By Andrew Muigai
Egypt’s Red Sea coast is famed for its crystal clear blue waters and exotic marine life, attracting thousands of tourists yearly. The reputation is well deserved – in 1989, an international panel of scientists picked the north part of the Red Sea as one of the Seven Underwater Wonders of the World. The sea carries over 800 fish species, including the lethal stonefish and butterfly fish as well as shark and over 200 coral species. In addition, the shores of the sea are visited by thousands of migrating birds every year and bird watchers are bound to have a good time here.
The waters have a constant temperature of 21- 25 degrees centigrade. Visibility is good at 10-50 m and upto a distance of about 200 m. Visibility is best in summer but can be reduced in spring by plankton growth and sediments. However, the sea is also known for its strong winds and unstable currents.
So named because of its red tint mountain ranges, the Red Sea is an important tourist destination and is home to a number of resorts, the biggest of which is Hurghada. The coastline is particularly famous for its diving sites, which include Ras Mohammed, Elphinstone, The Brothers and Rocky Island. The Austrian biologist and scuba diver, Hans Hass put the Red Sea in the limelight in the 1950’s – and this has resulted in it being one of top diving destinations. The renowned French environment explorer, Jacques Yves Cousteaus, through his writings and movies cemented this reputation.
Egypt’s Red Sea Coast has since then experienced rapid development. More hotels and resorts have sprung up here than anywhere else in the country. This growth has however at times resulted in over development and resultant challenge to the environment. An estimated 60% to 80% of the coral reefs around the coast have been damaged due to illegal and irresponsible activities. The authorities have in recent years woken to this reality and this will hopefully lead to restoration and more balanced development in the future.
The major centers along Egypt’s Red Sea coast are Ain Sukhana, Berenice, Bir Shalatein, El Gouna, Hurghada, Mersa Alam, Al- Zuseir, Safaga, Suez and Zafarana. Hurghada emerged in early 20th century and was until recently an isolated fishing village. It terms of historical pedigree it cannot hold its own against some of the other Red Sea towns such as Berenice which was founded in 275 BC by the Ptolemy II Philadephus during the Greek period. But from the 1980’s onwards, the city has prospered and is now the leading resort along the Red Sea coast. Hurghada lies 380 km to the southeast of Cairo.
Hurghada has today a population of 40,000 and is home to numerous hotels and resorts offering first class aquatic sports facilities for sail boarding, windsurfing, yachting, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling. If you do not want to get wet, you can still catch a glimpse of the impressive diversity of marine creatures by visiting Hurghada’s aquarium and museum. The aquarium has a wide selection of fish and various other odd- looking yet fascinating marine creatures. Sunbathers will also find excellent white sand beaches. The resort has a good choice of bars, restaurants, boutiques, and discos and is well known for its vibrant nightlife.
From the city you can access numerous uninhabited off shore reefs and islands. They offer a wide array of exciting activities. At Giftun Island you can indulge in snorkeling and view the Red Sea underworld from a submarine! The Island is lined with shops and boutiques, which will allow some retail therapy. There are also some historical sites such as the Roman era porphyry quarry remains at nearby Gebel Abu Dukhan. In addition, you can take day trips to explore the Red Sea Mountains by camel or jeep.
Between El Gouna and Safaga, is an area that is known as Europe’s playground. The area boasts among other things an airport, a hospital, an open- air amphitheatre, and golf course. It is an area frequented by the rich and famous and is host to concerts and sporting events. The beaches are clean and a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of inner town. Safaga- 60 km from Hurgada, specializes in diving. On account of its pristine beaches and strong breezes, it was chosen as the venue for the 1993 World Windsurfing Championships.
You will find El Gouna 20 km to the north of Hurghada. This is a purpose built leisure resort that boasts of 10 km of beachfront. It has international standard diving facilities and a myriad of opportunities for windsurfing, snorkeling, parasailing, and water skiing. Golfer may also relax at the El Gouna’s 18-hole USPGA Golf Course.
The area is also home to islands – Shadwan Island, Shaab Abu Shiban, Shaab el- Erg, Umm Gammar Island, which are all famous for snorkeling, diving and fishing. The southern side of Egypt’s Red Sea coast is more tranquil than the central areas and is popular with honeymooners. Here you enjoy breathtaking nature, excellent resorts and good diving sites. For those on a spiritual journey, the Red Sea coast is home to Coptic Christian monasteries, which are the oldest monasteries in Egypt as well as the whole of Christendom. You can view the monasteries by taking a hike overseen by the monks and novices residing within.
There are few international flights to Hurghada, though most visitors fly or travel overland by bus from Cairo. There are a variety of hotels and resorts in the Red Sea area- with Hurghada having the largest share. In this city, you will find top tier international chain accommodation and other digs suitable for budget travelers. To get more value from your trip to the region, you can add on a Nile cruise- the best way to experience the wonders of ancient Egypt.
The best time to visit Egypt’s Red Sea coast is March to May and September to November. In these periods, you enjoy warm days and your fellow tourists are mercifully away. The summer months are uncomfortably hot and humid, while winter days can be chilly especially in the evenings. Remember to pack cameras to capture images and sunglasses for protection against the scorching sun, light clothing, hats and some sunscreen.
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Red Sea Snorkeling – No trip to Hurghada would be complete without a day spent exploring the underwater world of the Red Sea. This snorkeling trip will take you to three spectacular sites where you can choose to jump in the water or simply lie on the decks and work on your tan.
Ras Mohamed – Ras Mohamed National Park is one of Egypt’s most popular dive and snorkeling sites. With a large variety of fish, corals and sharks calling this part of the Red Sea home, you’ll enjoy an exciting day exploring the magical underwater world.
Giftun Island – Spend a relaxing day soaking up the sun and swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea on this leisurely cruise to Giftun Island.