HURGHADA AND THE BAYSRapidly becoming the tourist hotspot on the Red Sea coastline of mainland Egypt, Hurghada and the Bays, as the area is commonly referred to, encompassing both the city of Hurghada and the surrounding ‘bays’ of El Gouna, Sahl Hasheesh, Makadi Bay and Soma Bay, which between them can offer something for all ages, all budgets and all interests, be that snorkelling, diving and watersports, or golf, relaxing and general tourismHurghada

Hurghada is the second largest city located on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, boasting nearly 300,000 inhabitants. Compared to some of the more-ancient towns and cities along the mainland coastline, Hurghada is a more modern-day phenomenon, coming into existence in the last century and thriving ever since. The city now stretches for more than 20km along the Red Sea, though it does not venture too far inland. The city caters for both foreign and domestic tourism, with its long sandy beaches and generally calm conditions proving universally popular.

Given its size, Hurghada is the obvious choice for divers looking for a holiday that combines underwater exploration with topside entertainment. The variety of bars and restaurants will keep most people busy. The other advantage of staying in a city of such size is the choice on offer - excellent deals on both hotels and diving can be found, so it is well worth shopping around. And on the subject of shopping, don’t forget to check out the other delights of the city, such as its bazaar, which can be found in the Dahar area.

Then, of course, there is the airport and the marina. Hurghada International Airport receives flights direct from the UK, meaning that if you choose this city as your dive destination, you’ve arrived as soon as you’ve landed. And the marina wouldn’t look out of place on the French Riviera, with its promenade boasting a cosmopolitan blend of bars, restaurants and cafes, all flanked by the bustling marina.

Dive Hotspots

El Mina. The El Mina was a 70-metre-long Egyptian minesweeper that was bombed by Israeli forces in 1969. She now lies on her port side in 30m, with the starboard side sitting four metres higher. Penetration is possible, though it can be something of a squeeze in places. For those not wanting to venture inside, there are plenty of holes to peek through.

Abu Ramada Reef. The reef of Abu Ramada Island is a great dive for those who enjoy a spot of drift. The site boasts a reef wall on the east side which is covered in corals and marine life and will hold your attention as you drift by. Big fish, including barracuda and reef sharks, can be spotted by turning your back to the reef and looking into the blue.

Giftun Kebir (Big Giftun) and Giftun Soraya (Little Giftun). These two islands boast a multitude of excellent dive sites. Subjected to nutrient-rich waters, the islands are home to an abundant amount of coral growth and fish species. The islands are featured on many liveaboard itineraries, and if boats with access to all manner of Red Sea sites are stopping off for a splash, it has got to be worth hopping out from Hurghada!

Conveniently located 22km north of Hurghada, El Gouna is only a four-hour flight from Europe’s major capitals via Hurghada International Airport.

El GounaInitially developed in 1990 by the Sawiris family and Orascom Hotels and Development, the tourist resort is now a bustling town boasting nearly 20 hotels, shops, bars and restaurants - all designed and targeted at visiting tourists - as well as plenty for its local inhabitants; there is even a hospital and a school! The basic layout of El Gouna is around a series of canals, crossed by small stone bridges. The town stretches from the beachfront to several hundred metres inland and really is quite a unique experience in this part of the world. The town has developed significantly since its creation and now even boasts its own Egyptian Premier League football team. El Gouna is easily accessed, making life simple for visiting divers. If you like your dive trips to be well-organised, hassle-free and full of choice (both in terms of hotels and dive centres), El Gouna is certainly worth a look.

The stern of the Giannis DSwarm of anthiasDive Hotspots

SS Carnatic. This British-built steamship sank in 1869 having run aground on the Sha’ab Abu Nuhas Reef, near Shadwan Island. Having run the ship aground the captain gave the order for people to remain onboard, despite requests to disembark. The ship eventually split in two and sank, claiming 31 lives in the process. Both pieces of the wreck now lie on their port sides in less than 30m and are smothered in coral growth.

Giannis D. The Giannis D lies a short distance from the wreck of the SS Carnatic, another victim of the navigationally dangerous Sha’ab Abu Nuhas Reef. The cargo ship hit the reef and sank on 19 April 1983. She now lies in three pieces - the bow, amidships and stern - with the stern widely regarded as the most-enjoyable section. The Giannis D is very accessible, lying in approximately 24m and reaching to within 4m of the surface.

Sahl HasheeshSahl Hasheesh is one of the fastest-growing destinations on the Red Sea, and lies just 15 minutes from Hurghada International Airport.The community, which boasts a charming Arabesque-style design and a unique selection of top-class amenities, hotels and residences, is situated on a beautiful bay, offering some 12.5km of pristine sandy beaches. At the centre of Sahl Hasheesh is the beautiful Old Town commercial district, which hosts many international and locally branded shops, cafes and restaurants. It also provides a beautiful seafront promenade that has an exciting atmosphere day and night. Beyond the developed area, the resort is cradled by untouched desert and rugged mountains, which serve as a stunning backdrop to the many riches on offer from this unspoilt treasure.

