Safaga, or Port Safaga (Bur Safaga) is a working port located 37 miles from Safaga with several tourist villages specializing in diving holidays, a handful of hotels and some excellent fish restaurants. Its unspoiled beaches and stiff breezes made it the ideal venue for the 1993 World Windsurfing Championships. Day trips to
Island or Mons Claudianus in the
Mountains can be arranged with local guides
Bay is one of the top kite surfing and wind surfing destinations in
The large gulf of incredibly transparent water is well protected by
Island and the permanent winds and sandy beaches, generally devoid of fringing reefs, make the shores a perfect start for any water sport. The dive sites around Safaga have until recently only been accessible by live aboard as it is well out of the range of day boats from Hurghada. This has kept the reefs incredibly well preserved with prolific fish life. Although the numbers of sites are relatively small, they offer a nice range for both the beginner and experienced diver, with a rich and well-preserved underwater environment, Highlights are the coral garden at Sha’ab Saiman, the great drop-offs at Panorama Reef and the possibility of encounters with big game (sharks and mantas) at Abu Qifan. Daily boat, half day trips and diving courses including nitrox are offered in the majority of the few diving centers in Safaga. There is also excellent shore diving.
Safaga isn’t really a party town. Yet there are a couple of bars and pubs worth a visit if you go scanning the souk in the late afternoon. The locals mingle every Friday at the Divers’ Pub, in downtown Safaga. Chilled beers and good music match the divers’ and surfers’ stories of the day. The bar of the Holiday Inn is also a favorite place to watch the sun go down.
In addition to the wealth of classical organized excursions to historical sites or natural parks, you can give a twist to you holiday spending some hours in or around your resort in fun-filled activities on land. Practically everywhere in the Red Sea Riviera you will have the chance of going horse or camel riding, whether for half an hour along your hotel beach, or on a longer trip in the desert. Beach horse and camel riding is pretty easy and apt to everybody. Rides in the desert need a little preparation and good guides. Most of the desert safari trips sold as a half day excursion includes also a camel ride. Some destinations such as El Gouna and Sharm el Sheikh have well maintained horse stables where you can take proper riding courses with professional trainers and embark in discovery rides of some length.
The Red Sea Riviera offers a great variety of destinations, each with its own peculiar atmosphere and character. From the quaint, relaxing and silent Taba, to the bustling party towns of Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh, through the chilled-out new ageish Dahab and El Gouna, or the breathtaking wilderness of Marsa Alam and Hamata, each of us has here his or her favorite town.
In the major party towns of Hurghada and Sharm you will find a busy crowded night life, with a big number of pubs, bars, trendy eateries and international clubs, from Hard Rock Cafés to Pacha clubs, Buddha bars and many other local popular ventures which keep everybody rocking until the wee hours of the day. If you are a party night creature these are the places to go without doubt.
Al Gouna offers instead a relaxed elegance and has a sophisticated hippyesque flair: not much into the crowded techno trend but more to the very trendy little bar scene. Dahab is dubbed the Koh Samui of the
Red Sea, with its beach-front promenade packed with Bedouin joints and a very international crowd of backpackers of the new generation: sarong and iPods, dread-locks and computers variety. Taba, Nuweiba,
Bay, Safaga and El Quseir have a romantic atmosphere where night life revolves around candle-lit dinners or quiet conversations under a starry sky. Marsa Alam, Hamata and Wadi Lahmi are the remote wilderness, practically zero nightlife apart from a good company and some music and drinks in the middle of an awesome nature.
Everywhere though, you will find some interesting local hang out, whether it is the local shawerma shop or cafeteria, where you can spend some entertaining time watching the locals play backgammon while sipping tea and smoking shisha (the local water pipe), or an ex-pats pub or bar of some sort where divers and surfers meet at the end of the day to relive the day’s adventures.
Ancient Emerald Mines
The emerald is the oldest known gemstone. Uniquely green in color and widely used in jewelry, emeralds were prized and cherished as symbols of eternity and power during antiquity. It believed that Egyptian Pharaohs began mining emeralds in the mountainous area in the
Desert so °west of Marsa Alam. Later identified as the Cleopatra Mines or Mons Smaragdus (
Mountains), the area be me the most famous mining complex throughout the arc world. The mines at Wadi Gimal, Wadi Sikeit, Wadi Nuqrus and Gebel Zabara were energetically exploited during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The mines were also worked during late” centurie5 until left deserted after the Spaniards discovered emeralds in
Columbia in 1545.
Two thousand years ago Myos Hormos was the Roman Empire’s principal gateway to
East Africa. Only recently have archaeologists been able to identify the exact location of this ancient port, just eight kilometers north a Quseir. During its peak period around 20 AD, reportedly 120 ships laden with wines, fine pottery, glass, precious metals and textiles set out each year from Myos Hron - to
India. They brought back all kinds of luxury goods including spices, medicines, silk and pearls. Myos Hormos seems to have been abandoned in the 2nd century AD. During the 14th and 15th centuries however, the site was revived into a thriving port for
Mecca pilgrims and a rejuvenated
India trade. At Myos Hormos you can see foundations of ancient port structures and have a
numerous remnants of empty Roman storage jars (amphorae). Pottery shards are strewn all over the area, evidence of thriving economic activity.
