“ City: El Gouna / Country: Egypt / World Region: Africa „
El Gouna is a relatively new resort in Egypt that has been designed by Italian architect Alfredo Freda. It is 14 miles from Hurghada airport. There is also a local airport in Hurghada with incoming local and some international flights. El Gouna is a well established community and holiday resort. It even has its own school. El Gouna is Egypt's most environmentally-friendly holiday destination. It has 14 hotels and many private residences. There is a beautiful marina and over 6 miles of beach. A great deal of detail has gone into make this a beautiful resort.
I always look into a destination in great depth before booking but the reality of what I read about El Gouna and what we actually experienced were 2 different things. I would therefore like to share my experiences with you in the hope that you will see another side of El Gouna that I didn't read anywhere else.
We went to El Gouna last year and hired a beautiful villa out for the four of us for 2 weeks in April. The accommodation was absolutely amazing with its own pool. We were situated in the West golf villas about 3 miles away from the centre of town.
Our arrival to the villa was early evening so decided to freshen up and head into Town. We phoned for a tok tok but was told that they only seat 3 so we had to have 2. In the second week we found out that it is cheaper to hire a taxi if there is 4 of you and it's a lot more comfortable. The restaurants are plentiful, cheap and empty. All of the food that we ate during the 2 weeks was lovely if not exceptional, we never had a bad meal. The only drawback was that in such a civilized place there is not credit card facilities in any of the restaurants apart from hotel restaurants. I found this to be a nuisance having to take out cash from the cash machines that most days seemed to be experiencing problems. We met many other people who were experiencing the same problems trying to withdraw money. So I would advise you to take plenty of money with you.
After being kept awake during the night by the wind howling around outside and in! the shutters and doors rattling and banging all night we awoke to glorious sunshine and more gale force winds.
Our pool was spectacular but was only used a handful of times during our stay because it was too cold. The winds haunted us for almost the whole 2 weeks. sand was another big issue. It was being blown around everywhere, simple things like having a drink outside was impossible. Our villa had to be swept daily to rid us of the sand that managed to creep in through the windows and doors. All the food that I prepared in,our lovely kitchen managed to be peppered with sand.
I had read about the mosquitoes but was not aware of the problems they have with flies. We bought a fly swat and in 2 hours my daughter killed 200 that had landed on me whilst I was sunbathing. they drove us mad. On day 3 we headed off to the beach in the hope that we would leave behind the wind and flies. The sunbeds were expensive and we were told that we couldn't drink our own drinks there but had to buy any refreshments from their bar. We were then hassled every 5 minutes by men trying to sell you trips and trying to be your best friend.
The harbour is beautiful with a glorious array of yachts. There was a fantastic restaurant that we frequently regularly called Bleu Bleu, the staff were courteous, friendly and efficient. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of the restaurants in El Gouna, the service in all was always fast if not a little too familiar in some places.
I travelled with my 3 children and chose El Gouna because I thought we would have nice weather without travelling too far afield and it appeared to be so much more civilized than the Egypt that we love but hate. We were hassled so much in El Gouna, no different from any other place in Egypt. The only place you can seem to get away from it is in the larger hotels. My beautiful daughters were 13 and 17 last year and were treated like hustling hookers by some of the men. It is a trial just walking around as every car seems to stop and bib you, they all try to lure you into their cars and want to take you to meet their families and friends. The only place that we managed to get away from the men was by the marina which was a quite and exclusive area, we felt safe here.
The duty free shop is available for duty free purchases up to 24 hrs after arrival. Don't bother, it was very expensive and had very little choice. The supermarkets in town sell wine and beer so you can always purchase drink during your stay. The supermarkets are very expensive here but cigarettes were cheap.
I think El Gouna is probably the perfect place to go to if you are men or a couple and if you stay in one of the larger hotels. April was a bad time to go because of the winds. There is no doubt that it is beautiful but beware as it's an expensive holiday and I know I would much rather be sitting on a deserted golden beach in the Maldives.
