Eid al-Adha doesn't have to be all sheep and awkward family dinners, spend it underwater this year!

Published September 23rd, 2014 - 09:48 GMT

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Chubby sheep and goats grazing highway pastures are a sure sign that Eid al-Adha - the Feast of the Sacrifice - is just around the corner. Expected this year during the first week of October, it’s an important Islamic holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to honor the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim to heed God’s command and sacrifice his first-born son. (You know how that went down - God jumped in with a last-minute substitution - a hapless ram took the hit for young Ishmael, who enjoyed a long life writ large in the Qur’an and the Torah and the Bible.) Continue reading below »

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About 7km south of Taba, tiny Pharaohs Island sits just (an almost-swimmable!) 250m off Egypt’s coast. In 1914, Lawrence of Arabia built himself a raft and swam to the island helped by a Bedouin guide. Take a boat today for $4 and save your energy for snorkeling. Nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage, it’s also the site of Saladin’s Citadel.
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Image 1 of 10:  1 / 10About 7km south of Taba, tiny Pharaohs Island sits just (an almost-swimmable!) 250m off Egypt’s coast. In 1914, Lawrence of Arabia built himself a raft and swam to the island helped by a Bedouin guide. Take a boat today for $4 and save your energy for snorkeling. Nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage, it’s also the site of Saladin’s Citadel.

Enlarge
Indulge in a drift dive along the strong currents swirling around Elphinstone Reef. Brilliantly colored soft corals cover its steep walls. This famous shark habitat hosts seven species including hammerhead, white tip and tiger sharks, but also less terrifying dolphins. Dive trips leave from Marsa Alam, a 20 minute boat ride from shore.
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Image 2 of 10:  2 / 10Indulge in a drift dive along the strong currents swirling around Elphinstone Reef. Brilliantly colored soft corals cover its steep walls. This famous shark habitat hosts seven species including hammerhead, white tip and tiger sharks, but also less terrifying dolphins. Dive trips leave from Marsa Alam, a 20 minute boat ride from shore.

Enlarge
Holy crap! Swim in a bizarre “accidental reef” made of toilets and bathtubs (cargo from a 1980 shipwreck) at Yolanda Reef near Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Located at the juncture of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez, super strong currents “flush” the site with every tide, creating an ideal breeding ground for marine life.
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Image 3 of 10:  3 / 10Holy crap! Swim in a bizarre “accidental reef” made of toilets and bathtubs (cargo from a 1980 shipwreck) at Yolanda Reef near Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Located at the juncture of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez, super strong currents “flush” the site with every tide, creating an ideal breeding ground for marine life.

Enlarge
Check out the life-size elephant statue that just joined the undersea menagerie off the coast of Dahab in Egypt. It’s part of the Underwater Museum Coral Reef Preservation Project, an aquatic art museum in the Red Sea that will eventually morph into a new reef as corals claim the statuary. (Priceless selfie alert!)
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Image 4 of 10:  4 / 10Check out the life-size elephant statue that just joined the undersea menagerie off the coast of Dahab in Egypt. It’s part of the Underwater Museum Coral Reef Preservation Project, an aquatic art museum in the Red Sea that will eventually morph into a new reef as corals claim the statuary. (Priceless selfie alert!)

Enlarge
Dolphinarium is an eco-park where landlubbers can sip cocktails in the sun and watch the antics of bottlenose dolphins from Dolphin Reef beach. Adventurers can shell out higher fees to swim, snorkel and dive alongside the crazily cute critters. It’s a perfect antidote to the faux-Miami vibe of Israel’s sole Red Sea resort town, Eilat.
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Image 5 of 10:  5 / 10Dolphinarium is an eco-park where landlubbers can sip cocktails in the sun and watch the antics of bottlenose dolphins from Dolphin Reef beach. Adventurers can shell out higher fees to swim, snorkel and dive alongside the crazily cute critters. It’s a perfect antidote to the faux-Miami vibe of Israel’s sole Red Sea resort town, Eilat.

Enlarge
The Brothers are twin islands in the middle of the Red Sea that offer a double-whammy dive! White tip and hammerhead sharks join shoals of fish swarming around the 100-year-old wreck Numidia and also Aida II, an Italian wreck from the 1950s. It’s an 8 hour sail from Hurghada, so skip the hotel and book yourself a live-aboard passage.
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Image 6 of 10:  6 / 10The Brothers are twin islands in the middle of the Red Sea that offer a double-whammy dive! White tip and hammerhead sharks join shoals of fish swarming around the 100-year-old wreck Numidia and also Aida II, an Italian wreck from the 1950s. It’s an 8 hour sail from Hurghada, so skip the hotel and book yourself a live-aboard passage.

Enlarge
Kaleidoscopic corals look like they’ve been painted onto the seabed at Egypt’s Jackson Reef in the Straits of Tiran. Bright red anemones dance in the currents, but don’t touch the razorlike branches of the fire corals! They may be more dangerous than the sharks and manta rays that call this site home. Dive boats leave from Sharm el Sheikh.
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Image 7 of 10:  7 / 10Kaleidoscopic corals look like they’ve been painted onto the seabed at Egypt’s Jackson Reef in the Straits of Tiran. Bright red anemones dance in the currents, but don’t touch the razorlike branches of the fire corals! They may be more dangerous than the sharks and manta rays that call this site home. Dive boats leave from Sharm el Sheikh.

