We planned a visit to Egypt for the pyramids but had to take some time to dive into the Red Sea. My family got SCUBA-certified last year in Maui, and my boys are hoping to dive any chance they can get. We first spent three days in Cairo, then headed to the coast, discovering that there are many great things to do in Hurghada aside from diving.
Although we loved our time in Cairo, it was very hectic, and the large fishing town of Hurghada was the perfect Egyptian contrast.
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How to Get to Hurghada from Cairo
You can take a bus for pretty cheap, but it will take you around 6 hours. Driving will also take over four hours, and our guide didn’t recommend it. We flew on Egypt Air which took around one hour.
Day One Hurghada
We spent most of our first day relaxing on the white sands at our beach resort, Hurghada Marriott. Here we could take out banana boats or windsurf.
Star Gazing Safari
We wanted to learn about the Bedouin culture and see the Arabian Desert in the evening.
Bedouins are a nomadic group of Arabic people. They traditionally moved as a family unit to follow water and grazing lands. Presently they are more likely to be semi-nomadic. Our guide told us they often work jobs in tourism or as security guards, but still live in the desert. There are around 1,200,000 Bedouins in Egypt.
We booked a Star Gazing Safari. I will warn my American readers that many things in Egypt are much different.
We were picked up at our hotel by the Land Cruiser without air-conditioning or seatbelts and three tour guides who spoke English. We then stopped picking up many other people until our truck was so packed one of the guides spent the rest of the hour ride on the roof.
Most visitors to Hurghada are European. We never met another American on our trip. It was interesting spending the hour speaking to the Germans in the van with us. Our first stop had us even more worried about how sketchy the tour would be. We pulled off the road for a water stop in a tented area that seemed staged. Was this the “Bedouin experience”?
We were there for the camel ride, which was one camel in a parking lot, so it was definitely different from expected. Later I asked our guide about this. He told me that COVID hit the tourism sector hard and camels are very expensive. Before the pandemic, a virus killed off their camels, which led to a lack of camels in the area. If you booked this tour for a camel ride, it was different from riding them near the Great pyramids. It was more like a ride at a carnival.
Everything that we experienced after this point made us very happy to have booked this tour. It was a magical night in the desert.
We then took off into the red sand dunes of the Arabian Desert, with Israel still sitting on the top of the car! We bounced over dunes like a roller coaster and had a blast.
After about 40 minutes, we arrived at the Bedouin camp, where we were able to see the family at work cooking bread, meet their animals, and experience the peace of living in the middle of the desert.
We took a hike up a hill to watch a lovely sunset. The area is uniquely beautiful.
After sunset, we ate a traditional Bedouin meal by candlelight. My favorite was their mixed salad which consisted of chopped vegetables and herbs.
We finished our night with the guide showing us the night skies, complete with a giant telescope to see distant nebulas- magical!
Day Two Hurghada
SCUBA Diving in the Red Sea
We devoted our second day to why we came to the Red Sea- to SCUBA dive in it. We dove with the very professional dive company- Ilios Dive Club.
A significant negative about only visiting for three days was only having one day to dive. The winds were insane on the day of the dive, but the club did an excellent job of figuring out a way for us to have a great diving experience still.
Our Red Sea dives were my kids’ first diving experience after their certification and our divemaster, Jowy, did a perfect job at keeping us safe and retesting our skills.
Some of the best diving right near Hurghada is at a few islands off the coast, Little Giftun, and Big Giftun. The plan was to dive into each, but because of the winds, we made both our dives at Little Giftun.
The dive followed a very healthy reef with colorful fish. Despite the wind, the visibility was still pretty good. Our highlight was a 6-foot long moray eel who spent a lot of time in the open water swimming. We also saw lionfish.
The crew served a lovely buffet meal on the large comfortable dive boat between the two dives. It was a great day of diving for our family.
In the evening, we headed to the Hurghada Marina to enjoy a walk on the boardwalk.
The area is dark, but it is interesting to see the fishmongers hocking the local seafood in Arabic.
Al Halaka Fish
We took some good advice and had dinner behind the fish market at Al Halaka Fish.
Mosque El Mina Masjid
The largest mosque on the Red Sea is right behind the Fish Market.
Day 3 Hurghada
Although you can find a tour with many people, most any taxi driver will be willing to give you a tour to see Hurghada. Be sure to negotiate the fare before you get into the car. I explain more about this in 5 Things to Know Before you Visit Cairo.
Old Town Hurghada
Our taxi driver then took us out into the old town of Hurghada. We went on an evening in Ramadan, and there were lights strung over the streets, which were packed with both people and cars with a truly celebratory atmosphere. There are many shops to haggle at along the roads.
El Dahar Bazaar
This spice and fruit market is full of locals and was the one place in our time in Egypt where English was not readily spoken. It is much more authentically Egypt than the resorts.
Coptic Cathedral of Saint Shenouda
Also in this area is a Coptic church. Coptic is the Christian religion in Egypt, which makes up about ten percent of the population. This church has white walls and striking stained glass.
Where to Stay in Hurghada, Egypt
Hurghada Marriott Beach Resort
We stayed at the Hurghada Marriott Beach Resort and loved everything about it. The rooms are very inexpensive, and everyone has a beautiful water view. The beach isn’t crowded, and the food at the resort was good.
Our guide recommended the Steigenberger, which contains the Ilios Dive Club. You can’t go wrong with either choice. If you are going to do multiple dives, it may be easier to stay at Steigenberger, but it is much more expensive, fancy, and immense. The Marriott was smaller, which I prefer, and only about a 15-minute cab ride from the dive shop.
That was all the time we had to spend in Hurghada, but my family enjoyed visiting this unique area of Egypt. If we had even one more day, we would have taken a day trip to Luxor as this was the one place we wanted to see but didn’t have time. It would be a rushed 12-hour tour but worth it. Maybe we will head back to Egypt one day for a Nile cruise. We would also love to take a day trip to the Gifun Islands to experience them from an alternate perspective.