The Blue Hole, a vertical cave of tropical fish and coral. It is Egypt’s most famous dive site and just a few kilometres from Dahab, a laidback if slightly tired town of sand dunes and salty air, popular with hippies since the Seventies.
The crashing sea looks out to Saudi Arabia, but just off the bay a huge and ragged circle of sapphire is surrounded by pale green water. This is the Blue Hole. Terracotta dust is disturbed by the jeeps dropping off tourists, brand new Bedouin cafes line the bay. And snorkellers get tangled up with each other, as they splash around the reef’s edge in opposite directions.
One of the most dangerous diving sites in the world, there have been at least 80 deaths here. ‘Don’t let fear stand in the way of your dreams’ says one diver’s memorial plaque, tacked into the faded red cliff to the north of the hole.
My dreams do not extend as far as diving. So I take a snorkel, and pad a little further along the coastal path, entering the water from a gap in the rocks at the Bells.
A corridor in the reef, I scramble into the cold water, and float along a bank of coral towards the hole, blissfully lost in an upside down world. The reef runs purple and yellow, like Dali might imagine the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Everything turns surreal, as bubbles the size of my face rise up from the divers below. The columns of oxygen glisten in the sunlight, the most beautiful thing I have seen.
‘Plink’. I float around popping as many as I can, as addictively as if they were bubble wrap. Then I notice an Egyptian snorkeller holding an octopus and playing around like me. We make friends through sign language, and feed hundreds of tropical fish with bread from his pocket.
I start shivering, but I am not ready to go back to the real world. So I turn into the Blue Hole proper, 130 metres deep. There are snorkellers practically dancing on the reef, killing everything with their sunscreen and flippers.
An underwater playground, I watch the cool kids free dive into the blue. An extreme sport, competitors attempt their greatest depths and times underwater while holding their breath, using a vertical rope to climb back to the surface.
As I haul myself out of the water, I watch a Bedouin guide feed his camel a bottle of Coca-Cola. A touristy gimmick, but the camel is smiling and so am I.
Dahab is a year-round holiday destination, 50 miles north of Sharm el-Sheikh airport.
Buses from Sharm bus station to Dahab are regular, and a shared taxi from the airport should cost no more than 60 Egyptian pounds individually.
I stayed at the Penguin Village. A hostel in the heart of town, it runs daily trips to the Blue Hole for 40 EP (inc snorkel gear). Almost every hotel and tour company in Dahab offers trips to the Blue Hole for the same price.
There are many free dive training centres in Dahab, including the International AIDA School