Many North American visitors to Egypt return home after only touring its Pharaonic temples and tombs. That’s a pity. The Red Sea beach resort of Sharm El Sheikh is a wonderful place to relax for a few days after a hectic cultural itinerary. It is only an hour’s flight from Cairo and is as famous for its snorkeling and diving as Giza is for its pyramids.
After taking part in all the standard sightseeing in Egypt, we made a wise decision to settle in at the Hyatt Regency Sharm El Sheikh. Spread out over 80 acres, the serene 471-room, Mediterranean-style resort is terraced down a hillside hugging the brilliant turquoise sea. Accommodations are clustered in two-story, whitewashed villas with shingle roofs, wrought-iron balcony railings and handpainted tiles. They overlook stone pathways and lush gardens bursting with pink and purple bougainvillea and palm trees. The centerpiece of the resort is a network of cascading pools with a winding lazy river, lagoons, waterfalls and a 265-foot corkscrew waterslide popular with children.
Regency Club accommodations are worth booking. In addition to a private check-in/check-out area, guests can enjoy an exclusive pool and private beach set apart from the main resort area. Pool and beach butlers lay out towels, provide cold, scented washcloths and offer complimentary cappuccinos and bottled water.
The clubhouse at the Hyatt Regency Sharm El Sheikh // (C) 2010 Janice Mucalov
Best of all, the clubhouse serves an included lavish continental breakfast as well as cocktails and canapes in the evening. Dusk would find us at a candlelit poolside table enjoying a glass of wine and views of twinkling lights around the bay. The complimentary drinks were especially appreciated as alcohol, which is heavily taxed, is prohibitively expensive in Egypt (a glass of Egyptian wine costs at least $15). And the clubhouse’s evening array of cheeses and meat, crusty breads, vegetables and dip, sushi, fruit and dessert was so good that we made a meal of it one night.
However, we also made sure not to miss dining at the Hyatt’s Sala Thai Restaurant. One of Sharm El Sheikh’s best eateries, the elegant teak restaurant won our praise with its fragrant Thai curry dishes superbly spiced with ginger, coriander and lemongrass. The resort’s outdoor Souk restaurant, with its Middle Eastern food stalls, Bedouin music and belly dancer, is also popular among guests.
Yet as fine as the Hyatt is, its main attraction is discovered offshore under the water. Beautiful coral gardens line the whole coast, providing some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world. The crystal-clear waters teem with life — from rays, shy whale sharks, sea turtles and giant seven-foot-long moray eels to rainbow-colored parrotfish and schools of orange-striped triggerfish. Even standing just ankle-deep in water at the Hyatt’s Regency Club beach, I saw a blue-spotted stingray float slowly by.
The Red Sea Diving College, rated as the Best Dive Center in the World by Diver magazine for three consecutive years, operates three facilities in Sharm El Sheikh, including Red Sea Waterworld at the Hyatt. Associated with the National Geographic Society, it offers guests a safe, educational dive experience at local reefs and further afield at famed Ras Mohammed National Marine Park.
If guests tire of snorkeling and diving, other available activities include camel riding, jeep safaris, visiting the 6th-century Saint Catherine’s Monastery (built on the place of Moses’ burning bush) and feasting with a traditional Bedouin tribe in the desert.