I will never forget the day I left Egypt, almost 11 years ago, it was October 2018 and I was scared, excited, ecstatic and curious to find out what it felt to live alone and start from scratch. I was young and I didn´t have much of a plan, and surely I had no idea it would take half of my age then (I was almost 22) to touch base in Egypt again. But then life took its course, I found a new job, I tried to settle down a little, made another major move, got married, travelled around and got a baby boy (the best thing I have ever done actually)…. so yes, quite a lot of things happening.
This year however, one of my best friends got married at a small beach town, so we decided to combine attending the wedding with a little time off to tank some vitamin sea. Bonus point: the wedding was in Egypt. I was super excited to finally have booked a flight to a country I once called home.
I knew El-Gouna, the city we travelled to, is known to be the “St. Tropez of Egypt”, I just did not expect it to be so far from the reality I left about a decade ago. The city does not resemble what you would expect Egypt to be. A ghost town at midday with an overwhelming crowd in the evening.
If I had to choose three adjectives to describe it, I would go for “clean, polite and safe”, three words I would never thought to use when talking about a place in Egypt. I was very surprised to find a very open minded society, with a not so conservative women´s fashion, and a very easy going men´s society. Definitely not the place I left 10 years ago, but definitely not the place I would use the hashtag #thisisegypt for..because let´s face it. This (to me) is not Egypt.
To make myself a little less hated, and a little more clear, let´s dig into the facts a little. El-Gouna was built about 30 years ago by a company owned by one of Egypt´s richest men: Samih Sawires. Wikipedia describes it as “an Egyptian tourist resort” (not even a city??) – it makes sense though. I found it quite interesting to go through a gate with a security check just to get into the city, which only means you cannot get in unless you 1. work there or 2. have a place to stay at…but then again..a gate? really?
Once you get in, the dirt from the sidewalks disappears, the noise lessens and the mood is chill. I have to say I loved it, but I did not feel like I was in Egypt at all. So back to the #thisisegypt hype. Is it really? To me it isn´t. A place designed for the rich and famous is and should not be representative for an entire country. In El-Gouna poverty suddently disappears, houses all look very similar, glamour is a state of art and prices are rather high compared to the country´s average (for locals at least). I had a feeling that Gouna is a weekend getaway for Cairo´s upper society, because why have dinner in the capital city if you can have dinner at the beach? I think being so in high demand makes the city want to maintain its standards, which is a good thing after all.
I really loved finding a trash bin at every corner and no cigarettes on the floor. And believe it or not I was able to nurse in the street without anyone actually minding (something hard to find even here in Germany).
All in all I loved my time in El-Gouna (even though I found the Mövenpick – the hotel we stay at – far away from what I would call a 5 star resort..still better than the other choices though), and I would definitely recommend you pay a visit. It is a very nice place for families and it is child friendly, with the bonus of being a safe place for kids to run around and women to enjoy some freedom. The beach is probably most suitable for water sports then just a quick dip (you really need to wear some shoes unless you want to cut your feet), but the water is beautiful and the underwater world is one of its kind.
Despite the fact that to me #thisisnotegypt , I find it worth a visit. If I lived in Cairo I would be happy to know I could escape the city´s chaos for a while, find some good standards without having to go abroad and relax a litle bit. It is definitely the best place to tank some energy and get ready for a new, stressful, working week. I would recommend you rent a private boat for a day, we did that and not only my 6 months old boy loved it, but also we had the chance to swim with dolphins and take some great pictures. It was definitely a nice day out at sea. What I would also recomend is taking time to try out some of the restaurants at the Marina in the evening and chilling at a cafe in Downtown, we felt really welcome and had a great time. Definitely move around with a touk touk (you can get one using Uber, now #thisisegypt for sure 🙂 ) and forget about your good hair days, the wind will blow you away but you will still wear your best smile, believe me!
Last but not least, don´t forget that Egypt is not only this. Do take the extra mile and visit the actual Country, visit the historic sites (those which are “a little older” than just 30 years), visit the local Souks and markets, go either south to Luxor and Aswan or north to Cairo or Alexandria, do take a stop at a local village and talk to locals. Definitely talk to locals. Out of all the people I have met, Egyptians are definitely amont the friendliest to strangers!
Have you been to Egypt yet? If so let me know what you think in your comments below or send me an E-Mail 🙂
Ps: Be prepared for a lot of checks at Hurghada airport on your way back !