Five Great Desert Dives
Hate the humidity, but love to bubble? These hot spots offer the opportunity to dip into dunes and gorgeous underwater experiences in the same getaway.
1. Reef Oasis Dive Club, Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
With an incredible house reef packed with fishlife and colorful hard and soft corals, a full service scuba center with dedicated dive pool, and yacht-like boat that hits the best spots, Reef Oasis Dive Club is the place to be in Sharm el Sheikh. And Sharm el Sheikh is the place to be in the Red Sea. Dropping into the shockingly clear 100-plus foot vis warm water with the beauty of a painted desert in the background is a study of contrasts.
A day trip to Tiran Island’s sites offers a scenic opportunity to admire the distant desert along the coastline (and a heck of a tasty Egyptian lunch spread), as well as some of the world’s best underwater topography. Pink and purple coral-covered walls drop into the blue; clouds of the tiny red-orange chromis some claim gave the Red Sea its name are tucked into each nook and cranny. Keep an eye to the blue for passing manta rays, reef sharks and Napoleon wrasse—easier said than done when every coral bommie and ledge beckons, with Red Sea clownfish peeking out from anemones, gorgeous native lionfish easting past and clouds of colorful wrasse enveloping you.
On the Surface — Spend your dry day on a camel trip into the desert or head into the interior to visit historical and cultural gems such as the Monastery of Saint Catherine and the Sinai Mountain.
2. Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
While one could dive the waters around manmade glitzy Palm Island (literally created in the shape of a palm tree if viewed from above), the real roses of this desert Emirate can be experienced indoors. Dipping a fin into The Lost Chambers sends you into a fantasy world of Atlantis ruins. If cavorting with 65,000 marine animals isn’t enough thrill, opt for a Predator Dive where you can help the marine staff hand-feed the various shark and ray species. (Certified divers over 10 years, DSD experience also available in the main chamber.) If you want to go deeper into the unique over-the-top Dubai theme, check out otherworldly Deep Dive Dubai, the world's deepest pool.
On the Surface — Head into the desert for quad riding through the hills and a thrilling session of “dune bashing” where drivers lower their Land Rover tire pressure and fly over and drift across the dramatic mountains of golden sand.
3. Tangier, Morocco
There are so many reasons to explore Morocco, and one of the least known is for diving. In fact, the urban myth that diving in Morocco is banned keeps numbers even lower. While this means fewer dive shops to pick from, it also means pristine, nearly untouched dive sites. Healthy dolphin populations create the chance for rare underwater encounters, while sea turtles and blue conger eels are common highlights. The sea is calm leading to few cancellations for weather, but the currents are strong — so be prepared for drift diving.
On the Surface — Lose yourself in Tangier’s Medina, a walled historic center with a maze of narrow streets leading to the Grand Socco market place (or opt for a guided tour which can offer tips on getting those souvenir art pieces at the best price).
4. Lake Mohave, Arizona/Edge of Southeast Nevada
If you seek a desert diving experience sans passport, Lake Mohave has you covered. Wrecks are the main attraction here, whether vessel or vehicle, often marked by buoys for easy access. The relatively shallow Cabinsite Point offers some of both, with slightly deeper boat wreck at the edge of an 80ft ravine, leading to a school bus emerging from the eerie emerald water at around 50ft. A fishie-hangout sunken van sits around 30-35ft. Great vis is balanced by searing heat in the summer, occasional gusty winds and chilly water can dip from 70’s down into the 50’s. Additional sites with wrecks and walls can be visited by boat, guided options available from Dive Shack USA.
Bonus Dive — Soft sand cactus lovers can head three hours south to Lake Pleasant in the Sonoran Desert for wild donkeys and over 20 species of the spiky vegetation.
On the Surface— No need to leave this beautiful lake for surface fun. This spot is equally popular with recreational boaters and kite surfers taking advantage of those same gusts that make peeling off a thick wetsuit such a...joy.
5. Shark Reef, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
Release your inner predator, and a fair amount of winnings from the blackjack table, and gamble on an unforgettable diver experience in Mandalay Bay’s shark-filled aquarium. With 1.3 million gallons chock full of sand tiger, white tip reef and sandbar sharks inhabiting a unique shipwreck exhibit, this experience is sure to spice up any Sin City bachelor or bachelorette party.
On the Surface — Recover from your Sin City exploits at the serene and devastatingly beautiful Oasis at Death Valley. The four diamond historic Inn was an exclusive desert escape for Hollywood elites such as Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, and Carole Lombard, and now balances the elegance of Old Hollywood with the endless vistas that invite hikers to explore an immense stretch of mesmerizing desert. The spring-fed pool (an inviting 87 degrees), date palm gardens, and sunsets from the rooms’ quaint stone patios compete with endless Milky Way stargazing for top memorable honors.