Desert or sea? Both. Car or plane? Car. Hotel reservation? No, tents. Destination? Marsa Alam.
Planning my holidays has always been spontaneous. Within Egypt, I consider myself well-traveled. Over the years, along with a few friends, I have developed a penchant for everything that is unconventional, rugged and unmarred by commercialization.
Recently, five of us decided to drive down to Marsa Alam, two and half hours south of Hurghada. Geared up with tents, sleeping bags, canned food, drinks, an ice box and a guitar, we took off in the early hours of the morning.
Contrary to its neighbors in the north, Marsa Alam still maintains the features of a simple village. Although a number of hotels have created luxurious resorts after the opening of its airport in 2001, much of its coast still houses hut-based diving centers.
With no reservations ahead of our arrival, we scouted the coast in search of a good camping spot. We arrived at Nakari, an ecolodge village situated 18 km south of the city of Marsa Alam.
Dating back to the Roman Empire, this piece of land stood as a main harbor for trade. Now, it has been refashioned into a serene escape from the bustling city, offering an extensive diving program that operates both on and off the campsite.
After a warm welcome by the staff, and only a few minutes to sunset, we quickly pitched our tents across from the main hut only a few meters from the shore. Amongst all guests there at the time, we were the only ones staying in our own tents.
From there on, for three consecutive days, we spent our evenings in front of the tents on two rugs we brought along and spread out, chatting and playing music. Other guests at Nakari would pass by for a chat or a snack, and passersby would occasionally look at us and smile, “This is a brilliant idea, they’d shout.
Every morning, we drove the car along the coast, alternating routes south and north of the city. The idea was to beach-hop, to spend every morning on a different beach in order to experience the natural beauty away from any human interference, any buildings, any noise.
The crisp turquoise water coupled with the uneven mountains in the distance and a starry sky at night were a breath of fresh air. At a place like that, boredom is not conceivable.
Generally, traveling with guys means that you’ll rarely eat proper food.
One morning, two of them brought out long wooden sticks and began sharpening. “We’re making spears, they said. I shook my head and turned to my book, thinking they weren’t serious. I was wrong.
On our last day, to our surprise, they came out of the water with six or seven miniature crabs. “Here, lunch.
In a small pot on our camping stove, we boiled the freshly caught white meat along with a batch of clams we collected from the shore. Drenched in freshly squeezed lemon juice and tiny bit of olive oil, it was one of the freshest meals we had, and definitely the most fun to prepare.
On our way back, we stopped in El Gouna. I was again reminded why I chose to stay away from popular vacation spots during national holidays. Everything is exaggerated: the orderly manner in which the town is built, the cars, the signs, the parties.
There’s a particular something that we each love about staying at a five-star hotel; the fluffy pillows, the extravagant interiors, the star treatment or the array of delicacies on offer.
Whatever it may be, from time to time, consider a trip back down on earth and head south to Marsa Alam; you won’t regret it.
Marsa Alam, known for its spectacular reefs, mangroves and numerous dolphin sights, sits on the junction between the road along the west coast of the Red Sea and the road coming from Edfu, which sits on the Nile river about 230 kilometers inland.
If you don t want to take your car, Marsa Alam is also accessible by bus (East Delta 02 2576 6514). You can catch a bus at Al Torgoman or Almaza stations.
Nakari houses 28 chalets, 11 huts, 25 tents and a limited number of royal tents, ensuring ultimate comfort. Prices fall between ?15 and ?55 a night, all on full-board basis.