Things To DoAs you drive from Marsa Alam airport to your hotel, and gaze out at the mountains and vast expanse of Sahara on one side and the sparkling blue waters of the Red Sea on the other, you could be forgiven for thinking that Marsa Alam offered a simple choice between diving or relaxing by the beach or pool. However, you can do far more.
For those who want to do something, every day of the week here’s a plan –
Day One – Swim With The Dolphins
Get close to one of the world’s most intelligent and playful creatures – we recommend a day trip to the not so well known Sataya Reef – not only does this rival Dolphin House as one of the great wonders of the natural world as a habitat for the famously playful spinner dolphins but you are a lot less likely to find the area overcrowded.
This in turn also means you are more likely to encounter dolphins. Contrary to what you might believe, these friendly but easily stressed animals often avoid areas where there are too many people and boats.
Plus points – One of the world’s most likely places you will be able to get up close to and swim with wild dolphins. This is such fun, so life-affirming and so interesting, that some have argued that such swimming could help cure depression.
The reef, with its’ beautifully intact coral and crystal clear waters, is also one of the most beautiful underwater places in the world. It’s only a short boat ride from Hamata and a large family of Spinner dolphins have made it their permanent home. It’s a lot less well known than “Dolphin House” so visitor numbers are restricted so you won’t have to compete with too many tourists. Divers and snorkelers can also explore the coral reef.
There’s also the shallower sandier Abu Dabab, easy for the novice diver or snorkeler, and offering the possibility of close-up encounters with turtles, dolphins and the dugong “sea cow.” The great advantage here is that you can begin your snorkel or diving encounters just by wading into the sea from the sandy beach – which is also perfect for children and families.
On any single day, you can’t guarantee to get up close and personal with a dugong or a dolphin so if you have the time to repeat the same excursion you will double your chances. And if you loath friendly dolphins and are more of an adrenaline junky, what about exploring one of the local shipwrecks or underwater caves? Check out tour shipwrecks page.
Day Two – The Ancient City Of Luxor
It’s all too easy to forget that you are only a few hours drive from perhaps the most famous capital of the ancient world – Thebes – or Luxor as it has become known in more recent times. If you are an early riser (or even better if you can afford a two-day trip) then this excursion can be well worth the effort.
Luxor has so many temples and historic monuments that it is virtually one enormous open-air museum of Pharaonic Egypt. But it also has more to offer. Here you can engage with local Egyptian town life, watch the hassle and bustle of the souks from the comfort of a roadside cafe or drift down the Nile in a felucca enjoying the cool breeze of the late afternoon as the sun sets.
Day Three – Sightseeing And Retail Therapy In El Quseir
Now it’s time for a day shopping in the historic city of El Quseir with its’ Ottoman fort and many small shops and bazaars. It’s just a short drive away (20 minutes to an hour and a half depending on where in the Marsa Alam area your hotel is. Once you’ve got there we recommend that you explore the sixteen-century Ottoman fort which was occupied by the French in 1799, under Napoleon, who fortified it with the cannons which you see on the ramparts. Despite these, it was seized by the British a few years later. Afterwards, if you still have time, wander down to the small port, bordered by shuttered and balconied houses. It may look modest but it has a long history.
Queen Hatshepsut launched her campaign against the legendary “Land of Punt” ( possibly Yemen ) from here. Centuries later, after the Arab conquest, it remained the largest port on the Red Sea and until the 1840s it was the port of choice for pilgrims travelling from North Africa to Mecca.
Then head for El Quseir’s main attraction. Shopping in the souk. Here, you can often find cheaper prices for papyrus, alabaster, perfumes, shishas, silver and other goods than you can in the hotel shops. It’s simple economics. The bazaars here pay a lower rent. Unlike in your hotel, however, you can’t subsequently make a complaint to the GM, if the goods are of questionable quality. So think carefully and choose wisely.
Day Four – Fishing Or Kitesurfing
What about some deep sea fishing? You stand a good chance of getting a good catch in these fish rich seas. Board a luxury yacht and take lessons in fishing for lobster, tuna or even barracuda. If you have more than a few hours, the extra time can reap dividends, especially if you can afford asleep on board trip. This enables you the time to explore the most rewarding fishing grounds. Try to go on a trip where the number of other tourists is strictly limited as you’ll benefit more from the individual help and tuition of a professional.
Or if you want to get fit quickly and need something a bit more adventurous than the hotel gym how about some kitesurfing at a beach at Mirage Resort close to the town of Marsa Alam.
For more information: Contact us
There is also kite surfing available further away at the legendary shallow lagoon at Wadi Lahami, 140km south of Marsa Alam. Unusually for Marsa Alam the sand is soft and coral free and with a maximum depth of 70cm across most of the lagoon it’s possible to wade out a considerable distance.
