I’d heard a great deal about people heading to Egypt to go diving, and that the Red Sea is supposed to be one of the best diving spots in the world – but I hadn’t given much thought to what it would be like in terms of accommodation, the surroundings or what else it might have to offer. So, recently, in a “last minute” kind of way, I booked a ticket to Egypt to meet a friend who was temporarily based there while travelling & kiteboarding round the globe.
Connections looked pretty straightforward – London to Hugharda, via easyjet, and from there to a town called El Gouna. But I hadn’t had the chance to do any research. I had no idea what to expect. Yet sometimes when you fly into a new destination, you catch a glimpse of what awaits…
We were descending into Hugharda . I could see desert on the one side and the bright blue ocean on the other, with the resorts scattered along the coast – some smaller and others a bit more extravagant, with yachts docked alongside, but all of them spread out across a luxury of space, far from the crammed-in model we commonly associate with resort landscapes.
El Gouna, about 40min drive from Hugharda, is a resort style town, self-contained and built on a coastline spread across islands and lagoons.
What do I normally think of when someone says ‘resort’? Certainly nothing like this. It appears the town has been built in a way that consciously respects and compliments its natural surroundings - earthy tones and a blend of traditional and modern architectural elements. Speaking of the latter, it sounds like they’ve gone to great lengths to get talented architects like American Michael Graves on board to give El Gouna’s landscape its “delicacy and character”
The town still feels respectful to its roots, reflected in the existing architecture, cuisine and local customs. Homemade delicacies can be found in the supermarkets, and hotels & restaurants are plentiful, offering a wide variety of buffet or BBQ-style meals which allow you to sample a bit of everything, Western style cuisine, seafood specialities, or my preference, high-quality Egyptian dishes – El Gouna offered them all.
(I have to add that at La Scala, an Italian restaurant in the Abu Tig Marina, I had the best seafood Italian pasta that I’ve ever tasted – somewhat unexpectedly).
I’ve not even touched on the outdoor activities, which are probably the main reason people make their way to El Gouna and to the Red Sea in general. Aside from the guaranteed hot temperatures, desert beauty, amazing cuisine and stunning ocean views, there is the diving into a rich and diverse ecosystem with some species of fish found nowhere else. This wealth of diversity is in part due to over 1000 miles of coral reef – ancient fringing reefs that are thousands of years old.
A day of diving in El Gouna could include anything from Clown Fish spotting and snorkelling with turtles to diving with dolphins. During my time there, I had a private diving session with guys from TGI Sheraton which included visiting one of the more colourful, shallower reefs, trying out my waterproof GoPro camera.
The Red Sea is known for its strong winds and high surface temperatures, it’s one the hottest and saltiest bodies of seawater in the world. All perfect conditions for the increasingly popular sport of kiteboarding. I didn’t give it much thought before heading out to Egypt, but soon realised how popular and ferociously addictive it is as a pastime in such conditions. It’s proving so popular that it’s increasingly the reason people are heading to Egypt – wind, warm climate & water temperatures and blue lagoons, ideal conditions for kiteboarding
I spent some time on the beach, watching the students and instructors of Kite People one of El Gouna’s Kite boarding schools, whilst trying to get my head around the ‘board-kite-wind-harness relationship’ (a requirement of taking part in the sport). I also played around with a kite for a few hours. Even that will supply you with enough adrenaline to get hooked!
The other thing I really enjoyed there was a feeling of space: miles and miles of wide open desert & ocean with amazing golden sunsets. I went horse riding along the coast, choosing late afternoons to catch the sunset. There’s a variety of horse riding desert treks to do and there’s even an early morning (4am) sunrise trek for early risers.
I wish I could have spent a bit more time in El Gouna – there’s so much more I would have liked to do – but alas, one holiday is never long enough. A combination of great people, great activates and of course the ancient, inspiring surroundings left me wanting to return as soon as possible. I suspect it’s a common feeling for anyone who visits the place…