Discover Your Depths Retreats, Dahab, Egypt
Freediving and desert adventures that still the mind, challenge the body and lift the spirit
Discover your depths by learning to freedive in Dahab, find your voice in the silence of the Sinai—the throat chakra of the world—and reconnect to inner stillness as you fall asleep gazing at the star-filled sky. British kundalini yoga teacher and four-times freediving former world record-holder, Sara Campbell, integrates yoga, breath awareness, meditation, coaching, freediving and a desert experience to allow you to explore what holds you back to learn how to live a calmer and more present life, ultimately without fear. There are two beginners’ Sea-Inside Retreats and two Magical Encounters: Dolphins and You retreats a year with numerous one-week Level 1 and Level 2 Holistic Freediving retreats each month between April and October that can also be organised as bespoke retreats.
Sara Campbell. Her warmth, enthusiasm, generous spirit and embodiment of the kundalini kriyas are the essence of the Discover Your Depths freedive experience.
In addition to the challenges of water purity, the incongruence of trying to relax in the sometimes crowded noisy shallows of the sea at Dahab may be challenging for water-fearing beginners.
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From swimming with dolphins, through using the ocean as mirror to highlight fears and blockages to overnight desert experiences to bathe in silence and stillness, Dahab-based Sara Campbell, a world champion freediver, and her partner Jean Philippe, will tailor ocean and/or desert-based retreats from four days to multiple weeks that incorporate yoga, kundalini kriyas, coaching, meditation and freediving.
The five-day diving programme is offered in two levels: Level 1 Intermediate and beyond (some freediving experience); and Level 2 (completed Holistic Freediving 1). Unlike many certification programmes, Sara uses breathwork, meditation and breath awareness to explore the diver’s inner landscape of beliefs and fears, motivations and self-sabotage behaviour. Mornings are dedicated to discourse, discussion, theory, yoga, pranayama and meditation, while afternoons are spent in the water letting the ocean be the teacher. Dates are scheduled through spring and autumn, but they can be flexible to suit flight schedules and groups are limited to three people.
This 10-day retreat brings together all that Sara, Jean Philippe and the Sinai Peninsula have to offer and is the entry level beginner’s freediving retreat. It is structured in three parts, each separated by a rest day for maximum effectiveness. Designed for the freediving beginner, the first part Understanding Ourselves in Water covers theory, water relaxation and learning breath hold techniques as well including yoga, pranayama and meditation. Part two Holistic Freediving is made up of three days of morning lectures, sharing and meditation with afternoons in the water.
The final two days designed to integrate the ocean’s teaching are held in the desert and include a silent trek, meditation, kundalini kriyas at sunset to experience stillness, and silence by sleeping under the Milky Way. The retreat includes nine full days of personalised coaching; up to 14 nights’ accommodation in Villa Prana (or 12 at the Coral Coast Hotel); welcome dinner and closing dinner; all desert meals and activities; and all airport and dive-site transfers.
Magical Encounters is seven nights full board aboard the Enigma, a 32-metre yacht on the Sataya Reef, a shallow protected bay in the Red Sea where a large pod of a few hundred dolphins spend most of their days resting, playing and mating before heading out at night to hunt. This adventure is for anyone who wants to swim with dolphins, but particularly suited for beginners and certified free divers.
Sara and Jean Philippe will be offering freedive coaching during the week as well as basic breathing, and breath hold techniques and how to swim and float safely for less confident and non-swimmers. There are also gentle yoga and meditation sessions each day at sunrise and sunset.
Like the ocean, the lunar landscape of the desert is a complete sensory contrast for urban dwellers and so a great teacher. A trip to the Sinai desert allows you to experience pure silence and stillness and sleeping under the Milky Way is the perfect way to integrate learning and allow space for transformation. Working with Ehab Farid, founder of Embah Tours, Sara and Jean Philippe will plan an itinerary from a short trek to several days of hiking that is the right balance of adventure and comfort. This could include ecolodges, Bedouin tents, the secret herbal gardens of Bedouin healers, a hike in the sacred area of St. Catherine’s, or a sunset meditation on Mount Matamir.
To complement the mind, body, spirit adventure that Discover Your Depths takes you on, massages on the rest days for the Holistic Freediving and Sea-Inside Retreats are highly recommended. Clients typically go to the Nour Wellbeing Centre at the Coral Coast Hotel, where the massage and holistic therapies treatment menu that can be found in the poolside reception is extensive. There are several highly qualified European therapists and one-hour averages €40. The longer ayurvedic coconut oil massage is worth trying for it is rebalancing quality. For other beauty or therapies treatments ask Sara but do not go to the beach salons.
Sara and Jean Philippe combine their passion for yoga and nature in yearly Seasonal Alignment Retreats in Egypt and Europe. Each retreat is lovingly created, offering twice-daily yoga and meditation practice, supported by discourses on the wisdom of nature within us according to yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda. The Spring Alignment Retreat is held in Dahab and starts with two nights at the Coral Coast Hotel for a day of theory, yoga and meditation. It includes a day and night in Sta Catherine’s and a day with Dr Ahmed, the 70-year old Bedouin natural healer, in his ancient gardens in the mountains close to sacred Mount Sinai. The retreat then moves on to the Habiba Beach Lodge and Organic Farm in Nuweiba for two nights to learn about how modern organic farming is developing to combine the best of the ancient and the new. The retreat closes in Dahab to integrate with discourses on yogic and ayurvedic theory, and lifestyle practices to build wellbeing routines.
You have a choice of two places to stay – Villa Prana or Coral Coast Hotel. In addition to resting in the privacy of your air-conditioned bedrooms, Villa Prana has a shaded courtyard and rooftop, while the Coral Coast Hotel has sun loungers and shade on the beach and by the swimming pool to spend free time alone.
