By Hannah Wilkinson and Adel Heine
Going on a trip during the long weekend of the Eid vacation is a treasured tradition for many people. Now that Ramadan and the following feast fall in the middle of summer the beach is the number one destination but Luxor and Aswan are also great places to visit despite the heat. Here is a round-up of the best areas to go to this year.
Giving bad press a good name, Sinai remains an extremely popular destination for all kinds of holidaymakers, in spite of continued unrest which unfortunately blights the north of the peninsula. All precautions duly taken, South Sinai is a laid back location in which to hang out, and with no small amount of activities, an ideal place to entertain yourself throughout the Eid vacation.
Sharm El-Sheikh remains the Goliath of South Sinai’s cluster of resorts. The original town is based around Na’ama bay, but the beast that is Sharm just keeps on growing, with new hotel complexes continually sprouting up on the outskirts of the town. Tourists come to Sharm to let their hair down, and thanks to Na’ama bay’s bars, restaurants, casinos and clubs, which often feature well-known DJs, visitors get the chance to do just that.
Taba Heights offers a similar array of 5 star complexes, complete with swimming pools and golf courses. The nearby town to Taba also provides the opportunity for visits to Petra and Tel Aviv, due to its proximity to Israel and Jordan.
The ostensibly sleepy town of Dahab conceals a hive of activity. While it is perfectly possible to while away the days here, sunbathing, sea bathing, sipping on super-thick milkshakes whist reclining somnolently on a cushion in one of the town’s seafront cafes, any number of exciting activities could tempt you out of your chocolaty cocoon.
The whole Sinai coast is famous for diving and snorkelling, and Dahab is no exception. There is no shortage of Dive Centres offering training, or just the use of some snorkelling equipment, so that anyone can take advantage of Dahab’s crystal clear waters.
The area is also perfect for windsurfing, and if you are feeling really adventurous, take a nerve-wracking quad bike trip into the mountains.
Dahab has its share of swanky accommodation, as well as popular, keenly priced and well maintained hostels, but if you are the kind of person who likes to tell their friends that they spent their holidays in a hut on a beach, with only the wind and waves for company, accommodation of a yet more basic nature can be found further up Dahab’s main strip.
For the full ‘hut on a beach’ experience, head up to Ras Sheitan, renowned hangout of Egyptian musicians, and soak up the atmosphere.
The coast of the Mediterranean is beautiful, stretching from Marsa Matrouh in the west all the way to Alexandria. In summer the temperatures on the North Coast are significantly less that in other parts of the country; with a difference up to 10 degrees form Cairo alone. Marsa Matrouh provides you with peace and quiet and some of the best beaches in the country but if you are in the mood for company then the stretch of coast fanning out from Alexandria eastward, known as Sahel, is the place to be.
Compound after compound of villas, chalets, apartment buildings and the occasional hotel are the favourite summer destination for many Cairenes. The heart of Sahel is Marina, and here shops, restaurants, including all the well-known fast food chains cater to an ever-growing population that descends on the white beaches during the hot months of the year. It can remind you of the 6th of October Bridge on a Thursday afternoon, with the added smell of suntan oil, but Marina is the place to see and be seen. The lagoons and the sea itself offer lots of entertainment, from jet skis, water skiing, parasailing and an enormous floating waterpark.
The city of Alexandria itself boasts of a beautiful coastline with an accompanying cornice that invites you to take a stroll once the suppressive wind has died down. The coastal city is a lot more conservative than Sahel and tanning in beachwear is not common. There are a few large hotels that give access to private beaches where you can lounge in the sun to your hearts content and will provide travellers with all the pampering they could want. If you are in the mood for something more authentic then we recommend you try on of the smaller and older hotels in the town itself; large rooms with high ceilings create an atmosphere of times gone by and are certainly worth a try.
Agami to the east of Egypt’s second largest city is one of the oldest beach towns of the country. Many Cairenes have spent their childhoods building sandcastles there and it is still a favourite spot for those who cherish their memories, so it is still a busy spot but with an old-style charm that Sahel lacks.
Sahel and Alexandria are only a two and a half hour drive from Cairo or you can use one of the internal flights that leave from Cairo and other cities in the country. Several affordable trains leave daily from Cairo but make sure you check when booking your ticket when the train will arrive; travel times vary form just over two hours to six or eight hours depending on which train you take.
