Egyptian Beach Vacations
Despite Egypt's ancient allure, today the country probably attracts more beach vacationers than any other type of tourists. This is because, for many Europeans, the warm Egyptian beaches are both inexpensive and well appointed. Many European countries specifically lack warm beaches and the alternatives to Egypt are somewhat expensive. Therefore, not only do people come to Egypt's beaches independently, but many arrive by way of chartered airlines that specialize in such vacations from Europe.
Depending on how one looks at it, Egypt can be said to have as many as seven beach zones. These consist of the Mediterranean beaches along the mainline coast from the Suez Canal over to Libya, the Mediterranean beaches along the northern Sinai, the Sinai coast along the gulf of Aqaba, the Sinai coast along the Gulf of Suez, the southern Sinai region which opens onto the Red Sea, the Mainland coast along the Gulf of Suez and the Mainland coast south of that along the Red Sea. Each of these areas vary either somewhat, or extensively from the others. Obviously the biggest differences are between the Mediterranean coast and all of the other regions that connect with the Red Sea. Some of these regions attract extensive tourism, while others are almost void of tourists. Some attract very specific tourists, while others are more generalized.
The North Coast from Libya East though the Sinai
In reality, the various regions are looked upon somewhat differently. For example, on the Egyptian mainland coast along the Mediterranean, there is a vast difference between the area from Alexandria over to Port Said from the region west of Alexandria. East of Alexandria is very populous along much of the Delta and not suitable for beaches until one reaches the northern Sinai. The beaches at Alexandria cater almost exclusively to Egyptians, with the exception of some specific resorts, who either have their own villas or apartments, or who stay in hotel facilities. In fact, probably most Egyptians come to Alexandria not for a beach vacation as such, but to escape the heat of Cairo. West of Alexandria along the coast, thinning out as one proceeds further west, but extending almost to the Libyan border, are resorts that differ from the beach hotels and facilities to the east. These are frequently compounds, as opposed to real villages, some of which are very exclusive and have only recently been built. The main point is that, while indeed some foreign tourists can be found in this region, they are very few in number, other than tourists visiting Alexandria for more classical reasons. This, of course, may change over time. The regions west of Alexandria has been called "underdeveloped". That too is rapidly changing, as new resorts are popping up all along the shoreline, particularly just west of Alexandria.
One of the intriguing aspects of the Mediterranean coast beach resorts is that there is a certain amount of experimentation with various types of Beaches. For example, around Marina, one of Egypt's most exclusive northern beach resort areas, specific beaches have been set aside for women, who wish to enjoy the beach without interference from male eyes, and youth, where the atmosphere is a little more lively and geared to their pleasures.
Along the north Sinai coast there is today actually very little tourism. In fact, about the only well known tourist location is Al-Arish, which has tried to make a go of tourism but has not been too successful, even though there are some fairly nice hotels in the village.
The Gulf of Suez
What is not surprising is that the mainland beach along the Gulf of Suez is ever more popular among Egyptians, and may very well become more important to foreign tourists as well. Though perhaps not quite as warm as beaches further south, resort complexes such as Stella Di Mari, which already receives a large number of Italian tourists in particular, are very nice, relatively inexpensive, and an easy visit from Cairo. We have often praised this location, along an area known as Ain Sukhna, for its convenience to Cairo as a quick Red Sea jaunt (though it is actually on the Gulf of Suez), which also allows tourists close access to visit the Suez Canal, and fairly close access to the famous Eastern Desert Monasteries of St. Anthony and St. Paul. Though this area remains mostly a destination for Egyptians, we expect to see more and more foreign tourists in the future, for which it is well suited.
The Beach at Stella Di Mari
It is rather interesting that, along with the northern Mediterranean Sinai coast, the Sinai coast along the Gulf of Suez has not much been developed as a tourist destination, either for Egyptians or foreigners. This is not to say that no facilities exist, but they are very sparse.
The Mainland Coast Along the Red Sea
Where we begin to see the most foreign beach goers is as Egypt's mainland coast opens onto the Red Sea. Specifically, the and Hurghada region is one of the most popular beach areas in Egypt among foreign tourists. Hurghada has traditionally been known as one of the most affordable beach resort communities, though there are certainly more luxurious facilities available in the city proper, while El Gouna, just to the north, has strictly an upper class reputation. Just to the south of Hurghada is also the exclusive compound of Soma Bay, with several hotels and a fine golf course. As one travels further south along the mainland Egyptian coast, resorts areas become less dense, and many of the more southern tourist destinations are more scuba diving camps than resorts though, for example Marsa Alam is gaining in importance as a general tourist destination.
