One of the most magical places in Egypt, people mostly dream about visiting Marsa Alam, seeing the dolphins in Samadai Dolphin House, and snorkeling in Abu Dabbab. Why don’t they realize this dream you ask? Because Marsa Alam used to be a 12- hour drive from Cairo and, even though Marsa Aalam international airport was opened in 2003, not everyone can afford the plane ticket.
However, all this changed with the opening of the new highways all over Egypt, now you can be in Abu Dabbab Beach just after eight hours of leaving your house or hotel in Cairo!
We tried this marvelous trip ourselves to give you a road map for a vacation of a lifetime, a vacation that you will definitely want to experience again and again, as Marsa Alam can be addictive.
Kindly note though that the sole purpose of this trip was swimming with the dolphins in Samadai Dolphin House, there are a lot more things to do in Marsa Alam but this short trip was all about the dolphins in Samadai and the sea turtles in Abu Dabbab.
The road to paradise
Google maps said the road should take 8 hours, so I started the trip at 6 am, planning to be at the hotel by check-in time.
A lot of people prefer to start these trips earlier, and I might do that in the future, but as it was my first time driving this path I wanted the drive to be in the daylight.
A road trip from Cairo to Marsa Alam means driving through Sokhna, Zaafarana, Hurghada, Safaga, and Al Qusiar, to reach your destination. You should take a look at a map of Egypt to check the distance and the roads before leaving.
First of all the road is safe, Egypt is safe in general, but this was extra safe, a woman can drive along this road all alone and the worst that could happen to her is get a speeding ticket (guilty as charged) so that was definitely a good start to the trip.
As safe as the road is for people it is still a very long drive with some parts surrounded by just the desert and the sea, so make sure to check your car before leaving.
Pros of the road other than safety:
- The mountain views are breathtaking, and you travel by sea for two-thirds of the trip, which means beautiful relaxing views all the way.
- The first leg of the trip, from Cairo to Hurghada, is a piece of cake. Four to five hours of driving peacefully on a newly paved mountainous highway (Galala Road) with gas stations, side road cafes, and services. This should give you a decent start so try not to stop at this part except for gas.
- With the stops for gas and coffee, three gas stops, and one coffee break, the road took just the promised eight hours.
Cons of the road other than the length:
- Galala road goes through a mountain, this provides a marvelous view but the altitude might be upsetting for some, especially if they suffer from middle or inner ear problems.
- The second leg of the road, from Safaga to Marsa Alam is a narrow two-way highway, some might find this scary especially with the twists and turns of driving through mountains. The fact is though you scarcely encounter other cars so it’s not that scary, just don’t drive too fast and stick to the speed limit.
- After Safaga there are no gas stations until you reach Al Qusair, so make sure to fuel before that stretch of the road.
Is Marsa Alam really there?
After eight hours of driving you might start thinking that Marsa Alam is just an illusion or a mirage, the city starts to feel more like a dream than a reality, more so when you start encountering hotels that promise they are in Marsa Alam while all they are surrounded by are the desert and the sea.
This is because the populated city occupies around a third of its total area, the rest comprises beaches, mountains, and vast desert, with resorts dotting this expanded space.
Beach Resorts start more than 50 kilometers north of Marsa Alam and continue all the way to Mount Hamata in the south. They are spaced apart in some areas and stacked together in others, but the whole city is quiet and serene, no place feels crowded there.
In addition to being quiet, Marsa Alam is an impressively clean city, everything seems spotless from the pristine beaches to the azure water to the small streets. Everyone you interact with there will probably remind you to keep the beach clean and beware of plastic flying with the wind and tarnishing the sea. You don’t do that of course dear reader so just do as I did “smile and wave!”
Finally, Samadai Dolphine house
Before leaving Cairo I checked the trips to Samadai Dolphine House, how often in your life can you swim with a pod of dolphins in their natural habitat!
Most trips are one and the same, it’s all about finding a good boat with the best professional crew, advanced divers, and experienced snorkeling guides.
The trip starts at the marina, and here I have to admit that the rural looking small marina gave me an uneasy feeling, where are the throngs of tourists? I asked myself!
This is part of the charm of Marsa Alam, it’s famous for being tranquil, so no one wants to disturb this serenity by building modernly crowded places.
Albeit the small marina, the boat I chose was nice, modern, and spotless, and the 40 minute trip to Samadai Dolphin House was fairly easy. We were warned though the trip back won’t be as smooth, as we will be traveling countercurrent.
When the boat finally docked at Samadai natural reserve we were instructed on how to proceed. Boats are not allowed to go further, so snorkelers will be taken by zodiac boats while divers should get ready to dive from the ship with the instructor.
The zodiac trip was exhilarating, just a few minutes ahead we started to spot dolphins jumping in the water beside us, a lot of dolphins!
Zodiacs stopped outside the Dolphin house as they cannot go further, this is the part you have to swim on your own. It is very safe though, even if you can’t swim, as wearing a life jacket is mandatory and every group must have a licensed guide.