The towns along the coastline of the Red Sea are also very popular. From Ein Sohkna down to Marsa Alam in the south of the country you will find many beach towns and resorts that cater to travellers of all budgets.
Ein Sokhna is only an hour and a half drive from Cairo and is very child friendly and a favourite getaway for families to escape the city. The area is mostly made up of a long stretch of compounds with private residences. Starting close to Suez the compounds nearly reach all the way to Zafraana, but there are a few hotels interspersed in the endless rows of privately owned accommodations.
If you are up for a five-hour drive, or a one-hour flight from Cairo airport, Hurghada is another town that is worth a visit. The seaside town has a myriad of hotels, from all-inclusive tourist resorts to small bed and breakfasts in the middle of the centres. Foreign visitors love Hurghada and it is one of the places that can still boast of a, albeit reduced, significant number of visitors.
One of the things Hurghada is best known for, its nightlife is high on the list too, is the water sports. Kitesurfing, windsurfing, snorkelling and diving are available for all budgets but there is a caveat there; cheap does not always mean good quality. We recommend sticking to the centres that are located in the big hotels to ensure your safety while you explore all the Red Sea has to offer.
Restaurants offer every variety of food under the sun and there are several venues that entertain their guests with live music during the evenings or if you are in the mood to dance there are several clubs, some under the stars, which have DJs performing every night.
El-Gouna is just 25 km to the north and as busy as Hurghada can be, while more relaxed and upscale. Villas line the many lagoons of the town but there are many hotels in different price ranges spread around the town. As in Hurghada all the water sports are available and for those aficionados who do not mind getting up early to beat the heat, the 18-hole golf course should not be missed.
The Marina with its luxury yachts is filled with restaurants and is a favourite spot to hang out during the feast for the many Cairenes that prefer the exclusive resort to the hustle and bustle of the North Coast. Downtown is the original centre and there, as well as tucked away on the back of the Marina, you will find several hotels that offer the perfect combination of charm and budget.
Located all the way down south Marsa Alam has become a popular destination. Driving down from Cairo will take you the better part of a day but internal flights are also available. Some of the best diving sites surround the town that offers all types of accommodation, from 5 star hotels to beach camps that are located a little out of town.
Luxor and Aswan
As temperatures in the region soar to over 40 degrees Celsius, a trip to the attractions of southern Egypt at this time of year is not for the faint of heart. Set along the stunning banks of the Nile, Luxor and Aswan will at least be fairly empty, as they are far from their peak tourist season in the winter months.
But if walking around temples in an open-air oven is your idea of a great day out, then Luxor and Aswan are the destinations for you this Eid.
Situating yourself fairly centrally in Luxor need not be expensive. The town offers clean and basic traveller’s accommodation situated just a short walk from the Cornice. The swankier hotels are mostly situated along the river, and include the luxurious Winter Palace, a faded bastion of colonial elegance.
From such a central location, many of Luxor’s attractions can be explored on foot, as long as you are prepared to slap on the factor 50 and lose most of your bodily fluids.
The most popular temples in Luxor include Karnak, whose Hpyostyle Hall has to be seen to be believed, and Luxor temple, which, given the heat, is probably best visited at night, when its spectacularly back lit structures make for the perfect end to the day. Luxor museum is engaging and well curated, and also has some pretty powerful air conditioning.
A cheap ferry trip across to Luxor’s west bank will take you to yet more popular attractions, including the pricey Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens. There are also stables from which tourists hire horses and ride out to a monastery in the desert. The surroundings are stunning but it’s as hot as you would expect a desert to be in August.
If you absolutely have your heart set on a trip down south this Eid, the best way to keep cool might well be a boat trip down the Nile. Short, two hour trips to Banana Island can be taken from the Cornice in Luxor, but for the full Nile experience, take a cruise down the river for a couple of days.
Fire-star steamers ship punters up and down the river in the lap of luxury, but for a more back to basics experience, hire a felucca for a few days and travel from Luxor to Aswan. You will camp, cook, and maybe even carouse on the river, with nothing to do all day but lie back and watch the world go by. It is a great way to explore some temples, too.
Once in Aswan, relax in one of its many hotels, visit one of its museums or take a bus to visit the famous Abu Simbel, 230 km away.
Luxor and Aswan can be reached by both plane and bus from Cairo, but for a more romantic experience, take the Night Train from Giza station. It’s comfortable and clean, the service is generally excellent, and as you wake up you can watch the stunning countryside rushing past as you pull into your chosen destination.