It’s no secret that Egypt has grown rapidly as a holiday destination over the past decade, the North African region has plenty to offer holidaymakers, boasting year round sunshine, reasonable prices and relatively short flight times from all over Europe.
Indeed other countries in the region, notably Morocco and Tunisia are also experiencing a boom in tourism, but Egypt is arguably the best equipped to please tourists from all walks of life with its ancient historical sites in Luxor and Cairo, luxury hotels and resorts along the Red Sea coast and of course the long, meandering River Nile, along which cruises operate year round.
Sharm el Sheikh is without doubt Egypt’s primary holiday resort (ask your Auntie, she’s probably been there), and has been for some time but as tourism in the country continues to grow, similar resorts have sprung up, catering for families, couples and single-sex groups in search of a sun-drenched break.
Hurghada is one such resort, located about halfway down the Red Sea coast on the eastern side of the country, the area is made of the main town, Hurghada airport, and an approximately 12 mile stretch of motorway lined with large hotels.
Hurghada hasn’t always been teeming with activity, it was once a small fishing village but it began attracting tourists in the 1980s, particularly divers since the Red Sea is a haven for colourful marine life and coral reefs.
Growth started occurring when oil was discovered near Hurghada, and U.S., European and Arabic investors began to plough cash into the area. In recent years the number of permanent inhabitants has increased over four-fold (from 20,000 to almost 90,000) and one million tourists per year now visit Hurghada; watch your back Spain!
As mentioned Sharm el Sheikh is the most popular and most famous resort in Egypt, so much so that Brits have now affectionately nicknamed it ‘Sharm’. Hurghada certainly comes a close second however, at least for tourists looking for a resort type holiday, offering a similar experience on slightly smaller, and some might say a slightly cheaper level.
The first time we went was with Hayes and Jarvis, these guys do some good value offers on a range of hotels. Hurghada is surrounded by several ‘satellite’ resorts which are far smaller and more upmarket, such as El Gouna and Soma Bay.
Hurghada Airport is adjacent to the town, slightly inland. It is of course possible to stay in a hotel in the centre of Hurghada town, but it’s quite rare for holidaymakers to do this. Most of the biggest and best hotels are based along the coastal road to the North and South of Hurghada.
The majority are no longer than a one hour transfer from the airport, we stayed in a four star property called Jungle Aqua park (yes it did have its own water park!), which was little more than a twenty minute transfer; ideal, after all who wants to sit on a sweaty coach full of strangers for hours on end?!
Taxis are available to book to and from hotels, or there are several private taxi firms operating in the town that you can hail for a lift back to your hotel.
Hurghada itself comprises of old and new parts of the town, the new side of town features a picturesque Marina, along which many of the best restaurants are based. It really is a town of contrasts, there are modern high rise buildings and global brands on show, I even saw a Gold’s Gym here which sparked a hint of jealousy (we don’t even have them in the UK!).
On the other side of the street you could find scruffy market stalls selling fruit, barefoot traders walking around amidst all the noise and hubbub that makes you realise what life was like before mega malls and smart phones!
Without a doubt the smartest part of town is the marina, the place is reminiscent of Puerto Banus in the Costa del Sol or even Monaco, the U-shaped harbour is lined with expensive yachts, most likely owned by Russian oligarchs (there are a LOT of Russians in Egypt), gently bobbing on the water, occasionally reflecting the afternoon Arabian sunlight .
The Marina certainly has an exclusive feel, but it’s great to see a mix of locals and tourists strolling around, enjoying an al-fresco drink or smoking shisha pipes.
The restaurants are top drawer, and wouldn’t feel out of place in central London, or indeed any other big city. Upmarket Sushi bars and steak houses nestle among chic cocktails joint lit up in indigo and blue, one bar even had a live band playing, a stark contrast to the hive of activity on the other side of the road.
We opted to eat in ‘the Lodge’, a wood-clad intimate venue that was dimly lit and filled with German and Dutch tourists, conversing and enjoying a drink.
==> Read Part 2!