Snorkeling the Red Sea, Egypt - 2019 Updated Suggestions
Red Sea Egypt Hawksbill Turtle
I have written two other stories about snorkeling in the Red Sea, Egypt on this site. I wanted to share my updated suggestions from my trip in September 2019.General Information for First Time Visitors
Please note that I have no personal stake in any of the below mentioned resorts. It's just that I know them from my own experience. Maybe other places are equally good or better, but I don't mention places I’ve never visited myself.
First you have to choose what airport to fly into. We normally go to Marsa Alam, an international airport that can be reached with direct flights from several places in Europe, I don't know about connections from other continents. Alternatives are Sharm-el-Sheikh, which I've never visited, and Hurghadha. In general, we like the Marsa Alam area better, and the next mentioned places can all be reached with fairly short drives from Marsa Alam airport.
When it comes to time of year, our favorite is September. That month has very nice air temperatures (about 30°C, 86°F) and the highest water temperatures (ca. 27°C, 80°F).
When you're planning a trip, take into consideration the Egypt short national holiday which happens that time of year. But the exact date varies, so you have to check year by year. In that period (one week) hotels are very busy.
Hotels are usually good, but maybe not to everyone's standard. Food is mostly buffet, quite "Western" in style and OK, also for vegetarians. But keep in mind the "tropic rules", "cook it, boil it, peel it or forget it." So my advice is no salads, no raw meat or fish, no ice, etc. It's always on offer, looks great, and most people eat it. But at the same time a lot of people get sick... We have visited Egypt some 15 times the last 10 years, and have never been sick. So make your own choices on that point.Areas to Stay in General
First and most important for snorkelers, you want to be in a bay. A lot of hotels have no bay, but a jetty across the reef to the open sea. These so called fringing reefs are usually very good when it comes to corals, fish, visibility etc. But... you find yourself exposed to the waves. Wind is usually from the northeast, and 4-5 Beaufort (13-24 mph). So, outside of the bays wave-action of 0.5 – 1 meter (1.5-3 feet) is normal. To me that's not comfortable snorkeling. You have to keep your distance from the reef to be safe. And from that distance you miss the small stuff. Outside bays there can also be a serious current, but that varies from time to time.
On the other hand, in a bay you're mostly free from waves and current. You can snorkel easily and safely, and come very close to the corals to find all the small creatures.
Coral bleaching is not a big issue in the Red Sea so far. There are some very small spots of bleached corals, but that's (still?) quite rare and in a lot of places simply absent.
There's a good diversity of fish, but of course that depends on your definition of good. I'm not a beginner (10 years of experience for a few weeks a year) and we identify between 150 and 175 species of fish every trip. But bigger, long living fish like sharks are absent in most places due to overfishing. The same goes for big groupers like Goliath Grouper or fish like the Napoleon Wrasse. They are there, but quite rare. Turtles (Hawksbill mostly) however are easy to see in most places.
We always stay in three different hotels/bays in a two-week trip. That gives us some variety in our stay, and is easy to organize. You can book the transport in advance, and include airport pick-up and drop-off from the same company. We always use a company called Sylvia Tours for the transport, and are very satisfied with them.Resorts Where We Stay for Snorkeling
A very nice place is Mangrove Bay, just a short drive from Marsa Alam airport. The house reef is one of the best in Egypt I (and many others) think, but this is definitely not a "big all-inclusive resort". It's a rather small hotel that attracts only divers and snorkelers. It offers half board, since a lot of the guests spend the day on a diving boat. They do serve lunch, but not on an all-inclusive basis.
A bit farther south you find Marsa Shagra Eco Lodge and Brayka Bay Resort. Brayka Bay is "big all-inclusive" for sure, four swimming pools, and lots of guests that visit the place mainly for beach and all-inclusive food and drinks. The bay can be a bit crowded in the shallows, with a lot of people just wading and kicking up sand ;-). That usually means a bit poorer visibility during the day, so you better go early. Visibility always gets better the farther you go from the beach. The reef is still good, the fish very good and quite tame.
Marsa Shagra Eco Lodge also attracts divers and snorkelers only, but it's bigger than Mangrove and offers all-inclusive. This resort is less busy, very well organized, and with better service for snorkelers. They are happy to take you in the zodiac to drop you off just outside the bay if you ask. Other dive operations usually are not very fond of snorkelers because they don't make a lot of money on snorkelers... One of the nice things in Marsa Shagra is that dolphins very regularly visit the bay.
The quality of the food in all three places I have mentioned so far is more or less equal, I would say. It's very much OK, but don't expect Michelin star food.
Somewhere in the middle of all this (literally as for the distance) is Oriental Bay or Hotel Aurora Bay as it's called now. But in that place the food is a little bit lower in quality (latest update on that from 2018), and the resort is across the road from the beach, so that's a 10-15-minute walk back to your room coming from the water. But the reef is also very good and the bay very sheltered.
Please also read my previous posts, Red Sea Egypt, The Best Snorkeling
, and My 2017 Trip Report