The beauty of the landscape and an excellent climate are obvious reasons for the Red Sea’s ever-increasing popularity, especially as a winter-sun destination. Its coast runs for 1,600 km (1,000 miles) in a southeasterly direction from Suez. For most of its length, beautiful but desolate limestone and granite mountains border the coast, with range rising upon range, their shades of purple harmonising with deep-blue skies and blue-green seas. But this once pristine coast is changing fast. Most of the coastline has been sold to developers and many largescale tourist projects, from the basic to the luxurious, are newly built or underway.
Travel tips for visiting the Red Sea Coast
Apart from the area east of Cairo, the transition from the green Nile Valley to the Rea Sea is abrupt. Suddenly the lush cultivated land gives way to stony wilderness, in which rocks rise up in extraordinary formations, reminiscent of the pyramids and Sphinx, the sand blows and spills, and there is hardly a sign of human life for hundreds of miles.
To get to the coast from Cairo, avoid the heavily congested Cairo–Suez highway and follow route 75 to Ain Sokhna, 134km (83 miles) southeast of Cairo and 56km (35 miles) south of Suez. Effectively the nearest seaside resort to the capital, this is a popular year-round getaway for wealthy Cairenes thanks to a strip of swaying date palms, white sand and clear green-blue sea.
Ride the Porto Sokhna Telepherique, a cable car that runs 1km (0.6 miles) from the Porto Sokhna Beach Resort up to the highest hill behind town. There are terrific views of the Gulf of Suez and the sea liberally strewn with tankers converging on the canal. South of Ain Sokhna, the rocky skirts of the North Galala Plateau come right down to the edge of the sea. The drive here is spectacular.
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What to do on the Red Sea Coast
From bedding down at El Gouna, Egypt’s most luxurious resort, to kite-surfing at Safaga, these are the best things to do along the Red Sea coast.
#1 Explore the hermit Monastery of St Anthony
About 25km (15 miles) west of Zaafarana, in the rugged hills at the foot of the South Galala Plateau and looking out over the desolate Wadi Araba, stands the Monastery of St Anthony, the 4th-century Christian hermit whose temptations were enthusiastically illustrated by painters of the Renaissance.
The monastery was founded by Anthony’s followers after his death in AD 356, and is often regarded as the first monastery in the world. The oldest building in the compound is the church of St Anthony, which is adorned with murals from the 13th century onwards.
A path from the west side of the monastery leads to a steep staircase to St Anthony’s cave, where the saint lived as a hermit until the age of 105. His life is considered to be the inspiration for monasticism in Egypt, although others credit his contemporary, St Paul.
#2 Find peace at the Monastery of St Paul
Retracing the road through Zaafarana, it is an hour’s drive to the monastery of Anthony’s contemporary, St Paul, tucked into a fold of the Red Sea Mountains. Smaller, more dilapidated and more remote, the Monastery of St Paul the Hermit sees fewer visitors.
St Paul (AD 230–342) was the earliest known hermit but, when he was visited in his cave at the age of 113 by St Anthony, St Paul recognised him as being spiritually his superior. St Paul’s cave is in the church of St Paul, which also contains his remains.
#3 Stay at El Gouna, Egypt’s most luxurious holiday village
The resort of El Gouna, 21km (13 miles) north of Hurghada, is Egypt’s most luxurious purpose-built holiday village. Cairene businessman, Samih Sawiris, bought the plot of land with the intention of building a few holiday homes for family and friends, but before long his business instincts got the better of him, and he seized the opportunity to create something unique in Egypt.
At its conception in 1989, El Gouna was originally planned as a self-contained community, but it is now almost considered a town in its own right (albeit a privately owned one).
Today, it has a hospital, an international school, a private airport, three yacht marinas, a mosque and a Coptic church; even the local football team, El Gouna FC, plays in the Egyptian Premier League.
Gardens, canals and several man made lagoons add to the impression of peacefulness, and there are numerous swimming pools and several good beaches too.
#4 Sit back and chill at Hurghada
In recent years, what was a small sleepy fishing village, Hurghada (Al-Ghardaqah), 420km (250 miles) south of Suez, has grown into a booming resort town – the largest on the Red Sea coast. The town has a large range of accommodation, from basic hotels catering for backpackers to up-market resorts.
A long strip of holiday villages continues to spread further south and has now reached a long way past the airport. Many of these villages, which rival each other for splendour, the size of their pools and the number of rooms, are operated by international four- and five-star chains.
Read all about this place on our page about Hurghada.
#5 See the Roman quarry camps of the Eastern Desert
In Pharaonic times the Eastern Desert was a source of gold and other precious metals, ornamental stone and other building materials, which contributed greatly to the wealth and prestige of the pharaohs and were later coveted by Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.
Thousands of prisoners in chains were used for the extraction of these riches and many died in the process. The gold was arduously mined and smelted, and both granite and limestone were quarried and transported to Thebes for the construction of temples and other monuments.
The Romans established permanent quarrying camps in the mountains, the ruins of which are visible from the road between Hurghada and Safaga. They were particularly partial to the purple stone known as porphyry, which comes from Mons Porphyrites (Mountain of Porphyry) below Gabal Abu Dukhan (Father of Smoke) and which is accessed along Wadi Umm Sidri (4x4 vehicles only, with local guide).
