Red Sea Coast holidays

Experience Red Sea Coast

Experience [destination]

Best Places to Visit

The Red Sea itself is one of the world's natural wonders and home to more than 1,000 marine species and 200 species of hard and soft coral. 20 percent of the fish species found here are found nowhere else and it is widely considered one of the world's most impressive diving sites. Sharm el Sheikh is deemed to have some of the best dive locations in the Red Sea including a dozen fascinating wrecks. Hurghada and Marsa Alam are close to the Abu Nuhas wrecks.

Tabah Heights is a beautiful, little-known small Red Sea resort that is just a short flight from Sharm el Sheikh and set between the sea and the mountains. It's home to one of the world's 100 best golf courses, a diving and snorkelling centre, and a few hotels, and makes a break from the crowded beaches at Sharm el Sheikh during high season.

Luxor is a four-hour drive from the resort of Hurghada. That makes it just possible to visit the ancient wonders in the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the Tombs of the Nobles, Ramesseum Temple and the pharaonic statuary in the Luxor Museum within a day trip from your Red Sea base. If staying overnight is an option, don't miss the Luxor Temple by night or the chance to cruise along the River Nile on a traditional boat.

Ras Mohammed National Park is just seven miles from Sharm el Sheikh, but is on Saudi Arabian territory so visitors will need to get a visa to visit. One-third of its surface is land, the rest is the Red Sea, with some of the best diving, snorkelling and underwater caving in the region. Set on two islands with several enchanting little bays as well as a mangrove forest surrounded by sand dunes and wadis, the park is a hub for migrating birds.

A desert safari by camel into the endless sands to a Bedouin camp makes a great break away from the beach and is fun for all the family. Dinner at the camp and traditional entertainment are provided, and the day ends with an unbelievable stargazing session.

Top Landmarks

The Blue Hole is a famous underwater landmark and is regarded as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. Although diving here with air is perfectly safe up to a certain depth, special equipment is needed for the supreme dive under the arch. The site is best accessed from nearby Dahab.

The Coloured Canyon close to Nuweiba holds breath-taking rock formations and unusual coloured canyon walls, and the eerie silence here adds to its mysterious beauty.

Aside from the natural landscape, historic buildings dominate the Red Sea's landmarks. The ancient quarries at Wadi Hammamat were famous for their unique green sandstones and gold-bearing quartzes, much used in Ancient Egypt for decorative carvings and inlays. It's set on the old Silk Road and popular with visitors for its Ancient Egyptian graffiti and wall painting of reed boats.

El Quseir Fort in Marsa Alam was built by the Ottoman rulers to stave off attacks from Portuguese traders seeking to take over the lucrative 16th century China and India sea trade routes. Highlights are the cannons and a pearl fishing boat.

Qalaat Al-Gindi is a 12th-century fortress built by order of Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt, to protect Muslims on the Hajj pilgrimage from Africa and the Mediterranean. This remote Sinai attraction is best seen with a guide.

Entertainment

Entertainment here varies from resort to resort, with Sharm El Sheikh the hottest spot for clubs, pubs and bars. From early evening to the small hours, its 50 nightclubs, bars, casinos and eateries are crammed with party-people. Naama Bay and its promenade are the happening areas, with Space and Pacha the most popular clubs. Sharks Bay is more upscale but no less fun.

Nightlife in down-to-earth Hurghada gets into gear by around 23:00 and finishes as the sun rises. Bars, duty-free shops, discos, some restaurants and most hotels are allowed to sell or serve alcohol, but selling it anywhere else in the resort is forbidden. For night owls, the best clubs here are the Ministry of Sound Beach, the Havana Club and the Bonanza Club.

The centre of nightlife in Dahab is the Tota Dance Bar, a nautically-themed venue holding discos on Friday and Saturday nights. For a touch more sophistication, the Shipwreck Bar has a popular happy hour. The port-side Nuweiba resort's answer to nightlife is a peaceful caf' lit with candles and serving Egyptian coffee under the stars.

