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Travelling alone in Egypt: What it's really like...



Pre-2013, if you had asked me would I like a holiday to Egypt, I, like probably many people, had pre-conceived negative ideas of the country: the political instability, the reputation for being harassed or disrespected and the ongoing threat of terrorism!


So, like many, I turned up my nose and said why would I want to go there?


But, oh my, how wrong I was!


My first visit was on a work trip with other agents in December 2013 with Red Sea Holidays to the area of Hurghada. I stayed in Makadi Bay, where I visited four hotels, and in downtown Hurghada, where I visited three hotels. I also visited an area called El Gouna and saw two hotels.


After that week’s trip, I was hooked on Egypt; my pre-conceived ideas in tatters.


It wasn’t long until I took Jonathan on his first trip. In April 2014, we went to Sharm where it was just as awe-inspiring, and Jonathan was hooked as well.


It is now one of our favourite destinations; it really does have so much to offer travellers of all ages.


My first impression of Gouna in 2013 was that it had something magical about it and I vowed one day I would return. It was very French Riviera meets Egypt – alas it took me until 2022 to achieve this!


Cue Orascom Hotels Management's advert for agents to work from abroad in any of their destinations… Ras Al Khaimah, Oman, Montenegro, Taba Heights in Egypt and El Gouna.


I took this as a sign that I must return to that magical place I had visited briefly in 2013. I submitted my application and was thankfully successful.


I am often asked about solo travel especially for a female traveller so I decided that this trip I would take alone! I have always travelled with Jonathan, friends or other agents, so this was to be my first trip as a solo female and to a destination that most people avoid for whatever their reason!


My solo journey was to be just short of a month, staying in four different hotels in Gouna.


Was I anxious? I can honestly say, no I wasn’t. From the moment I checked in at Gatwick, I did however feel a real sense of peace and that I was returning home!


I opted last minute to try the fast track security with No 1 lounge. The fast track was slick and easy, and worth every penny. In the No 1 lounge, whilst it was lovely to sit with a glass of fizz, they were short staffed and the queues were long to get a drink. However the staff were friendly and very hard working.


As I sat at the bar in the lounge, I chatted to other travellers - still no nerves or anxieties. Perhaps it was the fizz. It wasn’t long until I was called to the gate.


I travelled with EasyJet – boarding, in flight and disembarking was all very smooth and we landed ten minutes ahead of schedule.


My adventure in Egypt was really about to begin. As a seasoned traveller to Hurghada, I knew about the visa process, passport checks, luggage collection and where to meet my transfer. Valuable information I always share with my customers.


Everyone I met throughout the airport was incredibly welcoming.


I met my transfer outside, a very friendly familiar face. On my travels, I meet many suppliers and Moustafa is one of the most helpful I have met. He, along with his wife Sarah, are Tourific Excursions – and terrific they are at transfers, wifi devices, excursions and trips in the Hurghada area and beyond. Maybe knowing he would be there meeting me helped with my feeling of ease.


A quick bank stop (Egyptian currency is only available in Egypt or you can use sterling or US dollars) and we were El Gouna bound.


Situated on the west coast of the Red Sea and north of Hurghada, this little piece of paradise started as one man’s search to find the most beautiful spot on the seaside to build a house and small boat jetty. Now a gated vibrant community, El Gouna is where you feel at one with Egypt. You can lose yourself amongst the people and the splendour of the azure waters set against the contrasting back drop of the mountain… Heavenly!


El Gouna is formed around sparkling lagoons, sea and golden sands. It has a lively marina at the heart of the action offering a wide range of bars, restaurants and luxury yachts. Whilst downtown El Gouna is a hub for shops, and yep more restaurants and bars!


The area is a perfect base for a holiday with famous dive sites, golf courses, a waterpark, kite surfing and the desert close by for quad biking, horse riding and visiting the Bedouins and star gazing. Not forgetting being a short distance to historic and cultural sites locally and perhaps a day trip or longer to Luxor or Cairo.



1) Sheraton Miramar


My first hotel was the 5* Sheraton Miramar.


It was late at night when I arrived and wow what a wonderful friendly welcome awaited me. From the security staff, the reception team and the luggage staff, all were faultless. I even had a meal delivered to my room as the restaurants were closed.


