A Hidden Egyptian Paradise
Days of sun, beach and diving. The perfect way to end our trip to Egypt!
When we found ourselves preparing our itinerary for 10 days in Egypt, we knew we had to fit in some days on the Red Sea. Every trip we can, we try to end on a high note, by finding a place were we can chill, relax and soak it all in.
Being so close to the Red Sea, we couldn´t pass up on the possibility of having some beach time on this trip. We also enjoyed the warm waters of the Red Sea in our trip to Jordan, and it didn’t dissapoint! The coral reefs left us speechless and we wanted to relive the experience.
Check out our video below!
WHY MARSA ALAM?
When we started planning this trip we realised the most visited and easily accessed diving area is Hurghada. It’s one of these all-included resort towns, with no further appeal than being inside the hotel and its little slice of coast when not diving.
We did our research, and found out about a town called Marsa Alam, where apart from the resorts, you could find some alternative accomodation and a much quieter and nicer environment! We fell in love with the possibility of staying at a tented camp right by the beach, and our fist option was the Marsa Shagra Village, which you can check out here: https://www.redsea-divingsafari.com/Villages/marsa-shagra
It was a bit off budget for us, since the basic tent (with no private bathroom and quite small) was around 100€ per night. But thanks to it, and since we were already hooked to this part of the coast, we kept on searching until we found our ideal accomodation: Ecolodge Bedouin Valley. With barely 5 reviews on Booking.com, and not very appealing room photos, we have to admit it was a bit of a leap of faith, but we booked it and crossed our fingers!
What we found out is best described by the title of this post: a hidden paradise!!
Marsa Alam is quite a small town right by the Red Sea. The village offers enough diving/snorkelling related services such as accomodation or excursions and day-trips, but it’s not the prettiest place to stay. We had to go to the village a couple times (to find and ATM or buy some snacks), and we confirmed this first impression. It’s got all you need, such as grocery stores, pharmacy, medical facilities, ATM… But it’s pretty obvious that this area was counting on a massive development plan to become another huge resort-town, but all that got stopped in its tracks once the 2011 Arab Apring started. Now you can see the remainings of half built and half demolished complexes and even full, empty neighbourhoods.
Its curse was perhaps its blessing when seen from our perspective. We try to find those off-the-beaten-path places that offer the peace and flavour that are long gone from the more succesful and touristy areas.
It’s been a few years since the revolution, and tourism is starting to flourish again in this area, although not massively yet. You’ll see plenty of resorts along the coast, but also some smaller, alternative accomodation is starting to appear.
In this post you’ll find some useful advice if you intend to visit this lesser known corner of the Red Sea, and we hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did! We can 100% recommend it as the best way to end you trip to Egypt.
NOTE. You’ll need some cash in Marsa Alam, and it’s very possible that the ATM in town has none. We recommend that you bring some cash from wherever you are coming from.
You may fin impossible to pay by card in many places, or be charged a hefty commission to do so. We could pay by card at the grocery store, and even at the Ecolodge (in this case with a 10€ extra charge).
The diving centres may not allow card payments, but they take any currency (€, $, egyptian pounds…)
WHERE TO STAY?
As we mentioned above, our recommendation is that you don’t stay inside the village of Marsa Alam, since it doesn’t have much to do or see, and it’s a rather ugly town, but this is just an opinion. Perhaps the better option is to explore the lodge style accomodations that you can find in the nearby coasts. We chose the Ecolodge Bedouin Valley after a comprehensive search online. We ended up using Booking.com as we usually do, but some places won’t be found in there yet!
Although there is already a wide enough accomodation offer, we’re sure this area will gain more notoriety in the coming years, and the options will increase greatly with more tourists visiting it.
IMPORTANT. Be aware that Tondoba Bay and the Ecolodge are 14km away from Marsa Alam village. Our suggestion is that you buy a few things in town on arrival so you don’t need to go back and forth:
- Water. You can only get small water bottles in the Ecolodge, so buy as much as you can, you’ll need it, and furthermore, you won’t waste that much plastic! (which is a real problem in Egypt). Water in Marsa Alam is not drinkable.
- Fruit and snacks. You’ll need them if you decide to go on any excursion or day trips around the area, and they can only be found in town.
