A specific place or region can have phenomenal snorkeling, but getting to it often requires a boat trip (usually booked through a tour provider). To make the below list of best off the beach snorkeling destinations for digital nomads, a place has to offer easy access, great snorkeling and enough digital nomad infrastructure to be a feasible place to set up shop.
These trips tend to be day trips. You head out early with a group of people to, depending on where you are, crowded snorkeling spots. The trip includes lunch and usually lasts several hours. Many places in SE Asia even require you to wear life jackets, which is just insane.
If you’re a digital nomad with a 9-5 schedule staying in one of these locations, you might work something like this in on the weekends, but Monday to Friday, it’s probably not feasible, or affordable if your plan is to be in the water at least every other day. Given that these tours are often geared towards novices (hence the lifejackets), it might not even be desirable.
When I go somewhere to snorkel, I want the option to do it at my leisure and on my terms. Ideally, I want to be able to wake up in the morning and get a snorkel session in before breakfast or end my day with one. To do this, you need to find somewhere that has “off the beach” snorkeling. This is what I have been chasing for the last 7 years.
While there are plenty of places around the world that are both digital nomad friendly (to varying degrees) and offer great snorkeling, there are surprisingly few places that are both digital nomad friendly and have easily accessible off the beach snorkeling that you can do every day. With that in mind, below is a list of my top 4 off the beach snorkeling destinations for digital nomads.
Each location is broken down across the following metrics:
- Coral health
- Fish life
- Getting around
- Snorkelling difficulty (access/currents)
- Location Demerits
Please snorkel with care and make sure you travel sustainably.
We Island, Indonesia
We Island, also commonly called “Sabang” by locals, after the largest city, is a small active volcanic island in the Andaman Sea, 33km northwest of the city of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. It takes around 45 minutes by fast boat or 2 hours by ferry to get to We from mainland Sumatra. Once there, you are in, for me, one of the best off the beach snorkelling and dive spots anywhere outside the coral triangle.
We is a unique case because so much of the coral around the island is in very rough shape from the 2004 tsunami–Aceh was the epicentre of the earthquake and the city was more or less demolished by the resulting surge. Plus, you have the usual effects of global warming and acidification that you get everywhere.
Despite that, there were still a few nice hard coral gardens on We.
There was also fantastic rocky/coral hybrid habitat, and there is great marine life to be seen pretty much everywhere. I’m a snorkeling snob and despite the coral damage, I was impressed by the diversity and abundance around We, especially when it came to things like regal tangs and three-spot angelfish (comparatively rare elsewhere).
I really liked the mix of volcanic rock, coral rubble and reef, especially closer to the surge zone, as the confluence of all these habitats was home to an impressive diversity of animals. While perhaps not as stunningly beautiful as fields of colourful hard and soft coral, they supported a large number of fish, especially the more bizarre and cryptic ones I like to photograph, big schools of surge zone algae feeders like surgeons and angel fish, and a lot of very cool crustaceans, nudibranchs, mollusks and eels.
We had amazing diversity and very impressive abundance–especially of macro life like nudibranchs, eels, octopus, crustaceans, mantis shrimp, gobies, pipefish and dwarf lionfish–rivalling Raja Ampat in some aspects.
We is also unique because it is where the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea meet, so you get to enjoy a cross-pollination of species from both bodies of water. There are also no large rivers close, meaning no runoff to hinder visibility. Add to this the nutrient-rich waters flowing through the Straight of Malacca and Pulau We is one of the most prime off the beach snorkeling destinations for digital nomads.
I took the above video with my Fujifilm FinePix XP140 that I had at the time which, if you have the patience and steady hand, actually shoots pretty good quality photos and video. It’s no Olympus TG6, which is what I currently use, and I wish I’d had it with me for its dedicated macro setting and much better auto settings for underwater shooting. There is a video below in the section on Dahab.
Photography adds a whole different dynamic to snorkeling and I couldn’t imagine snorkeling and free diving without one now. If you are interested in learning more about either of the cameras I mentioned above, check out my review article on the best underwater camera for snorkeling.
