Best dive site in the Red Sea: Elphinstone

Beneath the waters of the Egyptian Red Sea, not so far off the southern coast, lies possibly the best dive site in the Red Sea: Elphinstone. This magnificent dive site, located in the Marsa Alam region, has earned its reputation as one of Egypt’s premier dive destinations. With its dramatic underwater landscapes, vibrant marine life, and thrilling encounters, Elphinstone is an adventure waiting to happen for divers of all levels.

“Elphinstone”, it is not an Arabic name – a bit strange, no?

Most of the dive sites in Egypt have Arabic names, but Elphinstone is one of the exceptions. No one knows for certain why it was named as such, but there are several theories out there.

The first theory is that it got its name from the British Admiral Georges Keith Elphinstone. He served during the Napoleonic Wars and tried to recover Egypt from the French at the very beginning of the XIX century.

The second theory dates back from the 1830s when Robert Moresby was conducting surveys of this coastline and the reefs. This exercise was to map out the treacherous reefs on behalf of the East India Company. The story says that he named the reef after John Elphinstone, 12th Lord Elphinstone, soon to be the last governor of Bombay when it was ruled by the East India Company.

Everyone may know it as Elphinstone, but its real name is Sha’ab Abu Hamra. Hamra in Arabic means red. When you get to dive at Elphinstone, have a look at the coast and you will understand 🙂

Elphinstone-marsa alam- best dive site Red Sea
Elphinstone from the surface – photo courtesy of Port Ghalib

Where is this best dive site in the Red Sea, you say?

Elphinstone Reef is actually quite close to the coast. It is just northeast of the city of Marsa Alam and southeast from Port Ghalib. We visit this dive site on several of our itineraries such as Deep South, Brothers, Daedalus & Elphinstone (duh!), and our Ultimate Red Sea cruise. We normally try to offer 2 dives at this stunning site. If possible, we would spend the whole day. Due to the size of the reef, you can easily do 3 to 4 dives.

Anthias of the Red Sea at Elphinstone

Topography

Elphinstone is a long 350-meter reef rising from the depths, all the way to the surface. The reef is shaped like a finger and has a north and a south plateau. The sides are just drop offs, plunging into 100m+ depths. The northern plateau is longer and starts at about 20m. The southern plateau is shorter and starts at 25m.

Elphinstone dive map
Elphinstone dive site map

What is the allure of Elphinstone

  1. Corals galore: Elphinstone’s walls are adorned with stunning coral that are teeming with life. Vibrant soft and hard corals create a mesmerizing underwater scenery, making it a perfect spot for underwater photography.
  2. Diverse Marine Life: The Red Sea is known for its diversity, and Elphinstone is no exception. You can encounter a rich variety of marine creatures, including colorful reef fish, giant moray eels, turtles, and barracudas. Elphinstone is also very famous for its oceanic white tip shark sightings (more on this shortly) and if you’re lucky, you might even spot bigger beasts such as hammerheads and tiger sharks.
  3. Currents and Drift Diving: Elphinstone is renowned for its unpredictable and strong currents, which can make dives both exciting and challenging. The site can be like an express train and can be a thrilling drift dive. Currents though are excellent, as they bring all the nutrients a reef needs.
  4. The arch: The infamous Elphinstone arch is located under the south plateau and is only accessible to tech divers
  5. You never know what to expect: even after 1000s of dives on this site, we never know what to expect. The uncertainty of what may be adds an element to the dive.

Amazing sightings is why Elphinstone is one of the best dive site in the Red Sea

On the plateaus, you will find all of usual suspects of the Egyptian Red Sea: moray eels, lionfish, turtles, Napoleon fish, and all the coral reef fishes. Always keep an eye in the blue for tunas, jacks and barracudas as well as any unexpected visitors such as mantas, dolphins and sharks.

The star of Elphinstone though tends to show itself towards the end of the dive in the shallows. At the peak of the season (October, November), the oceanic white tip sharks show up. They are mostly concentrated towards the southern plateaus and tend to be quite shallow. We often see them during the safety stops. They often are hidden by the school of pilot fishes that follow them

Seeing an oceanic white tip underwater is quite a sight as they are not shy. They will often come rather close to check you out. Your guides will brief you on the best attitude to have around them.

Oceanic White tip shark at Elphinstone
Oceanic White tip with its pilot fish – photo credit: Dray Van Beeck

Diving Practicalities

Here are some practical considerations for diving at Elphinstone:

  1. Dive Season: The temperature varies throughout the year from 20°C in January to 30°C in August. You can dive this reef all year-round but the wind can throw a spanner in the best of plans and on rare occasion, it might be hard to dive it. The visibility is always amazing and ranges from 20 to 40 metres.
  2. Certification Level: Divers of all certification levels can enjoy Elphinstone, but in order to get the best out of it, we recommend 50 dives with an AOWD qualification (or equivalent) due to the strong currents and depths. Often due to currents, a negative entry is required and you need to descend fast. If your ears are already strained, it may be best to avoid the dives if the current is strong.
  3. Conservation: Remember to follow responsible diving practices. Do not touch or damage the fragile coral reefs and respect the marine life.
  4. Safety: Always dive with your buddy and ensure you have appropriate safety equipment, such as a SMB and reel.

A Dive to Remember

Elphinstone is one of the best dive site in the Red Sea. It is a site that promises adventure, beauty, and a chance to witness some exciting stuff. This dive site is a true paradise for underwater enthusiasts, and once you’ve experienced its allure, it’s a place you’ll want to return to time and time again. It will have a special place in your logbook.

So, pack your dive gear and join us onboard Blue Horizon or Blue Melody. We promise you Elphinstone will be one, of many, of the highlights of your trip.

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