Marta's Photo Album of Egypt

December 2006

Getting there
We departed Johannesburg on the services of Egypt Air at 21H00. The aircraft was fabulous being a new airbus 330, the seats were very comfortable and the engines could barely be heard at take off. We settled in comfortably to begin our journey to Cairo which takes around seven hours and forty five minutes. Dinner was really good and consisted of a choice of beef, chicken or fish. The crew were very polite and offered a selection of fruit juices and soft drinks at a consistent rate. During our flight we enjoyed a selection of the latest movies on overhead screens. Soon it was time for breakfast and then landing in Cairo. We landed ever so smoothly and safely at 05H30.

We were met and assisted by Wafaa Turk the Tourism Manager of Tresor Travel and were whisked through passport control and customs in a flash. Cairo International has been totally upgraded and rebuilt and is a really great airport now. The duty free shop on the way out has an excellent selection of perfumes and other items of interest. For those wanting to buy alcoholic drinks duty free, these need to be purchased at duty free within 24 hours of landing in Egypt as there are no bottle stores. Cairo greeted us with a temperature of 11 degrees - a little on the cold side for my liking, but it was winter after all!

Marsa Alam

We transferred to the domestic airport, which is a comfortable walking distance from the international airport, and checked in for our flight to Hurghada. The flying time to Hughada is around one hour. On arrival we were met by Hassan (the sales and marketing manager of the Hermes Group) and Ashraf (the dive operations manager of Equinox Divers).

Marsa Alam sits on the T-junction between the Red Sea coast road and the road from Edfu which sits on the Nile about 230km inland. This road, which was originally Edfu built by Ptolemy 11 in the Greek period, passes through some historic landscape where the ancient Egyptians mined much of their gold. In addition, many rock inscriptions from as early as the pre dynastic period may also be found along this route near Marsa Alam. The smooth rock faces were an ideal canvas for ancient graffiti depicting animals. Marsa Alam used to be described as a fishing village on Egypt’s Red Sea coast. However it is rapidly developing, as hotels are being built at a consistent rate along the coast line. After a four hour road trip through the desert we arrived at the Equinox Resort. The resort is built with all rooms facing the sea and there is no other hotel nearby. The background to the resort is the granite mountains and the desert, these two features combined add to a total sense of tranquility. The hotel itself is a three star, with the rooms being of generous proportion, with a mini bar in each room. The rooms were cleaned and neatened up twice a day. Our lunch was set out on the terrace overlooking the ocean. We had a platter of fresh fish and prawns with a variety of salads, which was especially arranged for us by Hassan. It was very fresh and delicious. The dinners were mostly buffet style and one could choose pasta, shish kebabs, fish, vegetables or salads, which was always followed by a selection of Egyptian deserts and fruits.

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We arranged to start our diving the following day after having inspected the Padi Dive centre, which we found to be outstanding in everyway. They have a number of instructors together with dive masters, and as we dived with most of them we found them all to be very professional and enthusiastic in their work. Our first two dives were shore entry to the house reef. Asraf was our personal guide and we found him to be very professional and observant in spotting the tiniest marine life along the way. We were intrigued by the beauty of the corals and the variety of marine life so close to the shore. This later proved to be an excellent site for snorkeling. Booties are required as the shore is slightly rocky.

The following day was very exciting as we made our way to the jetty to board the 30 meter day boat, on which we were to spend the day doing two dives. We set sail at around 08h30 and arrived at Elphinestone an hour later. This dive site is well known in the area, for sightings of hammerhead sharks and other species .The visibility was superb as we descended down the 400 meter wall. Along the wall one could view the spectacular gorgonian fans, soft and hard corals with enormous barracuda in the distance.

Once again I felt I was in a soup bowl of fish, but then this is the Red Sea. The following dive was also on Ephinestone, where we had the privilege of seeing 3 white tip reef sharks and great barracuda. Towards the end of the dive, we were greeted by an enormous Oceanic White tip reef shark. Asher armed with the camera was able to take many close ups of this amazing shark. The people on board were thrilled as the shark remained close to the boat for a long while. A delicious lunch was served and after we were fed and relaxed we made our way back across the ocean. A fantastic day of diving on board a five star boat, excellent equipment, wonderful crew and superb service, what more could you want. Back on land later in the afternoon the wind had picked up and this was ideal for kite surfing. The course is available at the resort. The following day we made our way to the jetty yet for another dive safari. The two dives were both equally fantastic and consisted of numerous swims through underwater caverns and overhangs, all being punctuated by soft and hard coral formations. The scenery alone was fantastic and we were greeted by a giant spotted moray eel, moon wrasse, sweet lips, only to be surprised by a huge napoleon wrasse towards the end of the dive. The last day was spent relaxing on the beach and snorkeling. The area is untouched and has a vast variety of marine life and corals to be seen.