The Eastern Sinai along the Gulf of Aqaba and its Southern region in the Red Sea
The eastern shore of the Sinai along the Gulf of Aqaba has a number of beach vacation resorts and towns, from the very northern tip of the Gulf all the way down to the southern end of the the Sinai. These areas really are frequented almost entirely by foreign tourists. However, they vary considerably, from Taba, which probably receives most of its tourism from Israel, down to Sharm el-Sheikh, which like Hurghada, is one of the main tourist destinations for beach goers to Egypt. In between Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh are Nuweiba and Dahab, which seem to cater to a mix of foreign tourists looking for perhaps a little less formal resorts and for that matter, less crowded resorts.
Types of Facilities
In Egypt, one of the nice things about its beach resorts is that just about every area seems to be interestingly different, and there are a wide range from the standpoint of expense. Facilities range from very rudimentary beach camps to the finest imaginable five star hotels, and include the possibility of villa rentals. In general, in the region south of Hurghada, not including Marsa Alam, beach camps and more rudimentary accommodations seem to be more dominant, but then so too are open beaches with little in the way of crowds. On the east, Aqaba side of the Sinai, while Taba and especially Sharm el-Sheikh are built up areas with fine facilities to choose from, the area in between these two destinations tend to be more camp-like, though there are certainly a few fine hotels here and there. These areas, south of Hurghada (and south of Soma Bay, and not including Marsa Alam), tend to be very laid back areas of beach with less formal entertainment facilities than the main tourist areas of El Gouna, Hurghada, Sharm el-Sheikh, Taba and more and more, Marsa Alam.
However, even the grand tourist destinations can be very different. For example, Hurghada is almost two cities in one. There is the downtown area with its less expensive hotels, some with beach front property, and then there are the individual resorts that are really somewhat segregated from the downtown area. The more segregated beach resorts at Hurghada are not all that different from those further north in the area of Ain Sukhna and along the Northern mainland coast west of Alexandria. They are essentially self contained complexes that offer little availability to the main city of Hurghada. Tourists tend to not stray far from the compound where they are staying. On the other hand, El Gouna, just to the north of Hurghada is set up more to allow tourists in the various resorts to roam around in the small village. Sharm el-Sheikh is probably the most open resort area, with a boardwalk that connects most of the beach front resorts and the town center, though there are a few more isolated resorts. What this means for the most part is that the entertainment possibilities in Sharm are much more varied.
It should be noted that in many more isolated compounds, such as Stella Di Mari in the north, there may be more than enough activities and entertainment for most people. Many of the individual compounds such as this have more than one hotel, and work hard to include various forms of entertainment and activities for the whole family.
Scuba Diving and other Water Activities
One of the main differences between the the coastal regions that border the Red Sea and those in the Gulfs and Mediterranean Zones is the availability of Scuba Diving. There is some sparse scuba diving facilities in just about every zone, but by far, most Scuba Diving facilities are located from El-Gouna south along the Red Sea, and around Sharm el-Sheikh on the Sinai. In fact, perhaps as much as 80% of all Scuba Diving activities originate from the immediate region of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh. This is not to say that activities such as snorkeling cannot be found at almost all beach areas. Furthermore, other activities such as windsurfing and skiing, while available in many different locations, seems to be very popular along the mainland Gulf of Suez Zone. At various locations on just about all of the beaches there are other water sports available, such as sail boat rentals and parasailing.
Today, one of the hot spots of tourism development is Egypt's north coast, specifically between Alexandria and Marsa Matruh, and even more specific to the region between Alexandria and Al-Alamein. In fact, this section of the coast is so much under development that it presents a bit of a moving target to discuss, with new vacation oriented beaches seemingly popping up everywhere along the coast. Much of the new development is not unlike the Ain Sukhna area on the Gulf of Suez, where village-like compounds are the common denominator.
It should be noted that the beach region of Egypt's mainland north coast does not really include the region east of Greater Alexandria. For the most part, Abu Qir, which is a bit east of Alexandria proper, but really on the city's eastern edge, signals the eastern end of Egypt's north coast beaches, because of the more marshy Delta coastline. Abu Qir has historical significance as the place were Admiral Nelson destroyed the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Today, it is not a very good location for swimming, but very notable for its many seafront restaurants that serve delicious seafood.
Otherwise, the beaches extend to the west all the way to the Libyan border.
