A Week At Marsa Shagra

Our lovely winners of the DIVE 2018 competition celebrate their 20th anniversairy in the Red Sea and it certainly sounds like it was a week to remember!


    Thanks to Oonasdivers.com

    Back in October 2018, we entered a prize draw on the Oonas Divers stand at the Birmingham NEC Dive Show. Then, on 1st November (my husband’s birthday, rather appropriately). I had a series of voicemails and emails from Lydia at Oonas Divers, whom we’d actually met on the exhibition stand. Thank God I ducked out of a meeting to call back – if I hadn’t I might have missed out on an utterly inspirational holiday at Red Sea Diving Safari’s Marsa Shagra eco-village.

    For reasons I’ll mention later, we delayed taking our holiday until September this year – so finally we arrived at Marsa Shagra Village hot, bothered and a bit bewildered at about 9pm on the 16th September and after a very friendly and mercifully efficient reception, we were taken (and all our luggage carried for us) to our home for the week: a stunning ‘Royal’ tent (more like a marquee really) ideally positioned right on the shore. Inside: electric light, powerful fan, minibar fridge, beanbags and a vast, comfortable double bed. They’d even stashed two boxed dinners in the fridge for us in case we arrived too late for dinner in the restaurant (actually we made it with minutes to spare)

  • The first morning

    The guys had said to meet at the Dive Centre to get kitted up and meet our guide for the two orientation dives included in the 5 days’ diving package (Unbelievably that’s five days’ unlimited diving, including as many tanks as you like!).

    But just as we were getting sorted, our guide Cherie, turned up looking a lot more excitable than the uber-chilled dive guys we’ve come to expect. Turn out that was because a very playful dolphin had come to visit! We splashed into the water and boarded a waiting rib – which stopped in a matter of seconds. I’d never even tried rolling backwards off a rib before – but no time to worry. And the moment we’d got to about 5 metres and equalised, we were nose to bottlenose with the dolphin.

    We’d seen loads of dolphins alongside dive boats before but never actually dived with one. Of course, lots of divers and snorkelers congregated to get a look but our friend was unperturbed. In fact, he (or she) was revelling in the attention, it seemed, pirouetting upside down, jumping high out of the water and then hurtling down to re-join us, chattering away in clicks and squeaks. After quite some time we thought we’d move on and explore more of the reef – but amazingly the dolphin followed and stayed with us, mimicking our movements, for most of the hour or so till our air ran low.

    An incredible start to our holiday! In fact, we said it was unlikely anything would top that… But because no other boats come near this protected area, the life on the two house reefs is spectacular. There are a few turtles that call the place home – one of them’s particularly huge – and they don't seem very bothered by divers hovering over them taking pictures. We saw one almost every dive – a total of 15 over the 5 days.

    Cherie gave us the full lowdown on how things work at Marsa Shagra. As she said, it seems like a lot of information at first but it’s an absolute breeze – and you have loads of people around to help with your kit as well as a few Zodiacs on the jetty ready to take you out to the reefs – you can dive shore to shore, rib to shore or rib to rib, meaning you had plenty of options to explore the stunning house reef.

    A few people spotted reef sharks at the farther reaches of the House Reef – neither of us saw or have ever seen one. So my husband booked up, at extra cost, a trip to the famous Elphinstone Reef, twenty minutes out to sea on a super-fast rib, where he saw an Oceanic White Tip. Only people with Advanced Open Water qualification were allowed – and I was quite happy that my more Basic Open Water Diver meant I could lie on a beanbag and sunbathe in safety instead.

  • Sunsets and so on

    About six every evening the sun didn’t so much sink as drop like stage curtains, creating vivid sunsets over the peaks of row of tents, palms and distant mountains. Then as divers strolled back to chill and change for the evening, all the tents glowed gently like rows of Chinese lanterns ready for launch.

    It is possible to upgrade to a chalet with aircon and its own shower and toilet but we wanted the full tent-on-beach experience. That said, I was dubious about the idea of trudging to the facilities in the middle of the night… But we were two minutes’ stroll across the sand, the toilets and showers were immaculate and cleaned every half-hour right round the clock and the starlight illuminated the walk perfectly.

    Marsa Shagra’s one of three ‘eco-villages’ in the Red Sea Diving Safari set-up – and while it’s the biggest, that’s really not very big. You got to know every face there within a couple of days! It’s still amazingly peaceful. And because you tend to be up at dawn as your tent fills with light and you hear fish leaping out of the shallows in the ‘shark nursery’ above the reef, the whole place sinks into a happy hush every evening by about nine.

    The last night of the trip was our 20th wedding anniversary (that’s why we waited so long before taking our prize!). And since we’d used up our 5 days’ diving we booked a ‘sunset camel ride’ to a Bedouin family’s home in the desert. We weren’t too sure about this, assuming it would be us in a train of camels with loads of other tourists from the big flashy hotels nearby… But no, quite the opposite. Just us and a Bedouin family sharing coffee with ginger and bread baked in embers and sand. Turns out this was the same Bedouin family who run the tent with bar and coffee at Marsa Shagra.

    Our gratitude to Lydia, Oonas Divers and everyone at Red Sea Diving Safari for a fantastic holiday – we will definitely be going back!

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