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.
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1. Giftun Islands
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.
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2. Qulaan Islands
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
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. Abu Minqar Island
Abu Minqar is located in the same Red Sea area as the Giftun Islands, but unlike Big Giftun, you won’t find any beach restaurants or bars there… or even more than a handful of people. It’s known for its mangrove trees and crystal clear waters.
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
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
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.
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