#6 Head to Safaga for wind- and kite-surfing
Some 62 km (39 miles) south of Hurghada, Safaga is primarily a port town that exports phosphates. During hajj, ferries operate from here transporting Muslims in the Nile Valley across to Saudi Arabia en route to Mecca. Cruise ships also dock here, although passengers are immediately whisked off on shore excursions to either Luxor or Hurghada.
But a small tourist area has nevertheless developed at the northern end of the bay with a choice of hotels; almost permanently windy, the town is particularly popular with wind- and kite-surfers as well as divers to the nearby reefs.
Safaga lies 165 km (103 miles) from the Nile town of Qena to the west, on an excellent tarred road. From Qena it’s another 70km (44 miles) south to Luxor, so this is the fastest and most logical route from the Red Sea resorts to the Nile Valley – although expect police checks along the way.
#7 Go diving at Marsa Alam
The fishing town of Marsa Alam has now been overtaken by tourism. It has been the focus of some frenzied construction over the last decade, with several luxury resorts and an international airport for charter flights.
The main drive behind it all is good diving and snorkelling. The development just outside the airport is Port Ghalib; with its hotels, villas, restaurants, shops and activities, it has grown into a southerly version of El Gouna.
A popular excursion from Marsa Alam is to Wadi el Gemal National Park, which was designated a protected area in 2003 and is located 40km (25 miles) further south, covering both land and marine areas. Dive operators take clients to the coast and to five offshore islands for excellent diving and snorkelling, while the terrestrial section can be visited on 4x4 Jeep safaris that include a camel ride and lunch or dinner with the Bedouins
Best places to stay
The Red Sea area of Egypt is a popular destination for beach lovers and divers, so when it comes to choosing the best area to stay in the Red Sea, there are a few key options to consider.
Hurghada is a bustling city with a wide range of accommodations, from budget-friendly hostels to luxury resorts.
The region's busiest area, Sharm El-Sheikh, has a wealth of hotels, namely luxury accommodations and upscale retreats and resorts.
Dahab is a laid-back and budget-friendly option, offering a range of affordable accommodations and a more relaxed beach-vibes atmosphere. It's particularly popular among backpackers and those looking to escape the crowds of other Red Sea destinations.
How to get around
The Red Sea Coast is stunning, so the best ways to get around this beautiful region are those that let you slowly take it all in. Here's how to get around.
One of the most affordable ways to get around the Red Sea Coast is by bus. Many bus companies operate in the region, providing reliable and affordable transportation options. Buses are an excellent way to travel between cities and towns, and they are often air-conditioned and comfortable.
Taxis are readily available in most cities and towns along the Red Sea Coast, providing a convenient and reliable mode of transportation. It is advisable to negotiate the fare before getting into a taxi.
The Red Sea is a significant waterway, and traveling by ferry is a popular mode of transportation. High-speed ferries shoot between Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada.
Microbuses are a popular and affordable mode of transportation on the Red Sea Coast, particularly for short distances. They ply certain routes and can be flagged down on the street but aren't as handy to get between towns.
How many days do you need?
You will need at least 5 to 7 days to explore the Red Sea Coast in Egypt. This will give you enough time to visit popular destinations such as Hurghada, Sharm El-Sheikh, and Marsa Alam.
If you plan to visit only one or two cities along the Red Sea Coast, you may be able to complete your trip in 3 to 4 days. However, if you wish to engage in activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, or exploring the local culture, plan to stay longer.
In Hurghada, for example, you can spend a few days exploring the city's beaches, water sports, and other activities. You can also visit the nearby Giftun Island, a protected marine reserve, and explore its coral reefs and abundant marine life.
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What is the best time to visit?
If you're interested in water sports like scuba diving, snorkelling, or swimming, the best time to visit the Red Sea is during the spring and autumn months of March to May and September to November, respectively. During these months, the sea temperature is warm and comfortable, ranging from 22°C to 28°C (71°F to 82°F), and the weather is mild with low humidity levels.
If you prefer to enjoy the beaches and other outdoor activities, the summer months from June to August can be a good time to visit, but it can be very hot and humid, with temperatures often exceeding 40°C (104°F). It's essential to stay hydrated and avoid the midday sun during this time. However, this is the peak season, and you can enjoy a lively atmosphere with lots of events and festivals.
The winter months from December to February can be a bit chilly, with temperatures ranging from 16°C to 22°C (61°F to 72°F), but it's still possible to enjoy outdoor activities, and you can avoid the crowds and get lower prices during this time.
Find out more about the best time to visit Egypt.
How to get to the Red Sea Coast
There are several ways to get to the Red Sea coast in Egypt depending on your location and budget. Below are the easiest ways.
The fastest way to get to the Red Sea coast is by flying into Hurghada or Sharm El Sheikh airport. Both cities have international airports that serve major airlines from around the world.
If you're on a budget, public buses are available from major cities like Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan. The journey can take several hours, but it's an affordable option for those who want to save money.
Hiring a private taxi is a comfortable and convenient way to get to the Red Sea coast. It's also a popular option for those who want to explore the region at their own pace. Agree on a fee with the driver before setting off. Your hotel should be able to help you find a good drive.
Find out the best ways to get to Egypt.