The Red Sea is the long and relatively narrow body of water that lies between the northeast coast of Africa and the Arabian peninsula that is bordered by Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Djbouti, Eritrea, and Sudan. Despite some of those countries being red flags for war and conflict, the Red Sea is a remarkably peaceful and conflict-free body of water.
Here, though, we’re obviously going to focus on Egypt. When we refer to Egypt’s Red Sea coast with respect to tourism, we’re really talking about two main areas – the eastern coastal portion of Egypt on the African continent, or what I call Egypt proper, and the eastern coast of the Sinai Peninsula. Now notice I left off one major area, namely the Sinai Peninsula’s western coast, and that’s simply because there’s nothing there, or at least nothing worth visiting.
The Red Sea coast of Egypt proper and the eastern coast of the Sinai, including the tip of the peninsula, are where all of the action is when it comes to the Red Sea. And actually, that applies to the whole Red Sea. As mentioned earlier, eight countries border the Red Sea but Egypt is really where it’s at when it comes to the best and most accessible resorts. Jordan and Israel each have tiny slivers of Red Sea coast and they both have cities on them that boast a beach, diving, and resorts, but they don’t have anything on Egypt’s hundreds and hundreds of miles of beautiful Red Sea beaches.
Just to give you an idea of the vast difference, Israel has about 6 miles of Red Sea coastline and Jordan has about 30 miles of Red Sea coastline. Meanwhile, Egypt has about 900 miles of Red Sea coastline with many different towns and cities, large and small, local, touristy, resorty, natural, and everything in between.
As for other Red Sea destinations, well who’s ever heard of going to Sudan or Djibouti for their beaches? No one. And Saudi Arabia, who goes there for tourism at all? You might get a nice burka tan around your eyes there, but Saudi just has a whole lot of wasted empty desert along its Red Sea coast.
So back to the 900 miles of Red Sea in Egypt. Where should you go when you want to visit the Red Sea? Well, that depends on where you’re coming from and what you’re looking to do once you get there. I really consider there to be eight destinations along the Red Sea coast of Egypt proper that are worth mentioning and four along the Sinai coast, all on the Gulf of Aqaba side or the eastern coast of the Sinai.
In Egypt proper (remember, this is the coast on the continent of Africa), the major destinations are Ein Sokhna, Ras Gharib, El Gouna, Hurghada, Soma Bay, Safaga, Quseer, and Marsa Alam.
Now some of these aren’t really destinations for foreign tourists but are considered by Egyptians to be resort destinations because they’re on the coast and have some hotels and some tourist infrastructure like restaurants and bus stops and the like. Ras Gharib, Safaga, and Quseer fall squarely into this category. I just mention them in case you’re doing other research on Red Sea destinations and you come across them so you’ll know that technically they’re resorty places on the Red Sea, but as a foreign visitor you’re not going to really find what you’re looking for in a Red Sea visit in one of those places. They’re more local beach escapes for Egyptians when they want to escape the hustle and bustle of the Nile valley.
Ain Sokhna kind of falls into this category too, but I have known some westerners to spend a weekend there every now and then because it’s the closest beach to Cairo. But for that same reason, it also tends to be flooded with local families from Cairo who want a beach getaway without the longer drive or flight required to get to some of the more popular places along the Red Sea.
That leaves us with El Gouna, Hurghada, Soma Bay, and Marsa Alam as the four major resort destinations along the Red Sea coast of Egypt proper. So let’s talk about each of them real quick, starting with the one furthest south and working our way up the coast.
Marsa Alam is the farthest away so you definitely have to fly to get there. Flights aren’t that expensive, maybe 100 to 150 bucks each way on average, then it’s just a quick cab ride to any of the beach resorts in Marsa Alam spreading out for miles north and south of it. There are very few hotel brands here that westerners would recognize there though. Most of the properties are Egyptian and regional hospitality companies, but there are still some very nice ones in Marsa Alam.
Further up the coast, you have Egypt’s newest and poshest Red Sea development called Soma Bay. Hotel companies that have built nice new properties at Soma Bay include some North American hotel brands you’ve probably heard of, like Westin and Sheraton, some European brands you may have heard of like Movenpick and Kempinski, and a range of other hotel brand names that may not be familiar to foreign visitors.
A bit further north of Soma Bay comes the largest city along Egypt’s Red Sea coast on the African side – Hurghada. Hurghada is really popular with European package holiday-goers and is the second most marketed Red Sea destination after Sharm el Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula. There are even direct flights to Hurghada from several European cities.
I personally am not a fan of Hurghada because of the mass cheap package holiday tourists that it markets itself to and attracts, plus the fact that the town itself isn’t really well developed for such a major destination. I also don’t find the resorts there even that nice. Of course, I haven’t been to every resort there so if I do find one that blows me away or that I can recommend in the future, I’ll be sure to post an update.
