When I first came to Egypt I was working as a Tour Leader (that's what the Holiday Reps are called out here). I got to meet many people - some of whom were making a lot of their own arrangements and only using the holiday company for the flights and hotel. Very often this worked well but sometimes something would happen and they would be totally unprepared. Therefore I've come up with this guide. It's biased towards diving but may be useful to non-divers. Certainly, if you are going to undertake any sports here it's worth checking your insurance cover, especially if the sport may result in injuries requiring specialist treatment (e.g. decompression chamber for divers where a basic 3 hour treatment with assessment and aftercare will cost you around £8,000 as a minimum). So read on and if it all goes pear-shaped please don't say "no-one told me"!
So you’ve decided on the Red Sea for some sunshine and, of course, to visit one of the best dive sites in the world. But, before you even think about booking this holiday here are some hints and tips to ensure you do not have any unpleasant surprises after you arrive.
Package Tour or Independent Travel?
Whether you decide to take the easy option and book a package tour, or put your own package together, here are some things to consider:
• Just where EXACTLY is the hotel in relation to where you want to dive. For example, you can book a hotel that the brochure says is in Hurghada to find it’s not in Hurghada town at all. It IS in the Hurghada area, so you can’t complain to the tour operator, but it may be up to 40km away from Hurghada itself. You will still get wonderful diving locally – it’s all brilliant here – but you may find that there is little or nothing to do outside the hotel when you’re not diving and possibly no public transport except the hotel limousine service which can be very expensive.
• Will your tour operator or airline give you an extra luggage allowance for your dive gear? Not all do and those that will are not as generous as they use to be so ask up front. If you are given extra then remember to take proof that you are a certified diver with you to the airport when you check in. You will be asked for this and if you don’t have it then you will have to pay a large amount for excess baggage. It also helps to make sure you have confirmation of the extra luggage allowance in writing and have this with your ticket when you check in.
• Is the transfer from the airport to the hotel included? If you are on a package holiday it will be but if you are traveling independently check it out. Most hotels will offer transfers at very reasonable rates to guests pre-booking accommodation.
Which Dive Centre will you choose?
There are so many dive centres you are spoilt for choice. Just about every hotel has its own “Dive Club”. This competition means you are also likely to find some very good deals. However, beware! Cheapest may not necessarily be best. If you are booking a package holiday you may have the option of pre-booking your diving through your tour operator. This may be the easiest way to book but there are still some things to consider BEFORE parting with any money:
• Check the internet sites for other people’s reviews. If all the reviews are bad, perhaps complaining about poor safety standards and service, then look again and choose another dive centre.
• Where EXACTLY is the dive centre. You need to consider how far away it is from your hotel AND how far away it is from the dive sites you would like to visit. If you have done your research (there are lots of good web sites to get information about dive sites in the Red Sea) you will probably already have a good idea what you want to see. You need to make sure your chosen dive centre is near enough to these sites to make daily diving feasible.
• There is an organization in Hurghada called the Chamber of Diving and Watersports (CDWS). Please check out their web site http://www.cdws.travel/ while doing your research. They are responsible for ensuring that all dive centres meet the local standards and legislation. In particular, have a look at their “Blacklist” and make sure your dive centre is not listed here. If it is, then the dive centre is operating illegally and if anything goes wrong you will be on your own. If you are considering booking your diving through your tour operator make sure they tell you which dive centre they use and check them out.
• Before confirming your dive package check exactly what is included. For example, if they are not within walking distance will they provide a transfer. Most do, but you need to know if you have to pay extra for this or whether it’s part of the service. You will also want to eat lunch on the boat and have something to drink during the day. Again, find out if this is included in the dive package price or, if not, how much it’s going to cost you. If you have booked an all inclusive accommodation package will your hotel give you a packed lunch every day to take with you?
• You know what you want to dive and they confirm they visit these sites but are they included as normal dives or do you have to pay a supplement. Most centres will charge an extra supplement for night dives, early morning dives and wreck dives. In addition, all visits to the National Marine Parks incur an extra charge which helps to maintain these areas.
• All divers visiting the Red Sea have to pay a daily environmental tax. It’s not much but over a week it mounts up. Again, check with your dive centre how much tax you have to pay each day and whether or not it’s already included in the price they’ve quoted you or is it extra.
• And then there’s all that equipment you need. Perhaps you’ve decided that persuading your tour operator to let you have an extra allowance is just too much hassle, or perhaps you’ve found that the dive equipment takes the full allowance plus most of the extra you’re allowed so you can’t bring any more than a single change of under clothes, so you’ve decided to rent when you arrive. You’ve taken full advantage of the offers available and have booked “full equipment”. Do ask exactly what is meant by “full equipment”. It’s normally just the basics and will not include a depth gauge, dive timer or torch. Sometimes it does not include a weightbelt (although weight is always included).
• How qualified are you or are you travelling alone? Then, again, check with your chosen dive centre how this might affect the cost. Most dive centres have a minimum number of logged dives below which you have to join their dive guide irrespective of what qualification you have. Similarly, if you are travelling alone and need a buddy they may insist you dive with the guide rather than finding you a buddy from among the other guests. In some centres the services of the dive guide are included in the price but in others there is a charge for guiding. It pays to know in advance. You also need to ask yourself how long is it since your last dive? MOST (not all) dive centres in the Red Sea will insist that you undertake a Scuba Review if you have done less than a certain number of dives and have not dived in the last 6 or 12 months (varies from centre to centre). Be honest with them when you book and make sure it's included in the price. It should only take half a day and some dive centres will let you do this on the boat so that it effectively becomes your check dive. Please don't moan about this - remember that diving is considered a dangerous sport and this enhances your safety as well as the safety of those you will be diving with.
• Finally, in the event of an incident what about recompression. Ask how far away they are from recompression facilities and how they would get you there if needed.
Why can’t I do 50m wearing my gloves and my knife?
Whatever your recreational diving qualification at home allows you to do you need to know that diving in the Red Sea is regulated and monitored by the CDWS on behalf of the Red Sea Governorate. At the CDWS site click on Scuba Diving and from the drop down menu select Rules and Regulations. Scrolling down to the bottom of the page you will find the “Rules on Gloves and Knives” and “Depth Limitations”. Please don’t take it out on your poor dive guide when you’re told the dive has to be to a maximum depth of ….. He is taking into account the qualifications and experience of everyone in the group and he is only following guidelines and doing his job. As for those gloves and knives – you really don’t need them in the Red Sea. Why not leave them at home and save a bit a weight, not to mention the problems associated with taking sharp knives anywhere by air these days.
Yes, every article has a boring bit and this is it. Are you insured? I am sure you are already savvy enough to make sure you have travel insurance but what about the diving insurance? If you have booked your diving along with your holiday through your travel agent and bought their travel insurance they will probably tell you it includes diving. However, you need to check WHAT DIVING IS COVERED! Most holiday policies cover SCUBA diving to a maximum depth of 10m with an instructor. If you’re a qualified diver looking to do 30m on the El Mina then this insurance is not much good to you. There are many companies offering specialist insurance for divers. They all offer good cover so really the most important is:
• Make sure you have insurance
• Make sure it covers dives to the depths you expect to be reaching
• Make sure it covers multi-day diving
• Make sure it covers the use of a recompression facility if needed
Now you’ve done your research, asked all the questions, had the answers, made a decision and booked your holiday. All you have to do now is find the patience to wait until your holiday date arrives. For me, that’s always the hardest part – it doesn’t come quickly enough! And finally you arrive – ready for some of the best diving ever in the world with nothing to worry about except the magnificent dives you’ll be doing.
Welcome to the Red Sea – enjoy.