When it comes to first impressions, Hurghada might not score the highest points, especially when you compare it with its more manicured neighbor, Gouna. This Red Sea town has suffered years of over-development and its cheap package tours have sometimes brought out the worst in hustling tourism industry workers.
But if you plan on staying in the city longer than just a transit stop en route to Hurghada Airport, there’s a lot to do and see here.
Explore the beaches
Having fun in Hurghada means getting away from land and into the sea. Take advantage of the coast’s proximity to pristine islands in the Red Sea by booking a ticket to Mahmeya. Located at Giftun Island National Park, this is a beach that you can reach by boat. Spend the day sunbathing and enjoying the fresh seafood, juices, ice cream and cocktail bar.
Tickets cost about LE150 per person; your hotel can arrange tickets for you, or contact Mahmeya at mahmeya.com. Another worthy beach is Orange Bay (orange-bay.com), also on Giftun Island, which is less crowded but offers a day trip that includes lunch on the beach, beverages and lounge chairs in the shade. Expect to pay about LE150 if you’re renting out a boat for a large group.
You can also arrange for a full-day boat trip to dive and snorkel in the Red Sea; your hotel can arrange it for you. Kite surfing is also a great option here; try Colona Water Sports center in front of Magaweesh Hotel. The center offers kite surfing classes as well as equipment rental; check colonawatersports.com for further details.
Red Sea Explorers (redseaexplorers.com) is gaining quite the reputation for its adventurous dive trips that include monkey diving and kite surfing off islands in the sea. The company’s liveaboard Tala offers full-day or several-day dive trips north and south of Hurghada, as well as technical and recreational diving courses. The trips aren’t cheap, but you’ll have an enjoyable, luxurious time surrounded by fun, easygoing people that’s well worth the price.
Where to eat
Hurghada’s marina is a great destination if you want a variety of dining choices and you enjoy dining al fresco to enjoy the Red Sea evening breeze. Additionally, it’s nice to take a walk along the marina and fawn at the different boats while perusing the various tourist shops and swimwear boutiques.
For breakfast, try B at the Marina’s crab omelets, creamy fuul breakfasts and Italian espressos. If you’re feeling adventurous, the restaurant is also known for its camel mignon tenderloin with chocolate chili sauce.
If you’re up for Asian cuisine, Thai Elephant offers generously portioned fish cakes and tangy red chili sauces — but avoid the pad Thai — while Masala offers Indian cuisine and a cozy outdoor lounge area with shisha.
When it comes to nighttime entertainment, Shade is a favorite among residents for its regular live band nights, smooth shisha and elaborate cocktails. The bar has a lounge area with beanbags and low tables where you can sit and watch the night’s performance. Next door, Papa’s has karaoke nights and an open-air bar, where you can people-watch while enjoying draft beer and finger food.
If you’re up for dancing, White Beach (www.whitebeach.co) is recommended by locals as a good option on Fridays and Saturdays. Located on the Sheraton Road, the nightclub regularly hosts Egyptian and international DJs and plays the latest popular house music tracks.
While Hurghada might lack the sophistication of Gouna or the quietness of Soma Bay, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye — as long as you spend most of your time at sea, enjoying water sports and boat trips.
Where to stay
The Hilton Hurghada Plaza has one of the best locations in town, just 15 minutes from the airport and barely five minutes to the center of Hurghada and the marina. It’s located in the old port of Hurghada and has a great sea view and access to a diving center, as well as a pickup spot for glass boat trips and dive boat trips.
The hotel’s standard double rooms are surprisingly spacious, with very comfortable beds and sea-view balconies, and its beach is located on a circular bay where you can snorkel and windsurf. However, the pool might be overcrowded in peak season and the hotel’s buffet dining options aren’t recommended; opt instead for a meal out on the town.
How to get there
Hurghada is a five hour drive from Cairo or a 50-minute flight via EgyptAir. Go Bus (dial 19567) offers daily buses as early as 7 am from Ramses Station for about LE80 one way.
Once you’re in Hurghada, you’ll be using cabs a lot to get around. Make sure you ask them to turn on their meter; if it’s not working, haggle on the price before you get in. Most hotels offer limousine services. The Hilton Hurghada Plaza, for example, offers a car service to anywhere in Hurghada as well as to Gouna, for a set fee of LE40 per person.
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.