Much of this development revolves around local vacation retreats for Egyptians themselves, but there has and continues to be a big push for foreign tourism to Alexandria, which for many years was largely ignored by tour operators. However, since the antiquity finds along the coast of Alexandria and the construction of the New Library of Alexandria (Bibliotcheca Alexandrina), together with much promotion, Alexandria is indeed becoming much more popular among foreign tourists. It is likely that the northern beaches will also benefit from these efforts. However, it must be remembered that many of the Red Sea beach goers arrive in chartered tours arranged by large European travel agencies, and unless these companies decide to focus more attention on the North Coast, it will probably never be as popular as the Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh regions. Also, while the North Coast resorts may very well be more pleasant during the summer months, they do not enjoy the year round warmth of the more southerly locations.
Map of the Alexandria Beaches
Many people probably still consider the North Coast to be "underdeveloped" from the standpoint of tourists. Indeed, in comparison with traditional developed beach regions in the west, it may very well be underdeveloped, unless one considers them to be overdeveloped, which is often the case. Historically, there have always been a few beaches and beach resorts on the North Coast, particularly around Alexandria. In fact, the Corniche (also known sometimes as Sharia 26th of July and Sharia al-Geish) along the shore of Alexandria is lined with beaches, though these are public areas that are not altogether suitable for most western visitors. Specifically, the unofficial dress code for these beaches is decidedly conservative, not to mention the fact that they can be very crowded during the peak season. Nevertheless, some beaches are much more suitable for foreign tourists. Specifically Mamoura Beach, located about one kilometer east of Montazah Palace, is a semipublic beach that requires an entrance fee.
But if you really want to be spoiled, treat yourself to horse-riding and swimming in the absolute serenity and privacy of the King's Ranch, which is operated by Hilton Alexandria Green Plaza and is located on King Mariout Road 10 kilometers from the Alexandria-Cairo Desert Road. King's Ranch is an extravagant weekend venue for North Coast vacationers and an ultimate romantic escape for couples and honeymooners. Although standing away from the beach, the ranch's lush greenery and nice landscaping creates a spectacular atmosphere for those who would like to laze by the swimming pool, ride horses, enjoy all kinds of sports or just exercise in a health club.
Several other older beach regions along the Mediterranean coast west of Alexandria include, specifically Agami, which is an exclusive resort about 20 kilometers west of downtown Alexandria where Cairo and Alexandria elite spend their vacations. Agami actually lies on the western end of Greater Alexandria. Known also as the Egyptian St-Tropez, Agami today also caters to the middle and working class. The resort village was founded in the 1950's, but there are few structures remaining from this period. While most of the housing in the area is simple, there are exceptions, including the Villa Lashin, built in 1962 by architect Ali Azzam and the Beit el-Halawa built by Abd el-Wahid el-Wakil. Most of the upmarket hotels are in Agami, while near here, you will also find the resort villages of Hannoville (about one kilometer further west) and Sidi Kreir, which are also popular summer retreats. Sidi Kreir has a 3 kilometers long private beach. A model tourist village and casino were established there recently. There are a number of small hotels in this region.
After the beaches around Agami there is Sidi Abdel Rahman, just east of Al-Alamein. Actually, this is only a small village, but the stunning white sandy beaches and clear seawater make it one of the coasts most beautiful locations for a little time on the beach. Nevertheless, it seems to remain a somewhat secluded region that has not attracted any horde of tourists to date.
Another small village further east, only about 48 kilometers short of Marsa Matruh, is Ras Al-Hikma, which is a land spur jutting out into the sea. It also has some attractive beaches, but little else. One of the main traditional beach resorts, which is like Alexandria, packed with Egyptian tourists during the summer, is Marsa Matruh. Unlike Sidi Abdel Rahman and Ras Al-Hikma, this is a much larger city with a population of around 80,000. It has a charming bay with stunning turquoise waters and clean, white, sandy beaches, but also like Alexandria, it is packed during the summer. Two well known beaches include Cleopatra Beach, where the famous queen is said to have bathed, but is in fact a difficult place to swim. It is located about seven kilometers west of Marsa Matruh. The best place to swim is Agibah Beach, about 28 kilometers west of town. It should also be noted that Marsa Matruh is a frequent stopover for travelers to the Siwa Oasis. In fact, Alexander the Great is said to have founded this city on his way to visit the oracle at Siwa. Later, it served as a port for Anthony and Cleopatra's fleet.