Bir Um Fawakhir
Bir Um Fawakhir lies in the rugged Precambrian mountains of the central
Desert and is almost exactly halfway between the Nile and he
Red Sea. The site is approximately 65 km (two and a half to three days by camel) from Quft (ancient Coptos). This route, which is the shortest from the Nile to the Red Sea has been in use for at least 5,000 years and follows a Series of wadis (dry canyons) cutting through the mountains. The most famous ancient site enroute is the Wadi hammamat, which was the Source of a fine-grained dark greywacke that was highly prized in Pharaonic times for statues, sarcophagi, and the like. Bir Umm Fawakhir, about 5km northeast, lies in a different geological zone. The Fawakhir granite is a stock intruded into the older Precambrian rocks. As no agriculture has ever succeeded in this hyperarid desert, the only resources are mineral, namely, gold, granite and water. The granite was quarried to no great extent in the Roman period, but it also acts as aquifer, carrying water in tiny cracks until it is stopped by the dense ultramafic rocks to the West. 3 V have always been dug there. Most importantly, however, the quartz veins injected into the granite are auriferous, particularly towards the edge of the stock. (Many other minerals occur as well, including pyrite, chalcopyrite, and hematite, which stain the quartz reddish.)
This Ottoman fortress in the town center of Quseir is certainly worth a visit. It was built in the 16th century during the reign of Sultan Selim to protect trade links with
India. Napoleon’s troops occupied the fortress in 1799, fortifying it with cannons mounted high on the walls. They also added a new viewing platform. A few years later, British forces ejected the French after a fierce battle and added a new gate to the fortress. The opening of the
Suez Canal in 1869 led to the decline of Quseir and its fortress.
Mons Claudianus is at the foot of Jebel Fatira, located about 30 miles from Port Safaga just of the Qena road. This was a Roman Penal Colony of substance, where Quartzy diorite, high quality granite, was mined as building materials for the
Roman Empire. This black stone can still be seen in
Rome in the portico of the Pantheon, in Hadrian’s Villa, and public baths and in the columns and floor of the
Venus. A temple begun by Hadrian but never finished is in ruins, but the staircase leading to it can still be seen. There is also a Roman camp, dwellings, workshops, stables and a dromos. The camp is surrounded by granite walls with rounded defense towers on the corners, to protect it from Bedouin attacks. There are
hot springs today, which where used in a complex underground heating system for the sweating baths. The actual quarries are on the opposite side of the wadi. There are fragments of granite, with several ruined artifacts such as a broken column and column slab.
Mons Porphyrites (
Mountain) was an important Roman quarry complex near Gebel Abu Dukhan (Father of Smoke Mountain) in the heart of the
Desert. For over three centuries, from 29 AD to 335 AD, an exquisite purple rock found nowhere else in the world called Imperial Porphyry was extracted for the glory of Roman emperors. This purple stone, fine grained and speckled with white crystals, was discovered by a Roman legionnaire named Caius Cominius Leugas in 18 AD. Its beauty soon made it a symbol of royalty and successive emperors claimed exclusive rights to it. Much of this gem-like rock ended up as pillars, basins, statues and sarcophagi in
Istanbul. Today excursions to Mons Porphyrites can be arranged from Hurghada, Safaga and Quseir. You can explore the remains of ruined fortresses, dwellings, temples, shrines, wells, broken pillars and cracked stone baths.
Located in Kanais, east of Edfu along the desert road to Marsa Alam, lies a small rock-cut temple built by Seti I (1305-1290 BC). Unfortunately, you will only be able to view the entrance of the temple. The chamber inside the cliff, which has magnificent drawings of Seti I slashing at his enemies and offering a gift to the god Amun, is closed to the public to protect it against defacement. Not far from the temple there is an ancient well. Superb rock art from pre-dynastic times about 6000 years old up to the period of Seti I decorate the wadi’s steep walls with rowing boats, dancing goddesses, long-horned gazelles, fat hippos and hunting scenes. Closer to the main road are the remains of a Roman fort; an indication of how important this area was in ancient times
The stunning Wadi el
National Park is one of the most recent additions to the high number of parks and protected areas of the
Red Sea. At only half an hour drive by bus, the park has a very well organized eco-lodge which offers guided tours of the wadi with camel or by foot. The lodge has also a cinema where you will be shown a documentary about the park, its nature, geology and inhabitants, the ancient nomadic tribes of the Bishari and the Ababde. Finally, you will seat in the exotic, desert-elegant main “fustat”, adorned with antiques and local handicrafts, and served breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on the type of excursion you join.
St. Anthony’s Monastery
St. Anthony the Great, when orphaned at the age of 18, became a hermit and thus lived to 105 years old. He lived as an Anchorite, as still exists in
Egypt, and it is said that he was tormented his entire life by flatteries and temptations of the devil. He, along with St. Pachomius, was two of the first exponents of Christian monasticism, which originated in the Egyptian desert. He is buried beneath one of the ancient churches (St. Anthony) of the monastery.
St. Anthony’s Monastery (Deir Mar Antonio’s), and its neighbor St. Paul’s, are the oldest monasteries in Egypt Hidden deep in the Red Sea Mountains and relying on springs for their water supply, both still Observe rituals that have hardly changed in 16 centuries. They are accessible by special tours from
Suez or Hurghada and a stay in either monastery can be arranged in advance. St. Anthony’s was founded in 356 AD, just after the saint’s death. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, the monastery flourished but was plundered in 1454 by Bedouin servants. Today it is a self-contained village with gardens, a mill, a bakery and five churches with exceptional wall paintings of holy knights in bright Colors and the hermit founders of the monastery in subdued colors and icons, There is also a library with over 1 700 handwritten manuscripts, but the Bedouin servants who plundered the monastery used many manuscripts for cooking fuel. At one time, there must have been a much more extensive library. St. Anthony’s Cave (magharah), where he lived as a hermit, is a 2 km hike from the monastery and 680 m. above the Red Sea It offers stunning views of the mountains and the sea, and the chance to see a Wide range of bird life.