Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Marsa Alam, the Latest Spot on the Red Sea Riviera

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Not a lot of people may have heard of this tranquil dream of a place, and only until recently, in 2001 when its International Airport was opened it was a small fishing village. Lately it has started to become yet another favorite holiday destination on the Red Sea Riviera.

Marsa Alam is located in the south of the Eastern Desert in Egypt on the Red Sea, 790 kilometers south of Cairo and about 300 kilometers from Hurgada. Marsa Alam stands at the crossroads between the Red Sea coast road and the road from Edfu which sits on the River Nile about 230km (142 miles) inland. This road, which was probably originally built by Ptolemy II in the Greek period, passes through some historic landscape where the ancient Egyptians mined much of their gold. During ancient times this road was not only used for the gold mining trade, but archeologists also believe that it was a main trading route linking the Nile valley and the Red Sea where an important ancient port was located. Evidence of this is the abundance of rock inscriptions, some depicting animals including giraffes and cattle, and hunting scenes, such as an ostrich hunt with dogs. Besides the gold mines, the area was mined for emeralds too. And at Khanais in Wadi Miya is a temple built by Seti Ι.

There is little in the town itself to attract tourists, the village is small with a bus terminus, two or three oriental cafes, a few grocery shops and some restaurants, a fuel station and a motel. Although now luxury tourist complexes are becoming a more familiar site along the stretch of coast from Port Ghalib in the north to the Wadi El Gemal National Park in the south.

Marsa Alam's main allure lies in its long stretch of sugary white sands of unspoilt coast, dotted with straw parasols. It is a tropical heaven with its palm trees, mangroves and sea coasts fringed with barrier coral reefs. Its clear sapphire waters conceal a spectacular paradise for snorkelers and scuba divers where bright and colourful coral and sponge-covered walls plunge dramatically into its lucid depths. Marsa Alam's unnaturally turquoise waters fulfil and exceed diver's expectations.

The Elphinstone reef, famous for its hammerhead sharks is the most magnificent of the dives, offering a wealth of fish population, including, fusiliers, jacks, snapper groupers, wrasse, gray white tip sharks, barracuda, big Jacks, tuna and the occasional sea turtle and the mystical dugong. Elphinstone is for advanced diver and is the best place in the world to swim with the sharks!

Besides being home to a number of impressive wrecks, Marsa Alam holds another surprise. A horseshoe shaped reef, the shallow turquoise lagoon of Samadi Bay is the permanent home to a large herd of spinner dolphins. The probability of finding yourself snorkeling with the spinner dolphins is very common. Most of the diving sites are easily accessed by liveaboards.

Marsa Alam's attractions extend beyond its waters into its vast desert and mountains. There are some wonderful nature treks, including some areas with very ancient rock carvings. The Bedouins provide safaris into the desert, with a stop at a Bedouin tent for a rest and a taste of Arabian tea and coffee. These desert safaris can be experienced on camel or horse back but you can even ride through the desert on a beach buggy.
About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem