Forget sun, sea and sand; try splash, sport and spa, says Katie McGonagle

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It’s home to the arid plains of the world’s largest and hottest desert, the Sahara. So what makes North Africa such a haven for water-based breaks?

Between its family-friendly splash parks, an array of sports under and on the water, and luxurious spa hotels that excel in seawater-based thalassotherapy, there are plenty of welcoming oases in this desert region.

Find out where to send water-babies for a holiday that’s seriously wet and wild with our selection of ideas for water-loving clients.

SPORTING CHANCE




The windy conditions off Morocco’s Atlantic coast make it a haven for windsurfing and kite-surfing, with hotspots such as Essaouira particularly popular among more advanced surfers keen to face the challenge of strong winds and waves.

If clients fancy a place to relax after a hard day on the water, Sovereign Luxury Travel recommends Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa, which boasts an indoor heated pool and hammam, plus easy beach access for surfers who want to catch the waves at sunrise.

Further down the coast, the fishing village of Taghazoute, near Agadir, is a stopping-off point for On The Go Tours’ Marrakech Sahara and Surf itinerary. Novices and experts alike can take to their surfboards in this former hippy hangout, with two days of lessons giving time to hone their skills (from £749 land-only).

First-timers are also welcome at Club Med Djerba la Douce in Tunisia, which offers lessons in sailing, plus there’s kayaking, sea scooters and speedboat excursions or, for a supplement, kite-surfing lessons from a specialist operator. Prices start at £376 in low season and £760 at peak times, for a week’s all-inclusive with flights.

The range of watersports at Club Magic Life resorts in Tunisia and Egypt is similarly impressive: the former, at Yasmine Hammamet, includes canoeing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing and banana boats in its 24-hour all-inclusive package, plus catamaran lessons for a fee.

Visitors to popular Red Sea resort El Gouna certainly won’t be short of options, with five kite-surfing centres plus lessons in latest craze stand-up paddleboarding. The long-awaited El Gouna Watersports Complex is also set to open next month with waterskiing, wakeboarding and new variation wakeskating.

UNDER THE WATER




While those activities offer excitement above the water, the Red Sea is best-known for its under-sea life.

The Adventure Company’s teen-focused Active in the Sinai tour, based in Dahab, offers an introduction to the region’s colourful marine life. It includes a snorkel safari in the relatively untouched Southern Oasis, plus optional activities such as windsurfing lessons (half-day, £30), a boat safari (£35 including lunch), a second snorkelling session around Gabr el Bint (£32) and a chance to try scuba diving (€60 for three hours). The eight day tour costs from £939 including flights.

Dahab is also a hotspot for Red Sea Holidays’ diving packages thanks to famed dive sites the Canyon and the Blue Hole. The regional specialist’s range of Padi-certified courses includes a Family Learn to Dive package (minimum age 12) from £295, plus beginner, intermediate and advanced courses, or individual dives from £35.

Olympic Holidays offers advantageous rates for advance bookings on its diving holidays, the majority of which are in Dahab or Sharm el-Sheikh, although Hurghada, Makadi Bay and El Gouna are also available.

Commercial director Photis Lambrianides says: “With its warm water, exceptional visibility and plentiful supply of marine life, the Red Sea offers amazing diving and snorkelling. Divers of all levels can receive expert tuition in the fantastic conditions, while snorkellers can enjoy excursions to explore the wonderful coral formations of Ras Muhammad National Park.”

A Discover Scuba Diving day course starts at £75, with Padi-accredited Open Water courses from £235 or an Advanced Open Water course from £169. For a non-diving alternative, there is also a pre-bookable boat trip to Ras Mohammed National Park for swimming and snorkelling (£25).


Scuba diving


SKIM THE WAVES




Don’t fancy getting wet? Opt for a leisurely boat trip to soak up sunshine and see the best sea life without needing to bring a towel.

The Seascope has a deep hull with panoramic glass sides so passengers can get a glimpse of the world under the waves, including brightly coloured coral and schools of clownfish, triggerfish and batfish. The trip is sold through Thomson Excursions from £30 per adult or £15 per child, from El Gouna, Hurghada, Makadi Bay, Taba, Marsa Alam and Sharm el Sheikh.

Bound to be a hit with kids for novelty value alone, Do Something Different offers a Sinbad Submarine Under the Red Sea excursion with pick-ups from Hurghada hotels (daily departures from £53 per adult, £27 for under-12s). Grown-up guests might prefer the quieter Oceans VIP Boat Trip for a gentle adult-only cruise, either staying on deck to spot dolphins or jumping in for a swim (from £46 with Attraction World, from Hurghada).

Over in Tunisia, Just Sunshine recommends the half-day Pirate Boat trip (from £20). This allows guests to explore the glittering coastline around Port el Kantaoui, swim in secluded bays and even walk the gangplank.

PLAY TIME




Fun and games can also be found in on-site water parks at the region’s family-friendly hotels.

Thomas Cook’s Aquamania range features properties with their own splash parks, such as the Royal Holiday Resort which opened in Naama Bay in May: ride the waves in the wave pool, try daring water slides or tackle the Sidewinder and Space Bowl. Fellow Aquamania hotel Reef Oasis Beach Resort in Um el Sid also boasts an array of pools including two just for kids, plus its own fun packed waterpark.

Red Sea Holidays’ favourite Sunwing Makadi Hotel takes splashing around even further with five colourful water slides, a FlowRider surf machine, a Rain Fortress filled with water cannons and waterfalls, and a lazy river.

First Choice’s SplashWorld makes it easy to focus on properties suited to water babies. The Aqua Fun Club in Morocco, for example, boasts an incredible 18 mega-slides, ranging from multi lane slides where siblings and friends can race each other to the bottom, to wide chutes on which families can fling themselves down together.

… AND RELAX




If that all sounds a bit too frenetic, spa hotels offer an alternative to active breaks, guaranteed to make clients relax.

Anatolian Sky Holidays has expanded its 2014 Morocco programme to include the Sofitel Agadir Thalassa Sea & Spa Hotel, where the thalassotherapy centre combines traditional seaweed treatments with a heated seawater pool and hammam.

El Mouradi Palm Marina, a top choice for Tunisia specialist Just Sunshine, offers a budget-friendly spa break in Sousse: its Classic Cure option includes four hours of treatments over four days (from £76). There are also themed packages focusing on anti-stress, slimming and back therapies.

Purpose-built resort Soma Bay, less than 30 miles from Hurghada, also offers a luxurious thalasso spa as part of five-star hotel La Residence des Cascades. The spa is separated into wet and dry areas, with the former featuring baths of filtered seawater, an outdoor seawater pool, plus a sauna, hammam and indoor ‘Thalasso-Tonic Pool’ that uses jets, showers and bubbling fountains.