibility is limited due to its proximity to the harbour entrance, and varies between 10 and 20m. It is however, bathed in light, particularly in the shallower sections where the sun rays stream through the open windows of the stern. With large openings along the deck and plenty of light it is an easy wreck to penetrate the cargo holds in midships. More experienced wreck divers can access the entirety of the ship including the engine room and bakery. For all levels of diver the Umbria Wreck is a fascinating and beautiful experience.
Other notable dive sites in the central region include Hindi Gider and Seil Ada Kebir, whose beaches are nesting colonies for hawksbill turtles. Barra Musa Kebir lies at the outer edge of Sudan's reefs, so attracts passing pelagics such as tuna, great barracuda, and even hammerheads and mantas. Shaab Jibna lies over 50 km offshore, southeast of Port Sudan. Its pelagic location can lead to some extraordinary dives with large schools of curious hammerheads that often come close, surrounding and amazing you with the beauty of their features and the poetry of their movements.
Dahrat Qab is a small oblong island, located in the west of the South Suakin Islands, about 40 km from the coastline. It is a stand-out dive in the Sudanese Deep South, and many experienced divers consider it the best in the whole of the Red Sea! Common encounters might include manta rays, turtles, and several species of shark.
The west coast features a rugged wall that drops steeply into the deep blue for over 500m and is resplendent in magnificent soft corals. A thorough exploration of the wall reveals many hidden treasures. You can find masked butterflyfish, spotted porcupinefish, as well as the cornetfish that swim just below the sea’s surface.
The east coast features a sloping coral reef that runs in to a plateau at 25m. Here the marine life is fantastic. Big schools of bumphead parrotfish frequent the reef, large groupers and occasional manta rays. Over the edge of the plateau the drop-off is place to hang out to observe trevally and tuna, as well as reef and pelagic sharks.
The southernmost reef in the Sudanese Red Sea, Dahrat Abid lies 220 km south of Port Sudan and only 30 km away from the Eritrean border. A 400m elongated island that is populated only by birds, the place is easily recognisable by the 3 wrecks lying on its northwest side. Expect clear, blue water; dizzying drop-offs, as well as sizzling marine life that includes whitetip, silvertip and hammerhead sharks.
A dive at the Southwest Plateau usually begins at the southeast end of the island’s wall and continues in a westerly direction. Large gorgonian branches droop from the wall. At depths over 30m, large black coral bushes dominate the reefscape. Schools of jacks and solitary great barracuda patrol the area. From the outer edge of the plateau patrolling grey reef sharks or swarms of tuna slowly loom in to view.
The Northeast Plateau extends further out in to deeper water, where the outer wall drops off and silvertips, whitetip and grey reef sharks pass by. Hammerheads can often be seen, sometimes in schools of over 100. Amber jacks and tuna are frequently seen. On the plateau itself, you can observe a reef fish busily going about their business. Yellowbreasted wrasse flit from one coral head to another in search of food, bluestriped snapper school in the current eddies. Gobies rest along the sea whip fronds.
The reef is also alive with black coral bushes and spectacular hard and soft corals. Other top sites in the Deep South of Sudan include Qab Miyum, Masamirit and Loka, where the chance of seeing hammerheads and silky sharks is very high.
The best dive sites in the Sudanese Red Sea are spread out over quite a large area. Realistically a Sudan liveaboard is the only way to fully appreciate the wonder of this intrepid destination.
For more information on the cruise options and all the other travel information you might need to visit, see our Sudan liveaboard section.
Trips either depart from Port Sudan or from Port Ghaleb in Egypt. Normally those from Port Sudan are shorter itineraries of 7 to 10 nights while those that leave from Egypt may be 13 nights. These trips also visit some of the dive sites on the Egyptian side of the marine border.
Liveaboard diving safaris in Sudan run from October to July, and the conditions do differ from time to time throughout the year. Hammerhead season at several of the premiere sites (Far North, Deep South, and Shaab Rumi and Jumna) is said to be December to July (peak: February to July), whereas manta lovers might plan for August-November. Most other sharks have no defined season and might be spotted at any time during the year.
You can expect good visibility, usually in the 20 to 35m range, all year round although some sites have lower general visibility. February to May enjoys best visibility.
Water and air temperatures peak between June and September when you can expect sea temperatures of 31 to 33°C. December to March see the coolest water ranging between 24 and 27°C. There is considerably less wind in the Sudanese Red Sea than to the north and consequently the surface conditions are generally calmer, although November to February are known to be the months with the most unsettled surface conditions. HikersBay has some useful information on the climate and water temperatures at Port Sudan.
Review our map below of Egypt, from where our liveaboards depart, and its location in the world. Here, you will find information on how to get to Sudan.
Depth: 5m - >40m
Visibility: 10m - 35m
Currents: Usually mild but can be strong
Surface conditions: Usually calm but can be choppy
Water temperature: 24°C - 33°C
Experience level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: >30
Recommended length of stay: 1 - 2 weeks
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