A small, mostly rural island in the Andaman Sea isn’t going to have spectacular internet, so you might want to skip We if you are an app developer or something of that nature. But if you don’t need a stellar internet connection and can make do with just ok wifi at the bungalows and hotels, a local SIM card and a hotspot, Pulau We is an amazing place to set up for a few weeks (I stayed for a month) and do some very good off the beach–or even right off your bungalow veranda, depending on where you stay–snorkeling every day.
The Iboih part of Pulau We is the calmest and most protected, as well as the best spot for digital nomads. This is where most of the relatively few foreign tourists to the island come and it is, outside of the city of Sabang (which I wouldn’t want to stay in), the place with the best internet.
Your accommodation options on We are hotels, what the locals refer to as “homestays” and bungalows. Most, if not all, of them will be open to negotiating a better rate if you plan on staying longer term. I would imagine there are some Airbnb options at this point as well, but if you want to be as close to the reef as possible, you will definitely want to book a bungalow along the Iboih coastline.
I stayed at Yulia Homestay at the far end of the coast. The food wasn’t great, but it was pretty good. If you’d like some variety, you can always eat at the other homestays’ restaurants along the coast or the handful of eateries along the footpath that takes you to Iboih village.
The reef access was ridiculous, however. Literally right off your veranda. It was tough to leave this place. To be fair, all of the guesthouses along the coast were beautiful, but try to get something further away from Iboih beach, if possible.
The only real grocery shopping to be done on We is in Sabang but don’t expect any large stores. You can buy produce and basics like rice and noodles, but if you’re staying in places like Iboih (or anywhere else), you are eating at your hotel/homestay and the food varies wildly.
There is some menu variation between homestays, but expect mostly the same thing everywhere you go–mie goreng, nasi goreng, banana pancakes covered in condensed milk etc. While you don’t come to Pulau We for the cuisine, having access to nice food is always a huge perk.
Your transportation options on We include hiring a tuk-tuk or car every time you want to go somewhere or renting a scooter. I highly recommend the latter.
We is great for cruising around and most of the hotels, homestays and guesthouses either have a couple bikes to rent or they can point you in the direction of people who do. As mentioned, the island is an active volcano (which you can explore) and the island’s various small towns and villages are connected by jungle-fringed mountain roads that take you up and down steep switchbacks and along the rugged coast, providing some gorgeous vistas and scenery.
Snorkelling Difficulty (access/currents)
The off the beach snorkeling in Iboih starts at Iboih Beach and continues along the coast, past the last bungalow property and around the other side of the point for another 100 metres or so. Right on the other side of the point is where you can find the best (though still not incredible) hard coral garden on Pulau We.
If you’re getting in at Iboih beach, be mindful of boats–the local fishermen haul ass around here and a tourist was struck by a boat and died while I was on We. The fishlife around the beach isn’t as prolific, but there is a sunken tugboat just offshore at a depth of around 10m that has been thoroughly colonized by coral and sponges and it is teeming with life.
On the bungalow/beach side of the coast is mostly volcanic rock and mixed coral (a lot of the latter not doing so great), but the rocky habitat is full of life and has been some of my favourite off the beach snorkeling to date. I saw more macro life, including crustaceans, mantis shrimp, octopus, nudibranchs, pipefish, eel species, gobies, blennies, stone fish and frogfish than I’ve seen anywhere else.
I also highlighted a stretch of coast along Pulau Rubia, which is just off of Iboih. To get there you can either hire a boat to take you to the small port on the other side and then walk the length of the island to the far end I have indicated on the map, or you can swim the straight (which will take you around 20 minutes).
If you choose the latter, it’s a good idea to do it in a life jacket so that boat traffic can see you. Also, keep in mind that there can be a rip current toward the south end of the straight, so be careful on your way back if you plan on swimming around to the west side of the island.
It’s a good idea to read up on how to react if you find yourself in one of these currents. I got caught in one at this spot and had to make a big detour in order to reach the shore, which meant I had to walk quite a ways to get back to my homestay.