Enlarge
The sea swallowed the ancient city Heracleion, burying its treasures in mud for over 1,200 years. Discovered in 2000 in Aboukir Bay near Alexandria, so far 64 ancient shipwrecks, anchors, giant statues and gold coins have been excavated from 30 feet below the surface of the Mediterranean. See ancient Egypt without the punishing heat!
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Image 8 of 10:  8 / 10The sea swallowed the ancient city Heracleion, burying its treasures in mud for over 1,200 years. Discovered in 2000 in Aboukir Bay near Alexandria, so far 64 ancient shipwrecks, anchors, giant statues and gold coins have been excavated from 30 feet below the surface of the Mediterranean. See ancient Egypt without the punishing heat!

Enlarge
About a three hour drive from Sharm el Sheikh, on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, lies the SS Thistlegorm, the most popular wreck dive in the world. This British transport ship carrying guns and trucks, cars and torpedoes was attacked and sunk in 1941 on its way from Glasgow to Alexandria. Swim inside the silty wreck to see 70 years of rust!
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Image 9 of 10:  9 / 10About a three hour drive from Sharm el Sheikh, on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, lies the SS Thistlegorm, the most popular wreck dive in the world. This British transport ship carrying guns and trucks, cars and torpedoes was attacked and sunk in 1941 on its way from Glasgow to Alexandria. Swim inside the silty wreck to see 70 years of rust!

Enlarge
Taghazout is a sleepy village on Morocco’s Atlantic coast that belies the up-all-night antics of its underwater world. It’s relatively unmapped, you’ll be one the first to explore it.  New dive schools in Agadir (20 km south of the spot) use Taghazout as their launch point. Bump up against big schools of fish, not big groups of divers!
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Image 10 of 10:  10 / 10Taghazout is a sleepy village on Morocco’s Atlantic coast that belies the up-all-night antics of its underwater world. It’s relatively unmapped, you’ll be one the first to explore it. New dive schools in Agadir (20 km south of the spot) use Taghazout as their launch point. Bump up against big schools of fish, not big groups of divers!

Enlarge

1

About 7km south of Taba, tiny Pharaohs Island sits just (an almost-swimmable!) 250m off Egypt’s coast. In 1914, Lawrence of Arabia built himself a raft and swam to the island helped by a Bedouin guide. Take a boat today for $4 and save your energy for snorkeling. Nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage, it’s also the site of Saladin’s Citadel.

Image 1 of 10About 7km south of Taba, tiny Pharaohs Island sits just (an almost-swimmable!) 250m off Egypt’s coast. In 1914, Lawrence of Arabia built himself a raft and swam to the island helped by a Bedouin guide. Take a boat today for $4 and save your energy for snorkeling. Nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage, it’s also the site of Saladin’s Citadel.

2

Indulge in a drift dive along the strong currents swirling around Elphinstone Reef. Brilliantly colored soft corals cover its steep walls. This famous shark habitat hosts seven species including hammerhead, white tip and tiger sharks, but also less terrifying dolphins. Dive trips leave from Marsa Alam, a 20 minute boat ride from shore.

Image 2 of 10Indulge in a drift dive along the strong currents swirling around Elphinstone Reef. Brilliantly colored soft corals cover its steep walls. This famous shark habitat hosts seven species including hammerhead, white tip and tiger sharks, but also less terrifying dolphins. Dive trips leave from Marsa Alam, a 20 minute boat ride from shore.

3

Holy crap! Swim in a bizarre “accidental reef” made of toilets and bathtubs (cargo from a 1980 shipwreck) at Yolanda Reef near Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Located at the juncture of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez, super strong currents “flush” the site with every tide, creating an ideal breeding ground for marine life.

Image 3 of 10Holy crap! Swim in a bizarre “accidental reef” made of toilets and bathtubs (cargo from a 1980 shipwreck) at Yolanda Reef near Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Located at the juncture of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez, super strong currents “flush” the site with every tide, creating an ideal breeding ground for marine life.

4

Check out the life-size elephant statue that just joined the undersea menagerie off the coast of Dahab in Egypt. It’s part of the Underwater Museum Coral Reef Preservation Project, an aquatic art museum in the Red Sea that will eventually morph into a new reef as corals claim the statuary. (Priceless selfie alert!)

Image 4 of 10Check out the life-size elephant statue that just joined the undersea menagerie off the coast of Dahab in Egypt. It’s part of the Underwater Museum Coral Reef Preservation Project, an aquatic art museum in the Red Sea that will eventually morph into a new reef as corals claim the statuary. (Priceless selfie alert!)

5

Dolphinarium is an eco-park where landlubbers can sip cocktails in the sun and watch the antics of bottlenose dolphins from Dolphin Reef beach. Adventurers can shell out higher fees to swim, snorkel and dive alongside the crazily cute critters. It’s a perfect antidote to the faux-Miami vibe of Israel’s sole Red Sea resort town, Eilat.

