The Ultimate Guide to Marsa Alam Holidays

Dolphins swim past divers at Eliphinstone Reef by Adham Fahmy

Welcome to the ‘Red Sea Riviera’

Thirty years ago, Marsa Alam was little more than a quiet fishing village in the sleepy southeast corner of Egypt’s Red Sea Governorate. Today that same area is quickly becoming one of the country’s top hottest travel destinations. Each season, the aptly-called ‘Red Sea Riviera’ attracts a growing number of Egyptians and foreigners alike, in search of that ultimate Marsa Alam holiday.

Marsa Alam's underwater paradise by Sherif El DamanhouryMarsa Alam’s underwater paradise by Sherif El Damanhoury

Where is Marsa Alam?

When speaking of Marsa Alam, rarely is anyone referring exclusively to the city itself. Rather, the name Marsa Alam is generally used to refer to a roughly 200-kilometer stretch of pristine coastal territory between the city of Quseer in the north and Wadi el Gemal National Park in the south. Marsa Alam city is located right in the middle – a whopping 730-kilometers south of Cairo. Marsa Alam International Airport is 70 kilometers to the north of its namesake city (roughly an hour’s drive); it’s halfway between Marsa Alam and Quseer.

All along this stretch of tropical paradise, you’ll find accommodation options to fit a variety of tastes and styles. There are luxurious, all-inclusive 5-star resorts for people dreaming of a holiday to relax and be pampered. These resorts are becoming especially popular with European travelers who take advantage of flight deals to Marsa Alam for their Egypt holidays. The best news for these travellers is that the currency exchange rate — not to mention the plethora of Marsa Alam holiday deals — make even the most luxurious of the Marsa Alam resorts still very affordable!

Alternatively, there are budget hotels, eco-tourism camps, and diver villages for those who have come seeking more of an adventure, or want to get up-close and personal with Marsa Alam’s abundant nature and wildlife.

Travelling on a budget? Think of it this way: any money you save on accomodations can be invested in more day trips from Marsa Alam, Red Sea diving, and other adventures!

Marsa Alam Map

Marsa Alam Weather

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
High °C 23° 24° 27° 30° 32° 35° 35° 35° 34° 32° 27° 25°
High °F 73° 75° 81° 86° 90° 95° 95° 95° 93° 90° 81° 77°
Low °C 13° 14° 16° 20° 23° 25° 26° 26° 25° 22° 18° 15°
Low °F 55° 57° 61° 68° 73° 77° 79° 79° 77° 72° 64° 59°

Marsa Alam, a Natural Paradise Worth Protecting

Marine life in Marsa Alam via pixabay Coral reefs abound in Marsa Alam. Photo via pixabay

Anyone traversing the coast along those 200 kilometers will encounter vista after stunning vista: beaches, bays, coves, reefs, lagoons, mangrove thickets, and more. Heading further inland you find hills, valleys, and wadis to hike or safari across on horse, camel, or 4×4 buggy. Take to the sea by boat or with diving gear and encounter an unparalleled diversity of marine life. Green and hawksbill sea turtles, spinner dolphins, reef sharks, eagle rays, moray eels, and giant Napoleon wrasse are just a some of the majestic species living in these waters.

Looking Out for Vulnerable Species

Unfortunately, many of Marsa Alam’s sea- and land-dwelling creatures are on the vulnerable species list – meaning they are at high risk of becoming endangered. Others, like the Green and the Hawksbill Sea Turtles, are already endangered and at risk of becoming extinct. On one hand, this can mean that encounters with these creatures are incredibly special, and a big part of what draws some visitors to the area. On the other hand, increased tourism and creature/human interaction are partly responsible for the threat to these creatures’ habitats and survival.

