What It’s Like In: Hurghada, Egypt
Of all the tourism hotspots in Egypt that are suffering from greatly reduced tourist numbers since the start of the Arab Spring, it’s the lack of travelers in the Red Sea beach towns like Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh that is perhaps the most puzzling. Far removed from the protests of Tahrir Square, tourists can fly directly to Hurghada without ever stepping foot in capital city Cairo. The lingering question that most would-be adventurers are reckoning with, then, is this: What’s it like in Hurghada?
It is, frankly, tourist city. I’ve never been anywhere so focused on ‘excursions’, and tons of the hotels were the all-inclusive model where you never even had to leave the property if you didn’t desire.
On The Streets
In my experience, I felt more in danger (and really anytime I was within spitting range) from local camels than from any of the ongoing political tensions in the country. Compared with the column of tanks that lined the street just outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Hurghada is downright quiet – there’s barely even traffic down the main seaside drag. The only real hassle of note I experienced was that there were so few tourist around that every single vendor tried to make a sales pitch to me, but even some of these turned into interesting conversations after moving past that initial salesmanship stage. The tourism-focused waterfront strip of town is mostly shops and small restaurants, and further inland is largely residential. No matter where I walked, I always felt pretty comfortable.
I was less than impressed with the food offerings in Hurghada. There are lots of places that do a mediocre job of catering to foreign tastes, but I only came across a handful of options anywhere near the main tourist stretch serving local food. The best bet I found was a string of restaurants on the waterfront selling seafood dishes for pretty reasonable prices. On the positive side, beer is much easier to find than great food is!
Egypt generally is cheap these days, and especially in places like Hurghada where tourism is the main source of income there are great deals to be had. International chain hotels like the Hilton or Marriot go for less than $50 per night, whereas cheaper local options are around $7. My food budget averaged out to around $12 per day, but that included perhaps more beer than is reasonable in a socially conservative (and high-tax) country. The biggest potential cost, then, will depend on your ‘activities’ priorities. For SCUBA divers, 2 dives per day should start around €45, with discounts definitely negotiable for longer stays. Activities like Quad Biking and Desert Safari and all those other Lawrence-of-Arabia fantasies go from €20 per day per person, but expect big groups and perhaps not the full-throttle adventure you’re hoping for.
It really is sort of strange to walk through an area that should be teeming with tourist crowds and to find very few people. The one demographic that was still visiting in large numbers, at least when I visited, was Russians. I think I actually used more Russian here than I did English, in part because it helped me block out some of those countless calls to ‘have a look’ at every single shop I walked past. It really is mind boggling how such a small place can support so many giant souvenir shops. Taxis can also be a bit dodgy and always push for a little more… but then what tourist trail town have you been to recently where that WASN’T the case?!
As many ‘activities’ as there are around town, Hurghada isn’t really huge on sites per se. There are a couple of pretty mosques in the city center and a neat boatyard where you can watch renovations happening on dhows and sailboats. Aside from that you’ll probably spend most of your time either looking for a cheap thrill out in the desert, hanging out on the beach at one of the city’s resort hotels, or heading off into the Red Sea for diving and watersports. As much as I prefer adventure and cultural travel, those beaches aren’t all bad!
What do you think? Do you see yourself heading to Hurghada anytime soon? Let us know in the comments!