Israel: it doesn’t exactly spring to mind when considering the world’s top dive destinations. It doesn’t have world-class reefs, fleets of liveaboards, or wildly abundant marine life. But it does have something I haven’t found anywhere else in the world: the ability to, if the conditions are right, dive three seas in as many days.
The Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, even the Dead Sea — and heck, if you want to go wild, you can dive the Sea of Galilee too.
In Israel, you can dive among a sunken archaeological city in Caesarea, you can dive with ten foot foot sharks in Hadera, you can swim through underwater caverns along the border of Lebanon in Nahariya, you can swim with dolphins and through shipwrecks in Eilat, and you can go on one of the most exclusive dives on the planet though the otherworldly Dead Sea salt formations in Ein Bokek. It’s an almost mind-boggling level of dive diversity. All in a country the size of New Jersey.
Yet even in such a teeny country, which you can traverse the longest length of in five hours, dive shops tend to focus on either the Red Sea or the Mediterranean Sea (or, in one specialized case, the Dead Sea.) There is, however, one dive shop, located in land-locked Modi’in, that is trying to change all that.
Photo by Out of The Blu
Out of The Blu, run by veteran Israeli divers Ran and Udi, recently launched a three sea dive safari, aimed at drawing international divers to Israel to experience a sampler of all this tiny country has to offer above and below the surface. I got connected with Ran and Udi the way that many connections happen in Israel — I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who connected us; every single person in the chain incredibly eager to help find the perfect person to make magic happen.
When the guys invited me to join them for a pilot of their new tour, I couldn’t believe my luck. The chance to explore Israel’s unique dive opportunities with two passionate, enterprising locals? As this concept was brand new, and Out of the Blu’s website is in Hebrew, I had little idea what I was getting myself into — but I knew it would be an adventure.
Scuba Diving in The Red Sea
Our trip began the morning after I’d crossed the border from Egypt into Israel, in Eilat. If you’ve ever considered diving in Israel, this is likely what you had in mind. Israel’s Red Sea coastline is less than nine miles across, but it’s still the place to go scuba diving in Israel.
And it’s easy to see why. Conditions in Eilat are ripe for diving year-round; the sun shines, the currents are calm, and the reefs hum with a consistent number of residents. I read about famous reef sites which sounded lush, but straight-talkers Ran and Udi assured me that I’d seen better in Egypt.
Photo by Out of The Blu
Instead, in the spirit of our dive safari, we’d focus on what was unique to Israel: in this case, the opportunity to see dolphins, and shore dive a wreck.
First up, we set off at sunrise for Katza Port — but it wasn’t just a pier dive we were after. Katza just so happens to sit next to Dolphin Reef, one of those swim-with-dolphin attractions. At this particular iteration, the dolphins are not actually fenced or netted in at all underwater — they simply keep returning over and over again as they are fed at Dolphin Reef and were born in captivity.
As someone who personally believes marine mammals like dolphins are too intelligent to be kept in captivity, I wouldn’t feel comfortable diving at Dolphin Reef. But, go diving adjacent to Dolphin Reef and see if the dolphins wanna come say hi, of their own accord? That, I can get down with.
And we were lucky enough that both times, they did! They didn’t stay long, which Ran assured me that depending on their mood, they sometimes do. But their brief, curious swim-bys (one pictures above) were a thrill enough. Ran also told me that due to the strict no camera policy inside Dolphin Reef — a money-making policy, no doubt — even some of the customers and staff of Dolphin Reef do the shore dive at Katza on their day off.
It’s not exactly a vibrant reef, outside the dolphins, but there was plenty to entertain us while we waited to see if our flipper-y friends would make an appearance.
Next up were off to the Wreck of the Satil, a ship sank intentionally as an artificial reef. The Satil is the rare wreck dive with a shore entry. Living up to Eilat’s reputation as the Las Vegas of Israel, the beach was a pumping day club on the day we visited, and were head bobbing to house music as we waded into the water and started to make our descent.
The Satil is a beautifully intact wreck, bursting with life and easy for divers at any level to enjoy. Several of the interior rooms are open for qualified divers to penetrate, and they were well worth the adventure. I couldn’t imagine a better guide for any of these dives than Ran, who has been diving in Eilat since he was a fresh-out-of-the-army dive instructor there in his twenties.
