Itineraries: Red Sea and Sand

9 Days

If diving, snorkeling, and other aquatic sports are your passion, then Egypt’s Red Sea Coast and Sinai are hard to beat. Tourism development has mushroomed in the last 20 years in places like Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada: although they are no longer as isolated as they once were, dive sites like Giftun Island and Ras Muhammad National Park are justifiably famous and are considered some of the top dive sites in the world. There are some impressive sites on dry land as well up and down the Red Sea Coast. Depending on your own inclination and the amount of time you have, your Red Sea vacation could be the focus of your trip to Egypt, or it could be an addition to the standard Cairo–Luxor–Aswan tour.

Saint Anthony and Saint Paul Monasteries

1 Day. If you leave Cairo in the morning, take the new highway east to Ain Sukhna and head south when you hit the coast. Continue another 113 km (70 miles) to visit these two historic Coptic monasteries, which are named for the two first hermit saints. Both walled monasteries are off the main highway, in the Red Sea Mountains, and can be viewed in one afternoon. El Gouna and Hurghada are another three hours’ drive south, but you'll find accommodations in Zafarana if it is too late in the day to continue.


4 Days. If you didn't continue to Hurghada at the end of Day 1, then leave Zafarana in the morning and head down the coast, perhaps stopping for lunch en route in the upscale Egyptian resort town of El Gouna. If you’re diving, you’ll want to arrange your next day’s dive that afternoon, either through your hotel’s dive shop or through one of the many diving companies in town. The rest of your days can be devoted to diving, snorkeling, kite surfing, or any other activity on offer. You can break up your time diving with a day in the Red Sea Mountains: from Hurghada you can do a half day or overnight camel trip (usually accompanied by local Bedouins) into the desert, or hire a guide with a 4x4 to visit the Roman mining mountains of Mons Porphyrites (known in Arabic as Gebel Abu Dukhan) and Mons Claudianus. Spend Day 3 in the water again. On Day 4, you can take the two-hour high-speed ferry to Sharm El-Sheikh and visit Sinai, or you can continue down the coast road toward Quseir.

Option 1: Sharm El-Sheikh and Beyond

4 Days. While the best diving in Egypt is generally along the Red Sea Coast near Hurghada and El Gouna, the best beaches are in the Sinai around Sharm. This is a place to relax and refresh at one of the big, modern resorts. But if you get tired of the beach, there are several other options. Some travelers will want to do a long day trip (or even an overnight trip) to visit Saint Catherine's Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai. Divers may want to take the drive up to ramshackle Dahab to view some different reefs. Others may want to go even further to Nuweiba or Taba and take a very long day trip to see the fabled city of Petra in Jordan.

Option 2: Quseir and Beyond

1 Day. Once an important city for trade and transport—it was a way station for pilgrims from the Nile Valley making the hajj across the Red Sea to Mecca—Quseir is now a quiet city known for its recently restored fort, which provides good views of the coast. Spend the night in the architecturally sumptuous Mövenpick al-Quseir Sirena Beach, a few miles north of the town, or take a room at the more basic Quseir Hotel, a restored Ottoman-era coffee merchant’s house on the waterfront. From Quseir there is a daily bus that makes the four-hour trip to Bir Shalatein.

Option 1: Points South

3 Days. To really get away from it all, continue south from Quseir, where the coast becomes more scenic, and the feeling of isolation more tangible. You will occasionally come across the striking sight of camels owned by local Bedouins wandering among the mangroves on the beach. Mersa Alam is a favorite of Italian diving-tour companies, who fly directly to the international airport there. Another 290 km (180 miles) past Mersa Alam down the coast road, you come to Bir Shalatein, a windswept town known for its vast camel market. The town is inhabited by the Bishari, the ethnic group that inhabit the border region between Egypt and Sudan. Bir Shalatein is the farthest point on the coast accessible to non-Egyptians. Turning around, it’s 563 km (350 miles) north back to Hurghada, where you can catch a plane back to Cairo. Or you can break up your trip by staying the night at Bur Safaga or Mersa Alam, or at one of the diving resorts that are popping up all along the coast.

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