Crystal blue water, colorful corals and diverse aquatic life makes Marsa Alam a diver’s dream
Nestled Oil the edge of the Eastern Desert on the southern Red Sea coast, is Marsa Alam: the ideal get-away from a mundane life and conventional vacation spots. The beauty of Marsa Alam, about 300 kilometers south of Hurghada, is the way it merges the refreshing sea with the serenity of the desert. Divers come here from all over to enjoy one of the world’s top diving destinations, famous for its clear waters, mesmerizing corals and the diverse aquatic life found in the Red Sea. To accommodate them, Marsa Alam has several posh resorts along with the more simple and environmentally-friendly tents, huts and stone chalets for which the destination is known. Marsa Alam has at least 16 major dive sites; about half of them are best done from a live-aboard boat. Elphin-stone Reef is a sheer-wall reef that is home to a diverse and highly colorful range offish, including the occasional Oceanic White Tip Shark.
Fury Shoal is a hard coral reef garden that you will want to feast your eyes on for as long as your tank allows. The Zabargad is a sand slope rising from a lagoon covered with coral pinnacles, which forms a lively habitat for small and large reef fish. Very close to Zabargad is another prime spot, Rocky Island, where you can see schools of Hammerhead Sharks and explore the wreck of the British steamship Maiden, which sank in 1923. If sharks are your thing, pay Daedalus Reef and Saint John’s a visit, or learn more about them at the Sharks School in Shagra Village (www.redseadvingsafari.com). The Dolphin House, a protected area, is another must-see for divers and non-divers alike. The horseshoe-shaped reef there creates a small turquoise lagoon. The highlight is the number of dolphins you can encounter, making this one of Marsa’s best places for snorkeling — but diving with the dolphins is not allowed. Abu Dabab is the home of Marsa Alain’s other celebrity sea-mammal — the Dugong (or Sea Cow), Dennis. Even though he is difficult to find, this is definitely a sight worth waiting for if you are lucky (and patient) enough. For those who want to give a little back to the underwater environment they enjoy, the Red Sea Diving Safari organizes an annual clean-up day every September — still a great diving holiday even though you are putting in a little work. If you want some ‘surface time,’ there’s always a spot to chill on the beach or water sports like kite surfing or windsurfing. Another land alternative is a day trip to the desert by car, camel or on foot, run by local Bedouins from the Ababda tribe. These trips are organized by Red Sea Desert Adventures, which also manages the Astronomy Center, which makes stargazing in the still night of the Eastern Desert an unforgettable experience. If you know a Marsa Alain resident or someone who knows the place well, be sure to get them to take you to one of the secluded beaches along the coast.
Take music, brunch and a merry band of friends. There is no particular beach to recommend, as every one of them is breathtaking. As the night falls, the stars light up the sky and Marsa Alam is magically transformed into a romantic getaway. Cuddling up on the beach or in one of the many cozy cafes along the water – the one at Ecolodge Shagra Village is highly recommended – and watching the countless shooting stars, while drinking freshly brewed tea definitely qualifies as a perfect end to the day. An up-and-coming nearby destination is Port Ghalib, a luxurious resort community a la Gouna style. It is made up of hotels, top-notch residences, a convention center, a swimming lagoon, and its most important asset, a marina.
Overlooking the marina is a corniche anchored with a long line of retail outlets, restaurants, bars and cafes. Another Port Ghalib highlight is its bazaar, the Khan, which sells semi-precious stones, perfumes, ceramics and home and personal accessories. Marsa Alam is the perfect romantic destination — provided you both love the sea. And whether you are a diver, thirsty for an incomparable underwater experience, or just an overworked employee in the big city who wants to unwind, Marsa Alam should be your next vacation spot.
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