The Charms of Hurghada, Egypt

Travelers to the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, Egypt, get the star treatment as well as a taste of familiar luxuries.

By: By Dean Blaine

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The Details

Egyptian Tourist Authority

In Egypt, I am Rambo. On my recent trip to Egypt, while walking streets heavy with foot traffic, shopkeepers would shout my new nickname to gain my attention.

“Rambo, over here!” one yelled.

“Johnny Rambo, where are you going?” asked another.

These welcoming merchants invited me into their shops for tea. They anointed me with artisanal perfumes of lavender, sandalwood and an exotic-smelling scent dubbed the Secret of the Desert. I bet the real Rambo never smelled so spicy. I was wrapped in scarves, draped in tunics and tempted with gold and jewelry.

A stroll through the markets of Egypt can do wonders for a jetlagged ego. The compliments run more verdant than the Nile. 

Vendors in Hurghada and throughout Egypt are quick to strike up a playful conversation. // (C) 2010 Nir Nussbaum

Vendors in Hurghada and throughout Egypt are quick to strike up a playful conversation. // (C) 2010 Nir Nussbaum

“I like your hair,” a shopkeeper announced.

“Nice shoes, Rambo,” a passerby said.

English as a second language never sounded so sweet.

“Why do they call you Rambo?” asked a young woman from Britain, whom I knew only as “Jodie Foster.”

I could only assume it was my six-foot-five, 250-pound frame and an apparently American look.

“Rambo would not have been my first choice,” I assured her as a nearby merchant wrangled a bewildered “Woody Allen” into his T-shirt stand.

Even for Rambo, a jaunt through the sights of Egypt can be an exhausting experience. Cairo is a quagmire of taxis, buses, donkey carts, goats, tractors, camels and pedestrians, all of whom are jockeying for a position on the crowded city streets. Tourists huddle among ancient sarcophagi inside the notoriously stagnant Egyptian Museum. The Valley of the Kings is like a boot camp obstacle course — clients must hike up stairs, then down stairs, in a single-file line, duck their heads through tunnels and keep a quick pace. And, the Nile River is an endless parade of diesel smoke-spouting riverboats dumping passengers on Pharaonic temples at Luxor, Edfu and Aswan like a bucket brigade trying to squelch a perennial fire.

Is the ordeal worth it? Absolutely. The archaeological sites of Egypt are some of the best preserved and most inspiring on the planet. In my opinion, Egypt should be near the top of the list for any aspiring globetrotter. But if I may offer my two piaster (Egyptian cents), tack a few days on to the end of your clients’ trips and allow them to brush off the dust and unwind at one of Egypt’s Red Sea resort towns. I chose the Red Sea enclave of Hurghada, about an hour’s flight from Cairo, and it proved to be an ideal, lesser-known destination.

“Where are all the Americans, Rambo?” merchants along Hurghada’s fashionable Shopping Mile wanted to know. “You are the first American we have ever seen here.”

Some Lonely Planet scribes have dismissed Hurghada as being somewhat inadequate. Perhaps, if travelers have not yet had their fill of temples and hummus, or of camel treks and pyramids, I suppose Hurghada would seem a bit lacking in cultural stimuli. But, when the camera memory cards are full and the hummus starts to look about as appealing as cold mush, clients could do a lot worse than lounge by a wide blue sea, kick back at a brand-name resort, enjoy a familiar cheeseburger and a cold beer or a stroll along a white-sand beach swarming with beautiful people.

“Please tell Americans about us,” the merchants implored. “We love Americans.”

Not unlike many popular resort destinations in Mexico, Hurghada was little more than a sleepy seaside fishing village less than 20 years ago. Today, the resort town sees more than 1 million visitors per year. Marriott International, Hilton, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Radisson Hotels & Resorts and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts all boast beachside properties along an eight-mile stretch of coast. In fact, more than 150 hotels dot the landscape.

Travelers, mostly from Europe and Russia, flock to Hurghada for its ample sun, direct flights, world-class diving and swanky nightspots like Little Buddha. Unlike Mexico’s coastal destinations and the islands of the Caribbean, the resorts that line the Red Sea have no hurricane season to worry about. In fact, Hurghada is a desert town and averages only two days of rain per year. Visitors are almost guaranteed sunshine, no humidity and daytime temperatures that range from the low 70s in the winter to the high 90s in the summer.

For many, the Red Sea is best experienced by chartering fancy boats and exploring the neighboring islands. Other water activities include windsurfing, sailing, deep-sea fishing and world-class diving and snorkeling over coral reefs so captivating that they inspired Jacques Cousteau to develop the scuba tank in the 1940s.

Land-lovers can hit the links at a handful of nearby golf courses, including the Gary Player-designed Cascades Golf Resort & Country Club, referred to by some as the next Pebble Beach, approximately 25 miles south of Hurghada.

Travelers to Hurghada will no doubt meet its omnipresent merchants as well. Clients will sip tea, sample perfumes and wear scarves, jewelry and tunics. Nice shoes and a good hair cut will probably get them a nickname, too. Unfortunately, Rambo is already taken but, perhaps, your client can be Chuck Norris.