Located in south-eastern Egypt on the Red Sea, Marsa Alam is a haven for locals and tourists from around the world. Its breathtaking scenery of pristine, white beaches, mangroves and barrier coral reefs is just a snippet of what Marsa Alam has to offer.
Since opening its airport to international flights in 2001, Marsa Alam has seen an influx of tourists, but twenty years ago it was little more than a sleepy fishing village with beautiful beaches and virgin coral reefs. Take our advice – go before the crowds really start coming in.
Marsa Alam is where the Arabian Desert meets the Red Sea – that description in itself is a haven for daredevil divers, curious snorkelers, nature lovers, kite surfers and trekking addicts: the list is endless because Marsa Alam really has it all for different types of travellers. It is definitely one of the best diving and snorkelling spots in the Red Sea, as it is home to a vast number of hammerhead sharks, spinner dolphins and dugongs, as well as colourful and incredible marine life.
Getting There: Egypt Air flights take less than 1.5 hours from Cairo to Marsa Alam for around 1200LE, depending on the season.
Oasisexpeditions.com offers an all-inclusive five-day trip for ten people by private van from Cairo to Marsa Alam, Wadi El Gemal National Park as well as a two-day boat safari. Transportation, meals and accommodation are included in the price, but snorkelling/diving equipment is excluded. The full trip will cost 2150LE per person in a double room, while single room occupancy will cost an additional 600LE.
By car, it takes about eight hours from Cairo; Marsa Alam is four hours after Hurghada and Safaga. And while the drive can be tedious, it is well worth it with good company and music.
Upon reaching the town, the air is fresh and salty, leaving you feeling a bit dizzy with anxiety. The hottest time in Marsa Alam is from June until September, but that’s only when you get the schools of sharks and amazing marine life. The weather in April is more moderate and you won’t die of sunstroke.
Where to Stay: If you have a knack for living the luxurious life, there are plenty of five-star hotels and mid-range resorts such as Utopia Beach Club (20km south of El Quseir). If you prefer environmentally-friendly accommodation, there are eco-lodges scattered along the coast. For more information, call and ask for Alaa Hamid.
Deep South Diving Center is a favourite diving centre/eco-lodge for many regulars, located 14km south of Marsa Alam town, next to the old fishing village of Marsa Tondoba. There are cute huts with cement walls and floors, as well as a roof covered in reeds for ventilation. The huts come with elevated mattresses, but you need to bring your own sheets and pillows, and they cost around 100LE per night on a half-board basis, while bigger chalets cost 150LE.
The centre provides airport pickups upon reservation from Luxor, Hurghada and Marsa Alam airport. The food is delicious, especially the breakfast. Keep in mind that when staying at eco-lodges, the simpler it is; the better.For more information, call the camp's manager, Karim Noor on 0111 812277.
Where to Dive:
Samadei Dolphine House is known as the best dive sit in Marsa Alam, as its horseshoe-shaped reef is home to the best marine life. Living up to its name, the spot is usually frequented by friendly dolphins.
The Elphinstone Stone boasts a wall reef that plunges 70 metres. Here, you’ll most likely encounter curious (and sometimes scary) sharks. However, this site is for experienced divers only. For the less adventurous divers, Mars Abu Dabab is a good spot where you can see dugongs and dolphins.
What to Do:
Aside from its diving spots, Marsa Alam is known to be one of the best fishing spots in Egypt. The Shooting Club has had a base there for about twenty years now but only open to its members; it’s definitely recommended for fishing trips.
Wildlife is commonly spotted in Marsa Alam, including gazelles, wild donkeys, goats, camels and eagles. Bumping into desert nomads is always fun; they are quite friendly, proud of their heritage and respectful towards outsiders.
Wadi Hammamat (Valley of Baths) is a site closer to El Quesir than to Marsa Alam. Some evidence claims that the valley was the major trading route between ancient Thebes (now Luxor) and the Red Sea.
There are also Pharaonic ruins , gold mines and other mineral mines. Deep South Diving Centre organises desert trips as well as trips to the gold and ruby mines in Wadi El Gemal (Valley of the Camels) National Park. Wadi El Gemal’s surrounding coastal area was once rich in deposits of copper, lead, gold, emeralds and semi-precious stones. It is thought to have contained the world’s first emerald mines and was the sole source of emeralds for the Roman Empire.
Marsa Alam is not only an attractive place for divers; it has everything for couples, friends and family with children travelling there. You don’t always have to stay on the beach to work on your tan; there are national parks and virgin areas where you can enjoy being completely isolated.