Photo by Out of The Blu
I enjoyed our three dives in Eilat so much I’ll be writing a full post about them in the future — stay tuned! While there were plenty more dive sites in the area to explore, and I’ve got my eye on them for my next trip to Israel, we had a date with the Dead Sea to get to…
Photo by Out of The Blu
Scuba Diving in the Dead Sea
So this is the part of my trip with Out of the Blu that had a lot of people trying to correct me. “Oh, you mean the Red Sea,” they’d say, kind of embarrassed on my behalf, when I told them I’d be going diving in the Dead Sea. Nope, I assured them. I was going diving in the Dead Sea.
As soon as I heard about this extreme — and extremely unique — dive experience, I knew I had no choice but to join the ranks of the two or three hundred divers in history who can claim they’ve been scuba diving in the Dead Sea.
There is just one company that takes divers here: Dead Sea Divers, a partner of Out of The Blu (who is of the “a rising tide lifts all boats” school of thought — they love working with other dive centers around Israel).
The Dead Sea may be dead — there will be no sea-life spotting on this dive — but it’s not, technically any longer, a sea. Rather, it’s an inland lake, today cut off from all sources other than the Jordan River. Sans tides, aquatic sources or regular rainfall, and set in a searing hot desert ripe for evaporation, The Dead Sea itself is dying, with water levels dropping drastically every year — but more on that in a future blog post. It’s also, thanks to the concentration of salt left behind, close to being the saltiest body of water on earth (lakes in Djibouti and Antartica have it beat.)
Our diving experience began with a pool session at one of the resorts lining the shores of Ein Bokek, to familiarize ourselves with full face mask diving. Normal masks are a no-go in the Dead Sea; the salt in the water is dangerous to tender eyes, mouths and noses, which are better protected with military-esque full face masks.
Next, we set off for the crystal-lined shore, where we gathered under a tent, protected from the searing sun, for a dive briefing. Talking to the team about starting what might be one of the most unique dive centers in the world, I was struck by how uniquely Israeli the whole operation was. Israelis are known for their love of adventure sports — what could be more adventurous than what we were about to do?
After struggling with the logistics of strapping over eighty pounds of weights to my body and dive gear, and taking a small pause to give myself a pep talk over what I was about to do, Udi and I and our Dead Sea Divers guide waded into the salty sea, and slipped below its surface.
Here, at just under 1,500 feet below sea level, I found myself in that exclusive club of Dead Sea divers. Otherworldly salt formations unlike anything I’d photographed before, a thick, oily water unlike anything I’ve finned through before, and an industrial and cumbersome face mask, unlike anything I’d ever breathed through before left me feeling disoriented and on edge. But as the dive progressed, and my brain adjusted to this strange new underwater world, I did finally start to relax and feel at ease.
And so, diving the Dead Sea had two incredible rewards: first, the joy of seeing such a unique and rare underwater landscape through my own mask. Second, the victory of knowing yes, I could do it.
Clearly, this was an experience worthy of a while post of its own — stay tuned.
Photo by Out of The Blu
Scuba Diving in the Mediterranean Sea
So — womp womp spoiler alert — I didn’t get to dive in the Mediterranean, on this trip. The thing about the Med is that it’s raw and wild and unpredictable, and you can only ever cross your fingers and hope that it graces you with the opportunity to dive it.
The odds just weren’t in our favor, with huge currents and waves blocking our every attempt, but I appreciated that Ran and Udi didn’t push us to make dives that would be unsafe or unpleasant. “For us, it is more important to preserve the love of diving,” they explained, when discussing how tough it can be to call a dive when the conditions aren’t right. As someone who has heard from far too many divers who were scared off by an unpleasant day of rough surface breaks or unnervingly low visibility, I really respect that maintaining the customer’s great relationship with the sport is more important to them than simply making a buck — er, a shekel.
Instead, we decided if we couldn’t enjoy the water from below we’d enjoy it from above. We pretty much stuck to the same route we would have taken otherwise, and since the rest of my time in Israel was pretty exclusively in the south, I was grateful for this opportunity to explore a bit of the north, from the ancient ruins of Caesarea to the beautiful Sea of Galilee.
