In the course of two decades, HURGHADA has been transformed from a humble fishing village of a few hundred souls into a booming town of over 150,000 people, drawn here from all over Egypt by the lure of making money. This phenomenal growth is almost entirely due to tourism, which accounts for 95 percent of the local economy. Yet it's worth taking Hurghada's claims to be a seaside resort with a handful of salt. Unlike Sinai, where soft sand and gorgeous reefs are within easy reach and women can bathe unhassled, Hurghada's public beaches are distant or uninviting, while the best marine life is far offshore. If you're not into diving or discos, you'll soon find that Hurghada lacks charm – though you have to admire its commercial gusto; many of the townsfolk come from Luxor's west bank, where tourism has been a way of life for generations.
While package tourists laze in their resorts, independent travellers often feel hard done by. Paying for boat trips and private beaches is unavoidable if you're to enjoy Hurghada's assets, and although conditions for diving, windsurfing and deep-sea fishing are great, the cost is high, with real bargains limited to accommodation. Nor will you save much by self-catering; everything in the shops is more expensive than in Cairo or the Nile Valley. As tour groups come year round, there's no "off" season; peak times are the European Christmas and Easter holidays and the Russian vacation period of August and September. Budget hotels are most in demand over winter, when backpackers use Hurghada as a transit point between the Nile Valley and the Sinai.