Upscale Marsa Alam's elegant nightlife centres around the marina, with trendy see-and-be-seen bars and clubs where sitting around, sipping a cocktail and chatting with friends are the main attractions. Ciao Marsa's Mexican-themed hotspot is good for Mexican music and Planet Bedouin, set in a tent on the beach, is a chill-out spot with belly-dancers every Wednesday.

Dining Out

While in the larger Red Sea beach towns there's plenty of choice of international and British food, the options are fewer in the smaller resort areas. Egyptian cuisine dates back to Ancient Egypt when workers on the pyramids were paid in beer, bread and onions. Fortunately, there's a lot more than these ingredients in the country's modern recipes, which are well worth trying.

Meals are based on the filling pitta bread, also used to scoop up dips and sauces. If you've holidayed in Greece, you'll love the delicious baklava dessert and the baked, stuffed aubergines and peppers, which are also eaten here. An Egyptian signature dish is mahshi hamam, rice-stuffed pigeon, and the national dish is koshari, made up of lentils, macaroni and rice. Goose, chicken and beef are staples here, and fish dishes are found everywhere.

Desserts owe much to flaky Filo pastry, honey, semolina and almonds. Eish El Saraya are delicious phyllo pancakes stuffed with apricots and kunafah is fried batter parcels filled with nuts, fruit, sweetmeats and heavy whipped cream. Tea is black, sweet and served in a glass, and Egyptian coffee is grainy and strong. Tasty aromatic herb teas are popular for their health-giving properties.

Beach

The Sinai Peninsula has fabulous beaches, edged by crystal-clear seas which are perfect for swimming, snorkelling, diving and other water sports. Sharm el Sheikh deserves its reputation as the Las Vegas of Egypt, but its beaches are superb, and the hippy mecca of Dahab has a promenade that backs onto beaches and famous dive sites. Nuweiba's Tarabin Beach is long, wide, runs from the small port and is relatively uncrowded.   

Romance

A stargazing trek into the Sinai desert is as romantic as it gets. It's best not to venture into the desert alone, and Tarabin's Bedouin community specialises in desert treks. Bedouin know all there is to know about the endless sands and give of their knowledge to those fascinated by their ancient way of life.

Family

Quiet, family-friendly hotels are found away from the major resorts' noisy nightlife, with gently sloping beaches great for young swimmers. Banana boats, pedalos and snorkelling give endless fun for kids, and donkey, horse or camel rides along the sands are ever-popular. For fussy young eaters, fast foods in the Western style are easily found and, for watery delights, Sharm el Sheikh has two water parks, both with all the usual slides, pools, lazy rivers and rides.

Adventure

The Sinai Peninsula is a great place for adventure sports, from high adrenaline activities to less challenging thrills. Rock and mountain climbing can be had on the heights and guided trekking in remote desert regions is unforgettable. Sandboarding on the dunes is pure fun and off-road desert and mountain-biking are challenging. Hiking in the Sinai High Mountain Region with a guide is as good as it gets, but riding a swift Bedouin horse is nevertheless highly rated.

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Need to know

Need to know [destination]

Language

The official language across the Red Sea region, including in the resorts, is Arabic. In the cities and major tourist areas English and the better known European languages, such as German and French, are also widely spoken.

Currency

The Egyptian pound (E) is the official currency, used for everyday purchases. Pounds sterling, euro, US and Canadian dollars, and travellers' cheques are easily exchanged here, and ATMs are common. Avoid changing money at hotel front desks as they frequently offer poor exchange rates.

Visas

German, Belgian, Italian and Portuguese visitors can enter Egypt visa-free, with the rest of the West needing a visa on arrival. Visas are valid for a 30-day stay and require a passport-sized photograph. Those arriving by land will need a visa in advance, obtained from their nearest Egyptian embassy or consulate.

Climate

Summer along the Red Sea coastline is baking hot from April through October, with daytime temperatures of 30°C at the beginning of the season steadily climbing to around 35°C and higher in July and August, the hottest months. Humidity is low, and winds help to cool the atmosphere.

Winter along the Red Sea coast runs from December to March and its mild, pleasant weather is good for those who are not used to searing summer heat. Even in the coldest month, January, temperatures hover around 23 to 25°C, perfect for long days lounging on the beach.

