The highly acclaimed Gebel Elba National Park in Egypt spans an impressive 35,600 square kilometres of mountainous terrain, coastal desert and Red Sea coral reefs. The revered national park is a pristine region home to rare flora and fauna.
The Elba Mountain Peak is one of four mountain peaks standing proudly over the landscape, overlooking the splendid Red Sea. The mountains and national park form part of the Halaib Triangle, while the deep-set valleys divide the Red Sea from these mountain ranges. This is Egypt’s veritable Garden of Eden.
Scenes of mangrove swamps fringing beautiful coastal areas greatly contrast the arid acacia-laden interiors. There are 22 Red Sea islands forming part of the park’s habitat, making it one of Egypt’s most biodiverse regions. Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Egypt, this remote and relatively unvisited national park requires special permission to visit. The location is unique and spills across borders well into Sudanese territory—an adventure to get inside the park.
Most visitors fly into Marsa Alam, a popular Red Sea resort town known for its coral reefs, diving trips and endless sandy beaches. Marsa Alam is about two hours from the national park.
Because of its diverse habitat, Gebel Elba National Park supports a variety of species. The world’s last population of Nubian wild ass is believed to exist within the confines of the mountainous terrain, but that’s not the only rare species to exist within the park.
Notable species in the area include the bearded vulture, Egyptian vulture, Bonelli’s eagle and the black eagle. These are just a few of the 60 species of resident birds in the region. Eagles and falcons are common inland, while waders and shorebirds are found in the salt marshes and mangrove swamps. Along the coast, there are at least 86 different corals and 100 species of fish.
The 450 plant species present in the national park provide a home for a myriad of small wildlife. From moringas to acacias and dragon trees, the inland flora is diverse. Mammals are well supported within the park, and common residents include Barbary sheep, ibex, gazelle, aardwolf, genet, striped polecat and rock hyrax.
The national park is influenced by the coastal conditions and experiences unusually high rainfall for a desert region. There are extremely high temperatures in the interior, but the coastal region is mild. The Red Sea provides an unusual mist that covers the mountain peaks in the park.
Because the park is so big, the best time to go depends on where visitors intend to explore. Annually, the average temperature is 30 degrees celsius. Year-round the park experiences sun-filled skies, but the summer season sees temperatures soar. Summer is from June to August.
Green mountain, Gebel Elba, is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy unique hiking adventures. Trekking the mountain in search of wildlife in their natural habitat, and photographing coastal desert landscapes is a riveting experience. These hikes take about a day and are led by qualified tour guides.
There are guided drives into the interior of the park, where visitors can observe the spectacular contrasting mountainous terrain and look out for endemic birdlife. On the coast is the market town of Shalateen, a camel trading area offering insight into authentic Arabic culture. Here, visitors will witness locals trading camels from bordering Sudan. There are thousands of camels on display at the market, as well as buzzing Souk markets selling local wares.
Further afield, just on the border of the park, is the world-renown diving destination of Marsa Alam, an area where visitors can experience unforgettable snorkelling and diving trips.
The biggest town in the Halayib Triangle is Shalateen, an untouristy coastal town. In this area, there are a few accommodation options geared towards tourism. Visitors can expect an array of eco-lodges and beach lodges, glamorous Bedouin camps and small intimate hotels oozing a desert atmosphere.
The tourist-orientated town of Marsa Alam is fully geared towards tourism, catering for the beach-going and diving crowd. Many opt to stay here as their base for visiting the national park. Marsa Alam has several luxury resorts with dive schools, expansive swimming pools and beach paraphernalia.