by Jimmy Dunn
Ain Sukhna (Ain Soukhna, Ein Soukhna, Ein Sukhna, Ain Sokhna, el-Soukhna) on the Egyptian Red Sea Coast (actually on the Gulf of Suez) has often been referred to as a town, but is really not. Ain Soukhna can be translated as "hot spring" and the name originates from sulfur springs in Gebal Ataqa, a nearby Eastern Desert mountain. It is a region that stretches from just south of Suez down the coast for about sixty kilometers, and mostly consists of a port along with a series of resort complexes, with a few independent restaurants, gas stations and other facilities scattered along the coastal road. It seems only natural for this region to be so developed, considering that it represents the closest beaches to Cairo, one of the largest cities in the world.
Traditionally, Ain Soukhna is a purely Egyptian retreat, only recently becoming an international destination. In fact, most of the the resort complexes consist mainly of vacation villas owned by Upper and Upper Middle Class Egyptians. However, many though certainly not all of the complexes also provide hotel accommodations. These range from rather quaint facilities for Middle Class Egyptians and probably some Europeans to International Five Star Hotels, which we may expect to see more of for a number of reasons.As an international tourist destination, Ain Soukhna makes considerable sense.
First of all, it is very convenient, not just for the population of Cairo but also for international tourists, particularly if a beach vacation is secondary to other tourism. Typically, classic tours of Egypt travel primarily along the Nile Valley, notably visiting sites in and around Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. Traditionally, if they venture to the Red Sea, it is to Hurghada on the Egyptian Red Sea or Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern tip of the Sinai. Both locations can be reached by air, which is a short flight, but by the time one checks into the airport, boards, lands at the destination and finally retrieves any baggage, the journey will likely take several hours. Other tours travel by bus from Luxor to Hurghada, which is about a five hour trip. However, these tours must join a security convoy, which may require additional time to organize, and a common complaint is that such convoys travel dangerously fast along the road to Hurghada, though this is considered probably the most inexpensive method of visiting the Red Sea.
Once someone arrives in Hurghada, tourists are limited to normal beach resort activities, of which there are many. However, there is no real sightseeing available. In fact, many international tourists coming from Europe for primarily a beach vacation in Hurghada make somewhat complicated arrangements to visit the Great Pyramids in Cairo.
Obviously, for sightseeing, Ain Soukhna is much more reasonable. Europeans with a beach vacation in mind would fly into Cairo, see some of the sights, and then take the short journey to Ain Soukhna for the remainder of their visit to Egypt. However, whether a beach vacation is primary or secondary to a more classical tour, Ain Soukhan can offer a convenient itinerary to several other nearby sites. The Suez Canal is just to the north, while a ninety minute drive takes one to the Eastern Desert Monasteries. Of course, many extended classic tours travel to Sharm el-Sheikh specifically as a base for visiting St. Catherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai, which is an extraordinary location. However, St. Anthony's in the Eastern Desert is significant as the world's oldest functioning monastery founded in honor of the Saint given credit for founding monasticism. Much of this monastery has recently been restored, and nearby is also the ancient monastery of St. Paul. Furthermore, St. Catherine's is much further away from Sharm el-Shiekh then St. Anthony's is from Ain Soukhna. A well arranged tour around Ain Soukhna could allow a visit to the Suez Canal and the Eastern Desert Monasteries in the same amount of time required to visit only St. Catherine's from Sharm el-Sheikh, with time left over at the beach, all at a much lower cost more comparable to a Hurghada holiday. In fact, at least for now, in comparison to Sharm el-Sheikh, most of the costs at Ain Soukhna are more reasonable given equal facilities (such as four or five star hotels).
Finally, we should also mention Ain Soukhna's reputation for having pristine beaches and coastal waters. Here, the beaches are very well kept, and the water is crystal clear.
Only a few years ago, Ain Soukhna would not have been capable of really accommodating large tour groups with good facilities, but today, that no longer applies. Today, there are at least two very fine, large resorts with others under construction. Palmera Beach resort with 264 guest rooms and 18 suites is one of these, offering very reasonable accommodations, while on the high end, though not all that costly, is Stella di Mare, with both a four and five star hotel, a PlanHotel and Swiss Inn respectively, that together have just over 500 rooms including about 15 suites.
Though typical of the resort complexes at Ain Soukhna, Stella di Mare is atypical in its fine accommodations and upscale atmosphere. Besides the hotels, there are also many fine private villas within the compound. Common facilities include just about every beach activity one might expect at the best of the Red Sea resorts, together with all manner of shore entertainment including a soon to be completed golf course. It actually has one of the largest and finest Spa and Therapeutic centers in the Middle East. In addition, there are currently, spread between the two hotels, seven restaurants, and about four bars, though just outside the complex we also noted a KFC and Pizza Hut. When we visited and reviewed this complex, we were very impressed not only with its facilities, but also the management and personnel.
While we very much like the idea of Ain Soukhna as an international tourist destination, it does have a few drawbacks that we might point out. First of all, it is not known as a center for scuba diving and only in the very south of Ain Soukhna is one likely to find any facilitation of scuba diving, though of course most of the hotels carry snorkeling equipment. Currently, the best of the hotels in the region have no scuba diving centers. This is probably due to the lack of famous dive sites found further south. However, it is geared somewhat more to deep sea fishing then Hurghada or Sharm el-Sheikh.
Second of all, there is no airport here as there is at Hurghada or Sharm, and there may never be because actually Ain Soukhna is a short trip indeed from the Cairo Airport. Finally, there is little in the way of off-premises facilities such as independent restaurants and shops. We image that this will also develop, but for now, most visitors must rely on the entertainment, bars and restaurants within the various complexes, though compounds such as Stella di Mare offer a good variety of choices.
Ain Soukha is a rising star for Egyptian tourism. The new road from Cairo, together with other new facilities that are presently under construction will doubtless make this one of Egypt's premiere beach communities. Tour operators should begin now to gear up for its popularity, adding it to standard itineraries because, simply put, it has so much to offer tourists seeking either a primary or secondary beach vacation.
Last Updated: May 22nd, 2011