“Life as it should be,” is the slogan of the El Gouna tourist board, and those who live and work here will constantly remind you that this isn’t the real Egypt. Indeed, ‘The Lagoon’, a tourist resort developed on the Red Sea by billionaire Samih Sawiris from 1990, is a little bubble where people come to seek pleasure in all kinds of guises, from energetic kite-surfing and golfing to serious beach-lazing and spa pampering.
El Gouna is a bit like an Egyptian Venice – its buildings may be modern but they are all constructed in a harmonious traditional style. And, largely free of traffic save the tuk tuks and shuttle buses that ferry around those who aren’t travelling its waterways by boat, El Gouna is eminently suited to kids.
Of the 15 or so hotels, the most family-friendly is the five-star Mövenpick Resort, with family rooms and suites, four restaurants, four swimming pools, plus separate kids’ pools, a kids' club and the wonderful Angsana spa, where I was lucky enough to try out a fabulous Javanese massage.
I stayed in the Captain’s Inn, a three-star with a boutique-meets-backpacker vibe on the lively Abu Tig Marina to the north of the resort. Largely attracting hip young kite-surfers by virtue of its great-value rooms (from as little as £25 a night with advance/no-refund booking), it doesn’t have family rooms but would be a prime spot for those travelling with teenagers. From April to October, Abu Tig hosts the Friday Marina Festival, a barmy affair with live music, Chinese acrobats, stilt-walkers, fire-dancers and exotically clad ladies draped with snakes. The resort also has a free open-air cinema each Thursday, with amphitheatre-style seating and a drinks and food service.
A massive choice of things to do within the resort means you probably won’t leave it. I didn’t try out kite-surfing (I plan to return when all my kids are old enough – about 9 and up – to learn with me), but I did horse-ride along the beach, learn to stand-up paddleboard in the lagoon, snorkel in the Red Sea off a catamaran, watching colourful fish slither through the gorgeous coral reefs, and take a lesson at the golf course, which, perhaps unique, has you driving balls out onto islands in the lagoon. A second golf course is scheduled to open before too long, and of course diving tuition is available.
Staying at the Captain’s Inn also gives you access to nearby Moods Beach, which with its big floating beanbag loungers looks like something straight out of Ibiza but is also kid-friendly, with play areas dotted around behind the sunbathing zones (any El Gouna hotels that don’t have direct access to the shore offer free transport to a beach). To meet local kids, you can do much worse than take a tuk tuk out to El Gouna’s fish farm, created beside the town’s own desalination station (this is a very green resort with its own recycling plant, too). Here, kids can play on equipment fashioned from repurposed wood, feed the fish and watch the goose strut about, and have a family barbecue. For days when the heat gets too much, the resort's Cheeky Monkey centre has an indoor, air-conditioned playground, mini-golf, football pitch and picnic area.
The sea at El Gouna is generally shallow to an amazing distance from the shore and also – despite the wind – pretty calm, so it’s fantastic for those with young kids. The resort also has a small museum and aquarium, a go-kart track, a skatepark, and tennis courts, with coaching available for ages 3 to 19. Orange Concept, the same firm that offers the snorkeling catamaran trips, also runs semi-submarine tours with reef-viewing galleries that would suit very young kids (if you’re very lucky you’ll see dolphins and sea turtles), and banana-boat and donut rides. Speedboat rides, family fishing excursions and Segway tours are available too.
With all that on offer, you might not have the time or energy to stray out of the resort, but if you do, there’s plenty to do both in the immediate surroundings and further afield, from desert quad-biking (ages 12 and up) and 4X4 star-gazing sorties to day-trip or overnighters to Luxor to Cairo (about 4hrs/6hrs by road respectively; flights also available).
The quality of the food varies, with the highlights of my visit being the lunch buffet in the main restaurant at the Dawa el Omda boutique hotel (family friendly, with family rooms and an infinity pool overlooking the lagoon) and Tandoor, a very good Indian. As with accommodation, there’s plenty of choice for all budgets and all tastes when it comes to eating out in El Gouna, from pizzerias to authentic Egyptian restaurants. Many of the hotels are part of the Dine Around Program, which allows those staying on a half-board, full-board or all-inclusive basis to try out restaurants at other hotels on a certain number of nights, depending on how long they are staying.
With temperatures reaching around 48°C in high summer, El Gouna is best left for earlier or later in the year – it’s a great place, in fact, for a family holiday in the February and especially the May/June and October half terms. There are direct flights to Hurghada (about a 30-minute drive from El Gouna) from the UK.
Read more about family holidays in Egypt.