Rubiah is interesting because it is the site of an abandoned coral restoration project (it didn’t take), so there are these fields of big concrete blocks with rebar sticking out of them that have been partially reclaimed by coral and are home to a pretty high density of fish (including a couple of very feisty nesting titan triggerfish). I saw more regal tangs out there than I’ve seen anywhere in the world, as they are usually only common on offshore reefs.
The area around the southern tip of Rubia is where a lot of the locals park their long-tail boats, so be wary while you are swimming around. Lots of great stuff to see in this spot as well as just around the other side of the southern tip. To reiterate, be careful of currents.
2) Pulau Weh Paradise Beach
Pulau Weh Paradise is where I first stayed when I got to the island. I hadn’t done my homework, so it was by mistake, and it’s quite out of the way, so I wouldn’t recommend staying here. The snorkeling is not for novices (rough entry and high seas), but the area circled on the image above had some really nice reef and fish. I saw some enormous cowtail rays out here.
You enter from the far side of the rock wall (indicated above) and back into the ocean wearing your fins while bracing against the waves. Once you’re up to your thighs, you can get into the water and carefully paddle out.
I definitely wouldn’t stay here for the off the beach snorkeling, and the internet was worse than Iboih, so not ideal for digital nomads, but it’s a nice spot to visit if you are a confident swimmer and are willing to brave a precarious entry.
Spot 3: Japanese Bunker (Benteng Jepang)
The Japanese bunker (make sure you go to Benteng Jepang, as there are a couple of different ones on the island) is an interesting piece of WW2 history that deserves a look, but while checking it out, I noticed that the beach and short stretch of coastline along the cliffs below looked quite promising. I decided I would come back the next day to investigate and I was happy with what I found.
Huge schools of black and white pyramid butterfly fish and powder blue surgeons, big schools of barracuda, a nice mix of pretty healthy hard coral and volcanic rock habitat and the entire place to myself.
This area is definitely not set up for a leisurely day at the beach, and the entry is a little hairy–you have to scramble over a bunch of logs and then slip into the water down a small concrete retaining wall. I’m not entirely sure if you’re even allowed to snorkel here (according to the map, there is a military area close by), but there are no signs saying otherwise so I went for it.
This spot is NOT for new snorkelers. I would also highly recommend not coming here if you don’t have fins that are made for diving. The short, stubby fins that people often recommend to snorkelers don’t provide enough thrust to fight the currents at a place like this.
I don’t like them even in calm conditions because it is harder to descend and ascend and they are just far less efficient than dive fins.
I would also advise not going around the point to the open ocean-facing side of the coast. I could feel the currents pulling me in that direction and I didn’t want to take the chance.
A great spot, but one that you should only attempt if you are a confident swimmer who can read currents, would know what to do if you found yourself caught in one and have the proper gear for these conditions.
Once you get to We, you will be swarmed by tuk-tuk drivers looking to take you to your final destination.
Pulau We’s Demerits
I loved We and I ended up spending a month there, but the internet was a bit of an issue. Buying a local SIM card and setting up a wireless hotspot in my bungalow worked pretty well for my very simple purposes (Google docs, messenging applications, Gmail etc.) but I don’t know how Zoom meetings or major file uploads and downloads would have gone.
I also had to ride my scooter from Iboih into Sabang to reload my data once a week because I burned through it so quickly. There was no spot to buy data in Iboih (that I knew of). While the ride is nice and I always got my data, you wouldn’t describe the internet situation on We as “convenient.”
Even still, I’d come back in a heartbeat.
**try to take cash out at the ferry terminal before heading to Pulau We. You never know what the state of the ATMs is in a place like this. I had to go on a 5-ATM milk run the day I was leaving to take out money to pay my homestay because a couple were down and a few others didn’t have enough cash in them.
Koh Lipe, Thailand
Koh Lipe is my favourite off the beach snorkelling spot in Thailand because it is one of the hardest to get to. Lipe is all the way in the south of the country, near the Malaysian border and requires a lot of driving, followed by a couple of hour boat ride to get to.
Because of this, it tends to weed out a lot of people and, at least while I was there, I didn’t have to put up with the ugly mass tourism in the same way I would have had to in a place like Phi Phi, Ko Lanta or any of the other more popular island destinations. You still have to deal with some of the usual Thailand tourist crap, but not nearly to the same degree.