A sea turtle spotted in Marsa Alam by Youssef el RifaiA sea turtle spotted in Marsa Alam by Youssef el Rifai

While increased tourism can certainly have negative environmental consequences, these problems are not a forgone conclusion. It’s just as true that meeting wildlife species face to face in their natural habitats can help people begin to understand and appreciate these creatures, and hopefully take steps to help protect them. Just something to keep in mind as you begin to plan your Marsa Alam excursions. 🙂

How to Get to Marsa Alam

By Air

Egypt Air offers direct flights between Cairo and Marsa Alam International Airport, but only four days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday). Alternatively, you can fly direct between Cairo and the much bigger airport in Hurghada on any day of the week. Then travel the remaining 220 kilometers (a roughly three-hour journey) via rented car/microbus/van to your final destination in Marsa Alam.

For travelers coming from abroad, there are direct flights to Marsa Alam from the United Kingdom, Austria, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany! (Urlaub in Marsa Alam, anyone?!😁)

Book flights

Airport Pick-up

Having a car or shuttle service pre-arranged for airport pickup is a must. Fortunately, arranging for transportation to and from the airport tends to be standard procedure for the hotels/resorts/camps in the area. Just be sure to make those arrangements when booking your accommodations for any vacations to Marsa Alam.

By Bus

Don’t want to fly to Marsa Alam? GoBus offers overnight bus service between Cairo and Marsa Alam. Buses are a budget-friendly way to travel (expect to pay around 200 LE), but be ready for a looooooong trip. Those 730 kilometers between Cairo and Marsa Alam take nearly 12 hours to travel on a bus! The trip is similar to the bus ride between Cairo and Dahab described here, although there aren’t quite as many checkpoints along the way.

Tip: you can generally arrange with the company or driver to be dropped-off at or near to your particular destination, rather than riding all the way to the Marsa Alam bus station.

All the various hotels/resorts/etc are located along the same coastal highway, so this isn’t very hard to do. The bus will make a quick stop in front of your particular hotel (or the closest access point if the hotel is in some type of compound), you’ll grab your luggage from the bottom of the bus, and the bus will continue along its way.

Don’t forget…

Make sure to make arrangements with the driver/company for pickup so you know when and where to meet the bus for your return trip home! Bus timetables indicate when the bus leaves from Marsa Alam city, but that might be quite a distance – and a much later time – from where you end up staying. Just call the company hotline (19567) at least one day before you travel and confirm pick-up arrangements for the way back. But be warned – the bus doesn’t stop and wait for people who don’t show up at the prearranged time.

By Car

Travelling by car is pretty simple, just get on the road and head south! The only highway follows the coast, passing by Gouna, Hurghada, and Safaga along the way. Be prepared for the drive to take around 8-9 hours. The scenery along the way is beautiful, most of the road is in very good condition, but … well, 8-9 hours in a car demands some commitment!

For the speed demons out there who want to shave an hour or two off the travel time — be careful! Note that new radars and checkpoints have recently been installed; you will definitely end up having to pay if you exceed those newly established speed limits.

Senzo Mall outside of Hurghada is a popular rest stop for those who chose to drive.

Getting Around

As you may have noticed, the one downside to a Marsa Alam vacation is that it’s not an easy place to get to, nor is it a place conducive to easy travel once you’re there. Then again, that relative inaccessibility is also part of its charm. Marsa Alam isn’t for everyone; but if you commit yourself to the journey, the payoffs can be incredible!

There are no crowds or clichéd tourist traps, the roadsides and beaches aren’t covered in trash, the water is crystal-clear, coral reefs are vivid and alive, nights are quiet and the stars are dense and bright.

 

Still, Marsa Alam is not the type of place where you can easily jump from activity to activity, destination to destination. Instead, it’s all about quality over quantity. For the most part, you’ll stick to one location per trip to Marsa Alam because of the distance between one place and another.

However, if you do plan to do a bit of exploring, generally the place where you are staying will offer day trips or excursions, transportation included. If group excursions or organized tours aren’t your thing, at the very least someone where you’re staying should be able to put you in touch with a car company or driver to help you get where you need to go.

