Upmarket El Gouna is Egypt’s newest purpose-built beach resort on the Red Sea Riviera. Boasting 15 man-made lagoons swirling around an area the size of central London, this desert oasis has 15 hotels draped along a 10 kilometre-long beach.
Other facilities include a 18-hole golf course, a glittering marina with a second planned, 85 restaurants and bars, a casino, a spa centre and 200 shops.
Calling itself the Little Venice of the Red Sea, it offers a more sophisticated, hassle-free and laid-back alternative to party-mad Sharm. It’s ideal for couples and families seeking a summer or wintersun holiday. Holidaymakers on a budget can also choose from affordable three-star hotels and self-catering apartments.
Getting there/around El Gouna
Transfers from Hurghada Airport take around 45 mins.
Once you’re inside the compact, gated resort, you can hire bikes to get round or take a taxi . It’s even cheaper to flag down a tuk tuk or use the resort’s frequent shuttle buses, the weekly tickets cost around £1.
El Gouna beaches
El Gouna’s 10km beachfront is narrow and stony in places. Although it’s not the most attractive strip of coastline on the Red Sea, it is lapped by ankle-deep, iron-flat, aquamarine waters. You have to venture out quite far to enjoy a real plunge.
Zeytuna Beach is on its own island surrounded by the sea and lagoons. You can reach it via a shuttle boat from the Downtown area or by crossing a bridge. A 400m jetty extending into the sea provides access to a coral reef plateau.
Sports-lovers can enjoy kite surfing (the best spot for this is Mangroovy Beach), windsurfing, water-skiing, soccer and beach volleyball as well as rides on a sea-go (like a jet-ski but slower). There are also 40diving and snorkelling sites.
El Gouna sightseeing
There are no cultural sights in El Gouna but if it’s your first trip to Egypt, you should consider a day or overnight trip to Cairowhere you’ll have time to tour the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, and visit local markets.
Excursions are also offered to Luxor where you can see the best of the West and East Banks of the Nile with stops at the Valley of the Kings, Ramses Temple, Memnon Colossi, the Alabaster Workshop and Karnak Temple.
Guided tours via bus or plane to both cities can be booked at your hotel or at one of the resort’s travel agencies.
El Gouna’s family attractions
Take a one-hour boat trip around El Gouna’s man-made lagoons – it’s a great way to get a feel for the place. You’ll have a chance to ogle everything from big five hotel complexes to Nubian-style (traditional Egyptian) luxury villas.
Thrill-seekers should also do the hair-raising, canyon quad biking safari where you can ride at break-neck speeds amid towering desert mountains, meet local Bedouins and smoke a sheesha pipe before watching a spectacular desert sunset.
El Gouna day trips
Boat charters offer regular day trips to Gobal Island, 2.5 hours away from the resort. Once you reach the uninhabited, rocky island with its deserted white sand beaches, you can swim or snorkel to shore where a BBQ lunch will be prepared packed with kebabs, salad, fish , pasta and fresh fruit. This excursion is great for families and divers.
El Gouna eating
The resort offers a Dine Around programme which ensures that, unlike most package breaks, you’re not confined to your hotel at meal times. It enables full and half-board guests to feast on everything from Thai to French and Italian in several participating hotels. The seafood buffet at the Sheraton Miramar Resort in particular makes this worth splurging out for. Cheaper cafes and restaurants are dotted around Abu Tig Marina and the Downtown area.
If you want to try Egyptian fare, meat kofta and kebabs are popular. Seafood and fish dishes are excellent while vegetarians will have plenty to choose from with dishes like ta’amiyya (falafel), hummus and baba ghanoug (eggplant and tahina). Egyptian bakeries are wonderful, with numerous breads and sweet honeyed pastries.
El Gouna nightlife
Apart from hotel entertainment, you could head to the smart Abu Tig Marina, which hosts a weekly Friday night street festival featuring whirling dervishes and singers.
There’s also a weekly Oasis Dinner where holidaymakers are shuttled from the resort to a giant Bedouin tent in the shadown of the nearby Eastern Desert Mountains. It’s a rather tacky affair featuring camel rides, belly dancers and plenty of audience participation.
Clubs, bars, a casino and even an Irish bar can be found in the Downtown area. The marina’s also worth checking out for smarter watering holes. If you holiday in the off peak summer months, bear in mind that there will be fewer partygoers.
El Gouna shopping
The best bet for souvenir shopping is Downtown, where there’s a cluster of boutique-style stores selling everything from carpets, ceramics and artworks to sheesha pipes, brassware, leather goods, spices and clothes. Bargaining is allowed but the hassle factor is thankfully absent.
Don’t forget the outdoor Art Village featuring handicrafts and paintings. Remember that many shops may shut in the afternoon but reopen until well into the evening.