I’m not typically drawn to beach resorts, so to have visited two in a single year is quite unusual for me. My visit to Cook’s Club in El Gouna, however, had a specific purpose — obtaining my open-water scuba diving certification.
Originally, I had planned to head to Sharm El-Sheikh, the common choice, but flight logistics didn’t align. Reluctantly, I turned my attention to Hurghada, even though its slightly rundown nature meant it wasn’t my first choice destination.
Fortunately, it was then that I stumbled upon El Gouna through a Reddit recommendation. Established as a tourist city in the 1990s and undergoing significant growth in recent years, El Gouna boasts nearly-new hotels, scenic surroundings, and top-rated restaurants.
While Egypt draws some criticism for being a relatively hostile environment for tourists, this seemed like a retreat from all of that, while still retaining some semblance of authenticity.
Choosing from the city’s 18 hotels, spanning various prices, proved challenging. But with great reviews and proximity to local amenities, Cook’s Club stood out, offering the best price-to-value ratio for my desired dates.
So, was it the right decision?
Price and booking
Hotels in El Gouna cater to a range of budgets, all the way from a bargain £45 per night, right up to a still quite reasonable £225 per night. In the end, I chose Cook’s Club, for a five-night stay in a “Classic Room with Balcony”. I booked through Booking.com, and paid £109 per night.
Right off the bat, I’ll say that this was really good value.
Before delving into the details of the hotel itself, let’s explore the surroundings of El Gouna.
As for the airport, let’s not beat around the bush, it’s a miserable experience. It’s poorly organised, lacks structure, and, frankly, is rife with corruption. From the moment you step into the terminal building until you exit, you’ve got to have your guard up.
Fortunately, escaping to El Gouna is a straightforward process if you’ve arranged a taxi in advance, either through your hotel or directly with a reputable taxi company. Examples of reliable services can be found on online forums. I paid £11 for the 45-minute journey, making sure to confirm this price at the beginning of the trip.
As you travel through the rugged surroundings visible from the taxi, don’t be alarmed; El Gouna is a true oasis. The city is composed of several manmade islands separated by lagoons and connected by bridges. Constructing this from the ground up is a remarkable achievement, reminiscent of the developments in Dubai but executed with significantly more taste.
Nearby conveniences include supermarkets stocked with everything you might need, high-quality restaurants offering a variety of international cuisines, as well as pharmacies and hairdressers. There’s a marina a 20-minute walk from the hotel, which boasts the highest density of dining options. It’s one of my favourite areas, and tuk-tuks can take you there for around 50p per ride.
While I always recommend exercising caution, I encountered no issues with scams or overcharging for goods or services during my stay. Unlike other parts of Egypt, such behavior is generally not a concern in El Gouna. Local businesses prioritise integrity, and all the individuals I interacted with were hospitable and friendly.
Check-in and first impressions
The entrance doesn’t reveal much; it’s slightly set back from the road and fairly nondescript. The presence of metal detectors at the front door didn’t surprise me; they’re a common sight at hotels in Egypt.
As for their effectiveness, I’m skeptical, given that security waves you through regardless of whether or not they beep. Nevertheless, El Gouna as a whole feels very safe. I wasn’t sure what to expect in that sense, given Egypt’s reputation, but it’s a very different experience compared to inland destinations.
Upon entering the modest reception area, things take on a more “themed” appearance. This is one of those hotels that constantly reminds you that you’re abroad. It doesn’t feel like a cookie-cutter hotel that you could find anywhere. The charming aesthetic is slightly Disney-esque in its exaggerated representation of Egyptian decor.
Check-in was a disjointed experience. The receptionist seemed distracted, attempting to engage in multiple conversations simultaneously, and then took a phone call. As a result, he repeated no fewer than three times that I was staying for five nights, breakfast included. Alright, I get it. This wasn’t an impressive first impression, and the same member of staff made a hash of my check-out experience too.
Anyway, I was given a reusable aluminum water bottle and informed that it could be refilled at no cost, but only during breakfast. Surprisingly, refills at other times during the day incurred a charge.
Concerned about the risks of water sanitation issues, I chose not to use the bottle. Even still, I managed to get ill pretty quickly. For those less risk-averse, the option to purchase the bottle at the end of your stay is available for a small fee.
A helpful and amicable bellboy assisted me with my luggage, guided me to my room, and ensured I was acquainted with all the amenities. At this stage, my mindset hadn’t quite adjusted to deflecting tip requests, so I handed him 100 EGP and chose to manage my luggage independently for the remainder of the trip.
There were no surprises when it came to the room; the images online depicted it accurately. It was perhaps slightly smaller than I had envisioned, but spacious enough for just me.