I recommend going to Koh Lipe during the off-season (May-October). This is Thailand’s wet season, and while the downside is that you will get rained out now and then, the upside is that far fewer people want to come to Thailand during these months. Prices are lower, the island is more serene, and you get the prime snorkeling spots to yourself far more often than you otherwise would.
Koh Lipe had a couple of places where the off the beach snorkeling was very nice. Lipe’s main nature travel attraction for most of the year is Tarutao National Park which, unfortunately, closes during the low season, but there are a few places around Koh Lipe that have really nice and very easy off the beach snorkeling.
Most of the coral around Koh Lipe is hump coral, with patches of staghorn, so I wouldn’t rate the coral diversity. There are, however, a couple of spots with corals that are in relatively good condition.
The fish life around Koh Lipe is really nice and you are likely to see the typical cast of Andaman Sea usuals in high numbers, including several species of anemone fish, wrasses, surgeonfish, trumpet fish, triggers, angel fish, giant morays, damselfish, blue-spotted rays, butterfly fish, scorpionfish, lizardfish, pipefish etc.
The internet was ok, but I knew from experience that your internet connection is never all that reliable on the Thai islands, and I hedged my bets with a local SIM and data plan so that I could hotspot if I needed to. I ended up needing to a few times over the course of two weeks.
Koh Lipe has my favourite accommodation options out of all the Thai islands. It was the off-season while I was there, so prices were down to begin with, but I ended up finding a great little set of bungalows just off of Pattaya Beach called Song Family Bungalows.
From here, it’s a quick stroll down the beach to the walking street where all of the restaurants and stores are and if you are willing to swim out 100 metres or so from the beach, there is some decent reef (see map in below section).
Food options on all the Thai Islands are limited and you probably won’t find any rentals that you can cook in. The walking street is basically the only place to eat (if you’re not staying in a hotel or resort) but there is quite a lot (of the same) to choose from.
There are a lot of seafood options (which I stay away from because of how overfished Thai waters are) but also plenty of places for breakfast and coffee, pad thai and curry dishes, and even a really good Indian restaurant. It’s not the best Thai food you’ll have in Thailand, but it’s still good.
Lipe is small, but there are a few roads used by the hotels and tuk-tuk taxis to transport guests and supplies. The small dirt roads that connect the villages are walkable on foot, just watch out for locals on scooters. If you stay just off Pattaya Beach, you can walk to the best snorkeling spot on the island in 15-20 minutes.
Snorkelling Difficulty (access/currents)
1) Pattaya Beach
Snorkelling just off Pattaya Beach is easy, as is the access, just watch out for long-tail boats. This is where boats bring hotel guests because it’s the start of the walking street. The coral out here is in decent condition and there was a surprising amount of fishlife.
2) Sunset Beach (islet)
The other spot off of Satun Dive Resort on Sunset Beach involves a 15-minute (200m) swim out (easy enough, but watch for boats) and then you snorkel around the small island just offshore. This is the best snorkeling on Koh Lipe. I would spend hours each day swimming circles around the island photographing reef life.
There is a lot to see out here, but you also have to watch out for snorkeling tours and boats (after around 11am-12pm), which is when I would tend to get out of the water (too much traffic). If you don’t want to swim out and back every time, you can also rent a kayak for cheap from Satun Dive Resort, beach it on the island and then collect it when it’s time to head back in.
Koh Lipe’s Demerits
I wasn’t in Lipe during the high season, so I don’t know how normal my experience with the crowds was. From what I’ve been told, Lipe is, even during the high season, one of the tamer islands as far as mass tourism is concerned. Places like Phi Phi, Koh Samui etc. are, imo, unbearable.
Lipe is still Thailand (35+ million visitors per year pre-pandemic), however, and it is by no means inaccessible. Even during the low season, there were plenty of Chinese package tours. But the typical mass tourism BS was manageable. If I had gotten any full moon party or beer pong vibes (which I didn’t), I definitely wouldn’t have stayed two weeks.