Our chosen accomodation is located in Tondoba Bay. It’s less than 10 minutes away from the village by car, and just a short walk to the beach: just cross the road and you’ll find yourselves in the diving centres that serve the area, and some cute bars (one of them run by the same owners as the Ecolodge). You can have a homecooked dinner every day for just 10€, drinks included. If you follow our advice and stay here, we recommend you take advantage of this, as there are not many dining options in the area. Besides, it’s a fun meeting point for divers, hosts and other visitors, where interesting conversations and frienships will surely spark! We had the pleasure of meeting great people, such as Carla and Adrian, spanish plastic-free travel bloggers from lamaletadecarla.com.
UPDATE. A few months after our visit we learned that the Ecolodge is not run by the same people anymore. We were delighted by their treatment and attitude, but we don’t know how it’ll be under the new management, so feel free to check other reviews and places!
ALCOHOL. Egypt being a muslim country means finding alcoholic beverages in bars and restaurants is no easy task. We only found two exceptions to this rule: the cruise ship and the Ecolodge Bedouin Valley.
It’s refreshing to find a place where you can have a cold beer amongst friends after a day on the beach!
6 THINGS TO DO IN MARSA ALAM
The main attraction of this area are the coral reefs, and most people visiting the area will do because of the diving and snorkelling opportunities. But besides these, you can make great excursion to get to know the area a bit better. It really surprised us!
An interior salt water lagoon that connects to the sea on high tide; surrounded by mangroves and protected due to its natural richness. Sea fauna grow protected from predators in the water between the mangrove roots. The lagoon has a beautiful tourquoise colour and you can swim in it, but be cautious to not step in the mangrove growth areas, as you can get stung by some of the countless animals living in it.
The only facilities you’ll find are a shaded area and some local crafts stalls that can also sell you some food (although the prices are not worth it).
It’ll take you a bit less than an hour to reach it from Marsa Alam. We booked an excursion at the Ecolodge, along with a couple other guests, and the owner’s daughters. It was a great experience where we got to know very nice people, but also explore the place by ourselves! The next stop of this day trip was Hankorab Beach.
A picture perfect golden sand beach with amazing clear blue water. An ideal set up to spend the afternoon and do some high quality snorkel, since you can reach the reef wal just a few metres off the beach. Swim past the sandy area and above the reef platform, and get ready to enjoy some of the most colourful coral in the area! You could even get lucky and see some stingrays like we did!
Tip: stay there a bit longer for a pretty special sunset!
We combined this with the Qulaan Lagoon in a day trip. Since we managed to put together a group for it, the final price was around 200EGP per person (10€). If you’re a smaller party, it may end up being 250EGP, but still worth it. This is because you’ll need a driver to take you from place to place and back to the hotel, as there is no public transport to reach these lovely locations! Negotiate the price to include the snorkeling gear if you don’t have it.
3. SNORKEL IN MARSA ALAM (Tondoba Bay)
Just like in Hankorab Beach, the Tondoba Bay coral reef can be easily accessed from the beach; you just need to swim a few metres to find yourself in a colourful underwater world. Snorkelling gear can be rented fro the day or just for a couple hours in any of the several diving centres on the beach (there are several of them) for around 7€/day.
They’ll also give you all the information you need about the best spots, and how to swim to them with safety. The reef is simply amazing! We’ve snorkeled in many places around the world, and we can assure you that the Red Sea is even better than the Caribbean or many Indian Ocean spots.
4. SCUBA DIVING
We were so amazed by this underwater marvel, that we decided to scuba dive fro the first time in our lives. The guys at the diving centre (Deep South) were very nice and, along with our friends from the Ecolodge, who were diving with them, they managed to conviced us to take our Diving Baptism.
We were a bit afraid, mainly about not knowing how to compensate the ear pressure, but they explained it all perfectly and took very good care of us. We went about 7 metres down and did a 30 minutes immersion. It was a unique experience, and left us wanting more of it! We’ll get our Open Water title as soon as we can!
The prices are around 25€ per person for two dives, all gear included.
A really short drive away from Tondoba Bay you’ll find the natural pool of Al Nayzak. A peaceful rocky pool 5 minutes North of our accomodation. Perfect place for a quiet afternoon of just relaxing with just a few locals around.
