PORT GHALIB – A GUIDE
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Thirty years ago Port Ghalib was just a small stretch of uninhabited desert coastline but the Kuwaiti billionaire Nasser El Kharafi (who died in April 2011) invested two billion dollars to turn it into the region’s largest tourist resort and marina complex. Even after many visits to Port Ghalib, I still marvel at the amazing achievement of this highly eccentric business venture. It now covers 18 km of desert coastline and 8 million square metres of desert – that’s vast – it’s almost the same area as all 2,482 Tesco supermarket stores in the United Kingdom combined.
But don’t let my weird comparisons lead you to get the wrong impression. This previously barren and windswept rocky desert has been transformed into a modern high tech oasis of hotels, trees, shops and sporting facilities. An engineering miracle made possible by a billionaire’s willingness to spend over half a million dollars a day on the project during the first decade of this century.
A transformation so impressive that, in January 2011, The New York Times included Port Ghalib in its’ top 41 must see destinations worldwide and it was actually ranked 24th, well above Budapest (40th) and Miami (41st). The “ugly sisters,” Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, weren’t even mentioned.
Equally enthusiastic was Chris Johns of Britain’s Sunday People newspaper, who lavished praise on the Port Ghalib complex in 2009, then only in its early stages of development, noting that ‘with its beautiful architecture and canals, it reminded me of Venice – a weird comparison given that it was on the edge of the desert.’1
How to get there ? Port Ghalib is located on the Red Sea coast just 3 km from Marsa Alam’s international airport (for air connections see our flights page.) It lies 65 km North of the town of Marsa Alam and 73 km south of the old port of El Quseir.
If you can afford it, one can also arrive in style in one’s yacht as Port Ghalib has its’ own large marina with a harbour master and even a customs and immigration office.
WHAT TO DO ?
Port Ghalib is a great place to forget that you are on an otherwise remote stretch of Saharan coastline. Here you can sip drinks at a table by the marina or enjoy shopping in what is definitely Marsa Alam’s most upmarket souk.
If you are looking for a faster pace of life – there are occasionally international music concerts held here hosting the likes of R&B superstar Beyonce Knowles. Her visit on 6th November 2009, for which tickets were issued at $400 a head, attracted considerable criticism from Islamists, some of whom labelled her performances as “satanic”.
That concert is now a Marsa Alam legend but night owls can still enjoy more regular weekly entertainment either at the Red Club, ‘equipped with the finest sound and light systems’ and a ‘massive LED screen’, located at the Sunrise Marina Resort or you can try the VIP Disco Club based at the Palace with the DJ playing different styles of House Music. Don’t worry about the entry charges – they are fairly reasonable.
However, due to the covid-19 pandemic please check in advance whether either of these venues are currently open. For information on opening times at the Red Club (normally 21.00 to 04.00 – tel +20 1206048008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
For those of you who enjoy music but who are not night owls, you can also often find live music being played early in the evenings in the small square at the entrance to the Marina.
For sporting types and the adventurous, Port Ghalib is a great base. There is a good diving centre and plenty of aqua sports activities including windsurfing, parasailing and jet skiing.
FANCY A RIDE IN A SUBMARINE ?
Families might enjoy a trip out over the reef in the Seascope Submarine. It’s really just a deep hulled glass-bottomed boat but don’t tell your spouse until he or she has bought the tickets ! You should be able to see plenty of colourful fish, beautiful coral and often turtles and dolphins. Prices start from as little as 40 euro per person if you are a minimum of two. You can book via email@example.com. He can usually get you a competitive quote. The trip takes two hours and last time we enquired it seemed there was at least one departure daily at around midday. For more information see our semi-submarine excursion page.
Well there’s the souk: It’s home to a staggering 165 retail outlets although depending on the season, not all my be open. And don’t imagine that you will be competing with sheep and donkeys and stepping over chickens – No, this is a highly sanitized souk with prices to match.
But there is at least a great choice. You can find many boutique stores selling souvenirs, art, handicrafts, clothing, handbags, watches and diving equipment. So if you are looking for a bedouin tapestry this may be the most convenient (though perhaps not the cheapest) place to find one. However if in doubt about the price try to arrange an excursion to El Quseir where shop rents and prices are often lower. If you are looking for a few food items, last time we checked there was a small minimarket open in Port Ghalib’s harbour area. Most shop owners do accept euros and pounds sterling, although you might sometimes, though not always, get a better price if you offer to pay in Egyptian pounds.
EATING OUT IN PORT GHALIB
Port Ghalib used to have a monopoly on several international restaurant chains with the only Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s or Baskin Robbins for hundreds of kilometres in any direction. Now however these have gone, but the good news is that there are several excellent restaurants, many of them with tables with a view out across the marina. The most popular in September 2020, according to the TripAdvisor, ratings include Divino (Italian, pizza & seafood) – Wunder-Bar (hamburgers, schnitzels & more), the Al Sultan (Egyptian and vegetarian friendly) and Hakuna Matata (Italian, seafood) – all of them situated at Port Ghalib Marina. You can also find several other restaurants and cafes offering a range of cuisine, including Italian, Lebanese and Egyptian. For ice creams almost everyone loves Tutti Frutti and for fans of Asian and Japanese food the best choice is probably the Roka Asian Restaurant situated at Madina Coraya, a few minutes drive to the north of Port Ghalib.
