We recently did a long weekend trip to El Gouna on the Red Sea of Egypt. While the drive took about 5 hours, it was a very easy drive with roads that delighted us after our experiences on long distance roads in India! We rented a car, loaded up the kids and all the stuff that the beach requires and a car allows, and headed off on our adventure!
We’d decided to rent a villa rather than stay in a hotel so we’d have more space. Tourism costs are so much lower here these days, and you can easily get 3 bedroom villas in the $100-200 a night range. Higher prices of course being closer to the water and downtown. But the whole town is small, so even from one end to the other is only going to take you 15 min. El Gouna is a resort town—most of its focus is on tourism with tons of hotels and villas, plus restaurants, two marinas, a very walkable downtown area, and beaches. Many of the beaches are privately owned, but often have agreements with hotels or you can pay a small charge to use. There are a few public beaches too.
Our drive to El Gouna was our first experience outside of Greater Cairo. The roads were SO MUCH better than India’s. There is a wide, well paved highway that runs from Cairo to Ain Sokhna (the first Red Sea coast town you hit), then you head south an another highway that mostly hugs that coast. It’s a bit narrower, but still in good condition. Traffic moved along well on the roads, though the coastal road had a lot of trucks on our return that were slow on the hills and people passed them and other slow vehicles at breakneck speeds and around blind curves. It was a bit scary.
The only tricky thing with the drive was that there were not obvious rest stops and once we got to Ain Sokhna everything seemed to be connected to a hotel. I had packed sandwiches for lunch, but even finding a safe place to pull over was tricky. Three of us could eat in the car, but DS is too little to eat safely in a moving car and I needed it stopped. Finally found a pull off. The big find was in Zaafarana, a town on the coastal road just south of Ain Sokhna. There is a gas station and a coffee shop, but if you head just a hint more south, just south of the toll booth there is a food court rest stop. It is big, has a bunch of food options, clean bathrooms, Seattle’s Best Coffee, seating, a gift shop, etc. It’s about 3 hours from Maadi and about 2 hours from El Gouna. We laughed quite a bit over the White Castle Burgers restaurant there. They were not greasy, which hubby says means they are not truly White Castle. Tip—many times after parking, you’ll come back and find your wipers up on the car. That means an attendant came by and cleaned your windshield. It also means that as you load up, he’ll come by for a tip for a job you didn’t ask him to do. We just consider it a parking fee and give him a couple pounds (which is like $0.25 or less).
El Gouna is a gated community. You have to tell the guard where you are going before being allowed to enter. They don’t check or anything, so I guess you could make something up or even just say you’re going to the marina. Our first day we spent at the pool at our villa, as it was already late afternoon by the time we arrived and check in. Both kids love pools and water, but I am definitely looking forward to when DS is bigger and I don’t have to be 6 inches from him constantly. Our pool had a series of steps he liked to play on and then a shallow area that DD was tall enough to play in. They were both thrilled to be taken out to the deep end. DD can play independently and I can sit by the pool reading while she plays in the shallows. DS, of course, is all hands on deck! He has no fear of the water and loves jumping in, blowing bubbles, and being dunked.
The thing I love about renting a house vs staying in a hotel is having a kitchen. Even hotels that have mini kitchens rarely have all you need. I’d brought groceries, but there are a number of small grocery stories in El Gouna in the downtown area and we supplemented with that. It was so nice being able to make snacks, breakfast, etc. Especially since DD is all about scrambled eggs for breakfast and DS and I eat breakfast very early given his waking hours. Hubby picked up take out for us for dinner each night, which made things extra easy. Kids were too worn out to want to go out to eat.
Day 2 we spent at the beach. The property manager for our villa suggested Moods Beach, which is connected with Moods Restaurant and Bar. It’s a pay-for-use beach, but it was only LE 100 per person over 12. That’s about $5.50 for all day access. Considering they had bathrooms, showers, a playground, shade umbrellas, chairs, and a nice beach, it was totally worth it. Especially as the kids were free!
Moods Beach was right between the two marinas. One side of the beach overlooked the marina and is closer to the bar, but doesn’t have easy water access. The other side has easy access to the water with a very shallow entry, which is perfect for little kids. The water was so shallow that DS who is only 18 months could walk out (holding my hand of course) at least 50 feet before it started getting deeper. They had it nicely marked with ropes and buoys.
Sand had shells which made DD thrilled and DS loved sitting at the edge, scooping up sand and watching the boats. He pointed out every single boat to us. After some hard playing, we settled in the shade and ordered some food. I love having food delivered right to our chairs! I also loved their chair variety—single position loungers, reclining loungers, bean bag chairs, and bean bag loungers. Plus little tables, and plenty of shade. DD loved resting in a bean bag lounger after her food.
Kids were so enamored with the water and beach that we didn’t even play on the playground, but it looked like a lot of fun (though full sun). We took a walk out into the water along a sand bar that ran straight out. This let us get really far out while staying really shallow. On the one side of the sand bar it got pretty deep, so boats came by close. This was thrilling for DS!
Once the kids were worn out, we got some ice cream and headed home for nap and more pool time. We had some beautiful sunsets and that night really enjoyed looking at the stars from the pool side deck. Our last day we did some more pool before heading back to Cairo.
Transportation—Drive to El Gouna. 4.5-5 hours from Cairo/Maadi. Very easy drive along two main roads. In El Gouna they have tuk tuks (including Uber tuk tuks) that you can hail on the street. Parking was easy, especially in the morning, and driving during the day is very easy. Evening it fills up a bit more, but still pretty easy. UPDATE Sept 2018–Prior to Ain Sokhna, there is a road that turns off towards Hurghada and goes through the mountains and pops out just south of Zaafarana. Much better route!
Rest Stops—Biggest, best choice is at Zaafarana just south of the toll booth. This is about 3 hours from Maadi. Lots of food choices, clean bathrooms, coffee. There are other places to stop along the way, but they are chaotic. If coming from the mountain road, you’ll need to head north briefly to the food court and then u-turn.
Lodging—a ton of hotels to pick from. Movenpick Resort and Spa is a well known luxury line. Also plenty of villas to rent through places like AirBnb. Downtown has a lot of restaurants and shops and nightlife. The Marina area is closest to Moods Beach and also has restaurants and shops. But even out by the golf course or inland is still only 15-20 min max to anywhere in the town. Three Corners Rihana is a good budget option on a lagoon with a small water park.
Beach—Some hotels and villas are right on the water and have their own beaches. If you need a beach, I highly recommend Moods by the Marina. It was LE100 per person over 12 and came with 1 towel per paid entry, plus access to the bathrooms, chairs, shade umbrellas, playground, and outdoor (aka no privacy) showers. Extra towel for children is le50. Lovely sand and views. Some hotels have boat transport to an island nearby that has a beach.
Things to Do—we really just did the beach and pool. But you can hire boats for cheap to take you snorkling or to see dolphins. There is also scuba diving, kite surfing, shopping, and nightlife. For kids, there is Cheeky Monkey, an indoor play area that opens at noon. It also has putt putt golf next to it. Many of the hotels have kid clubs.
Resources—The El Gouna interactive map shows you many of the highlights: http://www.elgounamap.com/activities/kids-activities/cheeky-monkeys/
The El Gouna website also has a lot of information, plus pretty photos! http://www.elgouna.com/