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The following morning we were transferred in a land rover through the desert to the port of Hurghada. At Hurghada we boarded an enormous and comfortable fast ferry and arrived in Sharm el Sheikh in less than two hours. On arrival we enlisted the help of a porter for around 20 EP. Khaled Amin the owner of Sub Sinai Adventures was personally there to greet us and transferred us to Dahab.

Dahab means gold in Arabic and it is said that the name was given by the Bedouins, who likened the shimmering sands to gold dust. Dahab is located 100km northwest of Sharm El Sheikh and is considered one of the south Sinai’s most treasured diving spots. It is famous for its golden beaches and deceptively deep diving sites such as the Blue Hole and the Canyon. Dahab is surrounded by the towering granite mountains and flat desert expanses. It is also known for desert safaris, quad biking, horse riding and St Katherine’s Monastery and Mt Sinai. Mt Sinai is 2285 meters high and some people believe that his is where God delivered his ten commandments to Moses.

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We checked into the Oricana Hotel, which is a pleasant little hotel built around a sparkling pool and is located on the main road. Our room was simply furnished but clean and included a mini bar fridge. We were able to walk to Sub Sinai’s dive centre, where we met Waleed who would be our dive master during our stay. The dive centre is a Padi Gold 5* owned and managed by Khaled and his Austrian born wife Gaby have who is also an instructor, together they run this successful and personalized business. We began our diving the following day with Waleed to the Canyon and the Blue Hole. Waleed did a through briefing with attention to detail and safety which is so important.

The Canyon was spectacular due to the fact that you drop down through a tunnel and swim through an enormous cave, it does not feel claustrophobic at all as the interesting rock formations and marine life are so distracting. At the exit of this dive you are surrounded by thousands of little glass fish which is absolutely spectacular. Our second dive to the Blue Hole was awesome. Here you drop down through a tunnel of rocks and swim out at around 20 meters into the Blue. During this dive you get the feeling of infinity of an endless blue ocean with no bottom. Towards the end of the dive you ascend over a coral wall and enter what is known as the cup of the Blue Hole. A variety of soft and hard corals can be seen between the rock face and numerous types of fish such as octopus and geometric moray eel can be observed. This dive is very special and famous in Dahab. We found it to be spectacular and felt it should be dived at least twice on a trip.

The following day we dived Eel Garden which is literally a garden of thousands of eels along a sandy slope with crystal clear visibility. The next dive was to Islands, where you enter the site through a small canyon and arrive at a view of blue and surrounded by amazing forest of hard and soft corals. We spotted huge puffer fish,clear fin lion fish, Russels lion fish and three crocodile fish. This dive was fabulous as it truly felt as if you were in another world. The following day we traveled South to The Three Pools. This is a spectacular site set against the back drop of the granite, mountains that meet the sea in the distance.Three Pools is literally 3 pools connected together and there are numerous glass fish in this area, this would also be ideal for snorkeling. The average water temperature at this time of the year was around 23 degrees and 5mm wetsuits are recommended, whilst the visibility was never less than 20 meters. All the diving we did was ten star and each one was special on its own. Most important was Waleed, who proved to be really outstanding in his ability to spot marine life along the way.

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So far we had enjoyed both areas and found both dive centres to be of very high standards with exceptional staff , instructors and dive masters.

Later that afternoon we had decided to go quad biking in the desert. Khaled had arranged this for us. The operation was professional in explaining the handling of the bikes and we were each given a helmet and an individual guide. I had a Mountain Bear 250 and Ash being experienced rode a 450. We began our journey along a short tar rode before we entered the silence of the desert. It was a totally exhilarating experience and after around 45 minutes we reached an open area with breath taking views of the Sinai desert. Asher had gone on to drink tea with the Bedouins. We viewed the setting sun and I was totally amazed at the raw beauty.

