We have visited Egypt several times a year for many years, so can count in many dozens the total number of our holidays in the country, but although we have been to the usual haunts – Luxor, Cairo, Giza, Dahab, Nuweiba, Taba Hilton etc.- this is our first visit to Taba Heights.
The first three impressions are: (a) how little hassle there is compared to other parts of the same country (b) how empty the whole area is and (c) how everyone is keen to make your stay as pleasurable as possible.
We are well used to our bags being taken from us as we leave Luxor airport, or local people insisting that we want a ride in a taxi when we know we do not, or to take a camel at the pyramids when we are happy to stroll. None of those problems here. We dragged our own bags to the coach with no hint of the usual army of unwanted porters and have not heard the dreaded ‘Tax … Carriage’ once. Very refreshing. We know that hassle puts many people off travelling to the country at all. If that is you – try Taba Heights!
Although the British government distinguishes between the Sinai resorts and other parts of Egypt when offering travel advice, apparently many other governments do not. Consequently, very few tourists are here from the countries that you would expect to be well represented at almost any holiday resort. If you are tired of a resort where there are ten tourists per sun bed, come here. There are ten sun beds per tourist.
This is fine if you want all the facilities and none of the crowds, but for the area it is such a shame. The weather is as good as it always was, the water is as warm, the diving is as good (or so they tell me), the sun is as reliable and there is absolutely no hint of the problems that are keeping visitors, including us, from other parts of Egypt.
The emptiness can be a little eerie, though. The ‘shopping centre’ is as quiet as a film set before the crew arrive or a goldrush town when the gold has run out. You almost expect a newspaper to be driven by the wind into a saloon bar door and to hear the spaghetti western music.
Yet despite the lack or tourists, or perhaps because there are so few, everyone is really keen to help. Apparently the local population only numbers around 1,000 and every one of them depends on tourism for their livelihood, so they try, really try, to make sure that those who do come are happy with their choice.
Are there any downsides? Yes, of course. You would imagine that the amount the hotel chefs are able to spend relates to the number of guests, and that with a reduction in the number of guests comes a reduction in spend. Consequently, the variety available at each meal is not as wide as it would be in different circumstances. Having said that, at the Marriott, where we are staying, although there may not be the variety we have come to anticipate in Egyptian four and five star hotels, the selection is fine, with at least two or three choices at each of the meals: and the quality is extremely good, too, especially by all-inclusive buffet standards. Many local hotels have an agreement whereby, by arrangement, someone on ‘all inclusive’ in one hotel can eat a main meal at another, further increasing the options.
Something we had not anticipated was the colour of the bath water! We appreciate that water is a scarce resource and that most of it is recovered from available supplies – the Nile in the case of Aswan and Luxor and the surrounding seas in the case of the Red Sea and Gulf resorts. This is then desalinated, filtered and treated as necessary. This has worked very well at the many places we have stayed throughout Egypt but initially the water here looked as though it had missed one of the filtration stages. Ours was rather murky and not very hot. Fine if you prefer a shower, which most do, but as you filled a bath the water became increasingly brown as the depth rose. We were told by the hotel’s engineer that this was normal although we cannot (yet) speak about the situation in the other hotels. However, a few more queries and visits from different engineers later, the problem was reduced, if not totally solved, accompanied by a room change option. We decided to stay and tolerate the now beige rather than brown water. This is probably one of the symptoms of low occupancy. Water remains static in some places and silt builds up. And it is we who have decided to stay rather than change rooms. So this is not a criticism of the hotel but credit for its determination to resolve issues that may arise.
Something you do need to be aware of is that, although the hotel description suggests ‘coffee making facilities in the room’, this relates to the facilities – i.e. the kettle and cups – not to the ingredients. Elsewhere in Egypt, even on B&B, ‘facilities in the room’ has meant daily refills. Here there are complimentary sachets for you on arrival, but refills cost an astonishing LE30 (£3) each time if you request them. There is a note to this effect on the kettle tray, but as there are so many notes for guests in the room, you may not read them all. Read this one, because if you ask for refills every day for a 2 week holiday, it could cost you an alarming LE420 (around £40GBP).
Most of the day trips from the area have been cancelled by the main tour operators for security reasons, but trips are still available to Petra in Jordan and to the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Bethlehem in neighbouring Israel. You can find more options locally, but not all of them accord with official Foreign Office advice about travel safety in the area.
Within Taba Heights there are limited options, most of which depend on sunbathing, swimming, diving and the like, from the shore or from a jetty or a boat. There is also a golf course which offers professional tuition. A 2500 metre 'jogging path', or promenade, links the four main beach hotels and the watersport centre, which also serves drinks and meals.
If you a reading this because you are wondering whether to try Taba Heights, you need to be quick. Most UK travel companies have already stopped coming here and we are told that the remaining few will stop their direct flights in or around November, for a few months at least. Thereafter, the only way, at least until next year, will be via the more distant Sharm airport, with a 2 - 3 hour transfer time. Regulars may decide the extra transfer time is worth it, but many newcomers might decide that Taba is not a sufficient draw to justify that kind of journey, especially as you would pass similar man-made resorts along the way. The hotels will still have guests from elsewhere, especially from neighbouring countries, so people who do make the effort won't be on their own, but it does seem likely that UK tourist numbers will, sadly, be down in the coming months.
So if you are thinking of coming to Taba Heights, and if you want a holiday that offers sun, sea, water-based entertainment, relaxation and welcoming hotel staff, you need to come soon.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- CURRENTLY CLOSED FOR RENOVATION ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Taba Heights Marriott Beach Hotel Taba
- Marriott Taba Heights
- Taba Marriott
- Marriott Beach Resort Taba