About 53km or 45 minutes south of Hurghada, Safaga is the main harbour in the area with ferries going to for example to Saudi Arabia. Safaga acquires its unique character from both its port and the small surrounding tourist village. There are a few dive operators here but not even close to what Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada have been punished with.
Safaga is one of the oldest ports on the Red Sea, as it started its activity at the time of the ancient Egyptians. In modern times, 1911, it became very important for exporting phosphate. Safaga is also a very important port for the Egyptian navy for the purpose of guarding the South East of Egypt in addition to being used to serve the pilgrims going to and from Saudi-Arabia, to export aluminium and phosphate.
In Safaga you’ll find most still being the genuine Egypt and it will most likely stay that way since the big resort developers and the tourist industry in general seems to leap over this area in the search and conquest for new locations to put in the catalogues.
Next stop is probably Marsa Alam and Marsa Ghaleb where the airport is located. This means that we’ll still have a slice of proper Egypt not along the coast line. Hurghada is turning in to the same sort of Tenerife-like town as Sharm El Sheikh and Marsa Alam will probably as well. Marsa Ghaleb is already a purpose-built resort like El Gouna but Safaga and El Queseir will stay the same… Hamduleallah!
The name Safaga allegedly comes from the Arabic expression for “dusty winds came”. It’s said that a convoy coming from the Arabian Peninsula encountered severe dusty winds and they said, in Arabic; SAFA GAAH.
The black sand dune beaches characteristic of Safaga is a favourite spot for sun bathers. Plus, the water is known to have a high content of saline and which is supposed to do miracles for your skin. Safaga is equally popular for windsurfing and was the host of the 1993 World Windsurfing Championships. Safaga and Soma Bay are good starting points for a day trip into the Eastern Desert or check out the granite quarries of Mons Claudianus. Ten million square meters, self-contained community of Soma Bay is surrounded on all sides by the sea.
Getting around in Safaga
In Safaga you can still find the old version: Old Peugeot station wagons with space for seven passengers but more and more the new orange and blue taxis with signs and taximeters are taking over. They are supposed to switch on the meter but they might not. The rule of thumb is you’d pay LE5 within a zoon and LE10 from one to another. This is per car. Not per person.
Also in Safaga you can hop on a little minibus and just shout when you want to get of. Then you need to know how the rout goes. Here you get away with an Egyptian pound within town.
In and Out of Safaga
To travel between cities in Egypt can be interesting. There are of course bus services like El Gouna Travel, Upper Egypt and Super Jet but if you feel adventurous you can also go with the shuttle taxi. In Safaga you just go to the Taxi Central and get in a Peugeot station wagon with six other people (guaranteed to be six Egyptians) and it will cost you 15 LE to go to Hurghada.
Diving around Safaga
Some of the reefs reached by daily boats in the Red Sea are located around Safaga. The daily diving has a few well known and quite exquisite dive sites on the program like the walls and plateaus of Abu Kafan, and Panorama. The coral garden around Middle Reef and Shaab Sheer, together with a few wrecks that are worth mentioning such as Al Kahfain, El Tor and the haunting Salem Express.
One reef, that might not be the most famous dive site but never the less one absolutely wicked dive is Shaab Saiman. Located on the north tip of Ras Abu Soma it’s only diveable in absolutely excellent conditions. It’s a dive you will never forget!
To the north of the Shaab Sheer we find the wreck after Al Kahfain, a 115m long, 16m wide and 4.270 ton Ro-Ro car- and passenger car ferry. She had space for 274 passengers and 140 cars. Powered by two 12cylinder turbo charged diesel engines with 2 controllable pitched propellers. Her service speed was 17 knots.
She was built by Camell Laird in 1966 at Birkenhead and launched as Ulster Queen in 1967 for the Liverpool-Belfast service of Belfast SS Co (part of Coast Lines). From 1971, the service was taken over by P&O Ferries. The Liverpool-Belfast service closed in 1981, and Ulster Queen was laid up at Oostende. Later she was trafficking the Mediterranean Sea as Al Kahera and Ala-Eddin. In 1988 she was bought by Hellenic Mediterranean Lines, and renamed Poseidonia. Early in 2005 she arrived in the Red Sea to ad to the fleet of ferries taking pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia as Al Kahfain.
Her final voyage started Nov 22nd 2005 when Al Kahfain left Hurghada heading for Jeddah. Only the crew was onboard since she had been dispatched to collect returning pilgrims from KSA. She rounded the Shedwan Island and all of a sudden an explosion in the engine room caused a fire that spread up through the superstructure. The crew abandoned ship and was picked up by passing vessels. One crewman died. The rest of the 58 crew survived.
There was an attempt to tow Al Kahfain to safety but she capsized and drifted south over night to Shaab Sheer where she sank and is now resting on her starboard side on a narrow shelf at a depth of 25m. Accumulating to the increasing list of large ferry wrecks in the area.
You need good conditions to dive the Al Kahfain. The site is exposed to wind and waves that sometimes make it impossible to get the Zodiac all the way to the wreck. On a good day it’s an easy dive though, and you are likely to make it all the way back to the mooring on the south side.
