My partner and I
had heard on the grapevine that Beirut was the place to go for diving that was
'a bit different'. The partner, having lived in Beirut as a young child, was
keen to see the city as it was now and so, after a few searches on the Internet,
we duly booked ourselves a week's diving with the National Institute of Scuba
Our friends looked at us
in horror when we told them where we were bound and I'm sure some of them were
ready to scour the 'papers waiting to read of our capture or death, and had
visions of Kate Adie leaping onto the dive boat to escape the latest outbreak of
fighting. Whilst that would have been nearer the picture some 12 years ago,
today, the reality is far less dramatic:
1. The civil war ended
2. The city is now
largely rebuilt and has a wonderful infrastructure in place.
3. Part Muslim, part
Christian, it is extremely Westernised. Think French Riviera but with mosques
and you'll get the picture.
4. However, you would be
wise to avoid the southern part of the country, where outbreaks between rival
factions still continue over the Lebanese / Israeli border.
We found that diving is
extremely popular and is one of the fastest growing sports in Lebanon. There are
approximately 25 dive centres along the 180 miles of Lebanese coast and 4 in
Beirut itself. Things have come along way from the war years when diving was a
hazardous pastime when common problems included being stranded out at sea whilst
shelling took place or finding yourself the target of snipers who would "shoot
anything that moved"! Most dives are between 16M and 37M so expect two 30M dives
per day. Teccies have dives on offer up to 70M and technical diving is certainly
gaining in popularity in the Lebanon.
Our choice, NISD, is a
TDI, IANTD, PADI, NAUI centre run by Walid Noshie, and situated in the marina of
the 4* Melia Riviera Hotel. It's an ideal location, with direct access from the
kit store and compressor room to the well-equipped boats. Nitrox fills (32 and
36%) and Trimix are available. They also have a fabulous dive shop, Scuba
Station; about 10 minutes walk from the marina.
Walid and his guides put
the emphasis very much on enjoying your diving in safety. Dive briefs are very
thorough on the safety aspects of that dive and anyone seen to flout the rules
will be spoken to! However, there were a couple days where, because of weather
conditions, the second dive turned out to be slightly deeper than the previous
one, which does seem to be something of the norm in Lebanon, but which, we
avoided. You will be expected to carry a delayed SMB for making ascents.
First dive of the day is
at the extremely welcome time of midday and second dive 5 o'clock. Ideal for
sampling the nightlife of Beirut without having to worry about an early start
the following day!
Generally, the diving in
Lebanon cannot be deemed 'world class'. Situated at the eastern end of the
Mediterranean, the marine life is poor with some sites best described as
'moonscapes' rather than landscapes. The visibility is variable (we averaged
8-10m) and on some days you wouldn't want to inspect the detritus floating in
the shallows too closely, although the Lebanese are making a concerted effort on
improving the water quality. On the plus side however, the water temperature is
an extremely pleasant 27C at 30m+ during August, (when we visited) and drops to
around 18C in the winter so diving all year round is possible. The wrecks are
interesting, generally in good condition and most have a good history. New sites
are being discovered all the time, so there will always be something 'fresh' to
During our week we
managed a mixture of wreck and reef diving, of which the wrecks were the
highlights. Often we dived a site more than once in order to get a good
orientation and because the site warranted another look.
Worth the cost of the
trip alone is the submarine 'Souffleur'. She is a French Vichy Submarine, built
in 1924 and sunk by the British on April 25th 1941 with a loss of 50 lives.
I was extremely keen to
dive this wreck, as I'd not dived a submarine before but this enthusiasm was
starting to wane as I perched, in full kit on the edge of the boat on a very hot
day on a heaving sea, whilst the skipper located the wreck. Rivers of sweat
poured off my face in a very unladylike manner and I seriously entertained
becoming 'man overboard' just to get in the water. "Diving is fun. Diving is
fun," I repeated in mantra-like fashion as I tried to ignore the insistent
churning of a stomach that wanted me to revisit breakfast.