The aesthetic was one of the main reasons I chose this hotel over others. I was looking for something more “authentic” than your typical modern chain hotel — one of the main reasons I didn’t go for the Sheraton. This authenticity is achieved through the use of natural, earth-like tones, distinctive feature lights, and the extensive incorporation of hard materials, particularly stone.
It’s quite a utilitarian room in this sense — even the base of the bed is concrete — but this doesn’t make it any less comfortable. Quite the opposite in fact. I found that the materials suit this climate well, and help to make the room less stuffy. It was always a refreshing environment to return to after a day spent under the sun.
That said, it’s a little barebones in terms of amenities. Comfortable, but it doesn’t offer any extras in the way of a desk, somewhere to put your luggage, etc. There is a place to hang clothes and a few shelves, but I would have preferred a surface for my suitcase, so that I don’t need to unpack — after all, I’m not a psychopath.
Similarly, while there is a safe, it’s very small. Large enough for small essentials, and just big enough for a professional camera, but not a laptop, large handbag, or anything of that size. The TV is also on the small side and makes the room seem more dated than it is.
The balcony wasn’t as useful as I hoped. In part, because it’s also quite small, but mainly because I didn’t have a view compelling enough to warrant sitting out there. Unfortunately, I was on the back of the hotel, overlooking a roundabout — no pretty pool or river views for me.
The hotel is situated on the edge of El Gouna, and as a result, it doesn’t offer much in terms of panoramas on the rear side. While you do get a glimpse of mountains in the distance and some pretty dramatic sunsets, the prime visuals are undoubtedly on the front of the building.
As a result, I defaulted to relaxing on the bed, which I had no complaints about. It isn’t furnished with the most plush pillows — certainly a far cry from what you’d get in a five-star hotel, for instance — but they are good enough to ensure a comfortable night’s sleep.
Despite my earlier remarks about the room’s comfortable climate, the air conditioning was essential, especially during the night. Unfortunately, the A/C unit dripped water throughout my entire stay. While I likely should have reported it, it only became bothersome when, at 1am, it started emitting a noise akin to the gargling of nails. Presumably, it had ingested something. Of course, it conveniently decided to behave again the next morning — how convenient.
One of the things you’ll either love or hate about this room, is the open-plan bathroom arrangement. While not entirely open-plan, the sink area is an island directly positioned in the bedroom, separated only by a floor-to-ceiling mirror. Although this helps to create the impression of a larger space, it does come at the cost of privacy.
The toilet and shower are located in separate cubicles, which aren’t very spacious. I also didn’t like the shower head — it’s a handheld one, and a narrow one at that, so it was only good at shooting water down the centre of your body. Odd decision. It reminded me of a bad outdoor shower.
On the whole, I liked the room. I wouldn’t spend extended periods of time there during the day, but it’s perfectly fine for catching some sleep and preparing for the day ahead.
Dinner is a slightly confusing situation. The hotel has one restaurant (La Cantina), which serves a set menu from 7pm until 10pm, plus an à la carte menu from noon until midnight. Upon my first two visits, I was offered the set menu, no mention of à la carte. However, during my final visit, it seemed that only the à la carte menu was on offer.
Take this with a grain of salt, because my server on the final night was utterly hopeless. It took an absolute age to receive the menu, so I don’t necessarily trust that he brought the right one. After that, he vanished, leaving me waiting an additional 25 minutes until I decided to complain. Fortunately, my new sever was more competent, and the service which followed was more in keeping with my experience during the prior evenings: fast and efficient.
On a positive note, the à la carte menu is very good. I ordered what I assumed were two fairly small dishes — a Mexican salad bowl and pasta. It turned out these were both main courses, and large ones at that, so this was *a lot* of food. The quality was excellent too, with fresh ingredients, great flavour, and excellent presentation. What’s more, the bill came in at only £17 — perhaps expensive for Egypt, but great value as a tourist.
That said, this was comparatively extortionate relative to the set menu. Unless I misheard the waiter, that menu, from which I dined on two occasions, seemed to be priced at an almost unbelievable 80 EGP (or approximately £2). While I had intended to confirm this on my final bill, I was surprised to find no charge, even though dinner wasn’t included in my package. Regardless, I found the set menu to be even more enjoyable than the à la carte options, as it inspired me to explore and savor some classic Egyptian dishes.an dishes.
On the first night, for example, I enjoyed the beef harira soup, whichranks among the best soups I’ve ever had — though I suspect it may have been the culprit behind the stomach issues that plagued the rest of my trip. Perhaps that was a somewhat reckless choice. Nevertheless, the butter chicken curry proved to be equally incredible, albeit a bit petite in portion. The crème brûlée, while decent, leaned slightly toward the burnt side.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is quite pleasant, with most people choosing to enjoy the outdoor terrace that borders the lagoon. It creates a wonderful ambiance, and remains comfortably warm even into late evening. Indoors, within the lagoon-side structure, you’ll find the main dining area. Though it’s comfortable, it tends to be a bit dim. For this reason, I preferred dining inside in the mornings.
