Taba Why go? With its year-round sunshine, luxury hotels, sandy beaches and cooling sea breezes, the resort town of Taba Heights has everything to satisfy the devoted sun worshipper.
And its location – close to the border with Israel, sandwiched between imposing peaks and coral reefs of the Red Sea, and with views across the Gulf of Aqaba to the mountains of Arabia – makes it a picturesque launching point for excursions to ancient attractions, dramatic canyons and underwater worlds.
Civil unrest in Egypt has hit tourist confidence, and although the Foreign Office has never advised against travel to the Red Sea resorts – which are effectively isolated from the rest of the country – some hotels in Sharm el Sheikh, 125 miles down the coast, report occupancy rates of just 20 per cent.
Things aren’t nearly as slack in Taba Heights, however, but tour operators are offering some excellent deals.
So, for probably the best-value sun-and-sand holiday within five hours of the UK, head here in May, before the crowds return and temperatures soar. Or wait until October for the autumn and winter season deals. Get there by… Air.
The closest airport,
Taba, is a 40-minute drive inland, and is accessible only to charter flights, which means booking a package is the simplest way to arrive.
Independent travelers might consider flying to Sharm el Sheikh before making their way up the coast by car, via the backpacker-friendly towns of Dahab and Nuweiba, but the number of good value packages available to Taba Heights means that you won’t save much by doing it this way. Stay at… The Hyatt Regency (one week’s half-board accommodation from £575 per person, including flights from Gatwick; taba.regency.hyatt.com).
Although the resort’s four beachside hotels (all with slightly generous five-star status) possess large, spotless rooms with balconies and similar facilities (health centres, on-site shops and restaurants) and eco-friendly credentials, the Hyatt is the stand-out choice.
Its extensive, well-tended gardens and several pools around the grounds make it feel the most spacious, while its beach is often the least crowded.
The InterContinental (one week’s half-board from £615), including flights; www.intercontinental.com), with sumptuous spa, pretty organic herb garden, and pair of eye-catching à la carte restaurants, is another good option.
Each hotel also has its own saltwater lagoons, which are great for families with young children. Both resorts can be booked through Longwood Holidays (020 8418 2516; www.longwoodholidays.co.uk).
Spend the morning… Under water.
A shallow coral reef – ideal for snorkelling – can be found around the two wooden jetties outside the Hyatt.
The sea can sometimes get a little choppy, so take care close to the coral.
Bring your own gear unless you’re prepared to pay £25 for a mask and snorkel at a local shop.
Longer forays can be booked through Waterworld (0020 69 358 0099; www.redseawaterworld.com), based at the southern end of Taba Heights but with representatives in all the hotels.
Snorkeling trips, overseen by a friendly and enthusiastic crew, visit two sites: Pharaoh’s Island – a tiny isle topped with a 12th-century citadel built by Crusaders – and the Fjord, a picturesque inlet favored by Egyptian filmmakers.
Expect to see angelfish, parrotfish, grouper, lion fish, puffers, moray eels, the occasional barracuda or octopus and – if you’re lucky – a turtle or two.
Diving, parasailing and water-skiing excursions are also available.
Have lunch at… One of the beach bars, allowing you to minimize the time spent separated from your sun lounger.
All offer a decent range of salads, burgers and snacks – best enjoyed with an ice-cold Sakara beer. For something more special, take a 30-minute taxi ride south to Castle Zaman (www.castlezaman.com; 0020 18 214 0591), a faux-medieval creation with a fabulous clifftop location, a swimming pool, and its own private beach with coral reefs close by.
The menu features traditional lamb and seafood dishes with an emphasis on slow cooking, so ordering in advance is recommended.
Spend the afternoon… On dry land.
The colorful mountains behind Taba Heights
can be seen at close quarters on an exhilarating quad bike trek with Canyon Motor Safaris (0020 123 684 379; www.tabaquads.com), based on the edge of town.
Guides are provided, and trips range from one-hour circuits (£33 per person) to half-day tours (£72). For something more sedate, consider a round at the resort’s challenging and finely manicured golf course (from £57, plus £9 club hire; 0020 069 358 0073; www.tabaheights.com/golf).
The narrow target fairways mean you might need to master playing from the desert scrub, while epic gusts of wind will test your resolve, but the views are magnificent.
Have dinner… Away from the buffet. Most guests arrive on an all-inclusive or half-board package, so the hotels’ buffet restaurants can sometimes resemble a scrum.
Good alternatives can be found in Taba Heights’ “Uptown” area,
easily reached via the free shuttle bus, including The Bird’s Nest, which serves award-winning Thai cuisine (the beef in oyster sauce and the Bangkok fish were particularly good), and El Fuego, for Mexican cuisine and fine cocktails.
Both have excellent views overlooking the sea. The best of the hotels’ à la carte restaurants include El Mar at the InterContinental, specialising in Mediterranean cuisine.
Spend the following day… Exploring farther afield. Some operators, including Longwood (see above), offer a wide range of excursions, from coastal camel treks to two-day tours of Cairo.
A trip over the border to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, is a tiring, pricey (£185 per person, including guide, lunch and the £50 entrance fee to the site) but memorable experience.
Your day begins at 7am and includes two 45-minute ferry rides and a four-hour round-trip by coach, but the chance to wander around this glorious, rock-hewn, rose-red city makes it well worth the effort.