Car rental & car service

What to Do in Marsa Alam

Diving

Diving in Marsa Alam by Sherif El DamanhouryThe Long Canyon in Marsa Alam by Sherif El Damanhoury

By far the most popular activity in Marsa Alam – and the main draw so many of its visitors – is scuba diving. The quality of diving in Marsa Alam is legendary! Divers come from all over the world to experience it.

RELATED POST: Beginners Guide to Red Sea Diving

Elphinstone Reef

Marsa Alam’s most beloved dive site! Roughly a 30-minute journey from the shore, it is accessible only via boat or zodiac craft. The reef’s north and south plateaus sit 20-30 meters below the surface, and the ever-changing sea currents can be tricky to navigate. Therefore this dive site is accessible only to experienced divers.

Dolphins swim past divers at Eliphinstone Reef by Adham FahmyDolphins swim past divers at Eliphinstone Reef by Ahmed El-Demery

What draws people to this site from all over the world is the chance to encounter the ‘big stuff’ – namely, sharks! Divers most frequently see whitetip or greytip reef sharks — docile, harmless species. Curious oceanic whitetip sharks might also be spotted, swimming with their pilot-fish pals close at hand. In the summer months, impressive schools of hammerhead sharks gather in the depths and pass by the reef, 40-50 all at once! Divers may even have the opportunity to swim alongside the giant, elusive whale shark known to make an occasional appearance here; for many people this is the holy grail of diving!

Peak shark viewing months

  • Hammerheads: May – August
  • Oceanic whitetip sharks: October-December
  • Whale shark: May – June
  • Reef sharks (Gray- and white-tipped): year round

For those of you reading this and thinking diving with sharks?! You’ve got to be kidding me … just go ahead and skip the next section… But wait! Before you go, read this: If the idea of sharks makes you nervous, don’t let that turn you off from Marsa Alam diving. The diving sites for shark encounters are out in the middle of the sea, not in the protected bays close to shore.

If the idea of diving has you quivering with excitement … read on! 😉

Shark Diving/Live-aboard Diving Safaris

Diver meets shark by Adham FahmyDiver meets shark by Adham Fahmy

Since the best dive sites for shark encounters are far from shore, the ideal way to have this experience is to book a live-aboard diving safari.

Most of these five or six-day diving excursions leave from the Port Ghalib Marina, just a few kilometers south of the Marsa Alam International Airport. Different operating companies offer a range of budget-friendly as well as luxury-level live-aboard accommodations. The live-aboard yachts tend to range from 20 to 40-meters. Depending on the size, these yachts provide accommodations for 10-30 divers — including sleeping cabins with showers, a dining gallery, and diving deck.

The Golden Triangle

The number-one shark diving safari itinerary is known as the “Golden Triangle.” It encompasses a series of dives, over five to six days, at three of the Red Sea’s most stunning reefs: Brothers Islands, Daedalus Reef, and Elphinstone Reef. Two of these three reefs (Daedalus and Brothers) are only accessible via live-aboard boat trip, as the 180 kilometers between them takes almost a full day (or night) of boat-travel to cross. Due to the nature of the dive sites visited, the “Golden Triangle” safari is only for experienced divers who have logged a minimum of 50 open-water dives.

St. John’s Island/Fury Shoals

The St. John’s Island itinerary is another diving-safari live-aboard excursion; divers of all experience levels (even beginners) can join many of these trips. Divers spend two-to-three days at different sites around St. John’s Island (also known as Zabargad Island) located off the coast of Elba National Park, close to the Sudanese border. On the return trip, the boat also stops for a day of diving at and snorkeling at Fury Shoal/Sha’ab Sataya – home of the ‘dophin reef’ lagoon.