Another demerit is that Tarutao National Marine Park–a protected area (who knows how well)–is closed during low season. The tradeoff you make during this time of year is you forgo what is likely the best snorkeling there is to be done on the islands.
Despite this, I would come back to Koh Lipe in a heartbeat and I still think it’s one of the best off the beach snorkeling destinations for digital nomads in all of Thailand.
Aruba (Spanish Lagoon)
Aruba tends to be a place that most digital nomads (nature lovers or otherwise) skip because it has a deserved reputation for being expensive. It is, by and large, not a destination for digital nomads unless you’ve got a pretty big budget.
Most people who come to Aruba, come for a week of fun in the sun on the island’s north shore, which usually means staying at an upscale hotel, expensive cocktails, maybe a dune buggy or jet ski rental, and perhaps a dive or two. But Aruba is an amazing off the beach snorkeling destination for digital nomads on its much cheaper and less touristic southwest side.
The area around Spanish Lagoon (about a 15-20 minute drive from the airport) has the best off the beach snorkeling on the island. It has the healthiest reef, the fewest crowds, and if you want to stay in the area so that you are able to walk to the beach every day, it has much cheaper accommodation than the tourist-heavy north.
Coral Health outside of the barrier wall on the far left side of Spanish Lagoon is very good, given that it is 2022 and coral is pretty much effed almost anywhere you could care to mention. Inside the lagoon on the opposite side (the marina side), there is less coral, but interesting habitat nonetheless and some cool things to see.
Fish life both inside and outside Spanish Lagoon (depending on your entry point) can be great. If you make your way outside the barrier wall right off of the mangroves on the far left side of the bay, you will have massive, quite healthy fields of fans and different hard coral to yourself. There are big schools of snapper, the occasional barracuda as well as a large diversity of the Caribbean usual suspects–butterflyfish, surgeonfish, trumpet fish, damsels, angelfish, tangs, flounder, triggerfish, wrasses, and moray eels.
Wifi quality all over Aruba is good. Any hotel or Airbnb you stay at will have a good, reliable connection. You can also buy a local SIM card and put data on it for cheap.
Despite being the “cheaper” part of the island, Aruba isn’t a cheap vacation. You aren’t going to be paying London or NYC prices, but don’t expect Mexico either. A medium-expensive American city is what I would liken it to. That said, both the Airbnb and Booking options here are going to be cheaper than in the north.
The Spanish Lagoon area is mostly locals and ex-pats, with a couple of smaller, boutique hotels. It’s a mixture of modest local homes and some bigger, more luxurious ones on the ocean road.
One of the biggest downsides of Spanish Lagoon is the comparative lack of food shopping options. There are no big grocery stores in this area, just a couple of corner stores and one medium-sized grocery store. Food in Aruba tends to be pretty pricy because it’s a desert island with no real agriculture to speak of, so it imports almost everything, and because it’s a tourist economy.
There aren’t many restaurants in the area either. There are some great barbecue and fast food places, though, and the small marina on the far right side of Spanish Lagoon is where all of the local fishing boats dock, so you can walk down and pick up fresh fish every day of the week for cheap.
Getting around Aruba can be difficult if you don’t have a vehicle. The island is small and flat enough that you can easily bike it, but I found it hard to find bike shops that were willing to give me a deal on a long-term bike rental.
If you come to Spanish Lagoon/Mangel Halto without a vehicle, you are basically committing to staying in the area for the duration of your trip, unless you want to get a cab or a local bus somewhere farther afield. I didn’t mind because my plan was to wake up, walk to the beach and snorkel every day and I really liked how quaint Mangel Halto was compared to the north.
Snorkelling Difficulty (access/currents)
1) Mangel Halto
Spanish Lagoon has two spots you can snorkel and they are on opposite sides of each other. The entry points and actual conditions once you are in the water are far different in each one. The image above is Mangel Halto.
You enter off one of the small beaches in the mangroves on the far left of the bay and swim out to the barrier wall by the yellow marker buoy. You then have the option to either carefully swim over the coral to the open ocean (marked option “Y” on the above image) if the water is high enough, or through the very obvious sandy-bottom channel where the boats come through (marked option “X”) if currents allow. Once on the other side, this is where the most spectacular corals in Spanish Lagoon are and where you’ll see the most fish.