Dive Hotspots

Abu Haschish. Abu Haschish is the island at the centre of a wide bay close to Sahl Hasheesh.The island was once used as a drop-off point for smugglers bringing hash into the country.

A tongue of reef extends about 1km south of the island and the dive site is at its southernmost tip, where there is a shelf running between 15m-22m before you reach a drop-off benefitting from usually great visibility.

Sunken City. The Sunken City is one of the outstanding attractions in Sahl Hasheesh. This replica of The Temple of Horus, in Edfu, has been constructed partly underwater and partly above the surface, and it makes for a great shallow site which is also visible from the walkway leading to the dock.
Makadi BayThe modern beach resort of Makadi Bay is a satellite of the larger resort of Hurghada and is very quiet in comparison to its bustling neighbour. Situated along a beautiful natural bay that boasts long sandy beaches, Makadi Bay is ideal for those looking for a relaxed, hotel-based holiday. The location of Makadi Bay, off the road south between Hurghada and Safaga, means that divers staying here can take advantage of a wider choice of diving from some of the best sites in the area. Makadi Bay also offers a superb fringing house reef which stretches along the bay.

For those looking for nightlife, shopping or sightseeing, the bright lights of Hurghada are a 30-minute bus or taxi ride away. Tours are also available, including the historical sites of Luxor and Karnak, as well as boat trips, sunset cruises and jeep safaris into the desert, closer to resort. There are also state-of-the-art spas, and an amazing golf course, for those days away from the allure of the Red Sea.

Photographing soft corals
Dive Hotspots

Tobia Arba’a. This site comprises a collection of seven pinnacles that rise from 12m to just shy of the surface. The shallow depth means that plenty of dive time can be enjoyed swimming around and between the pinnacles, each of which boast a veritable feast of marine life and stunning soft corals.

Middle Reef. This dive site boasts a dramatic drop-off often washed by strong currents, which can make for a swift drift past colourful walls, but as you come to the end of your dive – or just want to remain shallow – you can ‘fly’ over one of the most-pristine coral gardens in the region, marveling at the marine life on display.

The idyllic Soma BayDive Hotspots

Abu Hashish. This dive site, the name of which means ‘Father of Grass’ in Arabic, offers everything from shallow sandy seagrass lagoon dives suitable for all levels of diver to dropoffs pocketed with caves that can deliver eagle rays and other pelagic visitors for the more-experienced.

Gota Abu Ramada. Often known by its nickname of ‘the Aquarium’, Gota Abu Ramada is an oval reef, surrounded by a sandy seabed at some 13m, with a couple of pinnacles rising to within a few metres of the surface off one end. The amount of marine life is staggering, and the shallow depth promotes fantastic coral growth.

Pristine coral growth under the dive boatSoma BaySoma Bay’s location is ideally situated on the eastern shores of Egypt on the Red Sea coast just 20 minutes by car from Hurghada International Airport. The resort is an ode to relaxation and recreation, a haven of upscale pampering and leisure.

The 10 sq km Soma Bay development boasts all the amenities, activities and options you would want to have on your dream Red Sea holiday. The resort is surrounded on three sides by the sea, and it boasts some of the most-beautiful sandy beaches in the Red Sea, while the mountains and desert landscapes give the location a dramatic backdrop.

Additionally, the resort boasts top of the range luxury hotels, a championship golf course, a diving and kitesurfing centre and a leading thalasso-therapy spa, which is one of the largest on the Red Sea Riviera. With Luxor only 240km away by road, same day excursions to the Valley of the Kings, Karnak and Luxor Temples and all that the ancient city has to offer are easily done by car or bus.

SafagaAnother ancient port town that has since become a tranquil escape for tourists, Safaga is an unassuming place. Located a short distance south of Hurghada, this is a town for those who want to leave the big city lights behind for bonfires on the beach. Popular with other watersports enthusiasts, such as windsurfers and kitesurfers, Safaga is ideal for those wanting to dive in a chilled environment.

As well as its popularity with watersports lovers, the small town is also a hotspot for sunbathers. Its black-sand beaches and beautiful blue-water bay offer the perfect condition to enjoy the sunshine and whittle away the hours - ideal if your partner doesn’t dive! The mineral-rich springs found in the area are also said to boast healing qualities.

At just over 45km from the international hub of Hurghada, Safaga is ideal for those wanting a relaxed atmosphere, great diving and not too much driving on arrival. The closeness of Hurghada does also mean that if the urge for a night out does arise then there’s a city that offers it within reach. Most people who visit this inviting little port town, however, will find plenty of contentment in the serene atmosphere, ashy beaches and beautiful waters.

