Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera is immensely popular with both tourists and locals alike for several reasons: a) its year-round warm weather, b) its white sand beaches, c) its awesome diving and d) the fact that it’s away from all the hustle and bustle of city life (especially if you live in Cairo, the difference is night and day).
Most tourists usually book an all-inclusive trip to Hurghada or Sharm el Sheikh through a tour agency, and while that obviously is a guaranteed great time, it’d be a shame to think that’s the extent of what the Red Sea Riviera has to offer.
What exactly is Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera?
First of all, let’s explain what exactly we’re talking about when we say ‘Red Sea Riviera’; Egypt’s riviera is divided between mainland Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, and includes the Red Sea’s two gulfs, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.
All of the towns/cities/resorts/parks you can stay at on the Riviera have one major thing in common: their awesome beaches and weather. Everything else (type of accommodation, activities, amenities, etc.) differ from place to place.
The main places to stay on the Sinai Red Sea Riviera are: Ras Sudr, Ras Mohammed National Park, Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba, Ras Shetan and Taba.
The main places to stay on Egypt’s mainland Red Sea Riviera are: Ain El Sokhna, El Gouna, Hurghada, Sahl Hasheesh, Makadi Bay, Soma Bay, Safaga, Marsa Alam and the Deep South.
Ok, great. But again, where should you stay? We’re going to break down the main things you should know about each Red Sea destination, so you can choose what actually suits *you* and not just some tour agency.
Sinai Red Sea Riviera:
Ras Sudr (pronounced Ras Sedr) is the first Red Sea Riviera destination you’ll hit when you cross over from mainland Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula. It’s a small stretch of coast on the Gulf of Suez inlet of the Red Sea, and only recently began to rise in popularity due to its ideal kitesurfing conditions.
It’s still pretty underdeveloped, but you’ll find a handful of beach hotels to stay at. Most people spend their days at the various kite centers which also double up as restaurants/beach bars.
Go if you want: to kitesurf or to enjoy a Sinai beach without having to drive too far from Cairo
Best way to get there: it’s about a 3 hour drive from Cairo
Ras Mohammed is an Egyptian national park at the southernmost tip of Sinai, where the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba meets the Gulf of Suez and the mixing of water leads to brightly-colored, healthy coral reefs. Because of that, Ras Mohammed is known for its awesome diving (more details at: 7 Best Diving Destinations in Egypt’s Red Sea for Divers of All Levels), so lots of people go for day trips to dive or snorkel in the national park before it closes at sunset.
There’s also a designated area of the park (Marsa Bareika) which allows overnight camping on the beach (read more at: Camping in Egypt: 7 Beautiful and Remote Places To Camp).
Go if you want: to dive/snorkel or camp on a beach.
Best way to get there: fly to Sharm el Sheikh and drive (about 45 minutes), or drive from Cairo (about 6 hours).
Sharm El Sheikh
Sharm el Sheikh has been an international beach destination darling for decades, with dozens of direct flights between Europe and the Sharm Airport daily. Besides its all-inclusive resorts and relaxing getaway feel, it's also world-famous for scuba diving. According to Dive Magazine, “Sharm El Sheikh has been, for many years, the favourite Egyptian destination for scuba divers, and has probably contributed more to the European dive business than any other resort in the world.”
So it’s safe to say that Sharm El Sheikh is the most famous Egyptian Red Sea Riviera destination internationally -- and they make sure to keep it that way, with budget hotels, dive centers, restaurants and bars galore in the touristic areas, and stunning 5 star resorts away from the crowds. It’s also a good base for trips to the Sinai Mountains, St. Catherine’s Monastery and Ras Mohammed National Park.
Go if you want: a beach holiday with lots to do, or a diving trip
Best way to get there: fly to Sharm el Sheikh Airport
This little bohemian town is smaller, quieter and less commercial than its Red Sea Riviera neighbor Sharm el Sheikh, but the diving is just as good. Home to world-renowned dive sites like the Blue Hole, Dahab pulls in its own fair share of tourists, but those who want to experience a more laid-back vacation.