Once in the water, with
the suspension reducing to viz to practically nil, I resigned myself, in true
drama-queen fashion, to disappointment. "Great. Can't see anything. I will only
know I've reached the wreck when I concuss myself on it and my buddy will tell
me that the lump over there is the torpedo room when it could be an elephant for
all I can make out". But things improved! Below 15m the viz improved and then,
suddenly, about 10m below us, there she was. And yes, she looked like a
submarine. She lies in two pieces at 38M, with the bow on its starboard side and
the stern on its port. Although damaged by both the torpedo that sank her and by
fisherman using dynamite, she is in reasonable condition. The outer hull has
gone, leaving the pressure hull on view. There was the conning tower with the
periscope easily identifiable inside; there were the access hatches. Here, the
torpedo tubes and the main anti-aircraft gun. Rifles litter the seabed and the
105mm canon lays roughly 150M away on the seabed.
I was thrilled, but most
striking of all to me was how small she was. To think that 55 people lived
inside this metal tube was a very sobering thought. Modern submariners must have
it easy in comparison and you still wouldn't get me inside a modern sub!
As always, with
memorable dives, it was over too soon and my first words at surface were "when
can we dive this again?" I would happily have dived her all week, as there's so
much to see and the added bonus of several Moray Eels (big ones!) and
Scorpionfish who have made their home here.
It is worth mentioning
here that penetration is only for the experienced as the passages are extremely
narrow and silty. 'Papa Joe' one of the guides at the centre we used, is an
authority on this particular wreck and his 'museum tour' of the Sub is a master
class of dive guiding.
Another wreck, which is
starting to form an artificial reef, is the 'Macedonia', the shallowest of the
diveable wrecks, laying in 2 sections in 16M. She was a cargo ship who ran
aground on the shallow rocks during the 1960's. The crew managed to keep her
afloat until the cargo was removed and she was then sold to an individual in
order to be broken up for scrap. Unfortunately, the new owner was unable to
complete his task, as the remains of the ship sank during a storm! This is not a
breathtaking dive as she is barely recognisable as a ship; the remains are
mainly broken ribs and plates but her position next to a small reef means she
has been fairly well colonised and Groupers and Morays are common. Lobsters can
be seen in season and we were fortunate enough to encounter a Common Guitarfish.
The final wreck we
experienced during our week was the 'Alice B', an excellent wreck for
penetration dives and very photogenic due to the fact that she sits upright and
largely intact at 37M. The Militia sank her during the civil war in order to
make an insurance claim. She was declared 'lost at sea' and the insurance
company duly paid out one million US dollars in compensation! Still, the
insurance company's loss is our gain!
She is small enough to
be able to see all there is to see in one dive and access to the sleeping
quarters, engine room, kitchen and living quarters is possible. As the ship has
had nearly everything pillaged, there are very few hazards to bump into or get
caught on. I found this a very pleasant and easy wreck dive with the novelty of
seeing portholes still in their place, although how these survived when
everything else has been removed is a mystery! It was also extremely enjoyable
to sit on the deck, looking upwards and watching your bubbles spiral up the mast
towards the surface light: a very calm and peaceful moment.
During July and August
Smalltooth Sand Tiger Sharks make their annual visit to 'Shark Point'. No one
knows exactly why they come but marine biologists believe it to be part of the
breeding cycle. Males grow up to 3m and females 4m in length, so an encounter
with one or more of these magnificent animals has to be a plus point in anyone's
logbook! As with many of the dives here, we were enjoying a pleasant little
bimble over the rocks. We had been to one end of the reef and back but no shark,
such is life. But almost at the point where air consumption forced us to start
our ascent, there it was, 3m of pure shark! The beast we encountered appeared in
the canyon 3m below us, promenaded graciously to and fro, seemingly for our
benefit alone and then disappeared. Simply awesome!
On our second dive of
this site, we saw no sharks at all; a reminder that sighting these animals is
not guaranteed and they are not here for our entertainment alone, but we did
encounter a pair of Stingrays who were more surprised by us then we were by
them! The dive site itself is made up of 5 reefs with plateaux and drop-offs
starting at 28m and dropping to 50m+. Out of 'shark season' it is still possible
to see the Stingray, Eagle Ray, Grouper, Tuna, Moray and Nudibranch and a statue
of the Madonna, which NISD have thoughtfully added as a further point of
Stingray Reef (or
Alley), much like Shark Point, is a memorable dive - depending on the time of
year you visit! June and July are 'Ray months' where I'm told it is possible to
see not only Stingray, but also Electric, Thornback and Eagle Ray species. In
August we encountered one small Ray, unidentifiable through the murky viz!
However, there were a couple decent sized Moray and yes, more Nudibranch. The
dive itself was quite pleasant and the seabed is a quite varied composition of
sand, rocks and sea grass.