Our first stop? Out of the Blu’s signature dive site — Hadera. About ninety minute north of Tel Aviv sits a coastal city with a recently discovered treasure of a dive site. We arrived after driving through the night from the south — I was on a tight timeline, and Out of the Blu is nothing if not a “make it work” kind of dive shop — and emerged from the car at sunrise to find a dark, churning sea crashing into rocks peppered with fishermen.
Ran scanned the surface, looking for sharks.
A few years ago, a mysterious phenomenon was discovered: every winter, dozens of female dusky and sandbar sharks gather at this mysterious site. Researchers speculate the sharks are drawn to warm water ejected from the looming power plant on the shore.
With up strong currents, limited visibility, lots of commotion, and the anticipation of being face to face with dozens of six-hundred-pound sharks, this is not a dive to take lightly. Yet this is really Out of the Blu’s signature dive, and Ran is considered one of the country’s experts on interacting responsibly with these sharks. Like many of the great dive guides I’ve worked with, he understands that the behavior and attitude of humans is the greatest indicator in having a successful animal interaction underwater.
I admit that I was intimidated by this dive and as high as I was on conquering my fears after the Dead Sea dive, this was not one I was eager to tackle without perfect conditions. But alas, I’ll be back.
Just a half an hour north sits the coastal town of Caesarea, a dive site as beautiful and fascinating above and below the surface. Built by Herod the Great as a historic port and a Roman ampitheater still in use today, Caesarea is now a National Park that even includes underwater ruins.
While the dive center was effectively closed due to rough conditions the day we’d planned to dive, we still stopped by to have a chat. The underwater archeological park is so extensive, it’s been broken into a few different “tracks” — guided underwater routes highlighting the various ruins.
Don’t expect to swim through an underwater city, Udi explained, but you will see the vague remains of a tower, a sea wall, a jetty, and numerous anchors. And, of course, even the most hardcore of divers will want to pause to explore this beautiful ancient city on land, too.
Next up, we drove the final hour north to Nahariya, a coastal town brushing the border with Lebanon. I was crossing my fingers to the final second that the conditions would calm enough for us to make these dives, but fate was determined to give me a reason to return to Israel (not that I needed one!)
Divers are drawn here by wrecks and an interesting underwater war memorial, but also by two incredible sites called Achziv Canyon and Rosh Hanikra Caverns. These are sites with tricky boat entries reliant on calm seas, and Out of The Blu partners closely with a great local dive operator here who knows how to read the conditions like the back of their neoprene glove.
Achziv Canyon is an underwater canyon offshore Achziv National Park. Dropping in by boat, you can explore the sponge-and-soft-coral-covered canyon, which starts at thirty feet and drops down to a hundred, and enjoy the rays, turtles, and other sealife that often hang out nearby. In the shallows, lucky divers will find crabs, octopi, sea urchins, and more.
Rosh Hanikra Caverns is a truly unique dive site. Waves and currents carved these beautiful caverns — which we saw from a wild speed boat ride around the coast — into the chalky cliffs of the Rosh Hanikra Reserve. Divers can enter the caverns by boat or by swimming out from shore, and surface again in a large pool inside a grotto, where thrilled tourists will wave from a viewing deck above.
Sometimes, small fish will join you in the cavern, and on rare occasion, divers have even encountered dolphins or seals near the entrance. The sound and light bouncing around the cavern, I was told, are magical.
And some magic, or prayer, is often required to make this dive happen, Ran and Udi assured me. Because of the proximity to the Lebanon border, divers need to receive clearance from the IDF, Israel Defense Force, a few days ahead of time. Once you receive clearance for a specific day, it’s up to the universe whether or not conditions will agree.
If not? There’s a pretty fun boat ride in your future.
Scuba Diving in the Sea of Galilee
I’ll level with you: this one is for the real oddity collectors. I was tempted to be one of them. When one of the guys mentioned diving in Galilee offhand in an email, I did a double take. Say what? The internet holds nary a mention of scuba diving in the biblical water body.