The wind and swell can pick up here and you have to be on the lookout for boat traffic all the time. A lot of people advised buying and strapping a small marker buoy to myself while I was out there to let boats know there was someone snorkeling.
I ended up not doing that, but I can see why they would suggest it. It is for this reason that I wouldn’t recommend this spot to a novice snorkeler. The inside of the barrier wall at Mangel Halto offers nice Caribbean snorkeling too, but it doesn’t compare to outside.
2) Marina Pirata
The opposite side of the bay is much calmer. This spot is what I will call the “Marina Pirata” location (because you enter the water down a flight of wooden stairs that takes you to a concrete slab just to the left of the “Marina Pirata” restaurant).
There is far less coral, and the habitat is much different (a lot of eel grass, sand and coral bommies), but there is still a lot to see, especially if you are looking for critters like eels, giant hermit crabs, slipper lobsters and the like. I saw the biggest green moray I’ve seen in my life here (had to be pushing 3 metres).
There are plenty of sport fish around here too, including massive schools of jack. I also saw bonefish and barracuda here, as well as a few very big tarpon, which is why there are always people fishing just off the point.
This side of the lagoon is a much more relaxing snorkel than Mangel Halto, but you still need to keep your eye out for boats because you are around the corner from a Marina. If you are out there in the morning or early evening, you should have the whole place to yourself. That holds true for either spots.
Aruba, while small, is still large enough that it is hard to get around if you don’t have a vehicle (which would be quite expensive to rent long-term). Food is also expensive in Aruba if you are not planning on cooking for yourself and if you are, it’s all imported, so it’s not great.
While Spanish Lagoon definitely offers the best snorkeling on Aruba and is the best snorkeling I’ve done in the Caribbean (I haven’t been to Belize, the Bahamas, Roatan or Bonaire mind you), Aruba is still more geared toward diving, the best of which is offshore.
I’m hardcore when it comes to snorkeling, so I stayed two months, no problem, and there are plenty of other things to do on Aruba (hike, bike, birdwatch), but I can see it getting quite repetitive if you aren’t a fanatic.
I would definitely come back to Aruba as it is definitely one of the most straightforward off the beach snorkeling destinations for digital nomads, but I would want to check out Curacao and, even more so, Bonaire next time.
Dahab is a small former Bedouin town on the southeast coast of the Sinai Peninsula, in the Gulf of Aqaba. To get to Dahab you must first fly to Sharm el-Sheikh and then make your way north around 80km by private car, bus or mini-van.
Dahab is famous for many different reasons, not least of which is the fact that it’s the gateway to Mount Sinai, where Moses (allegedly) received the ten commandments from God. It is also where some of, if not the best diving and snorkelling are to be done in the Red Sea, with the prime spots easily accessible off the beach.
The coral in many places around Dahab is spectacular. A study in the journal Coral Reefs states that “corals in the Gulf of Aqaba are particularly resilient to high temperatures” making Dahab a globally important region for the study of reef conservation and global warming.
I compare everywhere I go with Raja Ampat, the world’s most diverse coral reef ecosystem. In this paradise on earth, witnessing the abundance and diversity of fish (and especially large fish like jacks, barracuda, tuna and reef sharks) as well as coral variety, is a spiritual experience. Dahab is a close second in terms of coral health and vibrance.
I shot the above video no my TG-6–a great little point-and-shoot underwater camera that takes really good video and has a bunch of great macro and low-light automatic settings that make it great for underwater photography.
Compared to the rest of the Indian Ocean, and even more so the Coral Triangle, the Red Sea, and particularly the relatively isolated Gulf of Aqaba stretch of it, is not nearly as diverse. Wherever you snorkel in the world, certain species of reef fish are more or less common and, if you are in the water at the same sites often, you will see the same recurring list of species.