If you are planning a trip I would advise a trip to Hurghada to book something as El Gouna is so much more expensive. Shopping is also very expensive in El Gouna. My daughter needed a bikini and paid £50 for something that wasn't very nice but she had very little choice. We were told that some of the bars offered free Wifi, we never found anyone offering this and the Internet is expensive and the opening hours of the Internet cafes were a bit hit or miss.
If you do go make sure you take a fly swat and plenty of mosquito spray. I found that the Euro was the best for exchange while I was there, it may be different now but it is certainly worth looking into before your trip.
Although our holiday wasn't the best, we still have memories of a beautiful place and some fantastic fine dining. I wouldn't want to put anyone off going but I think it is good to share others experiences and learn from them.
El Gouna has it's own website (www.elgouna.com), and I cannot introduce this Egyptian resort as succinctly as they do themselves:
"A self-contained town on the beautiful Red Sea coast, El Gouna offers an unrivaled lifestyle. Built on 10 km of beach, the town of 10,000 residents spreads across islands and lagoons. Boasting a superb infrastructure and excellent services, the destination is a short flight from Europe. At El Gouna sandy beaches and the ideal temperatures welcome visitors all year round. "
What I can give you is a recent (August 08), British spin on the resort. This is not a resort frequented by Brits, so I hope you find my write up useful and honest. Personally, I loved the place. But keep it quiet, it's mostly visited by europeans and I rarely heard an English accent, which was great :)
El Gouna is located 10 miles north of the sprawling and expanding tourist town of Hurghada. Driving through Hurghada my heart fell as, despite its location on the Red Sea, it seemed overcrowded, dirty and tacky. Given its proximity, I couldn't see how El Gouna could escape this.
A twenty minute, twilight drive through a sandy landscape with mountains on the left, a sprawling windfarm and the Red Sea coast on the right, brought me to a checkpoint, manned by white-uniformed tourist police with guns. This was initially sinister but ultimately welcome as it meant only people who had a reason to be in El Gouna could get in (Tourists, residents and employees). What makes this possible is the whole of El Gouna is owned by one man - he also owns Mobinil, one of Egypts biggest phone providers. This means there is a control over the resort and its surroundings, similar to DisneyWorld in Florida. How ever much Hurghada expanded, it would have to stop at the perimeter of this estate - excellent!
Where to stay?
There are twelve hotels in the resort, between three and five stars in quality. If you want absolute luxury, there is the Sheraton Miramar, although personally I found it lacked character.
I stayed at the Sultan Bey hotel and couldn't fault it. The rooms were clean and clutter-free with ensuite facilities, television, minibar and air conditioning. The food was excellent, with buffet-style breakfast and evening dining in european and asian styles.
TIP: Sultan Bey, along with several of the other hotels and restaurants, operated a dining plan where, even if you were on half-board at a particular hotel, you could dine at one of the partner venues. The hotel concierge will advise you, if asked.
One of the best features of the Sultan Bey was the quiet at night. Having stayed in places where music and noise from discos, clubs and general party-going destroys a night's sleep, I loved the peace I got here.
Sultan Bey has its own island, which can be reached by bridge (after a 20 minute walk) or by a half-hourly ferry boat, taking ten minutes. As a resident of the hotel, you are free to use the facilities free of charge, with others there is a small fee. The island has a bar /restaurant (but the food comes out very slowly), and a variety of shops and beach sports. Kite Sailing is a particular favourite in El Gouna.
What is there to do?
I was using El Gouna as a base from which to scuba dive in the Red Sea. My tour operator, Kuoni, had a deal with one of the dive schools in Hurghada and, while their discount was very good, the quality of service was not. I would recommend using one of the schools in El Gouna itself. You will pay more, but you will be better looked after and have a much more pleasant time.
