Does the thought of Egypt conjure images of pyramids, camels, and desert? We often forget that Egypt is much more than just Cairo and Giza, home to the country’s national museum, the sphinx, and pyramids -- or Luxor and Aswan, home to the tombs of queens and pharaohs along with the monumental temples built in their honor. Egypt is also a country with an extensive coastline that skirts the Mediterranean Sea along its northern edge and the Red Sea on the east, while two fingers of the Red Sea -- known as the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba -- flank the Sinai Peninsula.
It was not our first time visiting Egypt when we traveled there in March 2019. We knew we wanted to try something beyond the traditional tourist draws. We both love to swim and particularly enjoy ocean swimming. We had done some snorkeling in other destinations and decided we wanted to experience the Red Sea coastline.
A Bit About The Red Sea And Egypt’s Eastern Desert
The Red Sea is the body of water located between the northeast edge of Africa and the countries of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In a previous trip to Israel, we had the opportunity to do some snorkeling in the Gulf of Aqaba while in Eilat. Our memory of the beautiful, clear, azure waters and abundance of colorful fish made us eager to try snorkeling in this part of the world again. After much research, we concluded that the region along the eastern edge of Egypt from Hurghada to Marsa Alam was the best choice for our snorkeling adventure. Reading about the beauty and variety of corals along with the amazing and unique wildlife one might see, we curated our trip around this snorkeling destination.
Here’s a list of what to expect if you’re considering a trip to snorkel in Egypt’s Red Sea.
1. The Region Is A Popular Destination For Europeans
Unbeknownst to us, Europeans love this affordable coastal wonderland. Visiting when we did, we discovered this is a favored snorkeling, scuba diving, and sun-bathing destination for many winter-weary Europeans, and met many during our excursions. You can expect to be with groups for most any activity you decide to do. You will likely have to sign up for a group snorkeling trip, and there are many options depending on the type and length of trip you would like to take.
2. You Can Stay At One Of The Region’s Many Resorts
This region has been nicknamed the Red Sea Riviera, and its many resorts offer accessibility, convenience, and amenities that many smaller accommodations cannot. There are limited access points for boats to dock and limited beach access. Also, there was little surrounding infrastructure and no other food options available to us, so choosing an all-inclusive resort was almost a necessity.
We stayed at the Hilton Marsa Alam Nubian Resort and enjoyed our time there. We had a lovely, well-appointed room with a balcony and a view of both the Red Sea and one of the many pools on the property. Overall, the resort food was very good and there were a variety of dining options including a massive buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Depending on where you choose to stay, you may want to research your dining options ahead of time, especially if you have special dietary needs.
3. Bringing Your Own Gear Is Recommended But Not Necessary
We chose to bring our own masks, snorkel, and fins, however, all this equipment is available for rent in most places. I rented a shorty wetsuit when we were out in open water and my husband decided he would be more comfortable renting one for our longer day out and was happy he did. That said, we felt better having gear we knew was reliable and available when the mood struck to head down to the beach and do some more snorkeling.
4. Once Away From Shore, The Water Can Be Chilly And Choppy
This was a surprise to us. We consider ourselves to be proficient swimmers and have experience in open water, yet we were still surprised by the rough waters. We had quite a lot of chop the day we were taken out to view the dugongs: gentle, seagrass-eating, manatee-like creatures. The guide simply assumed we were good swimmers and, without any preamble, hustled us overboard and into the choppy sea.
We did take the all-day trip to Dolphin House reef, also called Sataya Reef, where the waters were much calmer since the area is protected by an atoll. Our group had a variety of swim and snorkeling abilities and experience and everyone seemed to manage well. If you are not a strong swimmer, consider the trips you want to take carefully or stick close to shore.
5. The Beaches May Not Be What You Expect
The beaches we encountered were all managed properties that entailed entry fees or being a registered guest. These beaches are predominantly bare, rocky, and gritty sand beaches with little sun protection that get hot and windy. Most have some umbrellas that can be rented for an additional fee. The coastline is skirted with coral reef and, as you can imagine, for its protection, walking on it is prohibited, which means limited water-access spots.
6. To See The Region’s Wildlife, You’ll Have To Join A Group Boating Trip
As mentioned above, expanding your snorkeling territory or setting out to see dugong or pods of spinner dolphins necessitates joining one of the area’s many group boating trips. From our location, we had several options. We did not book anything in advance of our trip and this seemed to work out just fine. Waiting until we were on the ground meant we could talk with tour guides personally and discuss what we actually wanted to see and do. We used Blue Ocean Dive Center since it was conveniently located near our hotel. The crew there are very friendly and talkative and eager to get you signed up, so take your time and ask questions.
The tour packages we considered ranged in price from $40 to $60 per person and took anywhere from a few hours to a very long day (we took one nearly 12-hour day trip). We felt the expense and time invested in these trips was well worth the opportunity to see the unique dugong feeding peacefully and swim with a pod of spinner dolphins. Getting away from the shore and all the people did give us a chance to see a broader range of corals and greater variety of fish life, too.
7. The Corals In The Red Sea Are Some Of The Most Beautiful In The World
As you glide along the massive coral walls and outcroppings just off the beach, the variety and abundance of wildlife is breathtaking. Pictures and written descriptions can never do justice to the natural beauty of this underwater wonderland. This experience surpassed all the places I have snorkeled in so far. The fish life was so abundant and colorful that I wanted to be able to suspend myself and just keep staring. Generally, we were content to access the coral wall along the shoreline from the beach, and our boat excursions were well worth it. There were also plenty of colorful fish and coral to see right from the beach. You might even get to see a turtle feeding nearby!
More On What To Expect (And How To Get There)
The weather in the area was warm (low to mid 80s) and windy. We were told it is windy most of the year, and unless you stay in a protected bay you are likely to experience wind, so be prepared!
In terms of getting there, there are two airports in this region. Hurghada has a larger international airport and Marsa Alam, which is further south, has a much smaller facility that can save you a long drive. For our trip to the Eastern Desert, we decided to go overland from Luxor and take the opportunity to see the desert. However, in the interest of saving time, we chose to return to Cairo by air from Marsa Alam.
Egypt is home to phenomenal feats of human engineering and spectacular natural wonders. We are happy we took the opportunity to visit Egypt’s Red Sea coast and snorkel her beautiful coral reefs. If you’ve never thought of Egypt as a snorkeling destination, maybe now you will.
Wondering where to see dolphins in the wild, or considering a volunteer trip to Africa to work with marine life? Or maybe you want to know how to visit the Sahara Desert. Read up to plan the active vacation of a lifetime!