Marsa Alam & Around
In-the-know divers have been heading to Marsa Alam for years, attracted to the seas that offer up some of Egypt’s best diving just off the rugged coastline. Despite this, the far-flung destination stayed well off the tourism radar for a long time. Now, however, the secret is out.
Most visitors come to Esna, 64km south of Luxor on the west bank of the Nile, for the Temple of Khnum, but the busy little farming town itself is quite charming. Beyond the small bazaar selling mainly tourist souvenirs are several examples of 19th-century provincial architecture with elaborate mashrabiyya (wooden lattice screens).
Safaga is a rough-and-ready port town that keeps itself in existence through the export of phosphates from local mines. It’s also a major local terminal for the ferry to Saudi Arabia, and during the hajj, thousands of pilgrims from the Nile Valley set off from here on their voyages to Mecca.
Poor old Rosetta. Today it’s hard to believe that this dusty town, squatting on the western branch of the Nile, 65km northeast of Alexandria, was once Egypt’s most significant port. Locally known as Ar-Rashid, Rosetta was founded in the 9th century and outgrew Alexandria in importance during that town’s 18th- and 19th-century decline.
Built on a rise above the broad river valley, the Temple of Horus at Edfu, having escaped destruction from Nile floods, is the most completely preserved Egyptian temple. One of the last ancient attempts at building on a grand scale, the temple dominates this west-bank town, 53km south of Esna.
While there are some antiquities outside Bawiti that are arguably worth seeing, the main attractions are the natural ones, including immense palm gardens, many fed by springs ideal for a night-time soak. Further afield lies wild desert scenery; the Black Desert, Gebel Dist and Gebel Maghrafa can be seen on a day trip or overnight safari.
Nuweiba to Taba
The coastline between Nuweiba and Taba is Egypt's last bastion of the traditional beach camp. For years this region's business came from Israelis looking for a closer-to-home Goa, but unfortunately political turmoil in recent years has kept them away, and other travellers are still to venture north and discover this tranquil beach-bum haven.
If you're looking for a family-friendly beach resort far removed from the rough and tumble of real life, look no further. The brainchild of Egyptian billionaire Onsi Sawiris, El-Gouna is a self-contained holiday town frequented by Egypt's chi-chi set and by Europeans on package tours.