The evenings in Dahab are great as you can walk along the promenade and choose between a number of Bedouin style, and Italian restaurants and pubs along the way.

We tried a number of restaurants and found the food well presented, tasty and moderately priced. We especially enjoyed the pizzas and the pastas which cost around R25.00 for a serving. Beers are around R 15.00 – R 20.00. The promenade which used to be a sandy road has been totally upgraded into a cobble stone walkway having modern restaurants along the way, but fortunately the ambiance of the place is not lost.

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Sharm El Sheikh

We transferred from our hotel early in the morning and drove through the Sinai towards Sharm El Sheikh, straight to the jetty to board our day boat the Pharoah. We were to set sail to Ras Mohammed for a days diving. The boat was well equipped and had a comfortable saloon and large upper deck. The weather that day was not kind for sailing and rather on the windy and cold side to be out on the deck. This however did not deter us from looking forward to a great day of diving. Our first dive was at Marsa Ghozlani where the reef gently slopes with numerous hard and soft corals amongst which we sighted nemos, parrot fish and the dainty featherstars, once again the visibility was fantastic. After the dive we were ready for lunch which was ready and waiting for us and we were not disappointed. The chef was outstanding having prepared a variety of pasta, chicken Egyptian style with okra ( a middle eastern vegetable ) fresh fish and salads. The second dive was difficult as the wind had picked up, although under the water calmness pervaded as we watched all the fish swim by. The day of diving had ended all too soon and we were transferred to the New Tiran Hotel in Naama Bay. This was a four star category, which we found comfortable and clean. The breakfast was buffet style with a large selection of food. The following day we spent relaxing on the beach were most of the hotels have their own private beaches for their guests. At night we enjoyed walks down the busy promenade in between excursions to shops. There are many touristy items on sale, but what caught our eye was a Cressi Sub dive shop where the prices were half of what one would pay in South Africa. The restaurants are numerous and well priced with a selection of seafood dishes as well as International cuisine. After 21H00 Sharm springs to life, all over the streets music can be heard as the night life begins. Sharm is the Riveira of the Red Sea. A wonderful place to visit if you are looking for action and parties and just great fun.

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Cairo home to 14 million people which houses the world’s highest density of people per kilometre has a fantastic energy as the city never seems to sleep. Cairo has much to offer the tourist, the highlight of which are the pyramids at Giza, the magnificent treasures of the Egyptian Museum, strolling through Coptic Cairo, drifting on the Nile in a felucca, or hanging out in an ahwa drinking tea and smoking a waterpipe. A visit to the famous Khan-al-Khalili is most interesting as this is where Cairenes have plied their trades since the 14th Century. Today the area is an immense conglomeration of markets and shops in amongst the ancient architecture. Bargaining is the order of the day here and practically anything can be bought ranging from soaps to silver ware, amongst numerous items of interest. A dinner on a Nile cruise boat is a festive occasion with belly dancers.

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In Conclusion
Egypt is an intensely vibrant destination to visit. It is welcoming, tourist friendly and exceptionally safe offering a variety of holiday options. Egypt has much to offer in the way of historical, cultural tours and special interest tours, including safaris into the desert and oasis’s as well as beach holidays.The Red Sea is unique in its situation of having the granite mountains in the background providing a stark contrast between water and sand. The diving and marine life is abundant due to the strict protectorate of this area and the Red Sea is rated as one of the top dive destinations in the world..

This all combined together make Egypt a very worthwhile destination to visit and promises to be an unforgettable experience!

With Special Thanks
This trip was made possible by the assistance of the following :
A special thanks to Mr Yasser EL- Ramly Regional Manager of Egypt Air for his assistance in this promotion.
A special thanks to Ms. Ronel Smith Sales and Marketing Manager of Egypt Air for the co ordination in this promotion.
A special thanks to Mr Hassan El Fatarany Sales and Marketing Manager of the Hermes Group for the kind hospitality, complimentary accommodation, wonderful meals and great scuba diving at the Equinox Resort.

A special thanks to Mr Khaled Amin of Sub Sinai Adventures for the kind hospitality , complimentary transfers and fantastic dive safaris in Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh.

A special thanks to Tresor Travel for the kind hospitality and the complimentary transfers they provided. A special thanks to Ms Wafaa Turk for arranging our stay as special guests at the owners villa in Heliopolis.