Red Sea’s twin towns serve up another Egypt
MUCH is known and said about the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El Sheikh, less is known about the upcoming alternative, just across the other side of the Red Sea, the resort town of Hurghada.
Hurghada really is nothing more than a typical Arabic coastal village where fishing still plays a tremendous role, with supporting small scale industries cluttered along the main street. Tourists are definitely going to the resorts, but this has hardly affected the lifestyle nor the wheeling and dealing of the local people. A charming, almost unspoiled town, where life seems to go on as it has for millennia, untouched by globalisation.
Unsurprisingly, Hurghada is the undisputed favourite resort among Egyptians and visitors from around the world who love sunshine, sea and diving. At least one hundred tourist developments of varying levels of luxury stretch for kilometres along the coast. The town centre, known as the Ed-Dahar quarter, has preserved a certain traditional character with a small souk and cheaper hotels.
While in Hurghada don't miss the museum and aquarium, with their complete collections of flora and fauna of the Red Sea. Islands near Hurghada also offer all kinds of fun and excitement.
Other things to do include visiting the remains of the Roman Mons Porphyrites at nearby Gebel Abu Dukhan, or exploring the Red Sea mountains by camel or jeep.
The islands of Umm Kamar, Abu Ramada and Giftun make for excellent day trips.
Hurghada has featured on international diving itineraries since the 1950s, and is today more popular than ever thanks to the accelerated pace of recent development. Commercial diving is well established here.
The town was also our departure point for the ferry trip to Sharm El Sheikh, which is located at the tip of the Sinai desert. An hour and a half on a fast ferry boat across azure blue waters is a nice smooth sailing experience. Although I would have preferred a slower ride, due to the fact that once set sail, you cannot go out onto the decks and enjoy the sun nor the scenery, the entire ride was still a very comfortable and pleasant experience. The luggage handlers with their carts, doubling up as handlers as well as towing the carts uphill, was something else I had not experienced before.
Sharm El Sheikh sprung up as a fishing village but is now better known as a five-star resort, with several hotel properties. A totally different experience from Hurghada, the city is clearly thrives almost exclusively on the tourist throng and with less then a day of rain per year, sunshine can be guaranteed.
Sharm El Sheikh, often simply known as Sharm, has a main pedestrian street with plenty of restaurants to chose from and endulge yourself in the Arabian atmospheres. Complete with hubbly-bubbly (shisha) and for the less adventurous, the so-familiar fast food restaurants. The city clearly springs to life after sunset and into the very early hours, with even a Little Buddha Bar and countless other venues to experience and to be part of the relaxation you have opted for. Other popular hangouts include the Camel Bar, Pirate's Bar, The Tavern, and The Mexican. For those that want their nights out, clubs such as The Bus Stop and world renowned Pascha throw parties almost every night of the year.
With the resort located around the six-kilometre stretch around Nama Bay, Shark Bay and Sharm El Sheikh Bay, the surrounding resorts and hotels offer breathtaking views of the hills as well as the tempting clear blue open sea just ahead. What can be more tempting then taking a small boat cruise exploring these clean and superbly clear waters? A boat with a glass hull is the answer and after a 15 minute journey along the coast, you just see the most amazing aquarium right below you. Coral reefs that are thousands of years old and fish that seem tame enough to have come from your local pet store. I, for one, had never seen such an abundance of colourful fish and thoroughly enjoyed this hour-long trip.
With some 250 different coral reefs and 1000 species of fish, there is a strong market for scientific tourism, and all sorts of water sports can be had here, particularly diving and snorkelling.
If you’re not a swimmer, the colourful handicraft stands of the local Bedouin culture are a popular attraction. Ras Mohammed, at the southern-most tip of the peninsula, has been designated a national park, serving to protect the area's wildlife as well as its natural landscape, shoreline and coral reef. Further up outside the town are some of the region’s finest golf courses and leisure facilities.
Both resorts are well-connected to Europe and the Gulf, as well as to other Egyptian cities such as Luxor and Cairo. Both are also set to increase capacity with the development of new passenger terminals as part of an extensive investment programme.