Marsa Alam is a quiet town on the Red Sea with pristine beaches, rugged coastlines – and some of the most incredible dive sites in Egypt.
Just a short (1.5-hour-long) flight from Cairo, Marsa Alam is a diver’s dream with waters brimming with colorful fish and vibrant marine life.
An array of resorts and water parks makes Marsa Alam great for sunny getaways and family vacations. You’ll find anything from luxurious resorts to beach huts and eco lodges.
This Red Sea gem boasts gorgeous coral reefs where you can spot the region’s famous dugongs (sea cows) and swim with the dolphins – if you’re lucky enough to catch them.
As a long-time expat living in Egypt, Marsa Alam is one of my absolute favorite destinations for dreamy beaches off the beaten path.
And although Marsa Alam has grown in popularity since the opening of its international airport, it still feels like a hidden gem. It boasts secluded crystal-clear waters and beaches dotted with mangroves.
Known as the “Egyptian Maldives,” Marsa Alam is postcard perfect – but not yet too touristy. Many of the beaches are nearly empty and a far cry from the crowds of Sharm el Sheikh.
Marsa Alam’s beaches are as pretty as a screensaver. You don’t quite believe they’re real when you fly home with a sunburn and arms full of beaded bracelets.
Here’s my ultimate guide to Marsa Alam – the top attractions you can’t miss, the best hotels and restaurants, and my insider tips to plan your trip!
Best things to do in Marsa Alam
Head to Sharm El Luli (aka Ras Hankorab) for pristine sand and sparkling water in what’s ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful shores. This remote sandy beach has powdery-soft sand dotted with rocky outcrops and coral reefs.
There’s a long stretch of shallow, crystal-clear water that’s always warm to wade through. And the beach is often deserted – it’s off the beaten path and miles away from any resorts. If you’re lucky, you’ll get it all to yourself outside the high tourist season.
Have some tea at a makeshift tent and shop for a small souvenir from the local women who make colorful trinkets from camel leather and beads. Dive in and snorkel to spot butterfly fish, bright orange clownfish (of Finding Nemo fame) and the occasional sea turtle.
The El Qulan Mangrove Forest is a picturesque sandy beach flanked by mangrove trees. And there’s a gorgeous solitary tree on a small patch of sand in the middle of shallow waters.
Inside the Wadi El Gemal Natural Reserve, this protected beach is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. The twisting branches and shrubbery of the mangroves give shelter to a wide range of birds native to the Red Sea.
Surrounded by rolling mountain ranges, this stretch of coast boasts a wide array of plant life – and tiny crabs scurrying through the sand. The waters are home to brittle stars, jelly fish, shrimp and young green sea turtles.
Stroll through the stretch of shallow water to the solitary mangrove tree that seems to float between water and sky.
These remarkable mangroves are among the world’s most endangered habitats. The hearty mangrove thrives in the harsh salty environment and it’s a vital link between the land and the water. The mangroves provide nurseries for young fish and nesting for birds while protecting the shoreline from erosion.
Stop by the small eatery under a tent with wooden tables in the sand. The local bedouins serve fresh and hearty lunches. And don’t miss the great handicrafts market with authentic souvenirs and colorful jewelry.
The local indigenous Al Ababda tribe runs the eatery and the market. These nomadic peoples have lived in the region for generations, migrating in search of water. They’re known for their bead and leatherwork, and their aromatic gabana coffee.
Sha’ab Samadai and Sataya
Sha’ab Samadai and Sataya are Marsa Alam’s two epic dolphin reefs where you can watch these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to swim right alongside the dolphins.
Dive or snorkel at Sha’ab Samadai to watch spinner dolphins frolic underwater in perfect visibility. This calm horseshoe-shaped reef is often called the Marsa Alam Dolphin House because it’s where the dolphins make their home. It’s a protected national park just 11 kilometers from Marsa Alam. And entrance is regulated so you’ll need to book a boat tour to enter.
Further South, the more remote Sataya Reef (Dolphin Reef) offers a similar epic experience. Boats to this reef depart from Hamata Jetty, about 100 kilometers south of Marsa Alam.
The Sataya Reef is a lagoon that’s a haven for spinner dolphins to feed their young and rest away from rougher waters. It’s far less crowded and less touristy than Sha’ab Samadai. So there’s less competition from other boats to get closer to the dolphins.
Elphinstone Reef is a stunning 300-meter long dive site that features plunging 100-meter walls covered in soft coral. It’s abundant with Napoleonfish and schools of snappers. Get your fill of soft coral gardens and the occasional tresher and oceanic whitetip shark at what’s one of Egypt’s best diving spots.
Marsa Mubarak is another incredible dive site and a prime location to spot sea turtles and the dugong. There’s also a gorgeous coral reef with rainbow-colored fish. Though this beach gets crowded with lively crowds that sometimes scare away the animals.
Marsa Alam restaurants
Don’t miss the quintessential Marsa Alam experience – bedouin tea and coffee at a seaside tent on the beach. A hot drink isn’t always tempting on a summer’s day but it will refresh you nicely after a swim.
And head to Steigenberger Resort Alaya for some of Marsa Alam’s best restaurants. Don’t miss Culinarium Sea Food Restaurant for fine dining with waterfront views – and a terrace that lights up gorgeously at night. Try the succulent sea bass or shrimp along with some house wine. The Basilico Italian Restaurant does great pastas amid a lovely ambiance and excellent service.
Port Ghalib has luxurious hotels, a marina with hundreds of yachts, resorts, tempting spas and gourmet restaurants. This waterfront resort is perfect for an afternoon stroll amid waterfront views, ice cream parlours and boutique shopping. Take a trip on the Sea Scope Submarine for panoramic views of the marine life from the comforts of your seat. And stop for lunch at Sultan Port Ghalib for views of the marina, cocktails and oriental cuisine.
Marsa Alam hotels
There’s a huge variety of hotels in Marsa Alam from rugged eco lodges to upscale resorts.
The Movenpick Resort El Quseir (above) is my favorite with its breezy Nubian architecture, private beach and diving center. On a stretch of quiet coast, the Movenpick is worth the hour-long drive from the Marsa Alam airport. Rooms have private terraces overlooking the sea. And there’s an incredible waterfront restaurant where you can hear the waves crash over dinner.
I’ve also stayed at the Magic Tulip Beach Resort. And I loved the in-house diving center, great balconies and the long pier with views of the colorful fish. It’s a great hotel for families with a ton of different animators, activities for kids, games and music. For adults, there’s yoga, a nightclub, and candlelight dinner at a waterfront restaurant.
The Three Corners Fayrouz Plaza Beach Resort is Marsa Alam’s top-ranked hotel. And it’s a great bargain with its long private beach and coral reefs. There’s also a kids club, a large swimming pool, an array of gift shops and four different restaurants.
Marsa Alam weather
Temperatures in Marsa Alam reach average highs of 24 to 29 C degrees (75 to 84 F) from November to April. During these (comparatively) cooler months, the sea is still good for diving in a wet suit. Sea temperatures from November to April range from 22 to 26 degrees (72 to 79 F).
Things heat up between May and October, with average highs from 32 to 35 degrees (89 to 95 F) in these hotter months. Sea temperatures in these summer months measure from 25 to 29 degrees (77 to 84 F).