Three protected areas you need to visit if you’re a nature-lover travelling to Sharm El Sheikh for COP 27 this November

By Amany Nakhla, UNDP Egypt Biodiversity Team Leader and Noran Said, UNDP Egypt Communications Coordinator

July 21, 2022

Sharm El-Sheikh and its surroundings offer an abundance of attractions and experiences for visitors, including expansive beaches perfect for sun-sand-and-sea holidays.

Located on the Red Sea coast at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, Sharm El Sheikh has become an international tourist destination in recent years, popular with Egyptian and foreign visitors alike on account of the region’s natural and cultural beauty and its all-year-round dry climate.

Sharm El-Sheikh and its surroundings offer an abundance of attractions and experiences for visitors, including beaches perfect for sun-sand-and-sea holidays, some of the world’s most exciting and acclaimed sites for scuba-diving, as well as breath-taking ancient world Egyptian temples and tombs.

When Egypt hosts COP27 in November this year, the whole world will turn its attention to Sharm El Sheikh, where world leaders will be meeting to take crucial decisions to reduce carbon emissions and scale up efforts to tackle climate change.

Climate action matters now more than ever.

Nearly half the global population is now adversely affected by rising sea levels, droughts, and more frequent and more intense weather events that threaten lives, livelihoods and homes. Continuing to ignore the science will put people and the planet in peril as never before.

UNDP has been providing support to Egypt’s government in its preparations for COP27.

For example, we have been cooperating with large hotels in Sharm to help them install solar rooftops. Small-scale PV systems will also be installed in landmark buildings throughout the city of Sharm El-Sheikh, including the airport, the main hospital, and key government buildings. We are also exploring opportunities to support limiting use of plastic and green transport.

All these efforts confirm that Sharm El-Sheikh is becoming the leading driver of energy transition in Egypt, setting an example for other cities to follow.

UNDP has also been working in close partnership with the government of Egypt in recent years to help protect the country’s cultural and environmental diversity, including through the promotion of sustainable tourism in Sharm El-Sheikh. In line with this aim, we unashamedly seize this opportunity to recommend a few places to visit in your free time while attending COP27.

The Ras Mohamed Nature Reserve – Brimming with coral reefs

This reserve is located at the southernmost tip of the Sinai Peninsula in one of the most serene spots of Egypt’s Red Sea coast. This protected area includes a small mangrove forest located between rich coral reefs and the inland peninsular desert.

Beneath the crystal-clear waters of the Red Sea, divers and snorkellers can explore a rich variety of exotic vertebrate and invertebrate species. Further offshore, dolphins can easily be observed in their natural habitats, while birdwatchers have the chance to spot some of the 240 or more species of birds in this area, including vast number of migrating white storks.

With funding from the Global Environmental Facility and in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, UNDP has been helping to ensure the sustainability and self-financing of this valuable protected area. In 2018, for example, we officially launched the Ras Mohamed National Park first Visitors’ Centre to promote ecotourism.

For anyone seeking a break from or an alternative to snorkelling, camping and hiking, we recommend you visit the new Visitors Centre and to support the local Bedouin communities in this area – where we have helped train 2,400 women in the production, packaging and marketing of some pretty amazing local products.

Nabq Protected Area – History, wildlife, and underwater exploration

This area lies at the narrowest part of the Gulf of Aqaba. A 30-minute drive from Sharm El Sheikh, this protected area includes one of the most northerly mangrove forests in the world, and provides beachside camping, hiking, stargazing and multiple water sports. Inland, the desert is well vegetated by so-called Toothbrush Bush and supports small numbers of dorcas gazelle. Marine creatures live and breed among the mangrove-root networks, while the crowns of these trees provide a nesting and feeding habitat for shorebirds such as spoonbills and osprey.

Together with our partners, we have been working on the rehabilitation of mangroves in Nabq and on renovating and upgrading the visitor centre into a research centre to help monitor and study the effects of climate change on the sea and land in the area.

Nabq also boasts an abundance of palm trees that yield delicious and nutrient-packed dates. The women of the local Tarabin and the Mazayna tribes produce traditional craft items with striking decorative embroidery and beadwork in distinctly stylized motifs reflecting their cultural heritage. You can support these communities by buying their goods while travelling in this beautiful park.

Abu Galum Protectorate – A divers’ and snorkelers’ paradise.

Home to the globally renowned ‘blue hole’ and many other world-famous diving sites, the Abu Galum protected area covers an area of 500 square kilometres. Declared a protected area in 1992, the area includes high coastal mountains as well as the coral reefs for which the Red Sea is famous. Along the Gulf of Aqaba, the coastal plain is narrow, and this protected area plays an important role in regulating land use. The Nubian Ibex is found on virtually inaccessible peaks and the reefs, still in pristine condition, are among the finest in the world.

Along with our partners, we have contributed to installing basic infrastructure in this protected area and renovated the park-rangers’ quarters. To protect marine life in the area, we are also implementing a marine monitoring programme.  We also helped the local communities renovate their traditional cafes to match with the surrounding environment.

When you visit Abu Galum, don’t forget to meet the Mazayna tribe, known for their hospitality and their Marmaria tea.

In all our efforts we are guided by the recognition that the sustainability of protected areas depends first and foremost on the communities living in these areas. Improving the livelihoods of these communities and climate action are fundamental pillars of nature conservation.

We hope to see you in Sharm El Sheikh later this year!