Egypt provides endless options all year round, come the chilling winds of winter one takes a road trip to warmer Upper Egypt. As the weather gets warmer there is always hypnotizing shades of blue; gifts of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. With variety of landscape and activity the country provides all year round outdoor and indoor options. Often you can take quick escapes from Cairo, Egypt’s capital city and take an hour drive to a nearby beach town but what about taking a few more days…months off even and drive out into the sunset.
There’s always something romantic and liberating when it comes to driving off into a far-off destination with the anticipation of adventure ahead and a long road before you. Egypt has a number of options for road-trips and the roads are safe and accessible, one key road-trip is one that begins in sunny Ein El Sukhna and ends at the border with Sudan in the magical Gabal Elba protectorate. One long adventurous drive is needed at least once in a lifetime, better even with company and a solid playlist.
Ein El Sokhna
Ein El Sokhna is a city which is ancient, spiritual and is growing today into a smart one. A trip to Ein El Sokhna, or Hot Spring which references the hot therapeutic hot waters in the city is among the smoothest and closest to the mainland. Al Galala mountain embraces a number of springs with sulphur water, said to treat a number of diseases especially rheumatism. The distance from Cairo to Sokhna is approximately 140 kms and can take around one and a half hours to reach. Those who live in the area of Tagamo’ on the capital’s suburbs can have a heyday in getting to the port city in less than half an hour of smooth roads for a day at the beach, the monastery, the new upscale Galala city and breathe in the spiritual aroma of the place.
Ein El Sokhna is part of the Suez governorate and lies on the Gulf of Suez. Actually, a road trip to the Suez Canal is an hour away and offers a traveller another breath-taking view of the developmental history of the Suez since it was first open for business in 1869 in a grand ceremony attended by world royalty.
There are at least ten hotels with excellent recommendations in Sokhna offering staggering discounts on occasions, among them are Stella Di Mari, Palmera Beach Resort and Swiss Inn, to name a few.
The port town of El Sokhna has come a long way about forty years ago there was sand, beach and mountains meters away. Today, the port city is a smart city, it boasts roads, railways, a university while protecting its religious and historic heritage plus natural life (hopefully). Some historians believe that prophet Mosus has been to El Sokhna from which he travelled to Sinai, there are also two monasteries and over 200 bird species that are either guests or residents of that city which has been famous since Phoenicians and ancient Egyptians used it as main routes into Asia.
El Sokhna waters are calm and shallow but on the deeper end you can be exposed to the fastest shark in the world the mako shark. With more spectacular beaches ahead on this road-trip a recommended two days are enough to soak up just enough sun for the long road ahead.
The car ride from the port of El Sokhna to El Gouna is 400km and usually completed in under four hours. Most of the route is by the sea so there is no better company for the long ride. The desert area opposite the sea en route is vast and seductive. El Gouna is a man-made miracle city started up by an Egyptian businessman who decided to create a resort town 25km away from Hurghada. The town now holds international events, high-end restaurants and a bustling nightlife.
El Gouna is most enjoyable with access to a boat to take to nearby islands such as Bayoud or El Mahmeya. Snorkelling and diving are a must, however for an open water diving course you will find cheaper options at your next destination, Hurghada.
El Gouna is cradled by surrounding mountains and has great hiking options, a local group, El Gouna Mountain Goats offer almost weekly hiking trips into the nearby mountains. It can get as hot as 35 degrees and over during summer so kite surfing and wake boarding activities are a much-needed salvation. El Gouna hosts international kite surfing tournaments and has centres that offer beginner courses, depending on budget and time, three days are recommended for this lavish stop.
El Gouna is the priciest stop during this road trip and unless a you’re taking a kite surfing or diving course we recommend you stay two days best during the weekend.
This city is part of the Red Sea Governorate, thirty minutes away from El Gouna by car. According to the State Information Service (SIS), Hurghada is the tenth trending destination in the world, windsurfing and coral reefs have made Hurghada desirable.
Some forty years ago, going to Hurghada was an all-inclusive package where the it spot was Magawish, now overhauled into a much fancier hotel and a trip to the two islands of Giftun which hosts the turquoise waters and offers scuba diving sites galore. Today, a stay in Hurghada can mean visiting neighboring towns of Sahl Hashish (a half hour drive), Macady Bay (a 45 minute drive) and Soma bay which is one hour away.
An hour away from hurghada Safaga is mentioned here for a quick stop to any of the fish restaurants in town, Morgana fish restaurant is highly recommended serving the freshest sea food, ask the waiter for the catch of the day. Safaga has popular wreck dives of which is the underwater maritime grave of the Salem Express, the ferry drowned in 1991, the dive is heavy and tragic and is not for the faint hearted.
Up till this point of the road-trip one is still very much connected to modern civilization alongside much needed nature. The beauty of this road-trip is the further you go towards your final destination the more of modernity you leave behind and nature takes over. This is going to be a long ride, and the upcoming chapter of the road-trip includes some of the best diving spots in the region.
Qoseir lies on the Red Sea coast, 138 kms south of Hurghada and is also part of the Red Sea Governorate. The trip to Qoseir from Hurghada takes around two hours. You can fly to the Marsa Allam airport some 75km away, that would however defeat the purpose of the ultimate road trip, we advise you opt for adventure over comfort.
