Squeezed between the Arabian Peninsula and the continent of Africa, the Red Sea pushes northwards and splits into two gulfs at its northernmost point. The Gulf of Suez connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal whilst the Gulf of Aqaba separates Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula from the Arabian Peninsula and comes to rest at the busy port and popular tourist resort, Eilat.
Text and Images Ilan Ben Tov
Eilat is Israel’s southernmost city and home to some forty-six thousand people. It has an arid desert climate with low humidity moderated by its proximity to a warm sea with almost all-year- round excellent diving conditions.
Because Eilat is located at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea it offers great diving conditions. Whilst the busy port and intensive tourist industry has had an impact on the coral reefs and beaches the southern shore still provides excellent diving opportunities; from artificial reefs, such as Tamar reef, and sunken wrecks (the wreck of the Sufa) blooming with underwater life, to the northernmost coral reef in the world.
Most dive sites are accessed from the beach and don’t require a diving boat – simply walk in to the sea from the marked entrance on the beach and dive the site.
This artificial reef is a macro photographer’s paradise. Originally created in an attempt to attract underwater life, the artificial reef has been a resounding success attracting divers and sea life in abundance.
Located in front of Deep Siam Dive Club, at a depth of only 6 metres and on a sandy slope, Tamar Reef is full of life. It has become a permanent home to many small reef fish, juvenile barracuda and other predatory fish and a myriad shrimps and critters that hide in the crevices.
Here, the macro underwater photographer will happily use up bottom time being lost photographing critters and fish in relative ease.
But for divers who prefer to explore there is a deeper area that slopes away from Tamar reef and there are nearby coral formations just waiting to be explored.
Coral Beach Nature Reserve runs from the Yam Suf Hotel to the Underwater Observatory and is a splendid option for deep and shallow dives.
Entry to the water is possible from either of the two jetties inside the nature reserve or from the small beach at the reserve’s northern boundary next to Deep Siam dive club. There is an entry fee and a it is mandatory that you receive a briefing from a nature reserve ranger before diving.
Coral bommies and pinnacles teeming with underwater life break the shallow sandy seafloor’s topography. The two largest pinnacles are known as Moses rock and Joshua Rock
and both slope to a depth of 30 metres from a shallow point of only 6 metres. Whilst the pinnacles are covered with large hard corals, a fringing reef runs the length of the reserve at a depth of 2 to 3 metres. This makes for an excellent long shallow dive or the perfect finish to a deep one.
A typical dive profile entails entering from the jetties and locating the spectacular Moses Rock and Joshua Rock at a depth of 6 metres. Once found it is pleasant descent over dense coral beds where the view is pure blue. The westward return trip offers lovely spots for safety stops and ultimately the reserve’s lovely home reef leads back to the easily recognizable jetties.
The marine life is plentiful with varied clouds of fairy basslets decorating the coral formations where there are many cleaning stations where cleaner wrasse groom groupers, goatfish, morays and even the occasional barracuda.
Blue spotted stingrays can be found in the sandy areas around the rocks and anemones with attendant anemone fish can be found in every coral formation. Peep into the rock crevices
and you will find a rich selection of shrimps and crabs.
Wreck of the Sufa (Satil)
This is a wreck of the Sufa missile boat that served in the Israeli navy and was sunk in order to serve as artificial reef. The wreck lies on a sandy bottom at a depth of 24 metres and is one of Eilat’s most popular dive sites for both day and night dives.
The dive starts near Marina Divers Dive Club from the marked access point and is followed by a steep drop to around 7 metres, where a large coral formation lies. From the coral formation proceed to the east and the seafloor slopes gently to 18 metres. In this area the sea grass is dotted by little coral islands and at night it is a perfect place to view Cuttlefish hunting in the sea grass.
The wreck that lies parallel to the beach at a depth of 22 to 24 metres. The wreck can be semi-penetrated at several locations at the bow (18 metres) and stern (21 metres).
The bridge of the wreck starts at a depth of 12 metres and is covered with red soft corals. It plays host to a large number of small fish with lionfish and glasys sweepers taking refuge
between the soft corals from time to time. During your ascent from the dive octopus, sea urchins and sea cucumbers are often found and observed by divers doing their safety stop.
The marine life on the way to the wreck and on the wreck itself is plentiful. Expect to meet yellowtail barracuda, angelfish, moray eels and the occasional octopus.
At night the bridge is often covered with basket stars.