Any decently healthy reef in Southeast Asia or the Indian Ocean will have a longer list of these commonly seen species than the Red Sea. In the Gulf of Aqaba, you will see the same comparatively limited diversity of reef fish–butterfly fish, triggers, anemone fish, angelfish, wrasses, plankton feeders, chromis, morays, surgeons, parrot fish–at all of the snorkel and dive sites, but you will see them in magnificent abundance and set against some spectacular coral backdrops.
I’ve never seen such large schools of anthias anywhere I have been, which is something I was looking forward to in the Red Sea.
The internet in Dahab was quite good and all of the hotels and Airbnbs in town are going to have a decent connection. I didn’t look into whether the restaurants or cafes had wifi, but I assume they did because I saw plenty of people with laptops.
There are a lot of accommodation options in Dahab and you can get a short-term Aribnb for not a lot of money at all. I would recommend looking for something up from the promenade along the sea where all the restaurants are. I’m not a fan of the tourist strips in most places, and Dahab’s was no different than what you’d expect on a Greek island or in Cancun. Kind of soulless. This is where all the dive shops are, however.
I picked a place that was above the main road (going away from sea), but there are plenty of suitable accommodation options throughout the town.
This is Dahab’s biggest demerit, and since we’re also in the food section of the review, I’ll go off on that right now. It’s actually why I decided not to stay a second month. Egypt (I’m sorry any Egyptians reading this) has a terrible cuisine and diet and it’s not a secret. If you don’t want to eat at overpriced and low-effort tourist trap restaurants along the promenade, you are going to be eating a lot of overcooked chicken, falafel, bean paste, flatbread, pickled vegetables and fried everything. There are fruit markets in Dahab, but the quality is not great.
I was able to suck it up for a month because of how great the off the beach snorkeling was, but my weak stomach finally got the better of me and I decided that I couldn’t live in permanent discomfort any longer.
Getting around Dahab is really easy. You can rent a bicycle from one of the many rental shops (I think I paid around 100 bucks for the whole month) and bike to places like Canyons or Napoleon Reef.
You can also hail a ride from “taxis” (which are often just random locals) to the places you want to go. They stop, you fumble your way through an explanation (not much English in Dahab outside the promenade), you agree on a price (usually a few bucks) and you get in and drive off while listening to call to prayer on the AM radio.
Snorkelling access and difficulty
Getting to the three best off the beach snorkeling spots in Dahab involves a bike ride, a cab ride, or some long walks. You can snorkel just off the main promenade in a few places and there is stuff to see, but it’s not as nice by quite a stretch (plus, easier access=more people).
Napoleon reef is actually the name of the coral reef just off “Laguna Beach,” south of town. It takes about 25 minutes to bike there or, if you decide to hail a driver, you can tell him you’re going to “Laguna” and he will get you there in 5-10.
Coming back is usually tougher and longer because the wind almost always blows north-south in Dahab. If you’ve never pedalled into the wind on a crappy old Chinese bike that won’t change gears, probably has thousands of kilometres on it and who knows how much regular maintenance, you’re in for a leg workout.
Napoleon was my go-to spot because it was the easiest to get to, had the best coral (that was also quite close to the surface) and I saw the most obscure critters here. This is also where I went on a couple of night snorkels, which I highly recommend if you are comfortable in the water at night.
I saw an eagle ray, cuttlefish and octopus, a crocodile fish, lots of lionfish, morays actively hunting and the atmosphere was all-around magic, if not a bit nerve-wracking. Just make sure you have a good underwater flashlight and a full battery.
The only downside of Napoleon (and it’s a significant one) is that the lagoon is Dahab’s most popular wind and kite surfing spot. After about 11am, it is overrun with kite and windsurfers (many of them unsupervised kids and learners) flying across the waves and it gets dangerous. In all honesty, it was too stressful to be fun at least a few times and I very carefully made my way out.
If you get there at around 8:30-9am, however, you will have the entire reef to yourself for a couple of hours.
Canyons is primarily a dive site and it definitely requires more effort to get to than Napoleon. It’s right after the first police checkpoint on the way to Blue Hole and you will see plenty of dive schools and divers suiting up on the beach. You can get in the water where everyone else does and swim through the gap in the coral.
