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Diving in The United Arab Emirates

Often overlooked as a diving destination, the United Arab Emirates offers incredible wrecks, pristine reefs and an abundance of marine life. Check it out for yourself on a trip to this opulent nation.

Diving in The United Arab Emirates

Quick facts

While the United Arab Emirates may be known more for its shopping than its water sports, there is plenty to do and see under the water. You can find a little bit of everything in the range of dive sites offered by this tiny yet powerful nation. Diving in the United Arab Emirates can roughly be divided into three areas, namely the Arabian Gulf, the East Coast and Musandam. The Arabian Gulf, which is closest to the major centers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has the most dive shops but at the same time, the least exciting diving. There are no coral reefs in this part of the Gulf and even worse, visibility around dive sites in the area is often negatively impacted by construction and dredging projects around Dubai. The one thing this area has going for it is a pile of shipwrecks. As Dubai is a busy shipping center, it only stands to reason that there would be a plethora of wrecks outside its harbor. The best of these wrecks are Zaineb and the MV Ludwig. If you are intent on seeing marine life in Dubai and have deep pockets, try booking a table at the famous underwater restaurant in the Burj Al Arab hotel. The East Coast, bordering the Gulf of Oman in the Indian Ocean, offers pristine reefs and a couple small wrecks. Khor Fakkan and Fujairah are the biggest cities on this side of the UAE. They do host a few dive shops, but the majority of people choose to stay in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Traveling every day to the East Coast will add 90 minutes to both sides of your diving day. It’s probably worth it to take advantage of the vibrate reefs and plentiful marine life found in the area. A few of the most popular dive sites include Martini Rock, Pinnacles, and the wreck of Inchcape. The best of the diving in the UAE can actually be found in Oman. Musandam is an odd bit of Oman that actually does not touch the rest of its country. Instead, the mountainous peninsula is surrounded by the UAE and virtually unpopulated save a few villages found along the lagoons. Here divers will relish the opportunity to dive with gorgeous reefs and fantastic species of marine life, including the elusive whale shark. The United Arab Emirates is a great place for all levels of diver. It is even the perfect place to earn your first certification as most of the dive sites are relatively shallow and without heavy currents. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced diver, you are sure to love your dive trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Recommended training

Take the PADI Wreck Diver and PADI Deep Diver courses to visit the wrecks off Dubai. The PADI Enriched Air Diver course is a good idea because enriched air nitrox is available. The PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course will help you glide above the pristine coral reefs off the east coast.

When to go

Diving is possible year-round in the United Arab Emirates. However, water temperatures (71°F/21°C) in the winter and air temperatures (122°F/50°C) in the summer will make diving more uncomfortable than at other times of the year. Summer and winter months also bring the worst visibility of the year.

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

  • Dubai

    Endangered sea cows, modern hotels and desert adventures welcome you to Dubai.

Inchcape 1, Al Fujairah– The Inchcape shipping company donated this intact barge that was purpose sunk in 2001. It sits upright in 32 metres/104 feet of water and the current over this wreck attracts trevally, barracuda, snapper and just about any other schooling fish. A resident moray eel rules the wreck along with his minions, rays and scorpionfish. Sharm Rock, Al Fujairah – Three small rocks break the surface of this site that is swarming with marine life underwater. With a maximum depth of about 12 metres/40 feet, you have lots of time to explore the pinnacle walls covered with soft and hard corals along with anemones with clownfish. Look for several species of parrotfish, pufferfish, snappers, pipefish, eagle rays and reef sharks. Martini Rock, Al Fujairah – A sizable rock pinnacle that starts at 5 metres/15 feet (perfect for your safety stop) and quickly drops to only 20 metres/66 feet, Martini Rock is in a protected marine park and boasts a wide variety of ornamentation – pink and purple soft corals, whip and rod corals. Watch for slow, stealthy lionfish, eels and rock-imitating scorpionfish. You'll also see the big critters such as snappers, sea turtles and barracuda. Dibba Island, Al Fujairah – This small island specializes in big, healthy table corals. But, that’s just the backdrop for the parade of rays, sharks, turtles and rivers of trevally. The reef starts at 15 metres/50 feet and reaches for the sun – falling just short of its goal as it tops out at 3 metres/10 feet. MV Dara, Dubai – Sunk after an explosion in 1961, this 120-metre/400-foot wreck sits on her starboard side in 20 metres/ 66 feet of water. Having been down for many years, the wreck crawls with marine life. Eagle rays, barracuda, guitarfish and even whale sharks like to visit this shallow wreck. Cement Barge, Dubai – This barge sank in 1971 during a storm and now sits 12 metres/40 feet down. You can see the cement bags in the cargo hold and peer into the numerous holes in the hull. Lots of tropical fish surround this wreck, including snapper under the propeller shaft and clownfish defending their anemones. Large schools of juvenile barracuda patrol the perimeter and stingrays rest in the sand.

