Long stretches of clean beaches, a plethora of water sports, hotels in all price ranges, a variety of restaurants and a growing community; El Gouna has it all. The sprawling resort town is positioned on a strip of desert along the coast of the Red Sea, 25 km north of Hurghada. El Gouna, with its combination of villas, apartments and hotels is home to an eclectic mix of locals and foreigners alike and one of Egypt’s favourite holiday destinations.
The place is both family friendly and offers enough entertainment for the youth crowd, making it a vacation spot for all ages. There are several activities for the younger kids while the variety of water and other sports ensure that people of all ages can find entertainment to their liking. The town is kept immaculately clean, is consciously decreasing its carbon footprint and the local population is invariably friendly.
How to get there
El Gouna is 450 km from Cairo and either a five hour drive or a plane ride just under an hour will take you there. If you opt to fly you will land in Hurghada’s international airport and an additional half an hour by car will bring you to the resort.
For those who prefer to drive, a modern highway with multiple lanes will take you through the desert from Cairo to the coast. The next 80 km consist of a winding, two lane road with the glittering water of the Red Sea on your left and the mountains of the desert on you right. The area of Al Ein Sokhna is highly developed with resorts and holidays homes all along the coastline and the road is often busy.
The road ends in Za’afraana, halfway to your destination, and this is a good place to stretch your legs and use the spotless facilities. From then on another multilane highway will take you straight to your destination.
The different areas of the town
El Gouna is a resort town, which is evident as soon as you reach the waving palm trees and waterfalls at the gated entrance. After a friendly welcome and polite enquiry as to where you are heading, the security will open the gate and let you enter. The first thing you will notice is how spread out El Gouna is, the next thing will be the many blue lagoons that break up the town.
Over the years El Gouna has expanded tremendously and new areas are always being developed. The different areas of the town are built in a variety of styles. Domed villas in soft colours, from beiges and ochres to dusty reds are lined up around the curved lagoons, and stark white villas are surrounded by green gardens with splashes of colour from the ubiquitous bougainvilleas. A walled island facing the sea, the Hill, is filled with roman style villas. Signature architecture inspired by American mailboxes can be found in the buildings around the golf course.
The downtown area is one of the oldest of El Gouna and is built in a domed, Nubian style. As you stroll through this island you will find lowrise apartment buildings, shops and restaurants interspersed with hotels and many local residents going about their business. The Club House, a pool and lagoon side restaurant in the heart of downtown, is one of El Gouna’s traditional haunts. A great place to spend the day lounging in the sun, have a swim and order one of the pizzas or salads they are famous for.
Tamr Henna, another downtown favourite, is a pedestrian square surrounded by shops and restaurants. ATMs, supermarkets and fresh fruits and vegetables, next to traditional bazaars and clothing shops are here and it is the place where most residents do their daily shopping. Several nights a week live music livens up the squares of downtown.
A bit further to the north the two basins of the Abu Tig marina are filled with glamorous yachts of all sizes. Restaurants, apartments, shops and hotels are lined up around the curving promenade. In the morning the crews of luxury yachts bustle about their business, a good time to have a coffee on one of the many terraces (a local favourite is the Seven Stars, with daily freshly baked bread and pastries on the menu) and watch the boats leave for sea.
In the new extension of the marina, close to the beach, Club 88 features a 360 degree view of the surrounding sea. At night the marina comes alive when smells of good food drift from the many restaurants and a few nights a week stages are erected for live music performances.
These different hotspots are surrounded by stretched out, residential areas of villas and apartments. The inhabitants are a mix of local residents that live there year round and foreign and Egyptian owners that spend their long weekends and vacations in El Gouna. Many young people come to El Gouna to work in one of the watersport centres, some of them spend the better part of a season or year in town before they move on, but many have decided to settle and over the years a lot of new Gounies, as the locals are affectionately know, have been born.
Another group of residents are retirees, who have escaped the weather in Europe and have made their home in El Gouna. Add to this the many Egyptians that call El Gouna home and you will find a population that is a diverse mix of nationalities and ages.
While some prefer to wind down and use their visit to sunbathe and relax, many people come to El Gouna to partake in the many activities that are on offer.
The 18-hole golf course that surrounds the Steigenberger hotel is a favourite of residents and visitors alike. Boasting a club house and golf pros that offer lessons, the greens are always busy in the early morning and in the afternoons after the hottest hours of the days have passed. Make sure to book in advance to not miss your chance to tee off on greens that offer beautiful views of the lagoons, the turquoise sea and the distant mountains of the desert.
The year round sunshine and cooling northwestern breezes make El Gouna a perfect destination for wind and kite surfing. Most hotels have windsurfing stations on their beaches and to the north of the town kitesurfing stations line the beach. The shallow waters are perfect for beginners and the colourful kites brighten up the skies most days. Many kite stations have restaurants and we recommend you visit one for lunch and watch the gravity defying jumps of the kiters as you enjoy your meal.
El Gouna is home to several well established and properly certified diving centres. The different diving centres organise daily boat trips that offer two dives a day on the breathtaking reefs of the surrounding Red Sea. El Gouna’s location makes it perfect to visit the world famous shipwrecks on the reef of Abu Nuhas for wreckdiving enthusiasts. All centres offer diving courses for beginners and more experienced divers alike, offering certifications that are valid all over the world.