It turns out that’s because, well, no one really does it. You can, Ran and Udi assured me, and the explorers they are, of course they had. But while there have been exciting archeological discoveries in Galilee in recent years, they aren’t really accessible to recreational divers. Instead, they demonstrated by showing me photos of their recent exploratory dive trip there, you’re more likely to find garbage — that is, if you can see if through the soupy green waters.
That said, for anyone who is keen to dive four seas in Israel — Out of The Blu will make it happen.
We explored it the traditional way — from above the surface. The Sea of Galilee is another “sea” that’s technically a lake, called a sea mostly out of tradition. Today, in Israel, it’s often referred to as Lake Kinneret, and is Israel’s largest source of fresh drinking water.
I don’t know where I got this idea, but I pictured Galilee as a remote, rural lake which we might paddle across in an ancient wooden canoe before camping on its empty shores. Ha! Instead I found a bustling, modern world surrounding a lake so large I could barely see the opposite shore from the one I was sitting on.
Whether you want to dive it or not, Galilee is easy to tack on to any of the Mediterranean dive sites.
Scuba Diving with Out of The Blu
I love that two guys from a dive club in Modi’in, a landlocked city, introduced me to diving in Israel. To hear them describe it — and I couldn’t agree more — their location is a plus. “We aren’t tied to any one dive site,” Ran shrugged. “We go where the conditions are good, and we will meet or take our divers anywhere in Israel.” They are closely connected with other dive shops across the country.
Ran and Udi are extremely experienced and passionate scuba divers — not to mention funny guys with many stories to tell.
I can’t help but gush about their new Red, Med and Dead sea dive safari — and think how perfect it would be for a small dive club, or an adventurous family or group of friends. What really resonated with me about Out of The Blu is their “make it happen” attitude, and their knowledge and ability to make it happen. “If a group wants luxury hotels, we book them luxury hotels. If they want to go camping, we go camping. We have tents!,” Udi laughed.
Four our tour, we mixed it up, stayed in a mix of nice hotels, hostels and my favorite, kibbutzes — uniquely Israeli lodging in a communal settlement.
On days you can’t dive due to conditions or altitude restrictions, the guys will happily take you to land-based sights based on your interests or theme – historical sites, natural reserves, eco tours, etc. While they’re flexible, they conceded the ideal group size is four to six people (ten maximum), and the ideal timeframe four to six days. And non-divers in the mix is no problem at all — every single dive site we visited had something for a non-diving partner to do.
When To Dive in Israel
The Red Sea is essentially diveable year-round, thus making it Israel’s dive capital, though it’s most popular in the summer (Israel shares the same seasons as the US) when temperatures reach their peak. Water temperature in the Red Sea range from the high 60’s to the high 80’s.
The Mediterranean is generally best in the fall and spring, with visibility dropping in the summer. If you want to see the sharks in Hadera, your best bet is to head to Israel between December and April. Water temperatures in the Mediterranean range from the low 60’s to the low 80’s.
In the Dead Sea, diving ceases from about mid-June to mid-September, when the water temperature is too hot for diving. Water temperatures in the Dead Sea range from the low 70’s to the low 90’s.
My trip was in very early May.
Scuba Diving in Israel
While scuba diving is a wildly popular activity among adrenaline-loving domestic Israeli travelers, the country, at least outside Eilat, still remains in the “hidden gem” status as far as dive destinations go for foreigners — and the lack of English language information out there definitely doesn’t help.
But travelers to Israel can be confident that diving in Israel is heavily regulated and well organized. Diving laws in Israel are strict and closely followed — for example, diving insurance is mandatory here. (Fear not — World Nomads offers both scuba dive insurance and travel insurance.)
Israel even has it’s own certification agency, the Israeli Diving Federation, which issues dive certifications with, from what I’ve heard, are even stricter standards than PADI or SSI. (If you’ve ever met an Israeli traveler who asked you “how many stars” you were in relation to your diving certification level, they were referring to that system, ha.)
So while Israel may not be one of the first destinations that comes to mind when you think of diving now, with the incredible and crazy unique experiences this country has to offer, I have no doubt that someday it will be.
Here’s to great underwater adventures… and always leaving something to come back for on the next trip!
Had you ever heard of diving in Israel before this post? Would you go? Which dive sites are calling your name?
I was a guest of Out of The Blu Diving. Thanks for the incredible trip, guys!