Wreck of the Yatush
This is a small patrol boat that lies at a depth of around 30 metres in the coral reef. It is best dived as the first dive of the day since visibility is better in the morning and currents are weaker.
The dive starts in the marked area in front of Aqua Sport Diving Club where you descend to a depth of 4 metres and follow the sandy slope gradually downwards in a direction of approximately 45 degrees from the starting point. When you reach the drop- off, at a depth of around 6 metres, you will notice that the area is populated with garden eels – an excellent place to do your safety stop when you return from the dive. From here you descend to
a depth of 27 metres and then keep north at a depth of 24 to 27 metres until you see a small ship wreck. The wreck’s bow faces east, and it lies on a sandy and grassy bottom with scattered coral clusters.
A big group of glassy sweepers live inside the wreck and can be seen swimming in formation. Cleaner shrimp live in a cleaning station inside the small wreck and if you are lucky you will see them grooming a yellow-mouthed moray eel. Outside the wreck you can see patrolling lionfish and sometimes, big coral groupers swim by.
When ascending, from the stern, up the sloping seafloor you pass two striking coral formations (at 18 metres and 12 metres) that rise from the sandy floor. It is worth investigating these formations since they host plenty of life.
Princess (southern) Beach
The location is at the south beach in front of the Princess hotel. With a sandy slope and a depth of around 20 to 22 metres you pass striking coral formations at around 6 to 8 metres and there are several large table corals at around 20 to 25 metres.
Entry to the dive site is possible from either of the two jetties at the Princess Hotel beach or from marked areas on the beach itself.
Diving usually starts by descending to a sandy slope that in some areas hosts colonies of garden eels, and then to a depth of around 10 to 15 metres to various coral formations.
Sea grass covers the slope at depths of 15 to 30 metres and you can find several large table corals at a depth of 20 to 25 metres. Look closely at the table corals and you will see that they are populated with yellow lemon gobies. Look too under the corals where sometimes you will find a big puffer fish hiding.
In the second half of the dive you will want to explore the coral formation in the shallows as these are filled with shrimps and small fish.
Marine life of this site is abundant with corals both hard and soft, plenty of cleaning station with Cleaner Shrimp and Wrasses, the jetties are an excellent place to do your safety stop because they team with life.
There are many dive clubs in Eilat, most of which are located in the Almog beach area at the southern beach. All dive clubs have dive schools that offer dive courses, from basic to advanced levels. At all dive clubs you can rent scuba gear and join a guided dive to one of Eilat’s diving sites. The larger dive clubs usually have a dive shop.
Nitrox is available in all large dive clubs and Nitrox courses are avaiable at all dive schools.
Manta Diving Center
Located in Almog beach, Manta is Eilat’s biggest dive club. Situated in the Yam Suf hotel, the club provides top facilities – from a swimming pool that is used for dive courses (and a great warm place to hang between dives) to a sauna that has the same function in the winter months. The only disadvantage is that the club is located across the road from the beach and getting to the sea requires crossing the road with your gear.
Located on the beach in the Almog beach area this excellent club has the best location in Eilat for the entrance to the Coral Reserve. It is in front of Tamar Reef and near the wreck of the Yatush. Its facilities are not of the same level as Manta’s but are decent and access to the sea is easier.
Located on the beach in the Almog beach area, Awua Sport is walking distance from Deep Siam. This is Eilat’s first diving club and it is located in front of the wreck of the Yatush and in walking distance from Tamar Reef and the entrance to the Coral Reserve.
This is a boutique diving club managed by Sigala, an experienced dive instructor. It is a great place to learn diving because of the personal approach and the small size of the dive groups. The club also has on-premises accommodation.
Eilat Airport (ETH) is right in the middle of the city. Flights to Tel Aviv are frequent and take only 50 minutes. The cost of a one-way trip is around NIS 250. Charter flights via the Ovda International Airport (VDA) (65 km – 40 miles) and nearly a 50 min drive from town) are also an option.
Egged Express buses drive from Tel Aviv (390/394) and Jerusalem (444) to Eilat hourly. The trip takes around 5 hours and costs NIS 78 one way (60 for students) or NIS 133 for a return ticket. It is advised to buy tickets in advance because assigned seating is in use. All buses in Eilat leave from the Central Bus Station on HaTemarim Boulevard.
There are a couple of ways to drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat. One is via Mitzpe Ramon. Another nice alternative is from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea via Arad – stay a couple of days there or just make a short stop and
then continue to Eilat. It takes approximately 5 hours from Tel Aviv, and a similar duration from Jerusalem.