Live-aboard companies & fleets

Eco Village Heaven

Marsa Shagra / Marsa Nakari / Wadi Lahmi Diving Villages

Royal Tents at Marsa Shagra by Christina WichertRoyal Tents at Marsa Shagra by Christina Wichert

The Red Sea Diving Safari Company’s three eco-friendly diving villages are absolutely essential places for any diving enthusiast or nature conservationist to visit.

  • Marsa Shagra is located 26 kilometers north of Marsa Alam city
  • Marsa Nakari is 40 kilometers to the south
  • Wadi Lahmi is another 100 kilometers even further south, beyond Wadi El Gamal National Park and the port of Hamata.

Marsa Shagra is the biggest of these villages and has the most amenities; each village gets smaller and more rustic as you head further south. Marsa Shagra house reef — home to quite a few endangered sea turtles — is managed as a nature protectorate.

Accommodations

All three villages consist of small chalets, tents, and ‘royal tents’ (aka fancy tents equipped with a table, bean bags, and electricity to run a mini fridge and fan), dining facilities, showers and bathrooms, plus of course a dive center. Marsa Shagra and Marsa Nakari also boast deluxe chalets with AC units. Accommodations also include full board, with three hearty and delicious meals a day served buffet style. Day-use guests can pay for meals ala carte.

The tent rows line the sea, allowing the waves to lull you to sleep each night and the sun rising over the water to wake you each morning. The chalets crown the high ground in the back of the village; each has at least one window facing the spectacle of the setting sun as it sinks below the mountains every evening.

Sunset at Marsa Shagra Village by Iman HosniSunset at Marsa Shagra Village by Iman Hosni

Diving the House Reefs

Each village features a ‘house reef’ – some of the most beautiful diving locations Marsa Alam has to offer. At Marsa Shagra and Marsa Nakari’s sheltered house reefs, once divers have participated on an orientation dive, they are granted all-day access to the house reef to dive at their leisure; no need to have a local guide come along. Wadi Lahmi doesn’t have a shore-accessible house reef, but instead offers divers some of the easiest access to Marsa Alam’s more remote dive sites, such as the Fury Shoals.

Off-site activities

At the dive centers, trips to off-site reefs (like Elphinstone), beaches, and other water or land activities are easily arranged.

Conservation efforts

Red Sea Diving Safari also directs and supports environmental protection projects. Their Eco-Diving Program trains divers who then participate in reef or marine species checks; the camps also often host marine biologists who hold educational workshops promoting conservation.

Other Dive Centers in Marsa Alam

(Non-Diving) Boating Excursions/Day Trips

Fastest way off the boat! by Mahmoud Shehata Said

You don’t have to be a diver to love Marsa Alam, or to spend a day on the sea! Board a boat and set off for any of the area’s reefs, bays, or shoals. Different destinations can provide up-close-and-personal encounters with different types of marine life.

Sha’ab Sataya (the Dophin Reef) and Sha’ab Samadai (the Dolphin House)

Sataya Dolphin Reef by Youssef El-RifaiSataya Dolphin Reef by Youssef El-Rifai
Samadai Dolphin House by Mahmoud Sheheta SaidSamadai Dolphin House by Mahmoud Sheheta Said

Visit either of these dolphin habitats to swim and snorkel alongside pods of fun-loving spinner dolphins! But take note: there is no guaranteeing these wild dolphins will always be ‘home’ when you visit…

Samadai is the more accessible of the two; boats generally leave from the port in Marsa Alam city and reach the reef within an hour. Sataya is located much further south; boats leave from Hamata – 100 kilometers south of Marsa Alam city – and can take over an hour to reach the reef.

The payoff, though, is that fewer boats travel all the way to Sataya, which can often mean a better chance to see more dolphins. (There had to have been at least a hundred dolphins in four different pods the day my husband and I visited Sataya!)

