This snorkeling report only covers the places I snorkeled while cycling between Jeddah and Qunfudhah. In brief, it was disappointing, not worth the effort. Maybe the snorkeling is better north of Jeddah. Maybe I didn’t find the right places — it’s very hard to find any information. Maybe you really need to get out in a boat — although I did try this once and also failed to find good snorkeling.
One difficulty you’ll have both with snorkeling and bicycle touring is dealing with the “border patrol”. They’re very active along the Red Sea and prohibit swimming in most places. They also prohibit using the coastal track in many places. However, they’re super friendly and polite, always giving me water, sometimes food, and once putting me up for the night in an air conditioned room. They usually wanted my passport and entry stamp, sometimes my visa, usually made some calls, apologized for taking my time, and welcomed me to Saudi Arabia. When I requested (which was every time I really wanted), I usually (always?) got permission to cycle their coastal track and sometimes permission to snorkel. I don’t have any photos because, well, they don’t want people taking photos. However, here’s a photo of the dinner they gave me when I spent the night at one of their merkez:
I wrote about snorkeling at Al Qattan in my last post (more photos here). I’ll mention it again because it really was good. If you like snorkeling, it’s worth a detour (in a car) from as far as Jeddah. I’ll say it again, the hard coral was stunning:
A distant second was the snorkeling at Ras Muhaisen, worth the detour off the main highway (again, in a car). There are no problems with border patrol here as it’s one of their designated swimming areas:
I found a living, healthy reef, unfortunately lacking coral diversity in both species and color.
Near Sumaymah just south of Jeddah’s sprawl, the border patrol called me out of the water while I was walking through the shallows out to sea so I didn’t see anything. It was very common to have quite a walk on shallows so bring booties.
I tried snorkeling at Al Saif Beach, but there was nothing to see.
South of that is Al Qattan and then Mujairmah, both of which I also mentioned in my last post.
Continuing south, access to the coast is blocked by the huge aquaculture operation all the way to Al Lith. I snorkeled at three different off-the-beach spots in Al Lith, found some fish and mostly dead coral covered in algae.
In Al Lith I was interviewed by the media, and they assured me that Al Lith was “Saudi Arabia’s Maldives” so with their help I arranged a boat trip for the following day to some off-shore snorkeling. Yikes, that was a big disappointment — lousy and expensive snorkeling!
The coral was better than at the shore Al Lith but not as good as Al Qattan or even Ras Muhaisen. I think the places we snorkeled from the boat may be called Qita al Jabal and Al Qad al Wustani.
However, I think I got my favorite underwater photo of the trip there!
There’s a developed beach at Wasqa:
where I was assured there was good coral, but all I found was a clam:
I must say I saw quite a lot of clams in the Red Sea. That was one of the big ones.
Continuing south the views might look like this:
but more commonly like this:
Not far from As Safsafah, I found nothing but a ray and a turtle.
The border patrol gave me permission to go in the water at Kurma which I had marked on my map (perhaps because of this report?). Again I found nothing but sand and a couple rays, one of which was at least a meter across, the largest ray I’ve seen outside of the Aquarium of the Pacific!
At the northern edge of Qunfudhah I came across this promising sign:
but, alas, disappointing yet again:
Thank goodness the people have been super friendly. Oh, the wind died too, making the bicycling far more pleasant.
Sultan and his friends treated me to meals, took me on a couple auto tours, and generally entertained me during my stay in Qunfudhah. It was great to meet you, thank you!