Massive coral formationDive Hotspots

Panorama Reef.
Plateaus, drop-offs, marine life… this site really does have it all. Panorama is a big chunk of a reef, boasting two plateaus at 18m on both the north and south of the site, as well as a deeper plateau at 30m. The drop-off along the side of the reef brings in all sorts of fish life - you just have to stare into the blue to see it!

Abu Qifan. The ultimate site for drop-off lovers, Abu Qifan is a huge lump of rock that disappears into the deep. On the north and south sides, much like Panorama, there are two plateaus at around 18m. There is also another plateau at 30m for those wanting to venture a little deeper. For those wishing to spot some big stuff, this is your spot.

El QuseirNot many divers really know about El Quseir. It is arguably this fact that makes the place such a draw. Even the likes of Marsa Alam, which lies further south, have taken over El Quseir with regards to the sheer number of visiting divers. El Quseir remains a secret little gem that lies between the two international hubs of Hurghada and Marsa. The city itself is sizeable and historic, dating back about 5,000 years and with a population around the 50,000-mark.

The diving takes place outside the main throng, however, and there really isn’t much around - asmattering of restaurants and a few hotels scattered along the coastline. But that is the beauty of the dive-centric outskirts - simplicity. This is a place you visit for diving. Eating, sleeping and diving are the three main themes of a visit to El Quseir. Evenings can be spent waterside enjoying a cold Sakara, a BBQ or a spot of music in a Bedouin tent, or sat within the clutches of your hotel watching the desert stars.

Everything feels a long way away -Hurghada, Sharm, the city from which you came - and that is a feeling to be revelled in. Located on the main highway between Hurghada and Marsa Alam does, of course, mean that, mercifully, you are not in the middle of nowhere. It also means that daytrips out to various dive sites are both quick and comfortable, a combination that makes for a great stay.

AnemonefishDive Hotspots

The Rock. The Rock is one of those sites that have to be seen to be believed. Atop two humble rock pinnacles lie literally hundreds of red-and-green anemones, all clinging and competing for space. Swarming in, above and around them are an even-greater number of clownfish. It is an astonishing site.

The Salem Express. While more easily accessible for those based in Safaga, the Salem Express is still a site very reachable from El Quseir. This car and passenger ferry tragically sank in 1991 with significant loss of life. The site is haunting, with the loss of life - cars, old belongings - clear to see. Lying in 30m it is a dive suitable for all experience levels, though the harrowing nature of the site may not suit all.
Marsa AlamGigantic gorgonian seafanMarsa Alam is fast becoming one of Egypt’s most-talkedabout diving destinations. Regarded as offering more offthe-beaten-track diving than some of the Sinai Peninsula resorts, Marsa Alam is ideal for those divers who want to do little but dive. There are a multitude of dive centres now set-up in the area, each offering a tranquil oasis in which visiting divers can base themselves, with nothing but the Red Sea on one side and desert on the other. The choice is ample and the quality excellent. While the town of Marsa Alam itself is worth checking out, most of the resorts are set up as mini-villages, where all your diving and nondiving needs are met. In-house restaurants and bars ensure visitors have somewhere to enjoy their evenings, while onsite swimming pools offer a place to off-gas. Trips out to the finest dive sites this particular stretch of coastline has offer depart from onsite dive centres or centres affiliated with hotels, making stays in Marsa Alam about as laid-back as they come. If peacefulness is your thing, Marsa Alam has what you’re looking for.

The accessibility of the area improved dramatically in 2001, with the construction of Marsa Alam International Airport. The development really did put Marsa Alam ‘on the map’ and has contributed significantly to both its development and popularity. Numerous airlines fly direct to Marsa Alam from the UK, though flights to Hurghada and a transfer south do still remain a viable alternative.

Of course, if you fancy pushing even further south, there is always Hamata, which lies 180km south of Marsa. About two-and-a-half hours by transfer from Marsa Alam airport, the Red Sea’s southern-most resort truly is the ‘final frontier’ when it comes to Egypt’s mainland Red Sea coast.

Sunlight illuminates a Red Sea reefDive Hotspots

Abu Dabab. Abu Dabab is an absolute must for visitors to Marsa Alam. The sandy bay comprises of two reef walls - north and south - which shelter a sandy patch full of seagrass. Shallow and warm, large turtles venture in to graze. Some of the individuals who visit are enormous and quite happy for divers to get up close and personal. If you are lucky, you might get to see one of the local dugongs as well.

Hamada wreck. The wreck of the Hamada, situated at a site called Abu Guson, is a coral-clad gem. With a depth range of 5-15m, the wreck is suitable for all levels of diver.

The ship sank in 1996 on account of a navigational error, and now lies on her starboard side and in two parts. There is also a debris field, which lies between the main body of the boat and the reef.

Marsa El Fukary. As beautiful as this site is, courtesy of its series of ‘mini-canyons’ and curving walls of coral, it is a single anemone that steals the show and makes this site worth a visit. There are a great many stunning anemones out there (indeed, the Red Sea is famous for them) but this particular one is mesmerising - it is psychedelic pink!