The most beautiful beaches
Marsa Alam is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Egypt, distinctive for their fine sand and enchanting, and at times slightly wild, atmospheres.
Located where the Red Sea meets the desert, the surrounding area is also full of attractions. You can choose to head as far as the bay of Abou Dabbab (also known as Turtle Bay), a few minutes’ drive from the city, and take a dip in its turquoise waters, or continue north to the stunning El Quseir, around an hour and-a-half away. Meanwhile, about 50 km to the south, there is Sharm El Luli, an uncontaminated oasis perfect for a relaxing day out, and the resort of Abu Ghusun, with its quiet beach immersed in the typical landscape of the Red Sea.
Diving with turtles and dolphins
One of the main attractions of Marsa Alam is without doubt its coral reef, with its islands of pink, yellow and red coral that create incredible effects and its wide variety of fish of all colours and sizes.
It is a also a paradise for snorkelling and diving enthusiasts, who are spoilt for choice. To experience swimming with turtles the best place to go is the above-mentioned bay of Abou Dabbab, a marine reserve that is home to the legendary dugong, a marine mammal on the verge of extinction, and the giant green turtle.
From here you can take a boat ride to Shaab Marsa Alam and Shaab Samadai, two other locations very popular with divers. The latter (also known as Dolphin House) is particularly interesting for being the permanent home of a family of these marine mammals. The horseshoe-shaped bay surrounds an attractive lagoon and is divided into three distinct areas, one exclusively for dolphins, a snorkelling area and a mooring berth for boats.
The coral reefs of Fury Shoal, which stretches over an area of 60 km2, and Elphinstone Reef, north of Marsa Alam, are also worth checking out.
The real soul of Marsa Alam
The best purchases can be made at the suq (traditional market) in the picturesque district of El Quseir where, among the multicoloured fabrics, aromas of spices and general hubbub, Marsa Alam reveals its true colours. Here you can find all kinds of products, from clothing to rugs, and from crafts to Egyptian culinary specialities like: fava bean falafel, sambousek (fried dumplings filled with meat or cheese), kalauwi (fried or grilled liver accompanied with vegetables), fila (puff pastry rolls), shwarma (an Egyptian version of the kebab) and koshari (a spicy dish containing rice, lentils, chick peas and tomato sauce), very popular all over Egypt; drinks include black tea, sweet and strong in flavour, and karkade, an hibiscus tea served hot or cold.
For those that want a more refined yet slightly less authentic atmosphere there is the tourist area Port Gahalib, which is popular for its numerous shops, cafes and gourmet restaurants.
From Port Gahalib you can set off on various trips further afield to discover the inland zones of Marsa Alam. Early risers will be up at dawn to head for Luxor, located in the area once home to the ancient Thebes (350 km from Marsa Alam), before continuing on to the Valley of the Kings, one of the most important archaeological areas in the world, where you can admire a wide variety of splendidly decorated ancient Egyptian burial structures and visit the famous tomb of young pharaoh Tutankhamen.
Alternatively, you can head for Aswan (372 km from Marsa Alam), the pearl of the Nile, where Egyptian culture meets Nubian culture (the Temple of Philae and the Aswan Dam are must-see sites), or as far as Edfu (around 3 hours away) where you can see prehistoric stone carvings along the road (hunting scenes, depictions of giraffes and hieroglyphics) and where the ancient Temple of Horus is located.
Safari in the desert
A safari in the desert is a unique and unforgettable experience and various tour operators organise excursions of this type, lasting a couple of hours or a day, on quad bikes, by foot or on camel.
These trips allow you to see the other side of Marsa Alam, which has nothing to do with the coast, discovering the natural beauty of the desert and spending a bit of time in an (almost) authentic Bedouin village, enjoying a traditional dinner with typical music and dances.
Between the sea and the desert
One of the most popular destinations among holidaymakers to Marsa Alam is Wadi el Gemal National Park (also known as the Valley of the Camels), located in one of the largest valleys of the Eastern Desert, 40 km from the city. The park has a vast marine area, with coral reef and white sandy beaches, and a desert area, which is home to the Bedouin tribe of the Ababda.
In this natural oasis you can organise incredible dives and pleasant camel rides, or just spend a relaxing day taking in the views of the various different landscapes.
To enter Egypt you need a passport with at least six months of residual validity or an ID card (paper or electronic) valid for overseas travel with residual validity of six months, together with two passport photos used to obtain the visa issued by the border authorities when you arrive in the country. ID cards extended with paper certificates or stamps will not be accepted.
Entry visas are always required but for business trips they must be requested from the Egyptian Consulate or Embassy in your country before departure; tourist visas can also be issued at the airport.
To request a visa online before departing go to www.visa2egypt.gov.eg
With mild winters and hot, dry summers, Marsa Alam is a popular tourist destination at all times of year. The sky is always clear and it hardly ever rains. That said, those who don’t like the searing heat should avoid going between June and August when daytime temperatures can exceed 40°C.
Between December and February the climate is pleasant and the days are sunny but it is still too cold to go in the sea.
As such, the best times to visit Marsa Alam are between March and May and October and November when the heat isn’t excessive and you can enjoy the beaches to the full.
Religious festivals are very important all over Egypt. Ras as-Sana, for example, marks the start of the new Islamic year, while Moulid an-Nabi, in July or August, commemorates the birth of the prophet Mohamed. On these occasions the city lights up and the sounds of drums and traditional songs fill the air.
However, the most important festival is Ramadan, during which the shops shut and everything seems to stop until dusk, when the city comes back to life in one big collective celebration.
Between April and May, meanwhile, is Eid al-Adha, the period of pilgrimages to Mecca; on this occasion children dress in their best clothes and the streets are coloured with lights. There are also important music events like 3alGanoob Music Festival, which takes place in the spring on the beach of the bay of Tondoba, 14 km south of Marsa Alam, and brings together the most interesting independent bands in Egypt.
Located on the east coast of Egypt, on the shores of the Red Sea, Marsa Alam is a seaside resort known for its wonderful beaches and its coral reef which, still intact, stands out for its natural beauty and amazing marine life. As yet unaffected by mass tourism, Marsa Alam is still one of the most uncontaminated areas on the Egyptian coast and this despite the fact that the recent opening of the airport has transformed what was once a small fishing village into an important tourist destination with a whole host of resorts, hotels and restaurants to choose from.