The AUB Canyon (American
University Beach) site can be accessed either by boat or as a shore dive (we
took the easier boat option) and is one of the few sites suitable for the less
experienced diver. Basically a wall dive, you hit the rocky bottom at around 5M
with the drop off starting at 25M and then dropping to more than 300M. There are
plenty of nooks and crevices to peer into and we saw a very generous sized
Octopus as well as the ubiquitous Nudibranch. Jellyfish can be a hazard during
July and you also need to keep a watch for fishing line and nets.
So, Beirut: the water
may be warm but the diving is challenging enough for your hard-nosed diving
friends not to label you as a 'warm-water diver'. To get the best out of the
diving on offer, I would recommend that you be an experienced Sports Diver or
equivalent. Some sites can have quite a current rushing across them and the seas
can be 'lumpy' to say the least. Facilities for divers are excellent. As only
the wealthy Lebanese dive, their dive club / school surroundings reflect this;
you won't find any clubs sat at the end of a rickety jetty. (Expect doormen and
valet parking and lots of silicone sat around the hotel pool.) Very few UK
divers have visited here so far: we were only the 4th non-Lebanese people to
dive with NISD that year (2001), but were treated with enormous respect, which
does wonders for the ego.
FACTS & FIGURES
NISD can be contacted
www.nisd-online.com email info@NISD-online.com Tel + (3) 204422 Fax + (1)
739206. Walid will be happy to arrange your accommodation or you could contact
one of the hotels shown below. The hotels are variable in standard as tourism is
fairly new to the Lebanon, but Walid's choices are excellent and it is
definitely worth paying that little bit extra to ensure comfort, cleanliness and
impeccable service. We have friends who booked their own accommodation only to
find their hotel was actually a brothel!
We stayed at the 3*
Concorde Hotel. (5 minutes walk from the dive centre) Tel + (1) 740678 Fax + (1)
Other possibilities include
The Melia Riviera (home of NISD) 4* Tel + (1) 602273 Fax + (1) 602272
Marble Tower Hotel 3* Tel + (1) 347656
Before you go:
Tetanus, Typhoid, Polio and Hepatitis 'A' are all recommended jabs at least 4
weeks before travelling.
British Airways and Middle Eastern Airlines fly direct from £494, but cheaper
flights are available. I found the same flight dates from £239 on
NB. If you have visited
Israel and have an Israeli stamp in your passport you will not be allowed entry
You must have an entry visa. This can be purchased at the airport on arrival for
approx £12, although this figure seems to vary depending on the mood the clerk
Arabic is the official language, but French and English are widely spoken.
dollars are accepted everywhere, although change may be given in Lebanese
currency, (Lebanese Pounds). There is approximately 2500 Lebanese £ to one £
Beirut and surrounding area
Beirut itself is a city of extremes, with an incredible amount of wealth and an
equal amount of poverty. You will see families scraping a living in the bombed
out buildings which are still standing. Downtown is largely rebuilt and the
Lebanese are justifiably proud of the way they are getting their lives together
since the civil war. There is still a large military presence on the streets.
Western dress for woman is perfectly acceptable in the city but be prepared to
cover up if you travel into the country. (Well worth the effort, as it is
exceptionally pretty and has masses of history).
The best way to get around town. The Government advised rate from the airport to
Beirut centre is $10 so ask for a 'service' taxi and agree the price before you
get in. Don't let the taxi run on meter, it'll end up costing you way over the
odds. (We got stung for $30 from the airport to our hotel). If you walk anywhere
EVERY passing taxi hoping to get your business will beep at you!
Eating and drinking
The local beer is Almaza and is quite good. Bottled water is preferable for
drinking. Many local restaurants are not much to look at but the food is
excellent, (you should try the local Meze for a selection of Lebanese dishes)
and you will be made very welcome. Sushi is very popular in the Lebanon and so
there are plenty of bars and restaurants offering this. McDonalds, Burger King,
TGI Friday, Hard Rock Cafe, Starbucks et al all have restaurants in the Hamra /
Downtown area. Eating out is not cheap however, especially in the restaurant
Paula Fancini-Hooper A718593 / OWI 2455 email
HMS Victoria - A Technical Diving Journey to Lebanon
HMS Victoria Wreck
Tales and Dives In Lebanon
Technical dives in Tripoli
HMS Victoria -
Admiral Tryon's Blunder