Some islands have
shores lined with mangrove trees or salt bush. Shoals and submerged coral reefs, a spectacular marine life
(dolphins, sharks, dugongs, turtle species, hermit crabs, fish, mollusks or shellfish), shipwrecks and
pumice stones formed from submarine volcanoes make the Red Sea an
unforgettable diving experience.
126 islands surrounded by coral reefs form a natural gateway.
An important difference with other diving spots in the Red Sea is an
unexpected result of the years of war. During the fights, fishery came to a halt
and resulted in a spectacular increase of large numbers of fish. A second
advantage of this forced isolation is a relative lack of shyness of the fish. It
is thought that there are 325 species of fish in the Red Sea.
The Dahlak Archipelago has been designated as a national park during the Ethiopian rule.
Presently you cant go there alone (and without permission). For visits
please contact an Asmara travel agent.
The Dahlak islanders were amongst the first in East Africa to convert to Islam, and a number of tombstones in Kufic writing attest to this early connection.
In the 7th century an independent state emerged in the archipelago,
but it was subsequently conquered by Yemen, then intermittently by the Kingdom of Medri Bahri (Land of the Sea) 1517,
when the Ottoman Turks conquered them and placed the islands under the rule of the Pasha
at Suakin as part of the province of Habesh. A more sinister aspect of the islands history is that they were one of the most
important conduits for the export of slaves from the mainland to Arabia.
The archipelago became part of the Italian colony of Eritrea, when
it was formed in 1890. However, during this time the islands were home to little else except the Nacura prison camp operated by the
Italian Colonial Forces.
During the Ethiopian occupation of Eritrea, Nacura island
housed a prison, used by the Dergue. After Ethiopia allied itself with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, following the rise of the
Dergue, the Dahlak Archipelago was the location of a Soviet Navy base.
During the war of independence a group of Eritrean freedom fighters - under
the name Naval Force - carried out diving operations against the Ethiopian armed
forces. These freedom fighters today make up the core of Eritrean diving tourism,
organized by Eritrean Shipping Lines in Massawa.
Currently Eritrea has some attractive dive sites open for
tourism diving. Some of the important dive sites in the Dahlak Archipelago and
north of Massawa include: Desie, Madot, Nakura, Kundubul, Dahlak, Durgam,
Durgella, Dehle and Dehl Bahot. All the islands have natural, good, long white
sandy beaches which are excellent for recreation. The offshore water is also
excellent for swimming, sport fishing and water sports.
The largest island, Dahlak Kebir, which is located 58 kilometers from Massawa, is some 643 km²
with a population of about 1,500. It was the chief port for pearl fishing in the southern part
of the Red Sea and was formally used as a military base by the Ethiopians.
Dahlak Kebir offers opportunities to visit Afar fishing villages, as well as
ancient Turkish and Islamic ruins. The many hundred years old Arab inscriptions, the monumental cisterns, and the 360 wells are
important living historical footprints, the proof of a high level of historical development
that took place in Dahlak Kebir.
Nacura is an island situated west of Dahlak Kebir. In the early years of the Italian colonial
rule i.e. 1891/1892, the island was established as a detention camp for the anti-colonial
Eritreans as well as opponents from other Italian colonies.
During the Ethiopian occupation of Eritrea the prison was used by the Dergue.
Thousands of political prisoners lost their lives, indicating the bitter conditions of this prison.
Marine base Nokra
Opposite to the Luul Hotel (Dahlak Kebir) lies the old marine base Nokra,
setup by the former USSR and Ethiopia during the war of independence.
After the last days of the war the base was abandoned. One of the last
actions before the retreat was the destruction of all military and non military
hardware and to scuttle patrol boats, ships and the floating dock, that might be
of any use to the Eritreans. This vindictive behavior has resulted in an
interesting heritage for divers.
The two cranes of the former floating dock rise above sea level in the
northern channel between Nokra and Dahlak Kebir, while the rest of the wreck is
populated by riff fish, a variety of corals and blue and black speckled manta
rays. The Russians even left a complete operational officers sauna for 20
persons, which is quite remarkable in one of the hottest regions on earth, which
temperatures of over 50°C!
Useful telephone numbers and addresses
|Luul Resort Hotel
c/o Eritrean Shipping Lines
|P.O. Box 1110 Asmara
c/o Dahlak Hotel
|P.O. Box 21 Massawa
The Dahlak Archipelago is an Eritrean island group located in the Red Sea.
It consists of two large and 200 small islands. Four of the island are inhabited.
Ancient Arab inscriptions - Dahlak Kebir
Dahlak Islands Luul Resort Hotel - Dahlak Kebir
The waters along the Eritrean coast have been nicknamed "fish
soup" because of the 1000 or so species that live in the Red Sea.
The Red Sea has many unusual species of colorful fish and coral.
Blue speckled manta rays and various corals occupy the wreck
of the former floating dock of the Ethiopian marine base
Turtle returning to the sea, after laying her eggs on the beach.
Seil, a small rocky island in the Dahlak Archipelago,
in the entrance of the Gulf of
Zula, south of Massawa.
The island, 35 kilometers off the Massawa coast,
is famous for its bird life and diving opportunities.
Scuba diver closes up on a deadly puffer fish
in the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea.
White sandy beach of Dessei (Dahlak Archipellago).
Photo: Eritrea PADI Dive Centre Eritrea.
More pictures of
the Dahlak Islands
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