Marsa Abu Dabbab 

Lunch time in Abu Dabbab Bay via by Youssef El-RifaiLunchtime in Abu Dabbab Bay by Youssef El-Rifai

Located 30 kilometers north of Marsa Alam city, this shallow, grassy bay is home to two resident dugongs, named Dennis and Dougal, and is a feeding ground for sea turtle. Dugongs are gentle, sea-dwelling mammals sometimes referred to as sea cows. It’s thought that fewer than 10 other dugongs remain living in the bays of Marsa Alam, so meeting any of them is a real treat!

Marsa Mubarak bay, near the airport and Port Ghalib, is another location where you might be able to spot a Dugong.

Boat trips from Port Ghalib

Red Sea Fishing

Deep sea fishing excursions are another popular day excursion, though some multiple-day fishing trips can also be arranged. Though some trips leave from Port Ghalib, most leave from the port of Hamata, 100 kilometers south of Marsa Alam city.

Try your luck at catching giant Barracuda, Groupers, Tuna, and others! Even if the big fish elude you, the little reef fish can be caught aplenty! Ensure your boat captain knows which species of fish can legally be harvested in the area you are fishing before you book a fishing trip.

Fishing from Hamata

Kite Surfing

This extreme water sport has a growing following all over Egypt, and Marsa Alam is no exception.

Wadi El Gemal National Park

Wadi El-Gemal by Karim Ayman El-KhoriebyWadi El-Gemal by Karim Ayman El-Khorieby

Hiking/Camping/Jeep/4×4 Safari/Bicycling

The ideal location for any of these activities is the Wadi El Gemal National Park – 5000 square kilometers of protected area located between Marsa Alam city and Hamata. You’ll find the main entrance and visitors center about 50 kilometers south of the Marsa Alam, 50 kilometers north of the port at Hamata.

Desert meets the sea along the coastline here where Mangrove trees abound, creating an important ecosystem for a variety of birdlife (a birdwatcher’s dream location!), as well as nurseries for the baby fish who hide from predators among the tree roots.

Mangrove Thicket at Ras Harankoba (Sharm El Luli Beach) in Wadi El Gemal National Park by Mahmoud Shehata SaidMangrove Thicket at Ras Harankoba (Sharm El Luli Beach) in Wadi El Gemal National Park by Mahmoud Shehata Said

The park’s interior mountains and valleys are home for many vulnerable and threatened wildlife species, including the Nubian Ibex, wild donkey, camels, hyena, sand fox, and gazelles.
A number of long and short hiking trails wind through the park; bicycles are also available to rent (in limited supply, so plan accordingly).

Cleopatra’s Emerald Mines

Cleopatra's Emerald Mines by Cleopatra’s Emerald Mines by Ahmed Bahaa

In the park you can also visit the ruins of a large Ancient Roman emerald-mining operation, the origins of which even pre-date the Romans, going back as far as the Ptolemaic Period in Egypt. These mines are popularly known as Cleopatra’s Mines, as some people claim they were the source of the legendary queen’s famous, favorite green jewelry.

Support the Abadba Bedouin People

Park visitors can arrange for tours or expeditions with members of the local Abadba Bedouin tribes. Not only do these local experts keep would-be explorers from getting lost, but they can also educate visitors on the park’s history, wildlife, vegetation and much more. Visitors can also arrange to have a traditional Bedouin meal in the open air, under the stars.

Top Beaches in Marsa Alam

Qulaan Mangrove Forest

Four golden-sand covered islands with mangrove trees growing from their center surround a bay of shallow, crystal-blue water. Part of the Wadi El Gemal National Park, this beach is located 100 kilometers south of Marsa Alam city, but only 10 kilometers north of Hamata. Spend the day lounging on the sand or swimming or snorkellng in the lagoon at this secluded paradise. Heaven!

