Every destination in the world would have us believe its unique, but few are. Egypt is an exception, for it has remnants from antiquity and cultural traditions found no other place on earth.
Elsayed Khalifa, director of the Egyptian Tourist Authority for the Americas, feels that the unique aspect of Egypt is probably one of the reasons why his country, even in strained economic times, will record an increase of 3 percent in inbound visitors. “Of course, while we received 319,000 U.S. visitors in 2008, up from 279,000 the year before, we don’t expect such an increase for 2009,” says Khalifa, “but we are pleased to be still moving forward in our inbound visitor growth.”
The core of Egyptian “specialness,” the director points out, is culture. However, “we have broadened our appeal for today’s travelers with diverse attractions and products directed to other special interests such as adventure and desert tourism, religious travel that follows the Route of the Holy Family, and the sporting life from scuba diving to an extensive golf infrastructure. We expect these markets will discover that Egypt is ripe for new kinds of discoveries.”
hotel development Khalifa points out that his country’s infrastructure development is making all corners of Egypt more comfortable. Most of the action is focused along the Red Sea. For instance, Marsa Alam, a remote fishing village on the west coast of the Red Sea, has long been a destination for die-hard scuba divers intent on exploring its pristine coral reefs and clear waters. Not only is access now easier with nonstop flights (they’re seasonal and usually about twice weekly) aboard EgyptAir from Cairo, but now there’s reason for the rest of us to go: the resorts at Port Ghalib, a new complex of hotels, each with its own style and a shared village of shops and restaurants. The development, in fact, covers 6,400 acres that front 11 miles of Red Sea beachfront.
InterContinental The Palace, the grandest of the properties, has its architectural roots in ancient Egypt, with soaring ceilings, hanging textiles and elaborate North African wrought-iron chandeliers. The 309 guestrooms look onto terraced gardens, a winding lagoon and the Red Sea. Sample rates at The Palace are from $350 dbl.
The Crowne Plaza Sahara Oasis, meanwhile, is styled with limestone floors, mosaics and arched windows, and the Crowne Plaza Sahara Sands is comprised of four wings—Dallah, Sarab, Gamali and Sado—each is styled in distinct desert tones of white, amber, ochre and tourmaline. Properties share Arabian gardens and a secluded private beach with an offshore coral wall, and a major feature of the resort is one of the largest, man-made, saltwater swimming lagoons in the world. There’s something here for everyone: rock climbing, camel tours, horseback riding, and, of course, diving trips along the Red Sea reef.
For experts and beginners alike, Egyptian waters, alive with brilliant coral reefs and flashy tropical fish, offer some of the world’s best diving and snorkeling. Sites in the Marsa Alam corner of the Red Sea include Elphinstone and Abu Dabab. Farther north—along what locals are beginning to call the Red Sea Riviera—El Quseir offers excellent shore diving on nearby reefs, as well as top-notch accommodations, such as the Movenpick Resort El Quseir, located on Sirena Beach along a bay once used as a port in Roman times. New developments along this Red Sea shoreline—at Soma Bay, just north of Safaga between Quseir and Hurghada—are two newly popular resorts.
Golfers choose La Residence des Cascades, heading for its 18-hole course designed by Gary Player and 60-bay driving range. The hotel itself has 39 suites and 210 well-appointed guestrooms with balconies all overlooking the golf course and the sea. Facilities also include tennis and squash courts and a health club, as well as a large and luxurious Thalasso Center. Rates start at $300 dbl.
The property’s nearest neighbor is the Sheraton Soma Bay, which puts the accent on beach vacations, as well as great reef diving just off the beach and plenty of attractions for snorkelers, too. The hotel offers 211 partial or full sea-view units, including suites arranged in beachfront bungalows for the big splurge. Guests also enjoy four restaurants, five bars, two pools, four tennis courts, a gym, a spa, sailing, a kids’ club and, of course, a dive center. Rates start at $300 dbl.