Image 5 of 10Dolphinarium is an eco-park where landlubbers can sip cocktails in the sun and watch the antics of bottlenose dolphins from Dolphin Reef beach. Adventurers can shell out higher fees to swim, snorkel and dive alongside the crazily cute critters. It’s a perfect antidote to the faux-Miami vibe of Israel’s sole Red Sea resort town, Eilat.

6

The Brothers are twin islands in the middle of the Red Sea that offer a double-whammy dive! White tip and hammerhead sharks join shoals of fish swarming around the 100-year-old wreck Numidia and also Aida II, an Italian wreck from the 1950s. It’s an 8 hour sail from Hurghada, so skip the hotel and book yourself a live-aboard passage.

Image 6 of 10The Brothers are twin islands in the middle of the Red Sea that offer a double-whammy dive! White tip and hammerhead sharks join shoals of fish swarming around the 100-year-old wreck Numidia and also Aida II, an Italian wreck from the 1950s. It’s an 8 hour sail from Hurghada, so skip the hotel and book yourself a live-aboard passage.

7

Kaleidoscopic corals look like they’ve been painted onto the seabed at Egypt’s Jackson Reef in the Straits of Tiran. Bright red anemones dance in the currents, but don’t touch the razorlike branches of the fire corals! They may be more dangerous than the sharks and manta rays that call this site home. Dive boats leave from Sharm el Sheikh.

Image 7 of 10Kaleidoscopic corals look like they’ve been painted onto the seabed at Egypt’s Jackson Reef in the Straits of Tiran. Bright red anemones dance in the currents, but don’t touch the razorlike branches of the fire corals! They may be more dangerous than the sharks and manta rays that call this site home. Dive boats leave from Sharm el Sheikh.

8

The sea swallowed the ancient city Heracleion, burying its treasures in mud for over 1,200 years. Discovered in 2000 in Aboukir Bay near Alexandria, so far 64 ancient shipwrecks, anchors, giant statues and gold coins have been excavated from 30 feet below the surface of the Mediterranean. See ancient Egypt without the punishing heat!

Image 8 of 10The sea swallowed the ancient city Heracleion, burying its treasures in mud for over 1,200 years. Discovered in 2000 in Aboukir Bay near Alexandria, so far 64 ancient shipwrecks, anchors, giant statues and gold coins have been excavated from 30 feet below the surface of the Mediterranean. See ancient Egypt without the punishing heat!

9

About a three hour drive from Sharm el Sheikh, on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, lies the SS Thistlegorm, the most popular wreck dive in the world. This British transport ship carrying guns and trucks, cars and torpedoes was attacked and sunk in 1941 on its way from Glasgow to Alexandria. Swim inside the silty wreck to see 70 years of rust!

Image 9 of 10About a three hour drive from Sharm el Sheikh, on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, lies the SS Thistlegorm, the most popular wreck dive in the world. This British transport ship carrying guns and trucks, cars and torpedoes was attacked and sunk in 1941 on its way from Glasgow to Alexandria. Swim inside the silty wreck to see 70 years of rust!

10

Taghazout is a sleepy village on Morocco’s Atlantic coast that belies the up-all-night antics of its underwater world. It’s relatively unmapped, you’ll be one the first to explore it.  New dive schools in Agadir (20 km south of the spot) use Taghazout as their launch point. Bump up against big schools of fish, not big groups of divers!

Image 10 of 10Taghazout is a sleepy village on Morocco’s Atlantic coast that belies the up-all-night antics of its underwater world. It’s relatively unmapped, you’ll be one the first to explore it. New dive schools in Agadir (20 km south of the spot) use Taghazout as their launch point. Bump up against big schools of fish, not big groups of divers!

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Animal sacrifice and familial feasting continue to mark the holiday (happening this year on October 4th). But what if you’re not a fan of competitive eating? Maybe you’re a bit of a maverick looking to escape another drawn out family outing? Maybe you just need a break.

Could be tough going if you haven’t yet mapped your escape; the usual haunts are overbooked and everything is overpriced. But late planning doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice fun on the Feast of the Sacrifice! Think outside the hackneyed holiday box. Consider staying in the region. But for those of us locals, who’ve crisped in Corniche sunshine, camped with the Bedouin, and climbed the million steps a billion times to Petra’s Monastery - how to make a Middle East holiday more exciting? Just add water!

It’s counter-intuitive that sandy Middle East nations also offer brilliant submarine paradises. But just look at the coastlines of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel rimming the Northern Red Sea (considered by CEDAM International as one of the seven Underwater Wonders of the World). Or spin the globe to the southern shores of the Mediterranean - Morocco and Egypt enjoy the same climate that floats boats in Cannes and Athens.

So skip the swank of the Emirates, shelve Cyprus and turn away from Turkey. (You probably can’t get decently priced flights there anyway). This Eid, grab your more adventurous mates, try a hostel or low-cost watersports hotel, sidestep overcrowded beaches, and dive into the splendors of our local seas.

Check out these wet and wild holiday destinations!

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