6. DOLPHIN HOUSE
What we came to Marsa Alam to do… and couldn’t do! 🙁
We set the goal of swimming with dolphins for this trip. We’ve done that in the mediterranean before and it’s a must do experience. In Marsa Alam, we were told that there are two places to do it:
One in which they give you a 50% chance of seeing the dolphins, ad costs around 50$ per person, and another, further away and that needs a full day trip to reach and return, where you are guaranteed to see them and swim with them for around 100$ per person.
Despite the price, we were so keen on doing it that we booked the trip (it’s that expensive because the area is protected by the government, and diving centres pay a fair amount of taxes to be able to take tourists there). Sadly, on the morning when we were supposed to go, the excursion got cancelled because of the strong winds, whih would’ve made the ride there very unpleasant.
HOW TO GET TO MARSA ALAM?
The Million Dollar question!. We weren’t able to find a convincing answer to it online, nor until a couple days before going. We tried many websites and travel blogs, but nothing really fit what we needed. After being there, here’s our experience and the available options:
At first we thought the most reasonable option, by looking at the road maps, was to take some kind of transfer from Aswan to Marsa Alam. We couldn’t find it online, but since we tend to be quite optimistic we thought we could find a solution once there.
But the reality is different: there is no public transport that connects Aswan to Marsa Alam directly. You’ll need to take a train to Edfu, and once there go to the bus station, where you can ask around for the van that goes to Marsa Alam daily. This is what our friends from lamaletadecarla.com did. You can find the details of it in their blog (in spanish). This is undoubtedly the cheapest option, but also the most adventurous and quite uncomfortable, as you’ll travel in an old van without any AC and way beyond its passenger capacity.
We didn’t even got offered this option. We were told that no one will drive us to Marsa Alam from Aswan given the poor condition of the road. This is only half true: the road is in very poor condition, but as said before, there’s still someone willing to do it. Our guide in Cairo tried to hook us up with some kind of private transfer, but everyone he knew refused to take us since they think the road would damage their cars.
In the end, he offered us to do it from Luxor. A much longer drive, but a very good road (since it also connects to Hurghada and the Marsa Alam Intl Airport. This is what made us change the direction of our Nile River cruise, as you can read on our itinerary post.
We ended up paying a lot for this transfer (around 70$), and it was basically a blind negotiation since we couldn’t find any other options. We’d seen in some website that a private transfer could cost around 50€ per person, so we thought 70$ for both was reasonable. If we’d had more time we could have asked in train or bus stations about the possibilities, but it wasn’t the case. Anyway, the trip was pretty good, in a private van with air conditioning, where we could take a much needed nap after all the early mornings to visit the Nile temples!.
What we did have already booked was the return trip from Marsa Alam to Cairo. Our flight back to Spain departed at 1pm from Cairo, so we tried to find different options to get there in time: there is a bus that takes 8 hours and leaves Marsa Alam at 2:30pm or 4.30pm the day before (this forced us to lose almost a full day and spend many hours waiting at the airport). Luckily Marsa Alam has an airport, and even though it wasn’t cheap at all, we found a flight arriving in Cairo at 11am. Just in time to go back home!
1. If you want a cheap option, try from Aswan to Edfu by train and the Edfu to Marsa by van.
2. If you have plenty of time, take a night bus from Cairo.
3. If you’re willing to spend 6 hours in a van, take it from Luxor. A private car is a more expensive option, but also way more comfortable. We tried to avoid it and find cheaper options but it wasn’t until we were there that we found out about the possibilities liste above.
4. And if your budget allows for it, and you find any connections, try flying to Marsa Alam Intl. Airport and arranging a transfer or taxi from there to your accomodation.
The airport is located 70km North of Marsa Alam. There are direct flights from/to Cairo from around 150€. Not cheap at all, but if your schedule is tight and you don’t want to waste your time in buses or trains, it’s a great option. It’s a small airport with not much activity, but it was interesting to find out that there are direct flights from Italy (Bolonia). This is perhaps the explanation to most visitors in Marsa Alam being Italian!
We hope this posts is already making you book your stay in Marsa Alam, and we can guarantee you won’t regret it whether you’re a dive master or just someone looking for a few days of relaxing by the beach in a pretty unique location!