The long stretch
Hurghada was once just a tiny fisher village, with a location that seldom brought strangers here. Even in the late 1970s, this was the situation, but with nature around, the clarity of the water, and the endless opportunities for divers, Hurghada was destined to become an Egyptian center for pleasure tourism.
Today, the result is a stretch of 20 km with beach hotels. Most of these hotels are organized in an attractive way, but far from the true Egypt of great monuments, traffic jams and mud-brick houses.
But this makes Hurghada a successful tourist resort for divers and swimmers. Huge crowds of Egyptians, Saudis, and other Arabs have since long joined the stream of Europeans and Americans coming here throughout most of the year.
There are a couple of drawbacks, though. Non-hotel beaches are not terribly great but often crowded. While the fish life is just what you hoped for right off the beach, there are no corals here anymore.
This can only be discovered by joining one of the many boat expeditions out to the nearby islands. Giftun is the largest and lies about 10 km from Hurghada.
Hurghada is in reality three main centers and numerous self-contained tourist villages now growing into one body. To the north, lies the place that is closest to being a town, Ad-Dahar, which has more than half of the total local population, and the most priceworthy hotels and restaurants.
A couple of kilometers south comes Sigala, a place that suffers from being between Ad-Dahar and New Hurghada a few kilometers more to the south. There are some hotels here, some restaurants, but relatively few tourists. In New Hurghada total tourism comes alive, offering every amenity a visitor is looking for.
Dahar’s main mosque is a gift from Saudi Arabia, hence its Saudi architectural style.
To those who imagine that the holes will soon be filled, that the unfinished houses and blocks are just months away from their inauguration, it must be said that most projects were begun in the middle of the 1990s.
Hurghada suffers from a reduction in tourism and struggles to fill its present capacity. Especially the quarters a bit off the tourist scene illustrate this. The areas near the beach to the north has a spooky, empty feeling.
Dahar is the nearest Hurghada comes its origins, a few streets are really containing pre-tourist lifestyles. Dahar is also the place with the most dubious charm, and it lacks the continuity that most visitors look for. Large open spaces are not gardens, just holes of development.
Among Dahar’s most popular hang-outs.
Sigala is kind of the place where Hurghada comes alive, and it is clearly the chicest place around here, even if it is far behind what El-Gouna and Sharm el-Sheikh have on offer.
Sigala downtown is a dense collection of hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops.
The beaches of Sigala are largely sealed off by hotels, but getting in should usually be possible. Many hotels allow visitors for a fee.
Out to the islands
Boat trips out to the coral reefs and islands like the Giftun, are commonly sold all over Hurghada. Thanks to the condition of the corals along the beaches, this seems to be the only way to see colorful corals. You know, like what we see in nature shows.
What a disappointment! Can I put in more exclamation marks? The corals remaining out here are so run-down, that there is virtually nothing to see. The whole snorkelling-Hurghada-coral thing is as sad as a drug addict. Just a few reefs are still fine.
And local authorities and the people in the tourism industry are to blame. Strict regulations as to what to do and not would have saved a lot. It could have been a great thing, you can see water bottles and cigarette packs even when they are 10 meters down.
And you cannot access the islands, they are protected. I wonder why they are mainly barren rocks that will kill your sandals.
Dahar has a colorful, and quite attractive, range of tourist stalls. Yet, this is not the place to buy your souvenirs, not at least before you have been to Sigala.
At Sigala, competition has brought prices down to a good level in Sigala, which means anything between 10% and 50% of Dahar’s prices! From my own travels around Egypt, Sigala seems to be the only tourist trap with a price level on its souvenirs in the same range as Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili.
A few of the shops have fixed prices, great for all those with fear of being ripped off (and all first-time visitors to Egypt should be afraid of that).
So do you get local souvenirs, things made by local bedouins? There may be an item or two around, but 95% of everything here is made at factories elsewhere around the whole country. A few of the specialized shops sell things which are imported from countries as far away as Morocco. If you ask about origins, most shopkeepers will tell you the truth about the origins.
The quality of beach life in Hurghada is very a question of the quality of your hotel. With a few hundred meters as an exception, all of the beaches has been taken over by hotels. Some, and then the better ones, do not allow non-visitors to enter, even at a fee.
The public beach is a sad story, and not recommended to anyone
having used time and money to get to Hurghada in the first place. What you get from paying a fee to enter a hotel beach is worth every pound.
At almost every beach, there are many options beyond swimming and sunbathing. Snorkelling equipment, pedalos, glass boats taking trips out to corals (“you can pick your own coral!”) seems to be basic anywhere. The better the hotel, the more is waiting for you.
The other side
Despite years of tourism to Hurghada, many quarters are poor and living conditions as bad as they seem. Much of the tourism industry here is run by people from other places in Egypt with longer tourism history, especially Luxor. Also, wages here are not great, there is a reason why Hurghada is cheap!
Just a few places, some of the older charm still comes alive, like on the top photo. The place to look is northwest of the Anfish Mountain. People here are friendly, too, although many will run into their houses when a foreigner walks by. Strange, just 100 meters away, tourism runs at full speed.
Climbing Anfish Mountain
Anfish Mountain is strangely invisible almost from anywhere you stand in town, but once you get on top of it, you see everything! It is the perfect place to get a view over the town, although it is also the place to realize how badly planned Hurghada is, and how far from completion the place is.
But beyond, you will be able to take superb views over the mountains of the eastern desert and the islands out in the Red Sea.
Sand Beach Hotel is one of the cheaper beach hotels in Hurghada, and offers quite good value for money even for independent travellers.
Eat and Sleep
Hotels are abundant, and Hurghada is presently suffering from over-capacity. This involves that finding a hotel room even in the high season should not offer much of a problem. Hurghada has luckily all ranges of hotels, from simple but adequate to the posh and expensive. In total, Hurghada could be well above 100 different hotels.
Eating in Hurghada is by far best done in Ad-Dahar. In Sigala reasonable choices are within reach. In New Hurghada, few restaurants are found outside the hotels.
Sports and Activities
Fishing is well organized, and equipment and boats to bring you out to the best fields. Expect that one days pleasure will cost you in the range of US$15.
Diving is even better organized, and you can both pass a course for all international certificates. The total cost here would be in the area of US$300 or more. As for the hiring of equipment, a daily cost should be budgeted for US$20 per day.
Snorkeling is a good choice if you get out to one of the islands off Hurghada. With the trip and the simple equipment, expect to pay US$15 per day.
Submarine trips, with the yellow Sindbad submarine, will cost around US$60 for a one day trip.
Windsurfing and jet skis are also available. It is not all that cheap, really. US$50 per day would be realistic when planning your costs.
Airplanes: Hurghada has domestic flights in Cairo, one each way per day. Hurghada has also many flights in Europe, but these are all chartered.
Buses: Hurghada has connections with Cairo (7 hours), Suez (5 h), Qena (3 h), Luxor (5 h), Al-Quseir (2 h), as well as to smaller destinations. There are great differences in quality between these, and prices reflect this. Departures are relatively frequent.
Taxis: Taxis do most of the same as buses, but cost 10-20% more, but are faster, much because they rarely stop en route.
Ferries: Ferries between Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh do not have the best of reputations. They are irregular and not comfortable. The trip will at the best take 4 hours, and cost US$25 one way.
50 km north: El-Gouna
175 km southeast: Quseir
75 km northeast: Sharm el-Sheikh (sea)
400 km north: Suez
500 km northwest: Cairo
225 km southwest: Qena