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El Gemal island, Egypt

Gemal island, Egypt

El Gemal Island is part of the Wadi El Gemal Park Reserve and is not often visited due to its status and the endangered animals that call it home. However, its white coral sands and crystal clear blue waters are considered a visitor’s paradise and a breathtaking sight, as are the families of turtles that migrate here and the sooty falcons nesting on the protected islet.

El Gemal Island is truly a rare treat and, not being a public beach due to its protected status, visits need to be arranged in advance. However, it is possible to take a few hours on the pristine and unspoiled sands, where the snorkeling is phenomenal. An outfit called Shams Alam diving center has been given government clearance to take up to 20 people at a time to this magnificent spit of land for up to three hours during daylight. The southern end of the island is teeming with healthy corals and tropical fish, with turtles aplenty, mangrove stands and seagrass beds.

The island is also a birdwatcher’s delight and, except during breeding season, bird enthusiasts can take the run of the island and spot the feathered creatures to their heart’s content, but only if accompanied by a guide and after getting the okay from the Red Sea Rangers, who watch out for this park and enforce all rules. Wadi El Gemal Island is recognized as an Important Bird Area, or IBA site.

On the coastal side of El Gemal looking out to the island, some activities can be organized, such as snorkeling and diving, where the visitor can witness the amazing and abundant colorful reef life of the preservation. More often, though, the wadi (or dry riverbed), is an amazing hiking and explorer’s haven of great biodiversity and interest.

Usually, the guided tours of the wadi begin at the Visitor’s Terrace, where an exact replica of a Roman structure has been built with extreme attention to detail. It even employs the same kinds of rocks as the Romans would have found and used in this area. True ruins matching this manmade one are scattered among archeological sites throughout the region, dating back to the first century A.D. From this vantage point, you can look out and see the sweeping magnificence of the valley, the sapphire waters of the ocean and the impressive mountains.

From there, you will move on to Ras Baghdadi, a marvelous wetlands formed by fresh mountain runoff mixing with seawater, forming a brackish marsh. Many animals live in this area where there is shade, water and greenery, including wild gazelle, foxes, wildcats and lizards. Here, too, you will discover one of the few stands of the Dom Palms trees that sparsely grow along the Egyptian Red Sea coastline. Next, enjoy the remains of the largest emerald mine in the Eastern Desert, Wadi Sikait. The Romans called it Emerald Mountain, and it was one of the very rare mines they knew of. This site is of great archeological interest and was once a vibrant business village that archeologists are working to understand better.

Stunning in its diversity and beauty, the wadi is a place of life in the desert, a curious blend of biology and stupendous, scenic vistas, making this a stop that cannot be ignored. If you are in the area, this is a definite must-see and a world apart from anything you have ever known.

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