Hurghada is at least conveniently accessible by both road and air. It has a major airport that not only services other cities in Egypt, but also has direct flights to and from several European cities too. Hurghada is also only about a five-hour drive from Cairo and a four-hour drive from Luxor, so it’s possible to build in a visit here without needing to deal with the hassle of airports if you prefer road trips.
In fact, many of those Euro package holiday tourists that only go to Hurghada to get their leather tan on will take day trip excursions by bus to Luxor and come back to Hurghada in the same day. I’ve also taken that route between Hurghada and Luxor many times and taken others on it too. It’s a perfectly safe and well-traveled road, as is also the road between Cairo and Hurghada.
Further up that road about 20 minutes or so is my absolute favorite place along Egypt’s Red Sea coast, which you may have heard me mention before in previous episodes, and that’s the resort town of El Gouna. El Gouna is actually a planned seaside community like Soma Bay, so the entire town and surrounding areas are much more pleasant than most other Red Sea towns.
El Gouna has it all – big all-inclusive resorts, small quaint BandB’s, local and western restaurants, a few bars, a little nightlife, great roads, easy transportation between areas, and none of the hassling you get in other parts of Egypt. The town really is a little slice of paradise on the coast of Egypt where you can let your hair down, relax, not worry about anything else, and just enjoy the beautiful beaches, great weather, and constant radiating sun. And while El Gouna is a playground for Egypt’s upper crust, it isn’t exorbitantly expensive by our standards at all. The town has a super cute marina – two now actually – that’s always filled with small yachts and the restaurants, cafes, and bars lining the marina are so cute and really good quality.
All of these places – Marsa Alam, Soma Bay, Hurghada, and El Gouna – offer all of the outdoor activities and water sports that you’d expect to find along the Red Sea, including boating excursions, snorkeling, four-wheeling (which they call quad biking there), and scuba diving. In fact, the Red Sea is known as one of the world’s major scuba diving destinations, so the scuba industry in this whole area is pretty advanced. You can even learn to scuba dive in Egypt for really cheap compared to back home.
Now let’s move over to the Sinai and talk about Egypt’s Red Sea towns over there. Obviously, the biggest and most famous Red Sea resort town of all is Sharm el Sheikh. It’s at the southern tip of the peninsula (a little to the east of the tip actually), and this is by far the most developed area on the Sinai Peninsula. Sharm has lots of Western brand properties that you will have heard of and a lot more Egyptian and regional Arab brands that you won’t have heard of. But it won’t be hard to find a resort property in or near Sharm that you’ll know to be nice and will be affordable.
Sharm also has a really advanced scuba diving and water sports industry because of the high levels of tourism there. Like Hurghada, but even more so, there are direct flights to Sharm from Europe and Russia and many other places in the Middle East and Asia. But if you’re already in Egypt, you can also easily get there from Cairo by air multiple times per day and even from Hurghada and Luxor by air as well.
You can technically drive to Sharm from Cairo, but you don’t want to. It’s just too long of a drive and you’ll waste a lot of your precious time in-country passing through ugly wasteland that’s not even scenic. I’ve done it several times for various reasons, but don’t get tricked into taking a car or bus to Sharm because you’ll regret it. It’s a cheap flight, like everywhere else in Egypt, and the airport is small and super convenient to the city.
You’ll also want to fly into the Sharm airport if you want to go to any of the other popular but smaller beach towns along the Gulf of Aqaba on the eastern shore of the Sinai like Dahab or Nuweiba. These two coastal towns over there are really chill and laid back and inexpensive, even for Egypt. They’re kind of known for being for having a hippie beach vibe, so f that’s your scene then you’ll love Dahab and Nuweiba. They’re also not nearly as crowded with hard-core tourists like Sharm or Hurghada.
There’s one more city on this same strip of coast called Taba that’s worth mentioning for informational purposes, although I don’t think it’s really worth taking the time to go there if you’re coming from the US or Europe for Egypt’s Red Sea beaches. I say that because there are much nicer and more easily accessible places to get to on the Red Sea like Sharm or my favorite El Gouna if you’re coming all the way from across another sea or an ocean to get to Egypt and spend time there.
Taba is more of a destination for Egyptians and even for a lot of Israelis if you can believe it. Taba is right across the border from Israel and they can cross the border there with a cheaper and quicker Sinai-only visa and just hit the cheaper Egyptian beaches on that stretch along the Gulf of Aqaba without the visa or logistical hassles required to travel further into Egypt proper.
So that about wraps up the 101 on the Red Sea in Egypt. We’ve covered the town, cities, and resorts up and down the mainland coast on Egypt’s African side and up and down Egypt’s eastern Sinai coast. And between the two of those stretches, that’s really where all the best Red Sea action is out of all of the countries that border it.
If this gets your mouth watering to wade in the Red Sea’s cool turquoise water this winter when it’s freezing back home in North America and Europe, then I’ll probably see you there.