Although tourist numbers are still low (as of September 2020) tables might need to be reserved due to social distancing. The marina is a virtual ghost town in the day but has more atmosphere and life in the evenings. Want to book a table – phone
- Divino on +20 100 191 9999
- Wunder-Bar on +20 109 944 5605
- Al Sultan on +20 101 470 7776
- Hakuna Matata on +20 100 107 9247
- Tutti Frutti on +20 122 796 3653
- Roka Asian on +20 65 3750088
Please note, that to the best of my knowledge, you can now buy alcohol in the hotels and some of the restaurants, however it’s best to make checks before arriving and if you like a particular label it is strongly recommended that you obtain some in advance from Duty Free.
The Marina also boasts the area’s biggest, spa complex. The Six Senses Spa covers an area of 1,700 square metres – that’s larger than your average European supermarket – with sixteen treatment areas.
It offers all the usual treatments that you can find on the health club menus of most Marsa Alam hotels with a few that you might not be able to find elsewhere such as colonic hydrotherapy.
PORT GHALIB MARINA HARBOUR
According to the Marina’s own website it can host an amada of ships to rival Homer’s Trojan epic – up to 1,000 yachts – making it the largest in the Middle East, although you will rarely see more than a dozen moored and it may be some years before Kharafi’s dreams for Port Ghalib are realized, if ever. It’s doubtful whether his five children will have quite the same unmitigated enthusiasm for this beautiful, but remote location over 1000 km from their homeland.
If you wish to moor your yacht, the berthing charges, as of September 2020, are very reasonable – just $14 a week or $48 a month for any foreign registered vessels up to 10 metres in length and just $17 a week or $61 a month for vessels up to 20 metres. A full table of rates for Egyptian and foreign vessels is given here.
You can even squeeze a fifty metre yacht in to the marina and even if you are a billionaire you will only need to pay $41 a week or $136 a month. The maximum rate is $49 a week or $163 a month for vessels longer than 50 metres, assuming they can be accommodated safely.
WHERE TO STAY ?
Port Ghalib isn’t particularly welcoming of your typical backpacker. You won’t find any hostels or cheap options here and if you are looking for budget options you would be much better off looking at El Quseir or the small town of Marsa Alam where there are one or two relatively cheap hotels.
Possibly the best choice here is Port Ghalib Marina Lodge situated on the south side of the lagoon. You can catch a free ferry shuttle over to the main marina – although one guest complained on TripAdvisor (8 March 2012) that the schedule was “a bit erratic” and requested a board with information. However the hotel generally has an excellent reputation, the staff are friendly and there is a good diving school based there.
Now you are talking, providing you can afford it. Currently a choice of four -the Palace Port Ghalib, Port Ghalib Resort, Siva Port Ghalib and Sunrise Marina Resort.
And I’ve no doubt which the author P.G. Woodhouse would have chosen for one of Bertie Wooster’s decadent travel sagas. Surrounded by terraced gardens and waterfalls and with its’ thirteen royal suites the Palace Port Ghalib is the ultimate in Marsa Alam for extravagance and opulence. And Bertie could have left Jeeves (his famous personal valet) behind as the hotel offered (at the time of writing) its’ own optional butler service when you book a suite.
BUY A PROPERTY
If you are looking to buy yourself a flat in well managed sea view location with restaurants on your doorstep then you might well consider Port Ghalib. There’s a choice of furnished studios, apartments or “townhouses” to rent or buy at the Marina Residence with balaconies overlooking the marina and corniche.
And there are also apartments available close by in Tower Village built around narrow streets and gardens inspired by the surviving medieval alleyways of older Middle Eastern cities.
Homes offered in Port Ghalib vary in size from 48 sqm studios to 315 sqm Arabian villas and prices in 2010 started at 80,000 dollars. Residents will benefit from 24 hour security and communal services such as parking, garbage collection, broadband internet and telephone but I don’t what the services charge, if any, might be. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PORT GHALIB HOSPITAL
Should you need emergency medical assistance, this may be your best local bet although there are also small hospitals at Marsa Alam and El Quseir. You should be able to find all that you need to know about this hopsital on its’ website PortGhalibHospital.com. Tel: +2 (065) 3544850 or +2 (065) 3543850.
BANKS IN PORT GHALIB
There’s a choice of either the CIB Bank or the National Bank of Egypt (both open Sunday through Thursday until approx 15.00). The CIB Bank is located just off the Corniche at Tower Village next to the Emak Administration Building while the National Bank of Egypt is located at the El Borg Building, KM 70 Quseir Marsa Alam Road at Coraya Bay. There is an ATM machine at both banks and foreign exchange facilities during banking hours. The phone number for the CIB Bank is 065 3360 000 and for the National Bank of Egypt it is 065 3700 071.. There should also be two alternative CIB ATM machines at El Borg Village about 1 km from the marina.
ORIGINS OF THE NAME
Ghalib means “the victor” or “conqueror” in Arabic.
1. Christ Johns, ‘Quiet Life on Marsa,’ The Sunday People, 6 April 2009.
2. See for instance TripAdvisor reports by Raey-Litza 15 November 2012, Bob B 3 November 2012 and Alex W on 8 October 2012.
PORT GHALIB THROUGH TIME IN SATELLITE IMAGES
Satellite images taken in 2004 (top), 2011 (next down) and then 2013.