Designed by Sara who lives next door, this house sleeps up to four in two double bedrooms. The open plan living space opens out onto the courtyard garden with a shaded seating area that is perfect for an alfresco drink or nourishing pre-dive breakfast on the glass covered carve wooden table. The roof terrace overlooking the mountains and the ocean in the distance is perfect for sunbathing or sun-downers. Previous guests have left books but there is no TV and patchy Wi-Fi and the large sofa is perfect for indoor slouching, it’s the perfect place to do a digital detox and completely surrender to nature.
The spacious master bedroom with a domed ceiling has an en suite bathroom ample storage space and a relaxing rocking chair. The French windows open out onto the courtyard, making a lie in on the comfortable four poster bed to the sound of the windchimes the perfect way to get over the overnight flight if you are coming from London. The smaller second bedroom has an adjoining bathroom and both have air-conditioning.
Coral Coast Hotel:
Run by husband and wife team Ema Louis and Ehab Farid, Coral Coast Hotel is the main beach front accommodation suggested for Discover Your Depths guests, located in the Eel Garden end of Dahab. To completely unwind, take advantage of the extensive massage menu at the Nour Wellbeing Centre, or take a book to the beach and choose between lying on a sun lounger in the sand (mind the dog poo) or sitting in the shaded Arisha restaurant to enjoy a beer or delicious mango juice. This end of town is full of laid-back beach front bars and restaurants that retain a hippy vibe, where you and a book can while away the hours undisturbed.
All the rooms offered to Discover Your Depth clients are superior twin or double rooms with sea-facing balconies to enjoy the stunning views. The rooms are small but the décor is modern with bright white sheets and curtains and cushions with matching colour splash geometric designs and original artwork on the walls. All the rooms have a kettle and fridge, but no telephone to TVs. The en suite bathrooms are very basic but all have showers and a small individual hot water boiler over the sink and swan folded towels greet guests.
Drinking, brushing teeth or cooking with tap water is not advised. European plugs and Euros work in Egypt but have Egyptian Pounds to avoid lack of change; pre-arrival caffeine detox if you are freediving; and make sure you add a desert adventure even if only for one star-filled night.
When to Go
Although Dahab has year-round perfect weather, Discover Your Depths runs most of its retreats between April and November. Air temperatures range from the comfortable low-to-mid-20s in winter, into the high 30s in the summer. Water temperatures go from around 21 in winter up to 28 in late summer. If you are including a desert trip, where the temperatures can drop significantly at night in the winter months (it has even snowed) it’s worth bringing thermal layers.
If you are staying at the self-catering Villa Prana, you are welcomed with the most generous fridge full of fresh local seasonal produce including mangoes, bananas, dates, tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as wholegrain bread, mini Lurpak butters, cheese, jam, yoghurt, tea (herbal and breakfast) and coffee.
On Holistic Freediving retreats, divers typically only eat breakfast and then supper around 5pm at Fresh Fish Restaurant, which looks after the valuables and dive gear, snacking on nuts and drinking fresh mango juices to keep blood sugar balanced. The menu, which is similar in many of the divers’ haunts, has a wide variety of lamb, chicken and fish dishes with a plate of grilled vegetables with rice a favourite with vegetarians and a shish tawook, or chicken kebab, served with vegetables and either rice or fries a delicious option for those requiring protein.
A buffet breakfast ranging from falafel, beans, cheese and salad to more continental food such as yoghurt, bread, cheeses and fruit salad are included at Coral Coast Hotel and served either in the restaurant or Arisha on the beach.
The hotel also offers a la carte for lunch and dinner but Dahab is full of restaurants catering to all tastes so it is worth exploring: Marine Garden and The Vegan Lab are vegan restaurants; Red Cat serves healthy Russian food as well as delicious pizza and salads. There are also Italian, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Asian-fusion, and Egyptian and Lebanese places to eat, just ask Sara for recommendations. Red Cat, The Vegan Lab and Marine Garden wash salad in purified water and vinegar so are Egyptian ‘gippy’ tummy friendly. Most restaurants do not serve beer or wine, but bring your own is prevalent.
Freedivers need to avoid coffee, but on days off, the best coffee bar is The Coffee Wheel. For food shopping, Assalah has Ralph’s German bakery, Back to Nature, an organic food shop, and several grocers selling fresh fruit and vegetables.
By far the best meals you will eat are on desert safari with Ehab and Tarek: foil wrapped sweet potato spread with soft feta and pancakes for breakfast and for a star lit supper baba ganoush, vegetables and open fire roasted chicken that smelt so good that even vegetarians had a bite.
Villa Prana and the Nour Wellbeing Centre both have safe drinking water dispensers/coolers to refill thermal water bottles, to avoid contributing to the plastic bottle waste, but Dahab is has not yet managed to embrace plastic reduction. Organic waste is novel, just leave it on the streets for the goats and there are many beach-clean-up projects including clean-up dives for certified scuba divers.
All the Coral Coast hotel trips through Embah Travel are sustainable excursions in line with the Travel Foundation UK guidelines, providing income for multiple local and desert families, and also supporting them financially during low seasons and in times of need.
Habiba Organic Farm in Nuweiba is an organic farm that provides weekly green boxes for many of Dahab’s health-conscious residents as well as supplying the vegan and organic-focused restaurants. They are experimenting with permaculture and sustainable farming methods.
Villa Prana, Assalah, Dahab, South Sinai and Coral Coast, El Melal Street, Dahab, South Sinai
Airport: Sharm el Sheikh or Ovda (Israel)
Transfer time: Sharm el Sheikh (1 hour), Ovda (allow 5 hours which includes border crossing)