Chances are you may have heard of Sharm el Sheikh or Hurghada when it comes to Egypt’s best Red Sea destinations, but what’s quickly gaining in popularity after decades of being a local secret is Marsa Alam.
Marsa Alam used to be a remote fishing village in Egypt’s southern Red Sea coast, far away from the hustle and bustle of other tourist hotspots. And that exact reason is why it’s still such an amazing spot to dive, swim and snorkel – the beach and sea are literally almost untouched still, and eco-conscious efforts are being made to keep it that way.
Should you go to Marsa Alam?
First of all, let’s talk about if Marsa Alam is the right destination for you, and then let’s talk about the best activities there are to do in Marsa Alam.
Go to Marsa Alam if: you want to scuba dive, snorkel, kitesurf, participate in other water activities or just have a sunny beach vacation at your resort
Don’t go to Marsa Alam if: you’re looking for restaurants, nightlife or easy access to other places outside your resort
Local tip: Marsa Alam gets extremely hot in the summer months (June through to August), so it might not be the best time to engage in some of these activities – the water gets super warm too. Marsa Alam is at its most ideal during spring, fall, and the early and tail ends of winter.
So if Marsa Alam sounds like the destination for you, then let’s dive (haha) right into the best things to do there:
1. Scuba dive in some of the best diving spots in the world
Egypt’s Red Sea wins awards year after year as being one of the best places to dive globally, and Marsa Alam is home to many of those spots. The great thing about diving in Marsa Alam instead of Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh is that you don’t have to worry about the reefs being crowded. If you're really lucky, in certain seasons you might even see a whale shark!
Best Marsa Alam dive spots: Elphinstone Reef, Daedalus, the Dolphin reefs (more info below) and Abu Dabbab Bay (more info below)
2. Snorkel (potentially with dugongs or sea turtles)
You can easily snorkel from the beach of your resort or ecolodge, and you’ll be impressed by the array of fish and other marine life you can see so close to shore.
Even better, in Abu Dabbab Bay (which is a great place for beginner divers), or nearby Marsa Mubarak, snorkelers might even be lucky enough to see sea turtles and Marsa Alam’s resident dugongs (also known as a sea cow, a close cousin of the manatee). These dugongs are elusive but they love the warm shallow waters of Abu Dabbab Bay and many a snorkeler and diver have seen them there. Who knows, you may be one of the lucky ones!
3. Swim with dolphins in the wild
Who wouldn’t love to swim with a dolphin? And even better, a dolphin in its natural habitat, who is happy and playful and not forced to interact with humans if it doesn’t want to.
Marsa Alam has two different reefs, Satayah and Shaab Samadai, that are known to be frequented by dolphins (so much so that they’re both called ‘Dolphin House’ or ‘Dolphin Reef’. Shaab Samadi is closer to Marsa Alam, whereas Satayah is further down into the Deep South.
4. Explore and swim in Nayzak
Off the beaten path on an empty stretch of coast is one of Marsa Alam’s hidden gems: Nayzak. This little natural pool of water, shaped like an eye and surrounded by rock, was believed by locals to be the result of a meteorite hitting the beach (hence the name: ‘nayzak’ means ‘meteorite’ in Arabic).
While geologists have unfortunately disproved this beloved myth, Nayzak still remains one of the coolest places to swim in all of Marsa Alam. There’s nothing else to do there but the natural wonder of it makes it worth the visit.
5. Day trip to Wadi el Gemal
Less than an hour’s drive south of Marsa Alam is Wadi el Gemal (Valley of the Camels), an Egyptian national park that encompasses both desert and sea. The biodiversity of its large mammals, reptiles, birds, plants and untouched marine life make it unlike anywhere else in Egypt -- and its coastal area alone is home to 450 species of coral and over 1,200 species of fish.
For a small entrance fee, you can enter the park with a guide (the park is massive!), and spend the day by its stunning beaches (below), or explore inland, where the oldest emerald mines in the world are (called ‘Cleopatra’s Mines’). You can still see the remains of the old Roman mining settlement Sikait, which they called Mons Smaragdus, which means ‘Emerald Mountain’.
While driving through Wadi el Gemal, you can see everything from wild camels to acacia trees to Egypt’s last desert gazelle.
6. Swimming, sunbathing and snorkeling at Sharm el Luli (Ras Hankorab)
Sharm el Luli (known by locals as Ras Hankorab) is known for being the most beautiful beach in Wadi el Gemal, and people can spend the day there and then drive back to Marsa Alam at night.
It’s completely undeveloped, meaning there are no restaurants, bars or even bathrooms – this stunning white sand lagoon and virgin reef are completely untouched. Even during Marsa Alam’s high season, Sharm el Luli never gets as crowded as other Marsa Alam beaches.
Local tip: make sure to bring your own lunch, drinks and bathroom essentials because there’s absolutely nothing here. Oh and snorkeling equipment is a must, because the snorkeling at Sharm el Luli is fantastic.
7. Take a boat to Qulaan Islands
Qulaan Islands (also known as Hamata islands) are an archipelago of four islands in a protected bay off of Wadi el Gemal. These empty, remote islands are known for their mangrove trees and ecosystem built around the mangroves; marine life flourishes under the trees and it’s a great bird-watching spot.
You can take a boat and spend a few hours picnicking, swimming and snorkeling on the islands.
Read more: 9 World-Class Beaches in Egypt
8. Kitesurf in Marsa Alam’s flat seas
Egypt is one of the best places to kitesurf in the world (read more: 7 Best Kitesurfing Spots in Egypt), and Marsa Alam has several great spots due to its flat water but abundance of windy days, plus the water is warm for most of the year.
There are several kitesurf centers where you can either take a beginner’s course, or if you’re more advanced, then you can rent your equipment and after a long day of kiting enjoy a drink at the adjacent beach bars.
Best places to kitesurf in Marsa Alam: The Lagoon at Royal Tulip Beach Resort, El Naaba Lagoon and Blue Lagoon next to Hotel Dream Lagoon Beach
9. Desert safari via quad bike, Jeep or camel
If you’ve had your fill of water activities and want to experience some desert adventure, then look no further than a desert safari. You can either do the safari via quad bike/ATV that you ride yourself (with a guide leading the way), or a Jeep with an experienced driver, or even by camel if you want a more slow-paced, traditional way of exploring the desert.
The guides in Marsa Alam know the interesting desert destinations to take you, and make sure to ask about Wadi Hammamat a little north of Marsa Alam, where you can find pharaonic graffiti (yes, you read that right) from when Wadi Hammamat was smack dab in the middle of an integral trade route between Arab merchants and Egyptians, and part of the famous Silk Road trade with the Han Dynasty in China.
10. Day trip to Luxor
It would be a shame to be so close to Luxor, aka paradise for anyone interested in Ancient Egypt, and not visit. Luxor is around a 5 hour drive from Marsa Alam, so it’s doable in a day (albeit a long day). You can either go via tour bus arranged with an agency, or hire a private car and driver if you want your trip to be more private and flexible.
Alternatively you can spend one night in Luxor and then head back to Marsa Alam the next day.