There is an outer coral reef at the point at which the lagoon meets the sea. While beginners stick to the lagoon, experts can enjoy the open seas beyond the reef. The strong thermal winds provide ideal conditions.
Day Five – A Choice Of Desert Safaris
Ever fancied a desert safari on a quad bike? It looks funny when you watch a group race off across the desert, leaving a trail of dust behind them and believe me it’s much better to be part of it. But, before you go, shed all your best clothes and anything that might be endangered on a bumpy and very dusty ride. Consider using sunglasses and a headscarf which helps to protect your face from the sun and dust.
OR if you fancy a slower but quieter pace go for a horse or camel safari. Don’t forget to have your camera ready for the dramatic sunsets dropping down below the rugged mountain horizon. Then, on the way back you can enjoy the truly magnificent night skies. OR if you want to strike fast and deep into the Sahara to explore the mountain valleys – how about a jeep safari? Don’t forget to pack a barbie or at least a lunch box! Oh, and plenty of drinks.
Ask the driver if you can visit a Bedouin village or travel to Wadi Hammamat to view the ancient rock inscriptions and mines that run along the dry river valley that once formed part of a trading route which connected Luxor via the Silk Route to Asia.
Alternatively, if you are a nature lover you might want to explore the amazing landscapes and wildlife of the Gebel Elba National Park which lies 250km south of Marsa Alam between the small town of Berenice and Egypt’s border with Sudan. This mountainous area harbours a surprising variety of bird species including the Sooty Falcon, the Crowned Sandgrouse and the Pharaoh Eagle Owl.
Its’ highest peaks, including Gebel Elba (1,435m), form a ‘mist oasis’. The surrounding cloud that shrouds the mountain tops creates a moisture-laden dew. The reason for the relative abundance of local flaura and wildlife.
The area is also the homeland of the Bashari pastoral nomads whose numbers have been declining due to a recent drought. They live in semi-circular wooden structures patched over with hides and cloth and are renown for their skill as desert trackers and camel breeders. Before you set out you should check whether access will be allowed as police are currently extra sensitive about the safety of tourists in remote border areas. Please see our Gebel Elba page.
A much easier to reach alternative is the Wadi El Gemal (Valley of the Camels ) National Park, with its’ many mangroves and thorny acacia trees, one of the last places in Egypt you can still find wild gazelle. Covering over 6000 square kilometres, it has several entrances, but the main one is situated close to the Shams Alam resort about 30 minutes south from Marsa Alam. Also within the park are the ancient Emerald mining villages of Mons Smaragdus, more popularly known as Cleopatra’s Mines.
However, while there is a good possibility that the mines were already working during her reign, the oldest datable item found there is a Roman coin from the reign of Emperor Nero in the first century AD. You can still explore the old villages, the connecting pathways and even the remains of the mine shafts. You can find out more about safaris in the Wadi El Gemal National Park on our Wadi El Gemal page.
Otherwise, most of the above safaris can be arranged via the reception of most good Marsa Alam hotels. Remember these places are remote so always take a professional guide with you.
Day Six – A Night Out In Port Ghalib
What about a night out in Port Ghalib marina, soon to be one of the biggest marina developments on the Red Sea, with its’ many bistros, restaurants and bars? Try some Egyptian food – grilled lamb kebabs or the freshest seafood – and grab a table with a sea view.
But shopping in Port Ghalib? Better hold off!
Don’t listen to the advice in the First Choice magazine (November 2008) which describes Port Ghalib as a “bargain hunter’s treasure trove” – it’s one of the most expensive real estate developments in Egypt – and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find simple handicrafts here at a cheap price.
Don’t be fooled either by the usual salesman’s line that “only here can you buy the genuine products.” Try to do your shopping on an excursion to El Quseir or Luxor unless you’ve got money to burn. However, if you do plan a trip to Port Ghalib check out our detailed write-up.
Day Seven – Hit The Beach
Finally, hit the beach for some well deserved R&R. Lie on a sun lounger with your favourite book, stroll along the beach and watch out for unusual sea and bird life or swim or snorkel from the end of your hotel’s marina/jetty. Profit from your advantage in having the world’s warmest sea (measured by average temperature) on your doorstep.
Most hotels also organize plenty of activities. You can join in various pool games, watch a comedy act in the hotel theatre or rediscover the art of table tennis or volleyball. And if you want to impress your friends on your return how about looking for interesting souvenirs in the adjacent shops. If you still think something is still missing – what about a visit to your hotel’s health club. Pamper yourself with a beauty or massage programme or just chill out in the sauna or hammam ( steam room ).
The hammam is a Middle Eastern tradition which grew from the Islamic ritual of washing prior to prayer but is equally enjoyed by anyone who likes a good soak and scrub. For the latter a rough mit is used which enables you to shed all your loose dead skin.