As we descend into the depths of the Red Sea, the strong waves and whipping winds are replaced by clear-as-glass water and a kaleidoscope of colors. Marine life of all sizes and characteristics surround us. As Barbara and I slowly make our way through the sprawling coral gardens, we spot hundreds of different fishes and corals.
Through my mask, it’s hard to see the excitement on my face underwater, but I’m shrieking like a child in a candy store. Swimming close to the corals, we see the cute orange-and-white anemone fish slithering amongst bubble-like corals, the rainbow-colored parrotfish nibbling on plants and the rather amusing-looking masked pufferfish seemingly half awake.
Colorful Marine Life
We’re diving just metres away from the shore of Aqaba, Jordan, along a reef that slopes down from 10 to 18m deep (rather shallow for divers); yet we’re already surrounded by the richest marine life I’ve ever seen. The visibility is also nothing like I’ve ever seen. This dive site, known as the Japanese Garden, is famed for its colorful array of fauna and collection of hard and soft corals.
Barbara, my trusty dive buddy, is the expert – she knows where to spot the good stuff. With her guidance, I wriggle my finger through the soft flurry hairs of the tree coral and glide by the cube boxfish while staring into its eyes. Just before making our ascent, Barbara guides me towards to the bottom of the coral gardens. There, hidden within the coral fans, is the gorgeous, flamboyant lionfish: all coy and wary but stunning nonetheless. That just about made this my favorite diving experience ever.
Protected Marine Reserve
As a veteran diver who’s chalked up over 300 dives, Barbara is a German doctor who splits her time between home and the Red Sea. Now working for Sea Guard Diving, she spends her summers showing divers some of her favorite diving spots in the world. Back on land, she tells me why she chose Jordan, “Four countries share the Red Sea: Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia,” I nod.
Floating in the Red Sea, I can see the four distinctly different beach towns in the near distance. “Amongst the four countries, Jordan does the best job of protecting its part of the Red Sea. Its entire 30-km long coastline is a marine reserve, where fishing and other human activities are prohibited. As compared to Egypt, Jordan is not over-run by dive operators and you often get a more personal and exclusive experience here rather than other parts of the Red Sea.”
Barbara has me so convinced that I’m pretty sure I’ll be back in the Red Sea pretty soon.
How to Get there: Aqaba is a one-hour flight away from Amman via Royal Jordanian Airlines. It’s also accessible by fast boat from Nuweiba or Taba in Egypt. If you’re coming from Wadi Rum or Petra, it’s just a short bus ride away (approx 1 hour).
Where to Stay: There’s a wide selection of hotels and guesthouses in Aqaba. My stay was hosted by Radisson Blu Tala Bay Resort, a gorgeous property along the quiet Tala Bay. I highly recommend it for those looking to splurge and unwind.
Scuba-diving info: Sea Guard Diving provides leisure dives as well as PADI open-water courses for those interested in getting certified. For more info, head on their website to check out details.