On that note, let’s move into breakfast. It’s a buffet affair, and a pretty good one at that.
As for the continental selection, there’s a wide range of pastries and baked goods, which I quite enjoyed. On the next counter, you’ll find salad items, cold-cut meats, and a variety of cheeses. The tomato feta cheese is particularly good, but everything is very fresh. After that, there’s the fruit area, which I didn’t visit out of caution, but it seemed to be well-stocked. Finally, there’s the pancake station, where I assume you can also order crêpes and the like.
I was slightly less impressed by the hot food. The selection is a little measly, consisting only of sausages, hash browns, and hard boiled eggs. The quality is fine, but nothing incredible. By the fifth morning, I was a little over it. In fairness, I’d completely missed the eggs station, which is just outside from which you can request made-to-order omelettes.
There’s no table service in the restaurant, so fruit juices and coffees can be ordered from the coffee bar. Honestly, I preferred this setup over having to wait for staff to come around and take your order. If you’ve got a busy day ahead, it means you can grab breakfast and be out within 15-20 minutes.
Pool and beach
The hotel features a spacious 20m pool complemented by an adjoining bar area.
What’s funny about pools at hotels like this is that hardly anyone swims in them; they prefer to lounge beside them. What’s that all about? Fortunately, the hotel caters to this behavior by providing plenty of loungers. Admittedly, I didn’t use it either, but that’s because I had been spending each day in the water for diving.
Another reason not to use the pool is the access to the lagoon. I did swim in it, and it’s great — plenty warm enough, not much of a current, and crystal clear. In fact, it’s so clear that it’s basically the same shade of blue as the pool.
If neither of those options appeals to you, there is also Zeytouna Island, to which the hotel provides transportation. Here, you can enjoy complimentary beach use with sunbeds and shaded umbrellas. I didn’t visit during my stay, but the online images look very nice. There are even a few bars, shopping, and restaurant facilities.
Now, onto the hotel’s greatest letdown: the gym. To label it as such might be overly generous — it’s more akin to a small area with a couple of treadmills, benches, dumbbells, and a pull-up bar. While you might manage with this, you’d better hope nobody else wants to use the equipment because there isn’t enough to go around.
Adding to the inconvenience, the gym is located outside and lacks air conditioning, making it uncomfortable to use at almost any time of the day. Although I’d be willing to endure the heat in the evening, unfortunately, it’s closed by then. Moreover, it’s positioned between two blocks of guest rooms, and the corridor leading to the restaurant passes directly through it, rendering it a rather public space.
In search of an alternative, I tried going for a run, attempting to avoid the pedestrian-dense areas. However, this didn’t work as I quickly ran out of sidewalks. As you traverse the outer roads of El Gouna, the pavements just end in places. While I understand that many prefer taxis or tuk-tuks for transportation, running in the town center brings its own challenges of navigating traffic and tourists, making it harder to maintain a strong pace.
In search of an alternative, I tried going for a run, attempting to avoid the pedestrian-dense areas. This didn’t really work as I quickly ran out of sidewalks. As you traverse the outer roads of El Gouna, the pavements simply end in places. This is understandable, given that most people opt for taxis or tuk-tuks to get around. However, trying to run in the center of town while maintaining a strong pace becomes difficult when avoiding traffic and tourists.
For those who’d prefer to rely on the hotel for a seamless running experience, weekly running sessions are available. Additionally, the hotel provides other exercise options, including yoga classes, tennis, paddle tennis, and cycling sessions, scheduled periodically throughout the week.
Anything else to note?
I was very unimpressed by one thing leading up to my stay – the difficulty I encountered when trying to contact the hotel. I needed to arrange an airport transfer but found it impossible to find a contact number. In the end, I gave up and arranged it through a third party. This wasn’t a good first impression and didn’t inspire much confidence in the lead-up to my stay.
Blue Brothers Diving
As I mentioned, my purpose for visiting El Gouna was to obtain my open water certification, and I did so at Blue Brothers Diving. This diving center is conveniently situated on-site, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone interested in snorkeling or scuba diving during their vacation. The staff is excellent, the instruction is top-notch, and the dive sites they explore in the Red Sea are truly remarkable.
I wholeheartedly recommend choosing Cook’s Club for your vacation in El Gouna. It stands out as one of the best value propositions I’ve encountered from a hotel over the years.
During my visit, I also stopped by the Sheraton, which was another option I had been considering. While it boasts some appealing features, such as its private island setting and grand facilities, the additional cost could only have been justified if I planned to spend an extensive amount of time within the hotel.
Honestly, hotels in El Gouna are generally so affordable that it’s challenging to make a wrong choice. Nonetheless, if Cook’s Club is on your shortlist and you’re seeking that final push to book, I hope this review has provided just that.