The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

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Marsa Alam: A Veteran’s Guide to the Red Sea Town

Marsa Alam: A Veteran’s Guide to the Red Sea Town
written by
Suzy Nader

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.

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