What to see

Because the diving in the United Arab Emirates covers diverse environments, it makes sense that the country would also host a great diversity of underwater life. The best creatures to see include whale sharks, lobsters, reef sharks, sea snakes, sea turtles, guitarfish, cuttlefish, tuna, barracuda, trevally, eagle rays, lionfish and clown fish. You can also expect a wide range of macro life including sea horses and nudibranchs as well an abundance of reef fish swarming around the colorful environments in the Gulf of Oman. More marine life is found on the eastern side of the country, but wherever you dive, you are sure to have interesting log books to show for it at the end of your stay in the United Arab Emirates.

Calendar

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Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

Country

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a constitutional federation made up of seven emirates: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Umm al-Qaiwain, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, and Ajman. The country itself covers the tip of the Arabian Peninsula and borders both Saudi Arabia and Oman. The peninsula of the UAE acts as a barrier between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.

The land today known as the UAE has been inhabited since 5500BC and has been a stop on trading routes for thousands of years. During the 7th Century, Islam spread to the region. In the 19th Century, the seven sheikhs of the present-day emirates signed an agreement with the United Kingdom for protection against invasion by sea from other foreign powers. This was the first semblance of the seven emirates of the UAE and allowed for the development of sea industries, like pearl harvesting which was the most profitable of the UAE’s industries in the 19th and 20th Centuries. After several years of cooperation, these emirates entered into a formal agreement in 1971, creating the United Arab Emirates following the end of the protection treaty provided by the United Kingdom.

Today, the United Arab Emirates is one of the richest countries on earth in terms of natural resources. The country has the seventh-largest oil reserves and the seventeenth-largest natural gas reserves in the world. Each emirate is governed by a monarch, known as the Sheikh. These Sheikh’s have invested much of the country’s wealth into infrastructure and education, creating a modern and growing country. Today, the UAE forms an easily accessible Middle Eastern country for visitors. It is a wonderful introduction to the mysterious world of the Arabian Peninsula.

Other attractions

The United Arab Emirates have a little bit of something for everyone. The beaches are pristine with clear water that refreshes even on the hottest days. If it is really is too hot to be outside, consider a trip to one of the indoor winter wonderlands where you can ski, sled or snowboard to your heart’s content. Shopping is also a great option. Dubai is home to some of the best shopping malls in the world. For nature-lovers, a trip to the mountain town of Hatta rewards with magnificent views. And desert safaris create an unforgettable, adrenalin-filled evening. Finally, take some time to enjoy the opulent restaurants and magnificent architecture found around this Middle Eastern nation.

Getting there

Both Dubai’s and Abu Dhabi’s international airports welcome flights from around the world. There is an additional international airport in Sharjah that hosts flight originating in the Middle East. It is also possible to reach the UAE by car from neighboring countries or by ship. It’s important to note that anyone with entry or exit stamps from Israel will be denied entrance to the UAE.

Once you have safely arrived in the United Arab Emirates, travel around the country is easily completed by metro, taxis, rental cars and buses.

UTC+04:00

Time zone

AED

Currency

+971

Calling code

220 V

Electric volt

C, 

D, 

G

Plug type

DXB

Main airport
Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.