Roll in at the bow section of the wreck and you descend above the keel as the wreck is resting more or less upside down. However, the hull has split along the waterline and the portside is bent out in a bizarre angle. It is possible to penetrate all along the wreck but the superstructure is collapsing and the walls crinkle, which is not giving a perfectly stable impression.
The funnel is submerged in the bottom and davits are scattered all over the seabed. Just before you reach the stern with the huge “backdoor”, the hull has split in two leaving a gap between the stern and the rest of the wreck. This area is unstable and you can hear metal squeaking as the two parts of the wreck grind against each other. Stay way clear of narrow passages and sharp edges!
When you’re done with your wreck exploration, you continue east with the reef on your right shoulder. As you arrive at the corner of the reef you find yourself swimming over a stunning coral garden that cascades down from the shallows to the seabed at around 16m. Huge dome corals form a slant that you follow around to the south side. Here you check your air and chose to either take the short cut through the lovely channel or the slightly longer stretch around the pinnacles.
MS EL ARISH/EL TOR
Built in 1981 in Bergen, Norway, the El Arish/El Tor was a passenger ferry that ran between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In 1999 it was sold to Sayed Nasr Navigation Lines (Cairo, Egypt). The final voyage was from Jeddah to Safaga in 2001. During this trip she was badly damaged by a fire in her engine room. She remained in Safaga until its mysterious sinking.
The vessel went down with no one on board, but with all its gear and equipment still in place.
“One morning it was just gone” says one of my friends, a local dive instructors, “I guess most people thought they sailed away…”
To dive the wreck is different to most other wrecks. There were no lives lost and not much has been salvaged (stolen).
The bridge shows the instruments still mostly intact, seats and tables can still be seen in the passenger areas. Inscribed with ‘EL TOR ALEXANDRIA 1981’, the ships bell is still in place, the ships certifications still hang in glass frames on the wall, electronic navigation equipment is still intact and the ship’s name is still visible on the bow and stern as the company logo adorn the funnel.
The superstructure (4 stories) reaches far out into the blue with her mast disappearing in the shadows. Swimming towards the stern along her lifeboat deck, you will find that the lifeboats are still there. On Salem Express this gives a eerie feeling but not here, since we know that the ship sank without any loss of any human life.
In the aft section, you can explore the maze of the intricate display of stairwells and rails connecting 4 levels of decking. And of course; the two huge propellers and rudders covered in soft corals.
On your way back towards the ascending line you swim along her promenade deck on 20m where a huge school of yellow tail barracudas almost cover the wreck. The sunshade structure is covered in soft coral and you’ll get a good camera angle over the funnel with the Sayed Nasr Navigation Lines emblem.
This Wreck is diveable in all conditions and suitable for all levels of divers.
Dimensions 105 x 17.3 x 4.12
12 Cyl Diesel – 6620 kW – 19 Knots.
1025 Passengers, 328 berths, 150 cars.
1981 – Built A/S Bergens, Norway.
1981 – Delivered to Misr EDCO Shipping, Alexandria, Egypt.
1999 – Sold to Sayed Nasr Navigation Lines, Cairo, Egypt.
2004 – Sank in an alleged insurance fraud.
Built and launched as Fred Scamaroni in France 1966. Sold to El Salam tour line and renamed Salem Express. The captain of Salem Express was well known for his skills and experience. He was also one of the few who confidently navigated the “shortcut” passing the Hyndeman Reef into Safaga harbour saving almost an hour of travelling time. This stormy December night he was thinking of the passengers well being as the rough weather had made many of them seasick.
On December 15th 1991 she hit the Hyndeman reef ripping a massive hole in the hull. Officially 960 returning pilgrims were onboard but claims have been made that up to 1.600 people was actually onboard, 180 survived. This was by far the worst disaster in Egyptian maritime history.
Resting on her starboard side in 30m of water Salem Express is an eerie dive. Begin at the deepest point; the stern where you find the two intact large screws and the rudders.
Swimming along the bottom you pass life boats still at the davits. Next the huge funnels with the emblem “S”. Coming up towards the bow you find the bow door slightly open and the damage from the collision with the reef is overwhelming.
Many dive guides refuse to dive Salem Express all together. This is a maritime grave and should be treated as such. Remember that most likely, on the dive boat that took you to the site, every single member of crew has a family member inside the wreck.
Dive her with respect!
Right outside Safaga to the North you find Soma Bay which is a new exclusive holiday destination on Egypt’s Red Sea coast where you can find:
- Some of the most beautiful sandy beaches of the Red Sea.
- An 18 hole championship golf course – ‘The Cascades’ – designed by Gary Player.
- Select Resorts – Sheraton, Hyatt, Robinson, La Residence & others opening soon.
- Superior scuba diving, world-class wind surfing, sailing, tennis, squash, and more.
- Only 45km from Hurghada International Airport and 4 hours flight from Central Europe.
- With Luxor only 240km away by road, one-day excursions to the treasures of ancient Egypt provide a break from sun, sea and surf.
Wining, Dining and misbehaving in Safaga
Since the original incarnation of Aziab.com a lot of the restaurants and bars in Safaga have changed. We will be updating these pages with new reviews as soon as possible 🙂