There are a few other older beaches frequented by mostly Egyptian tourists along the Mediterranean coast, but the real story of Egypt's northern coast is the new resorts that are springing up, almost exclusively between Alexandria and Al-Alamen. Unlike Egypt's older beaches, these are mostly resort compounds as opposed to actual villages or cities. Most of these resorts really have only villas, some of which are privately rented out to guests, but many of which are vacation homes for affluent Egyptians. However, there are apparently at least a few villas in each location that can be rented. Some of the newer tourist villages that really have very little or no hotel accommodations, but mostly consist of privately owned villas, include Marakeya tourist village, which lies about 52 kilometers from Alexandria, and is considered one of the largest tourist village on the northern coast, the Al Ahlaam Tourist Village, about 93 kilometers west of Alexandria, Sondos Village about 138 kilometers from Alexandria in the Bay of Gazelle at Sidi Abdel Rahman, the Ibn Sina Village I and Ibn Sina Village II, near Marsa Matrough, which is said to have at least one hotel, and the Marbella Village. Foreigners who do wish to visit these resorts, perhaps renting a villa, will have enjoy a unique experience, mostly surrounded by very upscale Egyptians who are usually well traveled and sophisticated.
Other's have fine, and sometimes very fine hotel accommodations, which is a growing trend.
Map of Egypt's North Coast Beaches
Marakia is one of the first resorts west of Alexandria. Due to its marble-like nature, Marakia was originally known as Marmarina in the old times. The name is extracted from the Arabic word "marmar" which means marble. This is the oldest of the new North Coast Villages, located about 51 kilometers from Alexandria. Clear sea and pure sand are its two main characteristics. It consists mostly of a fine beach, housing units and public service units. The beach is 1500 meters long and there is a pedestrian road that separates it from the housing units. The public service units are in both the middle of the village and at its main entrance, including administrative, emergency, communication, commercial, and entertainment services. The entertainment facilities include restaurants, a cinema and an open theater. There is also an airport that serves this area. Just after the Marakia residential village is the Borg el Arab Hilton Hotel
Marina is 15 Km from "Marakia", and has a 750 meters long beach. Many service units are constructed on the beach. It has a center for administrative, commercial, medical, religious and entertainment services which can be found in the middle of the village. Marina specifically has had a reputation of opulence, but some of the beaches here are apparently becoming more available as at least semipublic.
Al-Alamein is actually an older beach location, old enough in fact that Romel is said to have used its beaches during World War II for relaxation. However, though it has historical significance, it has never had much in the way of tourist facilities. Now, however, Movenpick has a fantastic resort at Al-Alamein that may change all of that. While there have always been a few hotels in the area, this five star hotel is exceptional. Of course, Al-Alamein has historical importance as the location where, in World War II, a battle between the British Eighth Army under General Montgomery attacked Field Marshal Rommel's German-Italian Afrika Korps. Montgomery won that battle and changed the course of the North Africa campaign. Along with the beaches, there are World War II cemeteries and a War Museum.
There is, of course, all of the usual beach activities at many if not most of the North Coast resort areas. Certainly there are water sports, such as skiing and jet skiing, parasailing, surfing in some locations, snorkeling, sailing, sail boarding, boating and scattered about are even scuba diving centers. There are not many water sports that cannot be found, and many of the better resorts provide a range of such activities. And while the parents play, most resorts offer good facilities for children, with exciting and safe activities so that the entire family can enjoy there holiday.
However, the many North Coast resorts, as vacation getaways, also offer many opportunities for fine dining. All villages have open-air cafés with big screens displaying films and video clips, where people can have pizza, fetir (pastry) and zalabya (small balls of sweet pastry) or just go for a soft drink.
But if you would like to stretch your budget a little bit, Marina boasts a number of elegant dim-lit cafés, such as Jomana, which has a strategic location on the lake. Sea Gull, a fish restaurant and hotel in Marina, also has a nice dim-lit café, where tables are elegantly encircled with lush greenery to ensure the privacy of guests. Or you can get an extraordinary fish meal at the Sea Gull restaurant overlooking the lake. There is also a famous street in Marina named the Chanzillezer, where you can find a wide variety of elegant restaurants and coffee shops.
At the Borg el Arab Hilton, you can also enjoy a seaside barbecue while listening to the charming tunes of lutes and singing, or just go indoors where you can eat Italian food.
Other eateries can be found on the road. You can eat grilled chicken with special spices at Andria (which stands in front of Marabella resort, 63 kilometers from Alexandria), or go for oriental food at Al-Tikkeya (65 kilometers from Alexandria). Other food outlets include Al-Safwani, Fish Market (which has a fish restaurant and a number of American fast food franchises, located three kilometers after the Borg el Arab Hilton on the way to Al-Alamein).