I must admit my first impression of my room didn’t wow me. In comparison to the modern style reception area, my room was rustic! Next morning, after a good night’s sleep and looking around the room again, I loved the Nubian feel and waking to an incredible sunrise made it all the more special. It just shows that we shouldn’t make judgements, especially when tired from a long day travelling. By the end of my first full day, sat watching the sun set from the beach, I felt relaxed, fulfilled and that I had returned home!


There’s a selection of restaurants and bars in the hotel. My favourite is Orient 1001 – a must for all guests. It serves traditional cuisine set with the lagoon as a backdrop and the staff are incredibly attentive.


I really loved the hotel, the staff and my room… I was very sad to leave.


The hotel is built across nine islands with a stunning beachfront. It reflects tranquillity by intertwining Nubian-inspired architecture with lush landscapes and the turquoise sea, while being in walking-distance of Downtown’s laid back cafes, restaurants and shops, and Abu Tig Marina’s scenic views, peaceful beaches and famed El Gouna nightlife.

The hotel is home to 339 rooms with an authentic Upper Egyptian flair that are spread across the different islands connected by wooden bridges. The rooms overlook breath-taking views of azure pools, shimmering lagoons and the hotel’s scenic private beaches, offering five-star amenities that complement the hotel’s facilities, which include outdoor pools, a well-equipped gym, revitalizing spa, on-site diving centre, kids’ playgrounds, kid’s club and kid’s pool as well as daily live entertainment, reflecting the famed five-star hospitality of the Sheraton brand.



2) Ancient Sands



My second hotel was Ancient Sands, a 5* property that is situated on a hill overlooking the lagoons, the town and azure waters beyond. It has a 9-hole golf course set in harmony between the desert, sea and greenery.


The resort achieves the perfect marriage between Mediterranean chic and traditional Nubian designs. The white tones of the grand façade are complimented by wood and stone accents, with intricately designed domes and arches, forming an authentic luxury abode. Stepping into the spacious lobby, guests are met with warm beige tones, detailed arches and hanging lanterns that resemble a royal Egyptian palace.


The resort has a modern tranquil feel and I loved my room. The staff in housekeeping, the bar and pool areas were all really friendly and helpful. The hotel certainly makes up for not being near the beach and there are five pools at this resort for chilling out, Jacuzzi and sports. There is also a complimentary shuttle bus for those wishing to go to the beach.


Whilst it is 5*, it also has a laid back feel. There’s a buffet restaurant (for me the food at the buffet restaurant didn’t have the wow I was expecting for a 5* resort) that offers a variety of foods that were different each day. It also has a pizza restaurant and themed party night twice a week with an enhanced buffet. Unfortunately I missed both themed nights. Next to the pizza restaurant is a lovely coffee shop. It is extra charge but this is not a lot for the chilled vibe, fab air conditioning and selection of cakes and bread.


The hotel offers hotel rooms and villas. The villas are both owned by the hotel and private.


 

Luxor


During my stay at Ancient Sands I decided to visit Luxor, one of the oldest cities in the world. It was perfect for exploring world-famous monuments, such as the Hatshepsut Temple and the Memnon Colossus.


I arranged my trip with Moustafa from Tourific Excursions. Whilst you can make the trip in a day, I personally think it is much better to stay at least one night to really savour Luxor.


If you take the day trip, you leave your hotel around 4am for the 4.5/ 5-hour car journey to Luxor. Then after a day’s sightseeing with an Egyptologist, you depart Luxor around 4pm. Whilst you can fit a lot in to your day it is exhausting and hot.


I must admit there was only one moment I felt a little nervousness about being a solo traveller and that was the thought of going to Luxor. Here I was, a solo female in a car with someone, a man, I didn’t know. About to travel 4 ish hours across the desert!

But this was short lived.


I had no idea of what was involved for an excursion company to arrange a trip for a tourist. I had supplied a photo of my passport, but I thought that was for the hotels. Nope it was for the paperwork for me to travel between the Red Sea and Luxor.


