El Gouna: Egypt’s prime beach resort town
Cairo - Ahmed Ebeid said he prefers El Gouna to any other resort, be it in Egypt or abroad, because, he said, it is otherworldly beautiful.
“It charms those who visit it once they set their foot in,” said Ebeid, an estate agent. “The diverse (water) activities, the resort’s distinguished accommodation and luxurious hotels and its proximity to everything make it the place of choice for those who want to spend memorable times.”
Almost three decades ago, the site of what is El Gouna was a sandy desert overlooking Egypt’s Red Sea coast, 25km north of Hurghada.
It was when an Egyptian business tycoon built a home there that it started to attract attention. Other businessmen followed suit, turning El Gouna into a backyard for wealthy Egyptians.
Those who made the area home soon realised that it was too beautiful to keep to themselves, which was why hotel, restaurants, diving centres and shops offering services to tourists started popping up.
Built along the shore and on small islands, El Gouna is known for its lagoons, coral reefs and sandy beaches. It has a population of 24,000 and boasts 17 of the region’s best hotels, including a six-star one.
“First-time visitors say that those who have settled here years ago when the place was still unknown were prescient, full of taste and appreciated the real beauty of nature,” said tourism specialist Ehab Hamdy. “El Gouna is now a top Egyptian and I will not be exaggerating in saying international resort.”
A four-hour drive from Cairo, El Gouna has magnificent beaches, including the fascinating Mangroovy Beach. It is a favourite spot for surfers and kite-surfing enthusiasts. Not far away is Abu Tig Marina, lined with top restaurants and bars.
Tamr Henna Square, at the centre of the town, has turned into an irresistible portrait of palm trees. The square has many shops and cafés that place chairs and tables in the open, giving visitors a sight of palm trees and a sense of the freshness of the sea breeze.
Behind the trees, the sands of the desert and the mountains stretch out forming a beautiful background.
The price of hotel rooms range from $100-$200 a night, which is far higher than most Egyptians can afford.
“Despite this, those with a small budget have a big chance to spend their vacation in El Gouna because some of the town’s hotels offer affordable accommodation,” said Karim Ahmed, a veteran tour guide who has been working in the resort for 20 years.
More affordable accommodation is available in the nearby Hurghada resort. Ebeid and his friends stayed there and commuted daily to El Gouna. Every morning, they would take all what they need for a day on the beach and flag down a taxi.
“It is a 20-minute drive,” Ebeid said, “but the place is worth travelling to.”
Water sports, including scuba diving, windsurfing, kite surfing, waterskiing, parasailing and snorkelling are but a few of the activities that are available in El Gouna. The place also boasts international golf courses set amid beautiful landscapes.
The holiday town is famous for its busy and flamboyant night life. Its small museum showcases dozens of ancient Egyptian replica artefacts. There is also an art museum exhibiting the works of contemporary Egyptian artists.
With its sea water canals snaking among houses, El Gouna has been officially recognised as Egypt’s most environmentally friendly holiday destination. The town’s environmental programmes and grass-roots environmental organisation paved the way for several awards, including the Green Globe and Travelife.
It was also granted the Global Human Settlements Award for being a Global Green Town. This award is sponsored by the UN Environment Programme and is given to towns displaying substantial measures and efforts in progress in environmental sustainability.
The town’s location offers good access to many of Egypt’s natural wonders, historical sites and archaeological treasures. The ancient temples of Luxor and Aswan are only a ride away. Day and overnight trips to Luxor, Aswan, Cairo and Sinai are also easily arranged from El Gouna.
“I relive the experience of visiting this resort town every time I see the sea,” Ebeid said. “It is in fact the best of all the places I ever visited.”