The main area of town is its seaside promenade, full of local and quirkily-named restaurants and shops. There are also hostels and budget hotels galore. You can also hike to and camp in nearby Ras Abu Galoum and Blue Lagoon. Similar to Sharm, Dahab is also a popular base for treks into the Sinai Mountains and St. Catherine’s Monastery.
Go if you want: great diving in a casual beach town
Best way to get there: fly to Sharm el Sheikh and drive there, about an hour away
Nestled between mountains and the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba is a strip of coastline called Ras Shetan, between the towns of Nuweiba and Taba on the Sinai peninsula.
Both Nuweiba (a little beach town) and Ras Shetan are known for their get-away-from-it-all beach camps, usually run by local Bedouins. The camps are a mix of beach huts or bare-bone bungalows, and you’re more than welcome to set up your own tents right on the beach. At night, there’s usually a large campfire where the Bedouins and guests from all over the world talk, play instruments and sing.
Nuweiba and Ras Shetan are also a good place to stay if you want to explore the Colored Canyon and Wadi Wishwashi in the nearby Nuweiba mountains.
Go if you want: to camp on a beach and disconnect
Best way to get there: fly to Sharm El Sheikh and drive (2 hours), or drive from Cairo (6-8 hour drive).
The northernmost resort town on the Red Sea Riviera, Taba is known for its serene resorts and its border crossing with Eilat, Israel, where tourists can pass from one country to the other without having to fly.
Taba’s Red Sea coast is very similar to Nuweiba and Ras Shetan’s, but where the latter is known for its sparse beach camps, Taba is known for its 5 star amenities like golf courses and spas (so basically if you enjoy camping and roughing it, stick to Nuweiba and Ras Shetan, and if luxury is more up your alley, then Taba is for you).
Taba also offers diving, especially near Pharaoh’s Island, home to the Salah El Din citadel.
Go if you want: luxury on the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba coast
Best way to get there: fly to Sharm El Sheikh and drive (2.5 hours), or drive from Cairo (6-8 hour drive).
Mainland Red Sea Riviera
And we’re back to the mainland, folks. These Riviera destinations form a neat line down the almost straight coast of Eastern Egypt.
Ain El Sokhna
The closest Red Sea Riviera destination to Cairo, out of all mainland and Sinai destinations (it can take as little as an hour to arrive at Ain El Sokhna).
Ain El Sokhna is full of residential beach compounds, but also a fair share of hotels. It’s known for its crystal clear calm water and year-round sun.
Go if you want: a convenient and close beach destination to Cairo
Best way to get there: drive from Cairo (1-2 hours)
El Gouna’s a modern resort town spanning over 10 km of pristine Red Sea coast, with lagoons throughout, and their architecture is inspired by traditional Egyptian homes in the countryside and Upper Egypt. It’s a town equally as popular with Egyptians as it is with tourists.
It was the first destination in the Middle East and Africa to receive the Global Green Award, which is given by the UN to cities making substantial efforts, progress and improvements in the field of environmental sustainability.
While smaller than Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh, El Gouna has a plethora of hotels, restaurants, bars and activities for both adults and families.
Go if you want: to stay in a clean and green resort town without giving up restaurants and nightlife.
Best way to get there: fly to Hurghada airport (30 mins from El Gouna), or drive from Cairo (about 4 hours).
Here’s our full, detailed local’s guide for El Gouna.
Hurghada, having spent the first hundred years of its life as a sleepy little fishing village, is now one of the most popular destinations in the world (don’t believe us? Ask TripAdvisor -- Hurghada is one of their 'Top 10 Most Popular Destinations' for 2022).
Hurghada is an eclectic mix of 5 star resorts and super budget hotels, Red Sea islands and desert excursions, touristy promenades and dingier local areas… there’s something to see and do no matter your age or interests.
Go if you want: tons of diving centers and lots of hotel, restaurant and bar options
Best way to get there: fly to Hurghada Airport or drive from Cairo (4.5 hours)
Here’s our full, detailed local’s guide for Hurghada.