The authorities were provided information on where I was staying at the Red Sea - the hotel name and room number - as well as my passport details. Then a plan is submitted of my itinerary in Luxor where I was staying, when I would travel back to the Red Sea.


This was then checked at not one but several check points along the route. Had I not returned across the check point on the given date and time, the authorities would have checked where I was. So whilst some people are concerned about the number of check points, for me, I was grateful that I was being looked after by the authorities and valued as a tourist.


I had decided to spend two nights in Luxor, visiting the sights leisurely, and asked to eat in local restaurants rather than in my hotels. You have a driver with you on your trip and he can recommend places to eat or can take you anywhere you like. He will wait for you whilst you eat, but a nice gesture is to invite him to join you.


Abdul the Egyptologist who works with Tourific Excursions was so passionate and knowledgeable about all things Egypt. He was so easy to listen to although I never felt talked at. He has a way of igniting a spark of intrigue and makes you question the bigger picture.


I stayed in two different hotels to develop my hotel knowledge. Next time I think I would like to sample a guest house. These are local houses, mostly on the West bank, that look over to the high rise hotels on the East bank.


I 100% recommend you take in a hot air balloon trip. I also enjoyed shopping on TV Street, having coffee and shisha local style and eating koshari, a traditional local dish that consists of two types of pasta and rice then you add chick peas, dried onion and tomato sauce. For added flavour you can add garlic and chilli sauce. This was carb overload and I loved it. Even more so when I was told it cost £1!



Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor


I had an orientation of the iconic 5* Winter Palace, which was once home to the last King of Egypt. This hotel really is opulent, from the chandeliers to the flamingos in the gardens. A truly unique hotel with a beautiful pool to relax after a day’s sightseeing.


This hotel certainly had the wow factor!


Now a Sofitel run hotel, it offers French luxury and local cuisine in the world's most exciting city. The hotel is certainly steeped in history, romance and adventure.



5* Steigenburger Nile Palace


The Steigenberger Nile Palace is a Travel Sustainable Property, with its own boat dock and is located directly by the Nile. The Valley of the Kings and the tombs of the pharaohs are located on other side of the river.


The hotel offers a comfortable ambience and beautiful views. It is perfectly located to watch the sun set with a sundowner. Rooms have various views but I would definitely recommend upgrading to a Nile View. Mine was amazing.



4* Iberotel Luxor


There is a wonderful atmosphere about this hotel. The staff were friendly and the pool area perfect to watch the sunset. Rooms in my opinion are a little tired but clean.


For price and location, this is a great city hotel, set against the backdrop of the Nile and the hills of Thebes.


 

3) Labranda Club Paradisio


After my Luxor trip, I returned to El Gouna and left the Ancient Sands for a stay at Labranda Club Paradisio.

This is a 4* all-inclusive hotel perfect for those looking for lots of activities. It is set on a unique stretch of beach that is protected from the waves by a split of sand, and is ideal for swimming for all ages. The other side of the split gives way to the sea which is perfect for water sports. The hotel has a wide variety of water sports on offer from kite surfing and diving to paddle boards and sailing boats. The entertainment team host a variety of day and evening activities too.


This hotel pulls out all the stops to wow its guests - from live cooking stations in the buffet restaurant to moving the whole restaurant to the beach enabling all guests to benefit from dining under the stars on a beach front setting.


Staff were attentive and with amazing memories. After my first visit to the buffet restaurant, my drinks of choice were remembered and my glasses had this amazing ability to never empty!


I loved my room here as I like an open balcony. I really enjoyed my stay and felt that the staff made the effort to know all of its guests.

The hotel’s modern yet simplistic rooms are either earth or water themed, reflecting the outdoor view. Ensuring that all guests’ needs are met, the hotel also provides two accessible rooms that are well equipped for those with reduced mobility.

The hotel offers guests everything they need in one place, also sharing facilities with its sister hotel Steigenberger Golf Resort El Gouna, including its tranquil lagoons and impressive 18-hole golf course.



4) Sultan Bey Hotel



My fourth and final hotel was the 4* Sultan Bey. This small hotel is set in a peaceful alcove in the oldest area of the town. It is in the lively Downtown area of El Gouna, making the shops, restaurants and bars easily accessible. I had no hesitation walking around late at night on my own.


