70 miles as the crow flies south west across the Red Sea from Sharm el Sheikh lies Egypt’s most southerly and largest holiday resort, Hurghada, a little over 5 hours by air from the UK. A seashore of over 22 miles welcomes thousands of holiday makers every year, they come to enjoy the year round sunshine and acclaimed scuba diving in the translucent blue waters of the Red Sea. With more than than 200 hotels from 2 star bed and breakfast to luxury 5 star all inclusive resorts there is accommodation for everyone. With temperatures in the winter at around 24c, in the summer topping 40c and a sea temperature that never drops below 21c it is easy to see the attraction. Diving boats are moored at the marinas where their crew take on board the air cylinders, food and clean bedding whilst awaiting the arrival of their guests who will spend the next 7 days on board, diving in the famous coral reef areas just off ‘The Brothers Islands’ or the area of Abu Nuhas famous for the wrecks. The water is clear thus making under water photography a pleasure.
But what of the real Hurghada? Hurghada, like many other areas began life as a small fishing village where fishermen relied on their catches from the Red Sea to make a living. It was in the early 1980’s that investors both Egyptian and foreign started to show an interest in the area. Hotels were built along with luxury villas, the tourists started arriving so more hotels and villas were built along with shops selling everything from souvenirs to clothing, restaurants and cafes, and they are still building. Apartments can be purchased freehold for as little as £8,000, a small amount to us but an enormous amount to the locals where the Egyptian minimum wage for public sector workers is LE 1200 a month, roughly £100 and for others considerably less.
Hurghada consists of several areas. The old ‘Downtown’ Dahar where people still wear traditional dress, bustling, dusty with cars, taxis, mini buses, all being driven in crowded areas with hooters in continual use, this is the real Egypt. The mix is of modern shops selling the latest designer fashions to electrical shops with stocks of televisions, refrigerators and lighting. Shops selling mobile phones and sim cards are in abundance, but wander away from the main street and you find the local markets with their wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables, stalls that beckon you by the aroma of their spices and much more. Discover the furniture maker, metal worker, plumber, ceramic dealer and many other trades being carried out as they were years ago with prices to match. Order a coffee table for your apartment. Specify the size, design, wood, colour of stain, glass top if required for the princely sum of £30 or a full set of curtains made within the hour for little more. It’s as if time has passed them by but they appear happy, always smiling and pleased to show off their goods to the visitor. Sit at one of the many cafes, sip coffee but don’t expect it to taste like the instant coffee we have back home, smoke a Shisha Pipe and watch the world go by. This is the area where a full meal will cost less than a starter back home. The buses are 14 seat mini buses, climb on board and pass your fare to the person in front of you who passes it to the driver. How much, about the equivalent of 10p. This is a place where can really get away from your normal life and transcend into a world that truly mixes the past and present.
Travel south along El Nasr Road to Sakala and Sherraton Road, the main tourist street in Hurghada. The area is home to everything. Restaurants, Indian, Chinese, Greek and others of different nationalities from around the world mixed in with cafes, bars, banks, phone shops, pharmacy’s and more souvenir shops than you can imagine. This is also home to several of the large resort hotels, Seagull Beach Resort, Sunrise Resort (adults only), MinaMark Beach and several others that although large somehow seem to blend with the smaller buildings. Hungry? try the Samos Greek Taverna, great food and whilst the portions are large the bill is small, try the ‘Surf and Turf’ or the ‘Grilled Fish and Potatoes’ that is almost big enough for two. From here wander into El Bahr Street, past the small shops displaying rolls of different cloths with their owners sitting outside enjoying the warm evening air and you will come to the new marina that although only opened 7 years ago has become a focal point for those who want to have a break from the main tourist area and enjoy a little more tranquillity. Hurghada Marina Boulevard is a traffic free area graced by some of Egypt’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars. Indulge yourself in one whilst letting your eyes roam over the luxury yachts at berth in the main marina. Overlooking all of this is the beautiful white stoned Hurghada Marina Mosque with its exquisite architecture which at night is illuminated with the upper windows of the minarets in emerald green adding extra beauty to the area.
Leaving Hurghada behind as you travel north on the old road towards Cairo you pass through areas that have recently been designated for further tourism, where new hotels and apartments are under construction. Finally, all this is left behind and yours eyes feast on miles of yellow sand coastline on one side whilst the Eastern Desert and it mountains add a rugged beauty to the other. 16 miles later you arrive at the security post marking the entrance to El Gouna. Built on over 6 miles of beautiful coastline El Gouna is an oasis by the sea. Spread across islands and lagoons this is many people’s idea of paradise. The area boasts private villas built around the lagoons with their own yacht moorings. For those that don’t want ownership but just want to come for a short holiday there are 18 hotels mostly belonging to the prestigious hotel chains. The Steigenberger is a golf resort and home to an 18 hole PGA course that meanders through lagoons and desert flora making it unique. Around the small marina are large motor yachts bearing registrations from many countries. The key side alive with open air bars and restaurants serving foods making the air alive with mouth watering aroma’s. For those without their own transport there are 2 seat Tuk-Tuk taxis that will take you around the resort for the princely sum of 10LE, about 90p. The area is also home to several private education facilities and even has its own private hospital.
How do you get to these areas? Most visitors arrive through Hurghada International Airport located 6 miles south of the main city. A modern airport with a new terminal opened in 2014. On arrival a visa is required for your stay. As you enter the main arrivals area prior to security go to the bank kiosk where the visas are obtainable at the official rate of $25 dollars for a 30 day stay. There are agents who also sell visas but you are likely to be charged above the official rate. If you have travelled independently there are numerous taxis for hire. Get your own taxi and do not let a third person arrange it as the price will be higher. It should cost no more than 80 LE, about £6.50 to your hotel.
Hurghada is a tourist area and does not abound with ancient sights. It’s a place to come and relax around the pool, on the beach, or indulge in water sports during the day and then sit on your balcony during the early evening and watch that big red luminary the sun sink behind the mountains of the Eastern Desert. No place on earth can produce a sunset like Africa.
A little under 200 miles south west of Hurghada is Luxor and the River Nile but that’s for another day.