In a more active mood? You can dance the night away at Borg el Arab Hilton's or Marina's open discotheques or have an extraordinary night at one of Marina's famous summer parties, Layali Al-Telifizyon, which host famous Egyptian and Arab singers every week.
The Sinai North Coast
Port Said marks the boundary between Egypt's mainline Meterranean coastline and Egypt's Sinai Mediterranean coastline. However, there is not much between Port Said and Rafah on the border of Egypt's Sinai, with the exception of El-Arish. In fact, much of the north coast of the Sinai west of El-Arish is dominated by the swampy lagoon of Lake Bardawil, separated from the Mediterranean by a limestone ridge.
El-Arish is the capital of the North Sinai Governorate and still receives a few tourists, but probably because of its proximity to the Palestinian territories, it has had little opportunity to live up to its potential, at least from the standpoint of westerners. There are reportedly a number of Egyptians who use it for a summer retreat. It does have nice beaches, along with a Bedouin crafts market, some reasonably good hotels and even a Pharaonic fortress, but until some of the regional differences between its neighbors are solved, it is unlikely to progress much as a mainstream tourist destination.
The mainland Egyptian coastline along the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea is one continuous stretch of mostly beaches, but very different in many ways. Obviously, there are differences in the water within a confined gulf as opposed to the open Red Sea, but there are considerable differences in the facilities and some difference in the types of activities available. We can actually define three of the most popular regions as Ain Sukhna at the northern end of the Gulf of Suez, the Region around Hurghada and El-Gouna just about where the Gulf of Suez opens up into the Red Sea, and Marsa Alam, which is becoming very popular considerably south of Hurghada, but still some distance from the southern Egyptian border. However, all sorts of resorts, camps and other facilities, some of which are very important, can be found all along the coast, including such places as Safaga and Quseir.
What is making the upper Red Sea coast so popular is its proximity to Greater Cairo, one of the largest, if not the largest, cities in the world. The region of coastline referred to as Ain Sukhna is, simply put, the closest beach area to this city, and a new highway will soon make it even more convenient. Like the new resorts along the north coast, many of the facilities along the coast at Ain Sukhna are residential compounds that mostly cater to Egyptian beach goers. Some of them do have hotels, though even many of these are more suitable to Egyptians. Nevertheless, this region has some specific advantages for foreigners as well, and so we can expect to see a growing trend of nice hotels that also cater to tourists.
A small section of the large beach at Stella di Mare along the Ain Sukhna area
Specifically, while Ain Sukhna is convenient for the people of Cairo, so too is it convenient for tourists. Cairo is, for almost all visitors to Egypt taking a classical tour, the first and last stop on their itinerary. Traditionally, if they wished to include a stop on the Red Sea, that segment would be made from Luxor, usually traveling either by bus to Hurghada, or by air to Sharm el-Sheikh. While the airplane ride to Sharm el-Sheikh is not a long one, the bus trip to Hurghada takes much longer than one to Ain Sukhna. Furthermore, there is not much to really see in the way of antiquities around Hurghada, though like elsewhere in Egypt, there seems to always be a few sites that can be visited. And while classical tourists who visit Sharm el-Sheikh frequently take in St. Catherine's Monastery, stopping along the way at the Seven Girls Monastery (Convent) at Wadi Firan, from Ain Sukhna, one can just about as easily visit the newly renovated and very famous Eastern Desert monasteries of St. Anthony and St. Paul. And, of course, there is the Suez Canal, which is only just north of Ain Sukhna and so close, in fact, that one can frequently see the large ships that have just come through the canal from many of the Ain Sukhna resorts.
While most of the resorts at Ain Sukhna attract Egyptian tourists, there are at least several that are finding more and more favor among foreign tourists. One of our favorite is Stella di Mare, a large resort compound with both family vacation units and two nice hotels, including the five star Swiss Inn and the four star PlanHotel, both of which are surprisingly reasonable in price. They offer a host of activities and services, including one of the finest spas in North Africa. This resort has traditionally attracted a large contingency of upper class Italian tourists and will doubtless see many other foreign tourists as it becomes better known.
The resorts that begin at Ain Sukhna today stretch along the beach all the way to Zafarana, which is a small village most notable as a staging point for visiting the monasteries of the Eastern Desert. After Zafarana, there is not much until one reaches the region around Hurghada.
