Located about 790 km south of Cairo and 300 km to the south of Hurghada, the dive resort town of Marsa Alam boasts a virgin Red Sea coastline that is home to some of the best coral reefs and marine life in the world.
Once a sleepy village dependent on mineral mining for survival and income, Marsa Alam has been experiencing not as much a boom as a slow blossoming of Red Sea dive tourism of late. Ever since the construction of Marsa Alam International Airport in 2001 at nearby Marsa Ghalib, the town has steadily bloomed into a tourist resort destination, and the tourist complex at Port Ghalib is expected to rival Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada in years to come. The hotels are mainly located within the marina complex, where you can stroll around the restaurants and bars.
Marsa Alam diving packages are set in beautiful desert scenery framed by rugged mountains where trekkers can find rare and unique wild life, while the Red Sea brings with it great diving and sports fishing opportunities. Being about 4 hours away from Hurghada and otherwise fairly remote, it is the ideal getaway for a relaxed and peaceful Red Sea scuba diving holiday retreat.
There's a wide variety of diver-friendly accommodations in Port Ghalib at hotelscombined.com, our affiliated hotel reservation specialists. Take your pick from dozens of options, from international 5 star hotel chains to more budget-conscious 3 star resorts, so there's something to suit everyone's needs.
Whichever option you choose, stays of 1 week are ideal. Marsa Alam diving packages normally include diving and boat-hotel transfers.
It's also possible to visit these sites on a liveaboard dive safari, if you prefer.
There are 2 seasons in southern Egypt - a hot summer (29-32°C from June to October), and a mild winter (22-27°C from November to April). The weather is mostly ideal and sunny. Rain usually falls in the Marsa Alam region from October to December, but only 1 mm per month; this is a desert climate.
The water temperatures in Marsa Alam peak at 30°C from July to September, gradually falling to 23°C in February. There really isn't an optimal time to come as the Southern Red Sea is a year-round diving destination. Some scuba divers prefer the warmer water in the summer months, whilst others come during winter to escape the European cold. Oceanic whitetip sharks can be seen at Elphinstone from October till the end of the year. Thresher shark season occurs in the Autumn and Winter months.
Reaching Marsa Alam by bus is another, if somewhat adventurous, alternative. If you're in Cairo, find your way to the Turgoman Station via bus or taxi and from there take the East Delta bus to Marsa Alam. It's a 10 hour journey. Alternatively, arranging for a taxi to take you there straight from your Cairo hotel is also possible, but be sure to negotiate the rate before you set off.
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Why not combine your Marsa Alam dive trip with a tour to discover the historical sights of Egypt? You can take an overland tour of Cairo to visit the pyramids, Sphinx and museums, or a Nile River cruise through the Valley of the Kings. Egypt antiquity tours:
Port Ghalib was just a small stretch of uninhabited coastline just 20 years ago but a huge investment turned it in to the region's largest tourist resort and marina complex. These days it is a modern oasis of hotels, palms, shops, and dive centres.
A few hours overland from Marsa Alam lies the historical city of Port El Queseir where the ruins of a once bustling port, a church and a mineral factory were seemingly forgotten by time. Whilst there, visit the Queseir Fortress and, north towards the Eastern Desert, Bir Umm Fashwir, a 5th and 6th century gold mine.
Ancient Egyptians prized emeralds highly and regarded them as symbols of eternity and power. The emerald mines of Marsa Alam are therefore of significant historical value and well worth a visit, more so in light of recently having been identified as the legendary Mons Smargdus, or Cleopatra Mines. Several interesting ruins are also to be found at the site.
This majestic Luxor temple, the Karnak Temple, is the largest place of worship ever built. Built under Amenhotep III and Ramses II, it was dedicated to the god Amun as part of the Valley of the Kings & Queens, a labyrinth of secretive tombs were the Pharaohs were mummified to live in eternity with their treasures.
This well preserved Roman site, located in the desert between the Nile River and the Red Sea, features remains of a fortress, stables, dwellings and workshops of what once was a Roman quarry. Granite slabs from the nearby mountain were produced by this settlement to construct the buildings of Rome.
A few hundred meters offshore lies the Dolphin House, so called because of the permanent residence of over 100 spinner dolphins in a lagoon located here. Catch a boat out to Samadai Reef to experience the exceptional coral to be found there and who knows, perhaps you'll meet the dolphins when you're diving in Marsa Alam.
The desert region is home to a surprising variety of wildlife that can be observed on walking tours. Spot wild camels, sand cats and scorpions galore. Watch out for the poisonous saw-scaled viper and the helpful sand boa that keeps the rat population in check.
The region is blessed with picture-perfect beaches. Pristine, powdery white sands flanked with palm trees and washed with crystal-clear blue waters is par for the Marsa Alam course. The main beaches include:
Abu Dabab Bay is one of the best beaches Marsa Alam has to offer. Excellent snorkeling opportunities lie in wait directly from the beach with 2 good coral reefs housing plenty of fish, guitar sharks, blue spotted rays, turtles and, if you're really lucky, dugongs.
Coraya Bay - Perfect for a romantic stroll down a white sandy beach lapped by azure waters, Coraya Bay is completely gorgeous. Dotted with the odd deserted spot and hidden cove, the beach is tranquility in waiting.
Kahramana Beach - The beach for palm fringed, white-sand beach post cards, Kahramana is surprisingly uncrowded. Snorkeling straight from the pier is excellent, with a surprisingly diverse array of exotic marine life to be found. For those who do not care to snorkel, the fish are visible even with just a few steps into the Red Sea shallow waters.
Marsa Alam occupied an important place in the economy of ancient Egypt, thanks mostly to its rich mineral deposits. Gold, emeralds, semi-precious stones, copper and lead where all richly deposited in the soil of the surrounding coastal areas. The region was the sole supplier of emeralds to the Roman empire and it is believed to be the site of the first emerald mines in the world. Additionally, the surrounding mountains were an important granite source and helped build many of the important buildings of the Roman Empire.
Some of the gold mines and marble and granite quarries were recently reopened to provide a source of employment for the local populace, although the tourist trade is becoming an ever growing employer.
Port Ghalib is as yet devoid of international chain restaurants, which is probably a good thing as it lends to its charm. However, even though a choice of traditional restaurants are on offer, most tourists tend to choose hotels for meals, where often an offering of typical Egyptian dishes can be sampled.
Due to it being a relatively new player in the tourism main stream and keeping in mind its relative remoteness, it should come as no surprise that the nightlife is a bit of a low-key affair. Hotel bars provide the bulk of social venues and some also have a disco. For something a little different, try Planet Bedouin on the beach, which offers a range of oriental drinks and water pipes to be enjoyed in authentic traditional tents. Alternatively, there's always a beach party at Abu Dabab in which you can participate.
As with dining out and night life options, Port Ghalib's shopping opportunities are slim pickings and are certainly not its strong point. The usual array of curio shops will satisfy your souvenir and gift requirements whilst most larger hotels will have samplings of quality merchandise on offer.
Local products are the best buys so watch out for Egyptian made jewellery, perfume, leather products and Egyptian cotton. Herbs and spices that only grow in this part of the world are also worthwhile considerations and authentic Bedouin handicrafts and clothes warrants a browse.
Cash is the currency mode of preference as traveller cheques are not widely accepted. ATMs are usually located at hotels.
As the quickest and cheapest modes of transport, buses and minibuses are Marsa Alam's main form of public transport. Swarms of minibuses operate along set routes and can be stopped anywhere.
Taxis are a more private option although prices vary from driver to driver, so be sure to negotiate your rate before you set off.