Main Airports

Cairo International Airport is the premier air arrivals hub in Egypt, although those heading for the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh can fly direct. Travellers arriving in Cairo can connect with domestic flights to onward destinations such as Sharm el Sheikh via EgyptAir and many full-service international carriers including Lufthansa, KLM, Iberia, Air France and Alitalia. Similarly, the airport at Sharm el Sheikh hosts major international airlines as well as low-cost carriers offering routes from many European cities.

Flight Options

EgyptAir offers direct flights from London to Sharm El Sheikh, the most convenient arrivals point for the Red Sea resorts to its north, including Taba, Nuweiba and Dahab. Hurghada International Airport, on the opposite coastline, is the best arrivals point for El Gouna, Soma Bay, Abu Soma and El Quseir. easyJet flies from London Gatwick, London Luton and Manchester to Sharm El Sheikh while Monarch links the resort with London Gatwick and Manchester. Thomas Cook and Thomson offer holiday charters to Sharm el Sheikh, Taba and Hurghada from a selection of UK cities as well as from London Gatwick, London Stansted and London Luton airports. Average flight time from London to Red Sea destinations is 5 hours.

Travel Advice

Low-season bargain flights can be had with low-cost or charter airlines. The best bargains, some of which are all-inclusive and unbelievably cheap, are offered by charter companies. Onward transportation from most Egyptian airports is easiest by taxi or shuttle bus, although luxury limo hire gets any holiday off to a great start.

Other Transport Options

It's possible to travel from the UK to Egypt at ground level via a combination of train and the occasional ferry. The first leg of the journey involves London to Istanbul via sleeper train; however, this trip takes three days and costs more than a direct flight. From Istanbul, trains run to Damascus in Syria and on to Jordan. Amman, Jordan, to Cairo is best travelled by bus and ferry. Once in Cairo, there's a choice of domestic flights or air-conditioned express buses for the final leg of the journey.

Getting Around

Red Sea holiday resorts are spread out along both coastlines and backed by desert. Travel by air is cheap, but not all resorts have airports and travel by road takes a long time, although long distance buses are mostly comfortable and inexpensive, and cover most of the tourist destinations. In the resorts, local buses are comparatively easy to use but taxis are the most convenient form of transport. A ferry runs between Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, and takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes. Self-drive, although not for nervous drivers, offers value for money as petrol is cheap.

Car

There are two options as regards travel by car - self-drive with a hire car or a hire car with a driver. Self-drive is a popular solution for sightseeing on demand, with cheap petrol due to a government subsidy and a network of highways as well as less well-kept secondary roads. A choice of car rental companies with familiar names is offered at airports and in towns.

Bus

Buses are the main form of travel in the Red Sea coastal region and are cheap and comfortable, although the distances between the Red Sea coastal resorts are such that day trips are impractical. For travel to nearby coastal villages, however, buses are a good way to go. East Delta Bus Company offers a regular route from Sharm el Sheikh to Dahab (60 miles).

Air

If the holiday schedule includes visiting more than one Red Sea beach resort, air travel is the fastest way to go. Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada, and Marsa Alam all have airports, and flying is inexpensive. Egyptair Express is the carrier of choice unless you're staying in Marsa Alam, from which only Cairo is served.

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FACTS

  1. The salinity (saltiness) of the Red Sea is one of the highest in the world at around 3.6%-3.8% and water temperatures range from 20°C in the winter to 29°C in the summer months.
  2. Water clarity in the Red Sea is exceptional because of the limited rainfall or rivers feeding into the water.
  3. Some people say the Red Sea got its name from an explosive growth of algae, which turned the water red, while others claim the Sea gets its name from the reflection of the rising or falling sun making the surface of the sea appear red.

FACTS

  1. The salinity (saltiness) of the Red Sea is one of the highest in the world at around 3.6%-3.8% and water temperatures range from 20°C in the winter to 29°C in the summer months.
  2. Water clarity in the Red Sea is exceptional because of the limited rainfall or rivers feeding into the water.
  3. Some people say the Red Sea got its name from an explosive growth of algae, which turned the water red, while others claim the Sea gets its name from the reflection of the rising or falling sun making the surface of the sea appear red.

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