The region around Hurghada (known in Egypt as Ghardaga), including the more upscale village of El-Gouna just to the north, and the fine resorts in the resort compound of Soma Bay to the south, is by far the most popular tourist beach area along Egypt's mainland coast, particularly among foreign tourists. Unlike many of the compound resorts along all of Egypt's coasts, Hurghada is a true, though small city with all the trappings and entertainment facilities one might expect of a beach resort anywhere in the world. More than 35,000 people now live in Hurghada, and there are over 100 resorts and hotels, making it Egypt's most popular resort town. Specifically, one need not be limited to only the entertainment provided by a specific resort. Within Hurghada, there are any number of bars and restaurants, shops, including small malls and other tourist facilities. It also clearly has a small boat manufacturing industry.
There are really several types of tourist accommodations at Hurghada, each of which appeal to different types of tourists. In the town itself are hotels, some with and some without beachfronts, which have a tendency to attract more young people and those on limited budgets. During specific times of the year, there are many Eastern Europeans that fill up these hotels, along with some of the other resorts at Hurghada. These downtown hotels are frequently less expensive than the outlying resort, are of course convenient to the entertainment district, but offer somewhat less exclusive beaches.
Like elsewhere, there are also resort compounds at Hurghada that are more exclusive and which offer complete facilities including bars, restaurants, entertainment and all sorts of activities. Many of these provide all inclusive beach vacations, where meals, bars and the various activities are included in the price of the hotel room. And while Hurghada has traditionally been considered the more affordable beach area (as opposed to Sharm el-Sheikh), today, one can find a range of resort compounds from very affordable to very exclusive. One problem is that many of these types of resorts are somewhat isolated from the city itself. A taxi or other transportation is required for a trip into town.
Like Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada is a main destination of European charters, though traditionally it has tended to attract a somewhat younger, as well as less affluent beach goer. Hence, one should realize that many of the compounds will predominately be filled with those of a specific nationality.
Of course, as one of the primary beach destinations for foreign vacationers, there are hardly any activities found elsewhere in the world's beach resorts that cannot be found at Hurghada, with the possible exception of surfing. Along with jet skiing, skiing, parasailing, windsurfing, snorkeling, sailing and swimming, it is also one of the main scuba diving hubs for the Red Sea.
To the north of Hurghada, El-Gouna is very different. It must be one of the most orderly and planned beach towns in Egypt, and while it offers a range of hotel accommodations, it is mostly considered to be very upscale. As a planned resort village, most of the hotels are convenient to the downtown region, where there are independent bars and restaurants. And like Hurghada, there is also every imaginable beach activity, but there is also a fine golf course.
In reality, El-Gouna is not unlike a beach resort compound, only with many more hotels and a wide range of facilities. It is a very secure area which is also popular among upper class Egyptians. In fact, it is considered a playground for Egypt's rich and famous, and often hosts concerts and sporting events. Like other resort compounds, there are also privately owned villas. Unlike many other resort compounds, there is a complete infrastructure, including an airport, a marina, a good hospital and even a fine school. They even have their own TV and radio station. All said, El-Gouna is one of Egypt's classiest beach destinations.
South of Hurghada is a resort strip with hotels and resorts crammed along a stretch of beach for at least 20 kilometers. About halfway between Hurghada and Safaga is a small, low key beach resort used mainly by divers, though those with their own tent can also camp. This is Sharm al-Naga, and just a bit further south is Soma Bay which, in recent years, has probably become known for its golf course more than its fine beaches. It is a common getaway for Cairo's dedicated golfers, but at the same time, the Sheraton here has to be one of that chain's most beautiful hotels in Egypt. Soma Bay is really one of Egypt's early beach resort compounds, which includes private villas along with a new Hyatt hotel. Other hotels include the Robinson and as of now, a La Residence, though other hotels are expected to be built here. Like at Stella di Mare further up the coast, there is also a Thalasso Spa here as well. Soma Bay offers all the normal activities, including scuba diving, and also has its own small marina.
Significantly, both El-Gouna and Soma Bay are close enough to Hurghada to allow for a quick trip into town for some shopping and additional entertainment opportunities in the evening. In many ways, these areas make up a specific zone along the mainland coast of Egypt's Red Sea, as one the countries premier beach fronts.
From this area south along the coast there are a number of "camps", usually with only rudimentary accommodations, which sometimes offer quaint beach vacations or are at times dedicated to scuba divers, mixed in with some very specific larger resorts areas, the most notable of which is Marsa Alam. The first vacation destination of any size south of Soma Bay is Safaga, which is more of a port than anything else, though it attracts a substantial number of scuba divers. Safaga does have some nice accommodations, though not particularly world class, including one of the few Holiday Inns in Egypt. While many of the visitors to Safaga are mostly interested in scuba diving, it is an excellent region for windsurfing and was, in fact, the venue for the 1993 World Windsurfing Championships.
