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7 Tropical Islands You Won’t Believe Are In Egypt

When you think of Egypt, ‘tropical’ isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind. Desert, maybe. Sandy, sure. But tropical?

It’s true though: the Red Sea is the world’s northernmost tropical sea, and Egypt has the soft white sand beaches, warm waters and abundant coral and marine life to prove it. (There’s a reason we’re one of the best diving destinations in the world!)

So next time you’re in Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera (that should really be on your to-do list by the way) hop on a boat and check out these stunning, remote tropical islands. They’re not well known, even by locals, so you won’t have to worry about crowds interfering with your ‘#TropicalParadise’ moment.

1. Giftun Islands

Location: Hurghada

These two islands are Giftun El Kabeer (Big Giftun) and Giftun el Sagheer (Little Giftun), but Big Giftun is the one where the real action is at because it’s home to beach havens Mahmya and Orange Bay. These daytime destinations offer beach restaurants, bars and water activities as well as bathrooms and showers for those who’ve spent a long day diving or snorkeling and want to kick back and relax.

2. Qulaan Islands

Qulaan Islands. 7 Tropical Islands You Won’t Believe Are In Egypt
Photo credit: Farida Bustani (@faridabustani)

Location: Wadi El Gemal National Park

Qulaan Islands are an archipelago of four islands in a protected bay in the Wadi El Gemal National Park in Egypt’s Deep South, in the Hamata area. 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 from the Hamata marina and spend a few hours picnicking, swimming and snorkeling on the islands.

3. Pharaoh’s Island

Pharaoh's Island. 7 Tropical Islands You Won’t Believe Are In Egypt
Photo credit: Dronestagram

Location: Taba

Also known as Coral Island due to the adjacent reef, Pharaoh’s Island is in the Gulf of Aqaba and is on the ‘Tentative List’ of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites (for our article on Egypt’s seven World Heritage Sites, head here). Back in the Middle Ages, the Christian Crusaders built a citadel on the island to protect the route between Cairo and Damascus. It was later taken over by Salah El Din (leader of the Islamic Ayyubid Dynasty) in 1170, and although the citadel passed hands afterwards, it’s still known until today as Salah El Deen’s Castle. Today the island is a popular diving and tourist attraction for Taba visitors.

4. White Island

Location: Ras Mohamed National Park

Around 10 km from Sharm el Sheikh, in the protected Ras Mohamed marine park, is a white sandbar island called (for obvious reasons) White Island. This plateau is where the waters from the Gulf of Suez meet the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, and sitting on the island you can see Africa to your left and Asia to your right. It's a great spot for swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing and you can easily reach it by boat from Sharm or Ras Mohamed.

5. Tawila Island

Location: El Gouna

Located 24 km off the coast of El Gouna, Tawila Island is an uninhabited island popular with kitesurfers and those looking to spend the day on a pristine white sand beach. Tawila has zero amenities so you need to bring your own food, drinks and equipment (but please make sure to leave the beaches as pristine as you found them!). You can arrange for a boat to take you on a day trip to Tawila and back from El Gouna.

Local tip: a resort is being built on Tawila (its first ever development!) so try to visit while it's still empty.

6. Zabargad/St. John’s Island

Zabargad. 7 Tropical Islands You Won’t Believe Are In Egypt

Location: Elba National Park

Ever wondered about the stretch of the Red Sea between Marsa Alam and Sudan? It’s known as the Deep South, where the tiny coastal towns/villages of Hamata and Wadi Lahami are, right before you reach the Shalateen and Halayeb protected areas. Thanks to national parks like Elba, this pristine stretch of Red Sea is completely untouched and unspoiled.

Zabargad (St. John’s in English) is a group of islands known not only for its diving, but for being geologically unique -- it’s believed to be uplifted mantle. Topaz was also found on the island back in Ptolemaic times.

7. Shadwan Island

Shadwan Island. 7 Tropical Islands You Won’t Believe Are In Egypt
Photo credit: Kenzie Kashmiri

Location: Northeast of El Gouna

One of the largest islands in the Red Sea, Shadwan used to be an Egyptian military base and was the target of an Israeli heliborne raid in 1970. Most buildings were demolished except the Shadwan Lighthouse, which was built in 1889, and until today the island remains empty save for divers, fishers and other Red Sea Riviera tourists.

You might also like to read: 9 World-Class Beaches in Egypt


I remember Giftun Island from only my second visit to Egypt.

The first was 5 nights in Cairo in 1991. We did our own thing there, including a day out to Alexandria by train.

Our hotel bar man told us how to get there, after the tour operator rep said it would be £25pp by private taxi and the only way we could go...

The day return train tickets cost us £3 (in total) for us both.

The second was in the June of 1994, with friends and family relatives and a 2 week trip staying in Luxor.

We took an overnight stay in Hurghada to go snorkeling off our boat the next morning and later, from the island itself…

Replying to

What a great trip back in 1991, pre internet and smartphones. Egypt's so different now! And we thoroughly commend you for your ability to jump into a microbus, that's an acquired skill for sure. Egypt has so many different facets to it, even us locals barely scratch the surface of all there is to see and experience. We're happy you caught the Egypt bug :)


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