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Hurghada... a celebration of contrasts

From the Fish Market to Shade, Hurghada is indeed a city of contrasts
Region: Egypt
Created: Jul 21, 2010, modified: Jan 13, 2012, overall rating: 0.000

In the bright sunlight, the sea is all emeralds and turquoises, sapphires and diamonds, though in the early morning on the same day, only soft shimmering silk seems to embrace the horizon in a shroud of mist over the sea. The contrasting Red Sea colours offer a continual challenge for the artists longing to capture their unending play of lights, hues and shadows.

A great number of the countless beaches studding the Hurghada coast line, allow easy access to the reefs teeming with a myriad of colourful fish, which is heaven on Earth for scuba divers and snorkellers. The beaches range from tiny, picturesque coves that are ideal for young or inexperienced swimmers or romantic moonlit picnics, to long stretches of creamy golden sands.

A relaxed holiday destination, an international business hub, a bustling port city, a tranquil nature reserve, modern amenities, crystal azure waters and people of diverse origin,  join together with one friendly face. Join Al-Ahram Weekly 's team as they escort you through an in-depth guide to Hurghada, the city of contrasts.

Lasting impressions

If you have not yet visited Hurghada, you must immediately set your plans on going there. It is not just another touristic town, as some might presume. It is, rather, a typical Egyptian city characterised by a very special charm and beauty.

There are three main areas to explore in Hurghada, the first of which is Al-Qura , meaning literally 'the villages'.  Al-Qura is packed with four and five star hotels and resorts. A visitor may spend a day on the beach at any of these villages, from roughly 9am to 6pm, enjoying the placid Red Sea and its soft sand, or unwind by joining the hotel's animation team dancing, stretching, or playing different kinds of beach sports.

Since Hurghada is famous for its fantastic shores, there are plenty of water activities to indulge in, including sailing, wind surfing, kite surfing, and deep sea fishing; scuba divers and snorkellers can behold unmatched gardens of world renown coral reefs and spectacular colourful fish which abound and are visitble all year round.

At the end of a day at the beach, you can choose to dine at a hotel and enjoy its various musical shows before hitting the dance floor, or take a stroll down the car free - Al-Mamsha Promenade that is bustling with cafés, restaurants, bazaars and shops.

Thanks to the length and width of the promenade, the cheerful liveliness it provides , in no way deters one from taking a peaceful walk. Although it offers every possible sort of entertainment, the promenade's spaciousness leaves strollers plenty of private room for a tranquil chat or a quiet moment.

If your target is to visit the most vibrant place Hurghada can offer, don't hesitate to hit the Marina. A fantastic day spot, the Marina is lovely for catching the sunset overlooking a yacht  dotted blue sea. Come nightfall, the Marina grows even more fascinating: a walk sprayed by the sea breeze, high profile night clubs like Hedkandy or Ministry of Sound, vibrant live performances, including Latin music at the Friends Bar, or simply a dinner and shisha at any one of the great number of restaurants and cafés available. Do not miss the daily shows at Alf Leila wi Leila (Arabian Nights) showcasing various performances drawn from Egypt's traditional folklore.

The second main area in Hurghada is Al-Seqala, or 'Al-Sigala' as Hurghada's residents call it. A local story explains that the name Al-Sigala is based on the Sea Gull Hotel, one of the oldest in the neighbourhood. The area was also called Qaryet Al-Sayyadin (Fishermen's Village), since Hurghada was home to Arab fishermen in the early 1900s to 1920s.

Al-Seqala is at the heart of the famous 'Sheraton Road' teeming with shops, bazaars, restaurants, cafés, night clubs, banks and hotels.  It is the busiest spot in Hurghada, thanks to its unique oriental or, more specifically, Egyptian essence. For most tourists, Sheraton Road is regarded as 'downtown', where all manner of entertainment, food and even medicine is available. A particular favourite is Al-Sokkareya Coffee Shop.

The third and last area is Al-Dahar, where most Hurghada locals reside, and it is therefore considered as the heart of the city, or Old Hurghada. Sometimes it is referred to as the 'Arab district'  as it was inhabited by the Bedouin tribes of the past.  Al-Dahar is practically the first area to have witnessed life in Hurghada. A visit to the area is not complete without a drink at an authentic Egyptian Qahwa Baladi (coffee shop), for a taste of  genuine Egyptian life at night.

It is at Al-Dahar, that the main public entities are located, including the Governorate Headquarters, the City Council, the main Public Hospital and the Aquarium, amongst others. It also includes a number of cheap hotels and youth hostels, like the Four Seasons Hostel for Youth. In addition, it is a perfect place to find merchandise at lower prices from the various stalls and shops, albeit of a lesser quality.

A holiday in Hurghada is not restricted to the above mentioned activities.  They are just the tip of the iceberg. Visitors can embark on a desert safari adventure, experience the magnificence of Giftun Island, explore the Roman Mons Porphyries or enjoy a glass-bottom boat ride. revealing the underwater treasures of the Red Sea whilst keeping you dry onboard.

Hurghada is so named because of the fishermen of old that used to meet near a large tree, named Al-Ghardaq, which, in time metamorphosed into 'Al-Ghardaqa' (Hurghada in Arabic.) On the very spot where the tree stood,  King Farouk - the last monarch of Egypt, established a luxurious holiday home for himself. Following the revolution in July 1952, the place was commandeered and turned into an Armed Forces Water Sports Club that is still in existence today, in front of the Tourism Information Office.

It was not until the 1930s, that the city started attracting national attention, thanks to the discovery of oil and the consequent emerging industries, resulting in additional forms of trade like transport networks and construction. Rizq Abu Mohamed, an old taxi driver who has resided in Hurghada since 1978, told the Weekly that a number of tribes (most important of which were the Rashandeya, Ababda, and Gaafra) were the only inhabitants of Hurghada, when he first arrived. He added that the entire area was no more than sand and rocks, and 'all those who lived here were either fishermen or shepherds'.

With Egypt's signing of the Peace Treaty with Israel in 1979, tourism boomed in the city and investments started pouring in. The already established 'Sheraton Hotel' was reopened and Magawish Resort, upon its completion, was inaugurated in 1979.  By the 1980's, Hurghada was turning into a busy touristic area.  Charter flights started to transport holidaymakers back and forth, and huge investments financed ever-increasing construction. The number of residents, naturally, grew to a large extent.

Abu Mohamed notes that 'the city attracted even more investments after the destructive 1997 torrential rains'. The number of hotels in Hurghada now exceeds 200, and according to the Hurghada official website, nearly two million tourists visited the city in 2008. Cheaper than its rival Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada prides itself on being the largest resort city on the Red Sea.

Despite what appears to be a wild city of lights, sights and smells, Hurghada is actually a city of  serenity and safety. The diversity of both the residents and the tourists it attracts, reflects a spirit of tolerance and reciprocal acceptance, whereby no visitor is left feeling out of place. Hurghada is, after all, the city of contrasts.

Al-Ahram Weekly

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