Reflecting the culturally rooted Nubian architecture in its beautifully crafted domes and arches, Sultan Bey’s salmon and beige buildings transport you to a traditional Egyptian haven.


The hotel has a lovely infinity pool and steps into the lagoon with a bit of a man-made sandy area representing a beach. There was also a water taxi to a lovely Zeytoona Island with sun loungers, spa, water sports and restaurant.


Sultan Bey has a small buffet restaurant that had a good selection of food. The food was included as part of the all-inclusive, but you needed a voucher from the hotel reception. They also transformed the pool area for an evening of traditional food and entertainment – it was a lovely occasion.


My room had a real local feel to it with a balcony to enjoy the sunset and a picture window by the bed for a lovely view of the lagoon.


 

I love the dine around concept in El Gouna. You can eat in any participating comparable hotel, ie if you are staying in a 4* hotel, you can eat at another 4* hotel's buffet restaurant; if you're staying in a 5* hotel, you can eat in another 4 or 5* hotel.


Should you prefer an à la carte restaurant at the marina or downtown, you can do so. It's not free but you receive an allowance of £EGY that you can use. This worked out at approx. 20% off the food bill. It is definitely worth doing this as there are some great restaurants and they are not expensive. I particularly liked Puddle Duck, where I had the most delicious camel steak... Yep - you read that correctly. Cooked to order the same as you would order beef steak – it was so tender and is a healthy alternative to steak due to the low fat content.


Travelling around El Gouna is really easy – a tuk tuk costs around a £1. They are quick and readily available all over the town.


There’s so much to do within the area of El Gouna. I tried:



I also had a boat trip around the lagoon, which is a perfect way to see around the area and get a feel of where things are.


El Gouna not only has a plethora of restaurants, bars and various forms of nightlife, it also has a library, cultural hall, cinema, conference centre, university, hospital, kart track, horse riding, communal work areas/ offices, squash courts, tennis courts, snorkelling, sailing, aquarium, moto cross and cycling. to name but a few.


Outside the resort I visited Sharm el Naga beach, a beautiful beach well known for its crystal waters, coral reefs and sandy beach. A peaceful bay with a protected reef. I also went horseriding along the beach and swam with my horse!


I certainly embraced all that El Gouna had to offer. As a solo female traveller, did I feel threatened or harassed? Not in the slightest! When walking past shops, I was asked if I would like to come and see the items for sale but not once was I pestered or did anyone try to persuade me otherwise.


I went into quite a few shops and tried my hand at bartering - and when the sale wasn’t closed, I was treated with respect and left the shop.


In restaurants, I wasn’t made to feel like awkward as a female eating alone. The staff were all attentive and friendly without being threatening or flirty. I did find it odd that the table was cleared to leave one place setting and often asked for it to be left.


Overall, everywhere I went in El Gouna I was treated with respect and I can honestly say I really didn’t want to leave.


Which leads on to the only downside and my only warning is for the departures at Hurghada airport. Be prepared for queues! There is a security check to enter the building, then you check in for your flight, complete the form for leaving Egypt, then a security check to get through to departures, then another one to enter the departure gate for UK flights. Security checks are by gender so be sure you are in the correct line.


Once through the checks, there are places to eat and drink as well as duty free and tourist shops. Prices are in US dollars.


My top tips


  • Carry a pen on your flight out and for checking in at Hurghada airport

  • Tip staff if they give you good service. Do not wait until the end of your holiday. Ideally in Egyptian pounds but £1 coins will be welcomed too.

  • Haggle for items that are in non-fixed price shops. But only do so if you really want the item, not just for fun.

  • Pack beach shoes as some beaches have sharp stones.

  • Pack suitable clothing if you are exploring beyond the tourist areas

  • Do not walk over coral it takes years to grow

  • Do not feed the bread to the fish as it's not their natural diet


I wasn’t troubled by an upset tummy at any stage of my trip. However my tip should you be affected is to go to the pharmacy for a local remedy as this is so much better than our brands of Imodium, etc.


So would I recommend Egypt and El Gouna as a solo female traveller? OMG, yes!

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