‘Protected’ retreat

Beach vacations are risky. For many, the rare chance to escape the daily grind of city life for a few relaxing days by the sea can be effectively ruined by a variety of increasingly common factors.

Congested coastlines have resulted in shores of cigarette butts and broken beer bottles, and oily seas of bobbing soda cans and plastic bags. Even the private hotel beaches suffer their own curses in the guise of overexcited animation teams, leering staff members, or deafening “beach music”, as defined by the resident DJ. 

Located on Giftun Island, a National Park off the coast of Hurghada, Mahmya is, as its name implies, “protected” from all of the above. While similar claims have been made by numerous seaside destinations, Mahmya actually delivers on its promise.

The fact that Mahmya advertises itself as an “environmentally friendly eco-tourist destination” means that everything on the beach is tightly controlled, from the number of visitors to energy consumption and waste disposal methods. While these measures are in place for the sake of the environment, they go far in ensuring a naturally stunning atmosphere that can be enjoyed by visitors. Mahmya is not a destination for those seeking decadent luxury, but offers uncultivated beauty.

Built under the supervision of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), this exclusive beach was designed to make the most of the existing landscape, instead of altering it. The result is a soothing shoreline of beautiful simplicity, the kind sorely lacking at most vacation destinations.

There are no actual buildings on Mahmya, no concrete walls, and no paved pathways. Everything on the beach is made from material readily available on the island, with palm trees providing the wood for umbrellas and simple beach furniture, and stairways and corridors cut snugly into pre-existing rock formations. Only bathrooms and the kitchen feature tiled floors for hygienic purposes. The beach’s two restaurants, bar, pergolas and various seating areas and observation points all rest on naturally sandy surfaces blissfully free of the bottle caps, wrappers and other forms of trash regularly left behind by careless vacationers.

But perhaps best of all is the sense of seclusion at Mahmya, which is impressive considering it is not the only beach on the island. With its borders clearly marked and subtly guarded, and its beach umbrellas and chairs lining the shore, spaced at a comfortable distance from each other, Mahmya provides both the personal space and peace of mind essential for a day of genuine relaxation.

The only way to reach Giftun Island is by an hour-long boat ride, which, if you are lucky, may include several dolphin sightings. As it is an exclusive retreat, only the ten yachts that comprise Mahmya’s fleet are allowed access to the beach, docking at a safe distance from the surrounding coral reefs at environmentally friendly buoys specially designed by the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA). Once the yachts are docked, visitors are then ferried via smaller boats to the beach, and are then free to roam and explore the natural beauty of the island, indulge in a variety of activities, or laze around and offer their bodies to the sun.   

“We try to cater to every need,” says Mahmya’s sales manager Jennifer Toepke. “The main activity here is relaxing, chilling out, but we also provide for those who might want to do a little more than that,” she says, gesturing toward a scattering of brightly-tanned bodies floating face down on their "Sea-Spi"s–personalized glass bottom boats.

More traditional water activities are also available: the Aqua Center provides–and routinely sanitizes–equipment such as wetsuits and snorkeling gear for visitors of all ages. Mahmya also features the mandatory beach volleyball court as well as a clearing designated for soccer, where guests and staff members play against each other.

Visitors to Mahmya often use the beach as a starting point for a boat excursion to surrounding islands and dive sites, returning to the private beach for lunch, a choice between an a la carte menu or a bountiful buffet seemingly accommodating every culinary preference.

“We deal with a lot of different nationalities,” says Toepke, “and it’s a real challenge, providing for their tastes, but we try.” Based on Toepke’s suggestion, Al-Masry Al-Youm tries the seafood platter, which was exquisitely fresh and tremendously satisfying.

Mahmya strictly regulates the number of visitors it receives, meaning that even at maximum occupancy the beach feels far from crowded. “We try to ensure our guests receive quality service,” says Toepke, explaining that “quality service” is hard to pull off when there are too many visitors to handle.

Guests are therefore handled in the most efficient way possible, with lunches and excursions staggered so that vacationers don’t all have to rush to do the same thing at once. This attention to detail even extends to the music–which actually does sound like "beach music"–playing quietly over speakers situated throughout the beach. “We’ve actually gotten quite a few comments on the music,” Topeke smiles. “Guests have asked us for copies of our playlists.”

Mahmya relies on generators and solar panels for energy, as there is no electricity on the island. Both the bathrooms and the kitchen are situated uphill, allowing gravity to transport waste through specially constructed PVC pipes to underwater holding tanks. The same yachts that bring in guests and fresh water from El Gouna, are also responsible for emptying the submerged tanks and taking the waste back to Hurghada, where it can be disposed of properly.

Mahmya’s status as a National Park means that there are no hotels or overnight facilities on Giftun Island. Come sundown, Mahmya, along with the other beaches on the island, must be vacated, according to law.

At the end of the day at Mahmya, Al-Masry Al-Youm finds itself on a breezy cliff, engaged in a pleasant conversation with Samir Ibrahim, Mahmya’s disarmingly friendly operations manager. Ibrahim, who has been with Mahmya since its inception in 1997, is well versed in the endless efforts required to sustain a place like this. Between describing the obvious benefits of working in such an inspiring environment, Ibrahim pauses to lament the scarcity of similar locations.

“There are 80 million people living on eight percent of this country’s total landmass,” he says, looking out at the sinking sun and the shore below, where a growing crowd of vacationers slowly make their way to the dock.

“Eight percent! How does that make sense? Of course, when you live in that kind of environment, something like this,”–he pauses to spread his arms over the scene below–"it just seems like another world.” 

Mahmya beach is managed by El Alia Touristic Developments Company.

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