I went with Dive Trek, located just outside the Sultan Bey hotel. For sixty pounds sterling per person, you got collected by bus and taken to the dive boat, guided by a skilled dive instructor around two seperate sites, and had time for lunch (provided at extra cost), when you could swim with dolphins.
For those who can't dive and don't want to learn, there are many other activities available. The sandy lagoon is spattered with umbrellas and loungers, and because of the shear size of coastline available it never feels crowded. If you want to have a paddle in the sea, the water is as warm as you would put in your bath, and there is a multitude of marine life even at the water's edge.
For the more energetic, there are a range of beach activities available such as parasailing, kite surfing and team sports, such as volley ball. There are also facilities for paint balling and go-carting, but I never saw them in use - not surprising given the temperatures during the day. Further afield, you can book trips to Luxor and Cairo, or spend the evening in a Bedouinn camp.
Unless you are planning to do lots of driving (which is crazy in Egypt - they don't put their lights on at night!) you can get around effectively by taxi and tuc-tuc. When using taxis, establish how much the fare will be before you travel. Otherwise you may be asked for more (yes, you've paid for the taxi, but not the driver, his wife, his petrol etc - don't fall for it or stand for it!). The Tuc-tucs are operated by two companies and you can get anywhere in El Gouna for less than two pounds sterling.
Things you MUST do
1. Have a drink in the Smugglar's Rest
Run by a brit who has been in El Gouna for the last decade, this is what a pub would look like if you built it in your lounge. Brilliant!
2. Go Parasailing
Takes place at the marina end of El Gouna, by the Ocean View hotel. You will spend ten minutes high over the coastline of El Gouna where you can appreciate the eccentricity of the resort and look across the Red Sea to the mountains on the other side.
3. Eat at Kiki's
With the dining plan, I ate out at this Italian restaurant twice. Located in the Downtown region, there were never more than five other people there, but the food was excellent. It must have been good, because after the second time I proposed to my fiancee!
4. Ride in a Tuc Tuc
They'll come and get you from your hotel and take you to anywhere else in El Gouna. Wonderfully eccentric and you'll feel like you're going about 200 miles an hour, when you're actually doing about 10!
Even if you can't scuba, get out on a boat and appreciate one of the finest dive sites in the world. There are dolphins, turtles, rays and fish of all colours of the rainbow.
6. Walk from Downtown to the Marina
You might not like this one, especially in the heat of the day, but I loved the thirty minute trek down the dusty roads. It gives you a chance to see some of the bits of El Gouna you wouldn't otherwise see.
7. See the Aquarium
In the downtown region there's a small aquarium which is worth a look. It has a variety of interesting sealife, although the cramped conditions the moray eel was housed in, left me a little sad.
There are a range of tourist shops and boutiques scattered throughout the resort. Be prepared to haggle - it's expected, and they'll always do you a deal. Even places you feel should be fair - like the shops in resorts - will have ludicrous face-value mark ups.
9. Enjoy some evening entertainment
Each hotel offers a variety of evening events, you might describe very loosely as 'cultural'. These usually include you meal in a picturesque setting with a performance. Sultan Bey hosted an egyptian barbeque on its island with traditional dance. Whereas the Sheraton occupied the whole of the marina for its belly dancing and concert while guests were served grilled seafood.
10. Pamper yourself
There are several spas in the resort for a multitude of treatments. There is also a professional standard golf course, should you want to play a few holes.
TIP: Many hotels have a policy where you don't tip individual staff. Rather, at the end of your holiday you give an envelope with your appreciations at the end of the holiday which is then divided among the staff. Budget five pounds sterlind per day for this as a rough guide.
This was a great resort. It was NOT classical Egypt, I'd already had that on a tour of the temples down the Nile. It was relaxing, calm and I felt very well treated by the staff throughout the resort. There are tourist police at most of the hotels and you have to walk through metal detector archways, but these don't play on your mind, you feel very safe, and after talking to a couple of Egyptians you realise how much they want you there. Hopefully, if you've stuck with this to the end, you'll realise how much I still want to be there!! ;)