A lifetime of diving wouldn’t even guarantee that you see them all and everything they have to offer, but these are ten are great places to begin
Time Out Dubai staff
There are some amazing wrecks and man-made attractions on the west coast and stunning natural habitats and marine life on the east to explore.
Car Cemetery Coast: east Type: wreck Location: 25.418611, 56.376111 Sail from: Khor Fakkan harbour for four nautical miles Depth: 16-18 metres Description: Diving can be eerie at the best of times, but when you discover this artificial reef – created from more than 20 deliberately sunk cars and trucks – it can be especially so. The vehicles are now so covered in marine life and algae that their shapes are barely recognisable. Only when you see tiny shrimps dart past what appear to be a chassis or wheel, is it truly appreciated.
Cement Barge Coast: west Type: wreck Location: 25.172222, 55.204722 Sail from: Dubai Offshore Sailing Club for 0.7 nautical miles Depth: 10-12 metres Description: When a barge carrying bags of cement sank in turbulent weather in the early 1970s, one of Dubai’s best dive sites was created. The Iraqi ship is still more or less intact and is now home to an abundance of marine life including rays, barracuda and enough other varieties to attract commercial fishing interest. The site is popular for night dives and even as a training location if you’re looking to step up your skills.
Dibba Island Coast: east Type: island with coral Location: 25.603067, 56.3512 Sail from: Khor Fakkan harbour for 15.2 nautical miles Depth: 16 metres Description: Here be turtles. As well as clownfish, jawfish and a myriad of other marine life as bountiful as any aquarium. The site is close enough to the shore to be popular with snorkellers, but it’s when plunging into the depths with scuba equipment that you’ll have the finest of experiences. Visibility, as is regrettably the case in much of the UAE’s waters, is not the best. The anemones and colourful coral make for a beautiful night dive, and if you’re lucky enough to have an underwater camera, this is a good place to try it out.
Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo Coast: n/a Type: Artificial aquarium Location: The Dubai Mall Sail from: n/a Depth: 10 metres Description: Nothing quite compares to the thrill of discovering marine life in its natural habitat, but we have to admit to being thrilled with the guarantee of seeing thousands of fish and dozens of sharks and rays when diving in the Dubai Aquarium. And looking out at the shoppers on the other side of the glass offers a unique shark’s-eye view of the mall.
Inchcape 1 Coast: east Type: wreck Location: 25.5125, 56.3825 Sail from: Lulayla Harbour for 7 nautical miles Depth: 30 metres Description: When the Inchcape Shipping Services Company decided to decommission one of its oil industry ships in 2001, it received permission to deliberately sink the boat to create the artificial reef of Al Aqah. Now, nearly 15 years later, the decision has proved equally popular with moray eels, rays and a rich variety of fish and sea creatures that have made the wreck their home, and the divers who seek them.
Martini Rock Coast: east Type: coral reef Location: 25.334722, 56.381389 Sail from: Khor Fakkan harbour for 1.3 nautical miles Depth: 3-22 metres Description: This is a colourful coral outcrop close to the coastline that can be reached in a speedy boat trip. A full circuit of the rock can be completed on a single dive. Probably the closest you’ll get to swimming in an aquarium in the open seas, it’s also a highly recommended location for night dives due to the relative proximity to land, multi-coloured coral and ease of navigation.
MV Dara Coast: west Type: wreck Location: 25.574722, 55.466111 Sail from: Hamriya Creek for 6.2 nautical miles Depth: 20 metres Description: This is a dive site of great historical importance. The MV Dara sank following an explosion on board in 1961, which resulted in the loss of 238 lives. It remains one of the worst peacetime losses of life at sea since the tragedy of the Titanic in 1912. Experienced divers will have much to investigate in the three-part remains of the 120-metre-long passenger liner.
Shark Island Coast: east Type: island outcrop with coral Location: 25.353333, 56.376667 Sail from: Khor Fakkan harbour for 1 nautical mile Depth: 3-15 metres Description: No prizes for guessing the star attractions at this pleasingly simple and enduringly popular east coast spot. Black-tipped reef sharks can be spotted at numerous sites, but most tour operators tend to agree your chances are best here. You’ll see a good selection of other marine life, too, with pufferfish being one of our favourites. The nearby beach is great for picnics and lounging before and after plunging deep into the waters.
Sharm Rocks Coast: east Type: rocky mounds and coral Location: 25.481944, 56.365833 Sail from: Lulayla Harbour for 5.2 nautical miles Depth: 14 metres Description: Just along the coast from the more famous Snoopy Island in Al Aqah are these three rocky outcrops teeming with sea life of all sorts. Boxfish, cuttlefish and crabs stay close to the rocks and can be observed up close without frightening them away. Delve a little deeper and away from the rocks to find tables of coral.
Zainab Coast: west Type: wreck Location: 25.259167, 54.865 Sail from: Mina Seyahi for 18.1 nautical miles Depth: 30 metres Description: The fate of the ship Zainab is shrouded in mystery. It is alleged that the Georgian vessel was deliberately sunk to avoid letting the US Navy on board to check for illegal cargo. Although an oil spill is said to have followed the sinking, the wreck is now home to many fish, rays and oysters. It is more than 70 metres long, and experienced divers should explore thoroughly, taking in the now upright deck.