Giftun islands hide more beauty than seen at first glance
Hurghada - Perhaps the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Hurghada is more famous than the Giftun islands off the coast of the resort. Visitors with deep knowledge of Hurghada, however, know that a trip to it cannot be rewarding without an excursion to the islands.
The cruise to the Giftun islands takes 45 minutes but this is usually a voyage into the depths of Egyptian natural beauty and the blessings nature has endowed on the country. From a distance, the islands look like a lonely planet but one trodden only by those who know its value and what it can offer.
“The quiet, the soft sands of the beach, the marvellous sun, the view of the turquoise waters of the sea and the dolphins greeting visitors as their cruise ships prepare to anchor are all things that make these islands unique sites,” said Ali Salem, one of several travel specialists organising tours in Sinai and Hurghada. “Once you arrive in the islands, you discover that the time you spent on the voyage to reach them was really worth it.”
Upon arriving on one of the islands, visitors quickly discover that the place hides underneath more than what is obvious.
The islands — with soft, white-sand beaches — are perfect for sunbathing. Only those with little sun in their countries can appreciate such a gift, which is present in abundance in the beautiful islands.
Restaurants, cafés and other facilities make sunbathing a real experience where visitors also soak in lavish views of the sea and the sky.
It takes a little expertise for visitors to discover the full aquatic treasures off the islands. Deep in the waters are corals whose divine colours have enthralled thousands of divers over the years. The coral reefs of the area have formed over hundreds of years into peerless and precious treasures. There is a diverse array of aquatic creatures, each of which has distinct colour and beauty.
Hurghada — the mainland — is an ideal place for those who — apart from enjoying its great beaches, hotels and services — want to be surrounded by people. Away from the beaches and the hotels, the city has a sprawling vegetable market, fish market, restaurants and coffee shops where prices are easy on the pockets of almost everybody.
The islands are affordable, Salem said, with the cruise to the islands costing $22 per person.
“Visitors can also find themselves tempted to pay extra $22 to be part of the wonderful snorkelling and diving activities of the islands,” Salem added. “This is actually too small an amount of money for the amount of pleasure visitors get in return.”
Summer is a near-perfect time to visit Hurghada and the Giftun islands. High temperatures may force a large number of Egyptians from cities towards the coast but tourist sites are still far from crowded.
A series of travel bans and flight suspensions to Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh in the wake of the explosion on a Russian passenger plane that crashed in the Sinai in November 2015 is keeping tourist sites empty. According to the Egyptian Tourism Ministry, tourist arrivals have dropped almost 50% since the Russian plane crash. This is leading tour operators, hotels, restaurants, diving centres and cafés to make unprecedented discounts.
Nevertheless, Hurghada and the islands are showing signs of life after months of recession with security conditions in Egypt stabilising, according to tour guide Hesham Abdel Aziz.
“The fluctuations of the past months have affected arrivals in Hurghada, in general, and in the islands, in particular, but not to a great extent,” Abdel Aziz said. “The idea is that most of those who visit the islands are not first-timers who have fallen in love with the place since they visited it for the first time and are not ready to be intimidated away from it.”
Amr Abdel Maqsoud, an accountant in his mid-30s, is one of those captivated by the islands since he first visited them years ago. He said the last time he was at the Giftun islands was in May when he went there with a group of friends and colleagues.
“There are things that you can see only in these islands,” Abdel Maqsoud said. “The corals, the fish and the crystal-clear seawater of the area are just unparalleled and cannot be found anywhere else.”