Diving in the Middle East is famous thanks to Egypt's magnificent Red Sea. World-renowned sites such as the Ras Mohammed National Park and the SS Thistlegorm wreck draw divers from across the world, while crystal-clear visibility and thriving coral reefs are what invite them to stay. At first glance, pitting the Middle Eastern neighbours of Egypt and Oman against each other appears to be an unfair battle. However, the Gulf of Oman has a dazzling array of incredible underwater attractions and some of the fishiest reefs we've come across - with a fraction of the crowds. So, let's see if the underdog can overthrow the giant in our Egypt vs. Oman diving showdown…
Best for Uncrowded Diving
We're not going to sugarcoat it: Egypt gets busy. After all, the Red Sea offers some of the best diving close to the UK (Cairo is only a five-hour flight from London). However, there are some tricks to escape the crowds. While the temperatures might be cooler during low season (November to January), the dives are just as magnificent and with a fraction of the crowds.
Despite sharing the same coastline as Egypt, Oman has managed to stay relatively under the radar. The visibility might not be as good as Egypt, but the marine life more than makes up for it. Best yet, you'll likely have dive sites all to yourself.
Oman takes the first win in the battle for Egypt vs. Oman diving. Egypt, 0, Oman, 1.
Best Underwater Landscapes
Abiding to the maxim that variety is the spice of life, Oman boasts myriad underwater landscapes. From coral gardens and summer kelp forests in Salalah to turtle-filled seagrass patches and underwater pinnacles off the Daymaniyat Islands and Muscat Bay's caves and swim-throughs. And then there's the Musandam Peninsula. Hailed as the 'Norway of Arabia,' towering cliffs plunge into the ocean, forming fjords and some fascinating diving below. Egypt has equally varied topography, with gently sloping reefs, steep drop-offs and coral-encrusted walls throughout the northern and southern Red Sea.
This round is too close to call. Both Egypt and Oman boast incredibly varied underwater landscapes, so it really comes down to personal preference. This round is a draw, Egypt, 1, Oman, 2.
Best for Wrecks
Egypt is renowned for its world-class wreck diving. A slew of World War II wrecks scatters the Red Sea, including the most famous wreck in the world, the SS Thistlegorm. This British cargo ship lies at 30 metres and still houses its cargo, including trucks, motorcycles and military equipment, providing an eerie glimpse into the past. While Oman isn't known for its wreck diving, there are a few sunken ships to explore. One of Oman's most famous wreck dives, Al Munassir, can be found off the coast of Muscat. This 84-metre-long wreck was intentionally sunk in 2003 to create an artificial reef, and today houses giant groupers, moray eels, batfish and nudibranchs.
While wreck aficionados won't be disappointed in Oman, Egypt's underwater museum of WWII wrecks evens out the battleground for Egypt vs. Oman diving. Egypt, 2, Oman, 2.
Best Marine Biodiversity
At first glance, the Red Sea's crystal-clear visibility is an easy win over Oman's soupy visibility. But hear us out, as Oman's plankton-rich water attracts a huge array of marine life. The Daymaniyat Islands, a protected marine reserve, are one of the 'fishiest' places in Oman, and during plankton blooms offer the best chance of seeing the ocean's largest fish: the mighty whale shark. Throughout Oman, divers can also spot giant and honeycomb moray eels, cuttlefish, barracudas, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, leopard sharks, dolphins, turtles, rays and nudibranchs.
Egypt's Red Sea is renowned for its rich marine biodiversity. Clouds of colourful reef fish dancing atop reefs are guaranteed on any dive, as well as turtles, mega pods of dolphins and manta rays (around Brothers Islands and Daedalus Reef). The Red Sea is famous for its shark encounters, with regular sightings of reef, whitetip and blacktip sharks, alongside the occasional hammerhead and oceanic whitetip shark.
This round is a tough call as both destinations host a mind-boggling array of marine species. However, Oman's nutrient-rich waters have some of the fishiest sites we've dived. Oman wins this round. Egypt, 3, Oman 4.
Best Diving Conditions
Both Egypt and Oman can be dived throughout the year. However, the Red Sea boasts gin-clear water, with visibility often exceeding 30 metres. Meanwhile, Oman's visibility tends to range between ten and 30 metres, less so during plankton blooms. That being said, Salalah, to the south of Oman, shares the same clear turquoise waters as it's Egyptian counterpart. Both destinations also cater to every level of diver, offering a mix of thrilling offshore currents and calm, coastal sites. For beginner divers, The Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh, found in the southern Red Sea, has an excellent house reef a few fin kicks from the beach.
In the battle of Egypt vs. Oman diving, Egypt's excellent visibility wins this round. Egypt, 4, Oman, 4.
Best Surface Intervals
Inevitably, some time will need to be spent on land. Luckily, both Egypt and Oman bring plenty to the table. Home to the most incredible landscapes in the Middle East, Oman boasts jagged, dramatic mountain ranges and Martian deserts, lush wadis and pink-hued fjords. Culture vulture? Explore the vibrant souqs, mosques, palaces and ancient forts of Muscat. History buff? Oman, with its thousand-year-old civilisation, has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites to explore.
Egypt's topside wonders need little introduction. The birthplace of civilisation, Egypt houses the most iconic ancient monuments in the world, from the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza, the sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, to Luxor's Valley of the Kings. Dip into these archaeological sites while cruising down the Nile aboard the Steam Ship Sudan, the inspiration behind Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile.
It's too hard to pick a winner in the surface intervals category, so we're going to have to call this one a draw, which makes the final score of this Egypt vs. Oman diving showdown Egypt, 5, Oman, 5.