Al Nayzak meteor pool

Marsa Nayzak by Gigi IbrahimMarsa Nayzak Marsa Alam by Gigi Ibrahim via flickr

Ok, so technically not a ‘beach,’ this unique geological formation is more of a natural, eye-shaped swimming pool. Only a few meters in diameter, it’s believed to have been formed after a meteor hit the Earth, and the waters of the Red Sea rushed in to fill the crater. Find it 15 kilometers south of Marsa Alam city.

Sharm El Luli

(Also called Ras Hankorab), this pristine, white-sand beach encircling a clear lagoon, sits 60 kilometers south of Marsa Alam, and almost as far north of Hamata. In other words, this beach is out in the middle of nowhere. No joke. There is no development around – no hotels, no cafes, no shops, nothing. Just untouched, un-spoilt, nature at its finest. As Sharm El Luli is also part of Wadi El Gemal protectorate, regulations are in place to keep it this way. El Humdililah!

How many different shades of blue can there be in one place? Unreal! By Hesham MohammadHow many different shades of blue can there be in one place? Unreal! By Hesham Mohammad

Not only is it arguably the best beach in Marsa Alam, Sharm El Luli was ranked the number 3 beach in all of the Middle East by TripAdvisor’s 2017 Travelers’ Choice Awards. Besides topping the list of favorite places in Marsa Alam for humans, it is also a favorite feeding ground for the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle. So DO NOT LEAVE GARBAGE OF ANY SORT at this beach. In fact, bring along an extra trash bag just in case, and if you see someone else’s trash, pick it up too! Ingestion of plastics is a HUGE threat to sea turtles.

Where to Stay: Hotels in Marsa Alam

**We earn a small commission when you book with booking.com using this link

All-Inclusive Resorts/ Luxury Vacations

For when it’s time to treat yo’ self, try any of these on your all inclusive holidays to Marsa Alam:

  • Steigenberger Coraya Beach
  • Jaz Solaya
  • The Three Corners Fayrouz Plaza Beach Resort
  • Concorde Moreen Beach Resort & Spa
  • Royal Tulip Beach Resort
  • Hilton Marsa Alam Nubian Resort
  • Novotel Marsa Alam Hotel
  • Jaz Grand Resta
  • Malikia Resort Abu Dabbab

Mid-Range Resorts/Hotels

These resorts offer full- or half-board options, are full of amenities, but won’t break the bank. (under 1,000 LE per night)

  • Diving Station – Reef Villa
  • Blue Reef Red Sea Resort
  • Aurora Oriental Bay Resort
  • Eliphanstone Resort Marsa Alam
  • The Three Corners Happy Life Beach Resort
  • Wadi Lahmy Azur Resort
  • Abu Dabbab Lodge
  • Royal Brayka Beach Resort
  • The Oasis

Booking.com

Marsa Alam Camps and Budget/Diving Hotels

Just the basics, but all the fun! At under 500 LE per night, these are perfect for those budget travellers searching for cheap holidays to Egypt!

  • Blue Vision Diving Hotel
  • Rihana Guest House
  • Moon Resort
  • Marina View Port Ghalib
  • Star House
  • Ambassador House Marsa Alam
  • Emy Camp Marsa Alam
  • Beachsafari Camp
  • Deep South EcoLodge and Dive Club

With that, there you have it. Your complete guide to Marsa Alam, full of things to do, places to see, and personal recommendations to make the most out of your vacation. If this guide proves to be at all useful to you, I humbly ask one thing in return. As you visit and explore this beautiful corner of Egypt with all it has to offer you, please be kind to it in return. Understand your potential impact on the ecosystem, and make choices to be a force for good rather than harm! Happy travels 🙂

**We would like to thank all the amazing people who contributed to this article with their stunning photos of Marsa Alam **

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  1. Pingback: Diving Holidays in Egypt: Scuba or Free Diving | Why Not Egypt?

    • John Parkin
    • September 24, 2018
    Reply

    Please add me to your mailing list

    1. Reply

      Hey John,
      I hope you liked our Marsa Alam guide.
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      Have an awesome day,
      Passainte

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