South of Safaga, the next notable city is Al-Quseir, which has become more and more of a beach resort village, mostly specializing in scuba diving, but at the same time, has considerable historic significance. Located about 140 kilometers south of Hurghada, during ancient times it was known as "White Harbor", and it was from here that Queen Hatshepsut's expeditions to Punt set out for the Red Sea segment of their journey. The old port town of Myos Hormos, a Ptolemaic and Roman port engaged in trade with India is also here, about eight miles north adjacent to the Movenpick Hotel.
Al-Quseir, perhaps because of it's history and the fact that it is not a modern invention of tourism, has a certain charm that is not present in many of Egypt's other Red Sea towns. It is dominated by an Ottoman fortress and old coral-block buildings with wooden balconies that surround the waterfront in the center of town. Here, the beaches are a bit less crowded than they are further north.
Again, while one may find some small tourist camps south of Al-Quseir, mostly completely dedicated to scuba diving, the next major tourist destination on the mainland Red Sea, and by far the most thriving one south of Hurghada, is Marsa Alam. Many of Egypt's Red Sea Coast vacations areas were only small fishing villages only a few years ago, and though Marsa Alam remained only a quaint tourist destination, only very recently it has taken off as an exceptional destination, probably due to its new airport.
Marsa Alam does have an ancient history. During the Greco-Roman Period, Ptolemy II built a road leading from Edfu to this village, which followed a more ancient route. Inland gold and emerald mines were exploited during Egypt's distant past.
Today, the airport is receiving chartered flights directly from Europe, and there are also an increasing number of divers who come here to avoid the crowds further north. This has all resulted in a number of tourist resorts being built both to the north and south of the village. Isolated though it may be on Egypt's southern coastline, its warm climate, particularly during the winter months, will likely see this area flourish in future years.
Still further south is Shams Alam, which in recent years has been the southernmost tourist outpost along the Red Sea. This is really a very small village, with rudimentary but very acceptable accommodations and a nice beach. It is almost exclusively the domain of scuba divers looking to visit some of Egypt's less-frequented southern reefs.
While Egypt's mainland Red Sea coast extends further south, not only are there no real accommodations, a special permit is needed to visit these areas mostly because of military installations.
So to a large extent, the eastern mainland coast of Egypt can be broken down into three parts. These include the upper region within the the Gulf of Suez, mostly around Ain Sukhna, which is currently dominated by domestic tourists, but a growing number of foreign tourists, the main beach region around Hurghada, and the southern region which also caters to foreign tourists, but where the resorts are largely dominated by scuba diving enthusiasts.
Many people today still think of Egypt as a desert country, which it is to a large extent. But between its mainland Mediterranean coast, its long mainland Red Sea coast and the Sinai, it has an impressive amount of beach area. In fact, despite Egypt's aggressive construction of new beach resorts, the Sinai's western coast remains almost completely undeveloped. However, a notable exception is Ras Sidr, which is a very nice beach better known to Egyptians than foreign travelers. It lies about sixty kilometers south of the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel at the gulf of Suez's northern end.
The eastern coastline and the southern tip of the Sinai have a number of beach resort regions, though by far the most developed region is the region in and around Sharm el-Sheikh. At the other end of the Gulf of Aqaba to the north, Taba has also seen significant development, including an attempt to reproduce the success of El-Gouna on Egypt's mainland Red Sea coast in a project called Taba Heights. Between Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh, the major resorts are found at Nuweiba and Dahab, but all along the eastern coastline of the Sinai are a number of more primitive, though frequently popular, camp areas intermingled with some better resort compounds.
Sharm el-Sheikh is a very different resort community for Egypt, more like one might find in Europe, or even the US. Many of the main resorts are connected by a "boardwalk", which allows one to walk along a path bordered by shops, restaurants, clubs and hotels. There is excitement in the air here, particularly in the evenings when various entertainment cascades down the walk, and it seems like the crowds walking along speak in dozens of different languages.
The main beach areas at Sharm el-Sheikh itself comprise two adjacent bays, known as Na'ama Bay and Sharm al-Maya. Of these, Na'ama Bay is the oldest development and the location of the boardwalk. Here, hotels are just separated from the beach by the boardwalk, with some facilities such as beach front restaurants and bars built on the beach itself. Sharm al-Maya is less developed with slightly more isolated beach resorts.