The word Qoseir means a small palace and has been famed since pharaonic times and has been used as a passage to Punt, some say the latter ancient city may debatably be part of Somalia or Sudan. The point is that the Red Sea coast has been a vibrant trade route since ancient times. No doubt spiritual vibes accompany road trippers along the coast.
Palm trees stand defiant of sun rays and offer much needed shade in the beautiful secluded spot. Duck Dive centre is a popular diving centre located in Mangrove Bay Resort, the centre offers certification from open water up to dive master. If you are already certified which is highly recommended for this trip, the centre offers daily trips to key spots around Qoseir where you can get lucky and see sea cows, sharks and beautiful untouched corals. The upside is the diving centre has everything in house, with a luxury boat on stand by however in order to use the dive centre you have to be a guest at the hotel.
The hotel itself is in a perfect location with stunning corrals meters from the shore, however regarding food, the hotel does not offer the best meals. Fret not, sea food restaurant El Ferdous is at the city centre 15 minutes away from the hotel offering a rich selection of fresh sea food.
The real adventure starts here, by now you are a nomad, sun kissed and a child of nature. Taking an hour and a half to reach Marsa Allam from Qosseir, covering a distance of 140kms you will be accessing the best diving spots in Egypt, arguably the world.
Three hot spot areas in Marsa Allem offer a rich diving experience to various off shore and on shore dives. It is recommended you have an advanced diving certificate as most of the dives not only require advance level divers but that you have over 50 dives under your belt.
The golden spots are Marsa Shagara, followed by Marsa Nakera and Wadi Lahmy, each have a dive centre that offers trips to world renowned dive sites. According to Tribe of Nomads founder Adham El Sherei, “Marsa Allem is a must for divers, most of the landmark dives were discovered by Egyptian diver Hossam Helmy, nowadays tourists flock from all over the world to explore these major dive sites. Red Sea Diving Safari is simply Marsa Shagara 18km from Marsa Allam, Marsa Nakeri which is 20km after Marsa Allem city centre and Wadi Lahmi 40km away and the major dive sites are accessible from these areas, so I definitely include those in my trips”.
As for the dive sites themselves we spoke to photographer and open water scuba instructor, Gasser Farid who described major dive sites, “Elphinstone is a major hot spot an open shark area for the more adventurous, it has a lot of current which makes it a difficult dive so is only available for advanced divers. It is reached by boat or liver board and is an ideal wall dive. Deadalus is another famous dive otherwise known as Abu El Kizal, 80km off of shore it is one of the best preserved dive sites but also subject to strong current. Then you have St John’s which provides the unique experience of diving in three reefs (Habili Ali, Grey Reef and Habili Gafaa) before reaching St. John’s cave. The site, which usually demands a two-day trip, can be reached by liveaboard dive safaris that move from Marsa Allam.”
Diving options are endless from dolphins, sharks and the most colourful corals in the world, Marsa Allam in its entirety is home to natural miracles. El Sherie explained that apart from diving there are also must see spots, “you also have Marsa Nayzak, a natural pool formed by a meteor hitting Earth. I would also recommend the Goldmines Safari, you should definitely explore its oases, breath-taking landscapes and the abandoned goldmines in Wadi Hammamat. A safari will expose its visitors to rich scenery”.
Lastly for the jewel that is Marsa Allem is a beach that is considered one of the best beaches in Egypt and definitely one of the top in the world, Ras Hankorab, a protected area in Marsa Allam and one of most exciting snorkelling sites in the Red Sea.
It takes an hour and a half to cover the distance of 190 kms south of Marsa Allam to Hamata. According to Farid, “Hamata is considered one of the major fishing destinations in Egypt with vibrant marine life, the beach is perfect for a relaxed day following extensive dives”. As for diving many divers see the water as untouched and encourage caution from aggressive lone wolf barracudas, that being said, Hamata offers great weather for kite surfers.
A must see visit would be to Wadi El Gemal which is considered one of the biggest wadi (vally) in Egypt. The magical secluded area includes the Hamata mountain, mangroves on the costal line and unmatched sight seeing of mountain ranges.
According to El Sherie who organizes trips along this route, “Shalateen is a must stop for the cultural experience, a visit to the camel market within the city itself and watching the transactions amongst people from all walks of life is a lifetime event. The camels come mainly from Sudan and are sold in the market then distributed across Egypt.”
The national park is an escape from reality, with a presence of nomad residents, wild life and shades of yellows and greens it is a transformation to another life, a past life. Located 140km from Marsa Alam the protectorate requires a permit which is usually difficult to access due to environmental reasons and a need by the state to preserve the area. If you are lucky enough to manage a permit, camping under the stars of Gabal Elba surrounded by mountains and green trees is a connection with oneself and nature.
This does not conclude the end of this journey of self-discovery, of exploring different terrains and meeting people from all walks of life; the ride back can include all the stops and dives you may not have had time for.
WE SAID THIS: Tips for the journey, have cash on you especially following Hurghada as most of the areas will require cash only, make sure to be a responsible traveller and leave no trace behind when camping or diving and most importantly keep an open mind, talk to anyone and everyone and while listening to stories create a story of your own.