I wasn’t quite sure exactly how to categorise this one, as it encompasses the northern and western regions of Asia, but also spills into Europe, thanks to Russia. That pesky Russia. It creates an interesting contrast, though as Russia is a haven for cold water and ice diving, where the best spots in the Middle East are all, obviously, in far warmer, more coral-laden waters.
In either case, both of these adjoined chunks of land present some amazing, unsung opportunities for diving, and narrowing it down to 5 was tricky (Russia gets 2, because it’s stupidly big). Travelling to these regions presents challenges of its own, but if you have the patience and wherewithal, the rewards are huge. But not as huge as Russia. Bloody Russia.
The Daymaniyat Islands are the first and only marine reserve in all of Oman. Boat traffic is heavily monitored, and the stretch plays host to a number of protected species. There are 9 islands in total, with a number of popular sites, with minor variables (hence why I didn’t earmark a specific one). During the summer there are big plankton blooms, which in turn attract big filter feeders like whale sharks. You’ll also see some pretty sizeable sea turtles, as there are an abundance of big crabs and crayfish for them to snack on.
Qatar is a veritable haven for diving, as many have recently discovered. The tiny nation is flanked on 3 sides by warm sea, brimming with coral and marine life in various forms. It’s particularly good for wreck diving, with a number of sunken oil rigs strewn along the coast, alongside other smaller ships. The Pericles is one of these, situated some 30km from Doha, in the Persian Gulf. It was lately a Greek built cargo liner, used by Japanese merchants, until it sunk in 83. It’s no oil rig, but it’s still massive, and hangs open for divers to fully explore. Barracuda congregate there is huge schools, likely hunting the angel fish, batfish and snapper that hang around inside.
Travelling to the White Sea’s only functioning PADI dive centre in the village of Nilmaguba is a challenge in and of itself, and this kind of diving is only really advisable if you’re at a more advanced level, but if you can handle it, you’re in for something truly incredible. The water is astoundingly clear beneath the ice, and brimming with soft coral and mollusks, many of which are totally unique to the area, but the main draw are the Beluga whales. You have to dive in a specific, enclosed area, built to help them expand their numbers, but you needn’t worry about any no-shows. The whales are remarkably friendly and playful, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone coming away from the experience who wasn’t utterly captivated by them.
Actually getting into Saudi Arabia is a bit of a headache, you need a visa and a passport that’s good for a minimum of 6 months, and in order to dive you need a Saudi permit, in Arabic. It’s a headache, but the diving there is so good it makes it very much worth it, you won’t go just once. If you did have to pick only one spot though, it would almost certainly be Redmah Wall. This 150 metre drop is a soft coral paradise, littered with nudibranchs, hawkfish, whip coral, and feather and basket stars. The wall is lined with shelves and caverns where you can observe various crustaceans, as well as clownfish and the odd blue spotted ray. It’s like diving through a living rainbow.
If you’re taking a diving trip to Russia, you shouldn’t ever pass up the chance to dive in Lake Baikal, the largest, deepest freshwater body in the world. There are several sites across the shore and from the islands, but Listvyanka is probably the best point to start from. The area of the lake you dive into depends on weather conditions, but you’ll be garuanteed to see amazing things, regardless of where exactly you drop in the crystal clear water. Visibility can be anything up to 40 metres, and the deep you get, the better it is. Baikal is a tectonic fissure, so expect massive rocky walls and overhangs. Marine life is sparse, but you’ll see plenty of sponges, you might happen up the odd omul, a native type of Arctic cisco, or a goby disguising itself on the lakebed. If you choose a site further north, you may also see a nerpa, the only freshwater seal in the world.