It’s a beautiful, albeit strenuous, 35-40 minute ride along the coast and around 20 return with the wind at your back.
If you rent a scooter or a four-wheeler, you can make it from the town of Dahab to Canyons in 10 minutes. On one of the shoddy local rental bikes, getting there is quite a workout, so bring water. You should always hydrate before and after snorkeling, anyway, because the salt sucks the moisture out of you.
The site is called canyons because of the underwater topography–there are deep canyons that you dive through–but they are generally too deep to snorkel unless you’re a good free diver with appropriate fins.
There is, however, a nice shelf that runs the entire length of the beach and some interesting coral structures that you can check out right after you exit the sandy entry area. This is also the only place in the world I have ever seen a guitarfish. If you are able to dive down deep enough, there were usually some more interesting plankton feeders like dart fish hanging around near the dropoff.
3) Blue Hole
Blue Hole is a massive, 120-metre-deep sinkhole north of Canyons inside Ras Abu Galum National Park. It is a world-renowned dive and free-diving site and it is definitely worth at least one trip. Because it’s inside the park, you have to pay, but it costs around $5.
Source: The famous Blue Hole of Dahab by Gustavo Gerdel
You need a 4WD vehicle to reach Blue Hole because the road after canyons would be far too difficult with just a local bicycle. If you start walking north along the main road out of town, someone will eventually stop and offer you a ride. It might cost you $10-15 for the 25-minute trip.
If you get there before 11am-12pm, you will have the entire place to yourself and it really is spectacular. The entire perimeter of the sinkhole is fringed with very nice hard coral and you can continue swimming along the coast in either direction to enjoy the same. Large overhangs, big schools of plankton feeders, and all of the Gulf of Aqaba regulars characterize Blue Hole.
It’s quite a jaunt to get there, however, and not something that you could realistically do every day if you are beholden to a computer. Also, once 12pm hits, the place fills up with snorkeling tours and it becomes far less charming.
Ras Abu Galum
This is a beach and protected area north of Blue Hole that is only accessible by boat, walking or, if you like, by camel. It’s a path that starts in the hills just above the Blue Hole tourist area and snakes northward along the coast. It’s a beautiful and easy hike (if you ignore the piles of plastic water bottles and camel shit everywhere) and I saw no one else for the entire 10km trek.
Once you get to the beach, you have to walk three-quarters of the way to the other end to get to the good snorkelling spot and it is, indeed, very nice. I liked the coral in Napoleon and Blue Hole better, but it’s still in quite good condition and because of how remote the beach is, there are very few people there. There are some currents to watch out for here, so be wary, but they weren’t anything crazy.
Egypt is filthy and Dahab is no exception. A lack of waste management is commonplace in the developing world, but Dahab was the dirtiest (small town) I’ve ever been to. I would say that if you are looking for a nature tourism experience but you aren’t a hardcore snorkeler, the state of Dahab–broken glass, plastic and dog crap everywhere–is hard to get over. If you can just focus on the reef, however, Dahab is quite special and has all of the infrastructure to be a workable digital nomad destination for off the beach snorkeling.
Food is the other major con. If you only plan on spending a few days or a week in Dahab, then the food probably won’t bother you. If, on the other hand, you are contemplating setting up shop for a month or more, Egyptian food will get to you.
Off The Beach Snorkeling Destinations for Digital Nomads
If you are a nature and wildlife-loving digital nomad and snorkeling and/or diving is a prerequisite when choosing a new spot to temporarily relocate, off the beach snorkeling opportunities are important.
There are plenty of places I could have put on this list that have gorgeous diving and marine life, but many of them don’t have that combination of digital nomad necessities and easily accessible snorkeling. You want to be somewhere that you can live relatively comfortably (cold showers, mosquito nets, mediocre internet, and enough food to keep you sated at least) while still being able to make your way to and from great snorkeling at your leisure.
That is how I went about shortlisting the off the beach snorkeling destinations for digital nomads on the above list. I hope the information helps any ocean and reef-loving digital nomads find a place where they can work and live close to some beautiful but suffering tropical marine ecosystems.