Along the Red Sea coast, the beach and holiday business thrives all year around
Birthplace of Christian monasticism 16 centuries ago, the isolated and inspiring monasteries of St Anthony and St Paul herald the way into this contradictory swathe of Egypt. The eastern rim of the Red Sea shelters a thriving expanse of brilliantly coloured fish, corals and other marine life. With no rivers flowing into the sea to disturb the translucent waters, the corals blossom unimpeded. The optimal conditions for such water delights has resulted in hasty development as epitomized by the sprawl of Hurghada, the most visited coastal resort town in Egypt, now reviled for its tackiness but still a good place to cut loose if you crave a party. The shoreline is also famous for its wind, drawing kitesurfers to Safaga, acclaimed for its first-class facilities.
Further south lies the beguiling port of El-Quseir, at one time the main departure point for all hajj pilgrims. Days are spent snorkelling at a nearby beach or visiting the ruined fortress, and nights are spent around campfires under a sea of stars. Thankfully, in the south the government is striving to protect the wealth of marine life insisting on eco-friendly practices for all new tourist developments, thus some attractive camps and eco-lodges dot the coast around Marsa Alam.
The slowly widening major fault line running along the length of the Red Sea created the dramatic mountains of the Eastern Desert, a belt stretching for about 1250 km from the southern tip of the Suez Canal. These mountainous desert expanses are the final frontier before Saharan Africa and deep in their folds thrive ibex and gazelle, while nomadic tribes live a traditional lifestyle little changed in 6000 years. Most visitors traverse or overlook the scorching, virtually uninhabited region to get to the coast, and a safari into the interior is a quest that involves effort and time. But once there, jagged charcoal peaks and wondrous astronomical spectacles, the scattering of Roman era ruins and encounters with Bedouin desert life are gifts to the soul.