On most online booking sites, Sahl Hasheesh and Makadi Bay (below) are grouped together as ‘Hurghada’. And while they are indeed considered in the Hurghada ‘area’, they’re their own separate towns and very different from Hurghada proper.
Sahl Hasheesh is a resort town built on a bay in the Red Sea south of Hurghada back in the 1990s, and is known for its beautiful stretch of coastline and long boardwalk. It’s home to some of the most highly ranked beach resorts in the country, such as Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh and Baron Palace. Sahl Hasheesh doesn’t offer much in terms of restaurants or nightlife outside of the resorts - just an ‘Old Town’ with one or two spots.
Another claim to fame that Sahl Hasheesh has is its man-made sunken city -- a partially submerged city that acts like a reef and attracts both marine life and snorkelers galore.
Go if you want: to stay at a 5 star resort on a world-class beach
Best way to get there: fly into Hurghada airport then drive to Sahl Hasheesh (30 minutes).
Similar to Sahl Hasheesh, Makadi Bay is a compact touristic town with not much outside the various resorts. There are quite a few resorts though, most with pristine beachfront, multiple pools and all-inclusive packages.
Makadi Bay is also known for being one of the most family-friendly towns on the Red Sea Riviera due to its water parks, where kids (and adults) can spend days on end without getting bored.
Go if you want: a family-friendly resort vacation
Best way to get there: fly into Hurghada then drive to Makadi Bay (45 minutes).
A peninsula jutting into the Red Sea, Soma Bay is similar to Sahl Hasheesh and Makadi Bay, but much smaller. Because it’s surrounded by the sea on three sides, Soma Bay is famous for its water sports, especially kitesurfing and windsurfing due to the ideal wind conditions.
Soma Bay is home to only 5 beach resorts, so it’s a good place to go if you want to avoid the crowds found in other popular Red Sea Riviera destinations (Hurghada, Sharm el Sheikh, etc).
Go if you want: a 5 star vacation away from it all (and that includes other people)
Best way to get there: fly into Hurghada and drive to Soma Bay (an hour south).
A small port town on the Red Sea, Safaga differs dramatically from the rest of the mainland Red Sea Riviera destinations -- while most of them are modern towns completely dedicated to tourism, Safaga as a port town has existed for over 2,000 years, dating back to the Ptolemaic days when it was called Philotera.
Safaga these days is known mainly for its diving, with most visitors at the hotels there for the express purpose of diving.
Go if you want: to dive in a much emptier environment than the northern mainland Red Sea Riviera destinations
Best way to get there: fly into Hurghada airport and drive (an hour south).
Marsa Alam might not be as well known or frequently visited as Sharm El Sheikh or Hurghada when it comes to diving, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive (it might be even more so!). This coastal town is more off the beaten track for both Egyptians and foreigners alike, so it’s an excellent place if you want to relax and focus on diving and other sea activities. Accommodation is across the board, from 5 star hotels to sparse beach camps.
Famous dive sites like Elphinstone and Daedalus are must-sees for more advanced divers -- you can see anything from hammerhead sharks to manta rays and even whale sharks in these open sea sites. They’re accessible by either day trips from Marsa Alam or liveaboards.
Closer to the shore you can also see Egypt’s rare dugongs, a cousin of the manatee, who live in the warm shallow waters of Marsa Alam.
Go if you want: to dive at any time of the year
Best way to get there: fly into Marsa Alam Airport
The Deep South
Ever wondered about the stretch of the Red Sea far below Sinai and the popular Hurghada coast on mainland Egypt? 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. This pristine stretch of Red Sea is completely untouched and unspoiled.
It’s known for its diving; the water’s strong current leads to amazing drift diving, with an increased chance of seeing hammerhead sharks, pods of dolphins and manta rays.
Go if you want: to be away from it all, stay in beach camps and spend the day diving and snorkeling
Best way to get there: fly into Marsa Alam Airport, then drive south (about an hour and a half).
But at the end of the day, no matter where you stay on Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera, you’ll have an awesome time -- or even better, beach hop from town to town!
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