Half or full day snorkeling trips will take you to reefs that start just beneath the surface, giving non-divers the opportunity to explore the reefs teeming with colourful fish. Most hotels have small boats that will take their guests to the reefs close to El Gouna for a two hour trip, while the diving centres take snorkellers with them on their daily trips. A large catamaran leaves for snorkeling trips from the Abu Tig marina.
Those that prefer to stay closer to shore can enjoy wakeboarding on the lagoons or try their hand on the latest addition to waterbased fun; the SUPs, stand up paddle boards. Standing on an oversized surfboard, you can propel yourself through the many, interconnected lagoons, using a long paddle.
Lagoon boats connect the different areas of town and a 90 minute lagoon tour can take you through most of the areas while explaining the town’s history and landmarks. Small motorised boats used by residents and the lagoon boats are the only ones allowed on the lagoons and the lack of jet skis guarantees both the tranquility of the town and your safety if you want to take a swim.
Non-water related activities are also on offer. In town there are tennis courts, both in some hotels and close to downtown, a horse stable and a Go Kart circuit, while several agencies in the hotels and around town offer excursions in the surrounding areas. A big favourite are the quad bike trips that take you into the desert, where your driving skills will be tested on the desert sand.
Evening trips to the oasis close to the surrounding mountains will give you a taste of the traditional life of the desert inhabitants, and trips to Luxor and Cairo can be booked by those who want to combine their beach vacation with a bit of culture and ancient Egyptian history.
After a long sun-filled day, El Gouna comes alive in the evenings. The restaurants fill up until late at night and for those who want to dance under the stars there are several places to choose from.
The options to dine out leave you spoiled for choice, with cuisine from all over the world available. Nearly all restaurants serve good food but there are some that stand out. The fish restaurant on the beach of the Movenpick hotel serves fresh catch and is well worth a try. If you are in the mood for Asian food we recommend the Thai restaurant downtown, the White Elephant, and the Vietnamese restaurant Saigon in the Abu Tig marina.
La Scala and Le Deauville offer good Italian and French cuisine respectively and the newest addition to the local food scene, the Yacht Club in the marina’s extension serves wonderful, surprising dishes.
This is not to say that you should skip other restaurants; there is a wonderful Indian restaurant, Tandoor, in the Abu Tig marina, good Egyptian food can be had downtown and most hotels have several dining options available. During the evening entertainment is organised in both downtown and the marina on alternating evenings of the week. The surrounding hotels and restaurants create terraces and offer many dinner options for you to enjoy while listening to the music.
For those who want to continue the night there are parties nearly every night. The Club House in downtown hosts a live performance and a DJ night each week, in the Abu Tig marina Moods beach bar and restaurant features DJs, and in Loca Loca guests and residents dance the night away over the weekend.
Where to stay
El Gouna has many hotels, ranging from five star resorts, to smaller, friendly hotels and everything in between. Most hotels have several dining options and many have extensive spas that specialise in everything from massages to facial treatments.
The larger hotels, like the Sheraton Miramar, the Movenpick, the Rihana and the Steigenberger are close to the beaches while the many locales of El Gouna host the slightly smaller hotels. In downtown we recommend the well-established Sultan Bey and Dawar El Omda hotels and in the Abu Tig marina the Ali Pasha hotel. Along the new extension of the marina, a large, deep basin that can house larger yachts, the Mosaic and Fanadir hotels are a good choice.
For those that prefer to stay in a private residence, El Gouna has agencies that manage the many villas and apartments of those that only visit the town a few times a year. They can be rented for anything from a weekend to a few weeks and come complete with basic amenities. Many of the agencies offer airport transfers and cleaning services but a word to the wise; make your reservations in advance, especially during Egyptian public holidays and school vacations.
How to get around
For those that did not drive to El Gouna, a variety of ways to get around are available. Walking is always possible on the well maintained sidewalks, most hotels offer bicycles for hire and if you prefer to use motorised transportation you can hire a scooter.
Several bus lines operate in town, connecting areas using mini busses and larger, partially open buses. Tuk-tuks zoom everywhere and taxis are available too. To make life easier, both tuk-tuks and taxis are priced with fixed fares, EGP five per person per trip in a tuk-tuk and EGP15 per taxi transfer. Tuk-tuks and taxis can be ordered or found in several places around town. The internal telephone system is free of charge and operators are available 24 hours a day.
As the town grew over the years many people have made it their permanent home and with the increase in residents the available services have followed suit. The hospital has an emergency room and clinics for most specialties, including surgery, radiology and pediatrics. It houses a decompression chamber for the safety of the divers and many young residents have been born in the pediatrics ward.
The international school follows the British system and the classes start from kindergarten all the way up to secondary school. Higher education is also represented; El Gouna boasts of a Nursing School, a German Hotel School, the American University in Cairo has a marine biology department in El Gouna and the Technical University of Berlin recently opened a campus.
Because El Gouna is a multicultural town, with residents from all over the world, a large church and a mosque provide services for the faithful.
The resort town of El Gouna has a little of everything and is located in a nearly perfect setting. A variety of nationalities live side by side, which creates a diverse and lively atmosphere. There are endless options for entertainment and activities yet it is the perfect place to relax. Hotels for all budgets or private residences provide everyone with their preferred place to stay and the food is consistently good. Be it for a weekend away or a longer vacation, El Gouna really has it all.