The resort community of Sharm el-Sheikh, usually simply referred to as Sharm, is one of the two main beach havens in Egypt, the other being the vicinity in and around Hurghada on the mainland coast. While Sharm has a completely different flavor than Hurghada, it too receives most of its visitors by European charters. Even though there have been some very fine hotels built at Hurghada, and particularly at El-Gouna just north of Hurghada (and in other areas around Hughada), Sharm el-Sheikh has always been considered the most upscale of the two resort areas. In fact, one will find very few hotels other than four or five stars in Sharm el-Sheikh, while those of Hurghada are more varied.
However, if one wants it all, from the Hard Rock Cafe to the Four Seasons Hotel, from beautiful reefs and crystal waters to almost a Las Vegas style atmosphere, then Sharm el-Sheikh has to be the Egyptian beach resort of choice. It is a world class spot to launch scuba diving expeditions, with crystal clear waters and many nearby dive sites.
While Hurghada may still receive more beach tourists than any other region in Egypt, Sharm is famous throughout the world as the "City of Peace", a very secure area where, not infrequently, world leaders, attending summits, mix with the beach vacationers, and one need not simply be limited to beach activities and world class scuba diving. Sharm el-Sheikh hosted the first ever official European professional golf tournament at the Movenpick Jolie Ville Course, and one may also visit what is, perhaps, the most famous of Egypt's ancient, and still active, monasteries known as St. Catherine's at the foot of Mount Sinai. For nature lovers, there is also Ras Mohammed, Egypt's best known and first National Park just south of Sharm.
There is also, thirty-five miles north of Sharm, the Nabq Protectorate, the largest coastal park on the Gulf of Aqaba, which includes the world's most northerly mangrove forest.
Further up the eastern coast of the Sinai, about 85 kilometers north of Sharm, is Dahab. At one time, Dahab had a bit of a reputation as sort of a hippie haven, which time has not completely erased, though it now has grown up and matured into more of a traditional beach resort. There are still beach camps here, but there are now also some good hotels, Italian restaurants and other trappings of tourism. There is a mixed variety of accommodations along a paved beachfront path
Considerably further up the coast, after passing through the Ras Abu Gallum Protectorate, is Nuweiba, really one of our favorite small beach communities. The atmosphere at Nuweiba is really laid back and completely relaxing. It is, perhaps, not unlike some individual camps along the beaches at certain spots, but at the same time, does provide a little more in the way of accommodations and amenities, though only enough to be utterly comfortable. Here, Bedouin boys lead their camels out in the surf to use as diving platforms, while beach goers eat fish just caught by the same people who cook it up and serve their patrons.
Nuweiba is divided into three parts. To the south is the port with its bus station, banks and the one really upscale hotel, the Hilton Coral Resort. About eight kilometers south of the port is the city center, which is spread out but contains a small selection of tourists shops, a few restaurants and a small bazaar. Still a bit further north is Tarabin, with a number of small hotels and camp-like operations.
Further up the coast between Nuweiba and Taba are a number of small beach camps, some of which, while having fairly primitive accommodations and amenities, nevertheless front exotic and beautiful beaches with stunning blue water. These include, beginning from the south, Maagana beach, Ras Shaitan and Mahash. Maagana Beach is located about eight kilometers north of Tarabeen (the northernmost part of Nuweiba). Ras Shaitan is another two kilometers north of Maagana. Of these beaches, Mahash, about twenty kilometers north of Nuweiba is by far the most developed, though still a beach camp for the most part. Here, Basata is an eco-minded camp with about 18 huts and a common kitchen, but there is also now the Tango Beach Resort, a four star hotel with 64 rooms. Mahash is about twenty kilometers north of Nuweiba. There are also several hotels, such as the three star Awaki Beach hotel, and Club Aquasun, which is a 72 room domed hotel with somewhat more amenities. Finally, a bit further north, about 35 kilometers south of Taba is Bir Sweir, which is also a small hut style camp.
Just prior to the actual city of Taba, some seventeen kilometers to the south, is the massive new Taba Heights development. This is a resort community being built by the same people who put together El-Gouna, in much the same way. There is already a Hyatt Regency, a Marriott and a Sofitel along with a golf course, and there will very soon be a Three Corners El Wekala, if it is not now open. The Taba Heights Inter-Continental is expected to open in 2005, and there will be at least several other major hotels opening in the near future. Like El-Gouna, this resort center is being planned with all of the amenities of El-Gouna, including many water sports facilities including diving shops, as well as a casino.