This is a surreal experience that should not be missed, swimming with wild dolphins in their natural habitat, these are not trained dolphins, they are real, everything is so real that it feels more like a dream your first time, just like Marsa Alam!
Back to the boat to take a break, then another round of snorkeling, this time around the coral reefs where the ships dock, at the gate to the Dolphin House. The water is so clear and so blue that you can see all the way to the bottom, with all the fascinating marine life below.
Facts about Samadai Dolphine House Marsa Alam
- The reef is actually called Sha’ab Samadai, the name Dolphin House was first commonly used by the locals for the presence of a permanent family of dolphins. The nickname became as famous as the real name that they have merged into one: Samadai Dolphin House
- National Park since 2004, the reserve is governed by very restrictive rules, as previously mentioned floating vests are mandatory, and licensed guides.
- The rare horseshoe-shaped coral reef is 500 meters wide and 900 meters long, making it a very fertile environment for the dolphins that live and move there in very large pods.
- The site is divided into three areas: Zone A is exclusive for dolphins, Zone B is for snorkeling, and Zone C is where the boats dock, it is also the only zone where diving is allowed.
- The reserve is only open to visitors from 9 am to 3 pm, that’s why all boats plan their trips accordingly
Abu Dabbab Beach: sea turtles dugongs, and crystal clear waters
One of the best beaches in Egypt, and one of the best places to spot dugongs and giant sea turtles, a trip to Marsa Alam is not complete without paying a visit to Abu Dabbab.
You can find Some hotels along this beach that lies 30 kilometers north of Marsa Alam, but if you are staying someplace else you can enter the public beach for a fee (130 EGP for Egyptians).
It is fair to say that Abu Dabbab is one of the most tended public beaches in Egypt, or dare I say the world. The public beach is no different than a five-star hotel private beach, clean with elegant chaise longues and stationed umbrellas. All services and facilities can be found on the beach, whether you are looking for a place to have lunch, have a drink, or take a shower after swimming.
Abu Dabbab is considered one of the top diving and snorkeling spots in the world, the water is so clear that you can see all the way to the bottom, for 30 or 40 meters, while snorkeling. Also, the two well-preserved vast coral reefs are rich with diverse marine life, a whole world is going underneath you while you swim.
In addition to all that, the sun is nice, the weather is balmy and the water is so warm in the summer, which makes for a perfect swim.
If you don’t want to get lost (like I did) I highly advise that you stick to the coastal road while traveling from one point to another in Marsa Alam, the mountainous road doesn’t get good cellular coverage so Google maps can’t offer much guidance all the time.
Facts about the sea turtles and dugongs in Abu Dabbab Bay
- Marsa Alam turtles like leatherbacks and hawksbills feed on jellyfish. That’s why they die from consuming plastic floating in the water, it looks like jellyfish.
- Large in size with impressive longevity, baby leatherback, and flatback turtles are larger than other adult sea turtle species. They can also live for a hundred years.
- A mammal that lives on seagrass, The dugong has been on the red list of threatened species and has been considered vulnerable to extinction Since 1990.
- Dugongs have shorter lives by half compared to sea turtles, they only live for 50 years.
- Dugongs and sea turtles alike live in Abu Dabbab because of the abundance of seagrass around this reef.
- Strict measures have been taken to preserve the marine life in Abu Dabbab, boats are not allowed inside the bay now and moorings have been removed. Also, some local seagrass areas are now off-limits to divers and snorkellers, and stepping on or touching the seagrass beds or reefs is prohibited.
When to go to Marsa Alam
Most tourists think of Egypt as a winter destination, especially the red sea and upper Egypt, and while this may be true when it comes to cities like Luxor and Aaswa, when it comes to the red sea I beg to differ.
The weather is perfect during winter of course, and the water is largely warmer than most other countries, but it is still a bit cold and it gets chilly in the desert night. Besides, dolphins get a bit shy from December to March.
In summer the weather is perfect, but it can be deceptively balmy. Unlike really hot destinations such as Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, Marsa Aalam weather feels nice with a light breeze, so if you fry easily take good measures and use lots of sunscreen. The warm water though is worth it, it nearly feels like bathwater, only better.
If you want to play it safe though then spring and fall are your ideal time, nice weather, nice water, nice everything.
The road back
With a sad face and happy memories, I left Marsa Alam, positive that I will visit again. I still need to check Sharm El Luli and Wadi El Gimal, which I had no time to visit on this trip.
The road back took me through Al Qusair city and took only 7 hours rather than 8.
Allowing for a stop for lunch and another stop for coffee it should take 8 hours to Cairo if you are staying in one of the resorts north of Marsa Alam, add another hour if you are staying at a more southern resort.
The road might be long, but Marsa Alam is definitely worth it, so is swimming Samadai Dolphin House, and snorkeling in Abu Dabbab.!