Back in 2004 we spent a week in Sharm el-Sheikh, which was also our FIRST TIME IN EGYPT. We had a great time relaxing on beautiful beaches, discovering the underwater world and the desert – many credits for having such a great time also go to our dear friend T who made us feel especially welcomed ;). In 2008 we came back to Egypt, but this time we flew to HURGHADA and spent 8 days on a NILE CRUISE, but in 2009 it was time for SINAI again. It seemed very convenient, tourism was blooming, there were many flights to Sharm el-Sheik and we had other special reasons to visit the place. So, we were off – but this time we planned to travel around a bit more, we stayed in Sharm for a couple of nights at friends and climbed up MOUNT SINAI for the sunrise, spend some time in DAHAB and NUWEIBA, before returning to Sharm. In 2009 it was safe to go anywhere and we had a good time – unfortunatelly today (in 2015), the picure is a bit different as many tourists avoid the area due to the current situation on the Middle East and previous events on the Sinai Peninsula.
When: 2004, 2008 & 2009
Visited: Sharm El Sheikh, Ras Mohammed, Dahab, St. Catherine, Nuweiba
How: bus, private cars
Stayed in: hotels, apartments
Charter flights to Sharm were common and you could find a good price. Once in Sharm we simply used taxis, but we did also have a special friend who organized other transport for us, minivans and private cars. Otherwise there used to be some local buses and tour companies had their own big buses anyway. On the roads there were occasional CHECK UPS where we needed to show our documents. Distances are not too big, so it is easy to make day trips and see a good part of the peninsula even if you just stay in one place for the whole time.
Food on the peninsula is traditional Egyptian, but there are many western restaurants and in hotels there is a huge variety of food, so that everyone finds something for themselves. BREAD seems to be an important part of the meal, as well as BEANS, LENTILS, RICE, FALAFEL, MEAT, EGGPLANTS, PIGEON, SESAME PASTE and FISH. Of coarse everything comes with aromatic SPICES! Seafood was fresh and simply delicious everywhere we ate and we also got the chance to try some of the more exotic dishes this time!
SHARM EL SHEIKH
The largest town on the southern tip of the peninsula Sharm el-Sheikh is a fast growing tourist RESORT and one of the most important tourist centres in the whole country. We have visited it in 2004 when it was already a big town and in 2009 when it was even bigger. There are many hotels of different standards stretched along the RED SEA COAST, each has a private land on the beach and many have also GOLF COURSES, swimming POOLS and so on. People mostly come here for the all-year good weather, nice beaches and the amazing UNDERWATER WORLD. The desert is just around the corner so you can make lots of day trips towards the inland of the peninsula.
There are a couple of PUBLIC BEACHES which you can enter, sometimes for a fee. We liked EL-FANAR beach very much! You have to pay to get in but then you can relax in peace, there is a beautiful REEF just at the beach which is perfect for snorkelling and you can end the day watching the sun go down while drinking a cocktail in the beach bar!
There are many activities besides swimming and snorkelling – in the afternoon you can take a QUAD BIKE tour to the DESERT to watch the SUNSET– this is a wonderful experience and you don´t even need to drive far away with a car first. We had the privilege to do the tour on our own so we were on the way with only 2 quad bikes. There are some BEDOUIN TENTS here and there where you can have a tea and smoke a shisha.
The best way to end a day – watching the sun go down at the beach after the crowds have already gone to the hotels and the water is so calm it almost looks like a lake!
In the evening the town turns into a bustling centre, everyone comes out now because the heat is gone, the locals eat their dinners very late and stay up late, that´s why the BARS and RESTAURANTS are full and it´s sometimes hard even to get a table! All the SHOPS are opened and this is when the markets are at its busiest. And there is much to buy. From shishas to jewellery, carpets, paintings, toys, lamps and furniture to cosmetics and food products. For the more authentic markets head to the OLD TOWN!
You can spend one day in this NATIONAL PARK which is just about 15 kilometres south of Sharm el-Sheikh. The CORAL REEF in the area is of great importance, there are more than 220 SPECIES OF CORAL and more than 1000 SPECIES OF FISH, there are also TURTLES to be seen swimming in the sea. You can also see the MANGROVES, go SWIMMING, SNORKELLING or DIVING and walk around. You can visit Ras Mohammed also by boats and just do the snorkelling part, but personally I find it more interesting to go by land.
Mount Sinai literately means “MOSES MOUNTAIN” and is believed to be the biblical mountain where Moses received his 10 Commandments. It is 2,285 METRES HIGH and is surrounded by high peaks in all direction, MOUNT CATHERINE being the highest with 2,629 metres.
This trip can be done as a day trip from Sharm el-Sheikh or from Dahab, but you can also choose to sleep over near ST. CATHERINE´S MONASTERY which is at the foot of the mountain. We went from DAHAB and started walking up literately IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT because we were going to catch the sunrise at the top. We had flash lights and were not the only ones with the same idea, so we were basically hiking up in a group of people. The SUNRISE was well worth the early hike – we were rewarded with amazing views, and as we did not see what surrounds us at going up because it was pitch dark, there was also a nice surprise factor in the whole experience.
It is quite a hike and you can get down taking a different path which takes you directly to St. Catherine´s monastery. The way interesting, lots of STEPS AND STONES and narrow corridors, with great views. As the sun goes up it will get very HOT. On the way there will be some smaller stands where you can buy souvenirs, but also drinks and snacks.
ST. CATHERINE MONASTERY
At the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai there is a GREEK ORTHODOX MONASTERY, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastery was built between 548 and 565 and IS ONE OF THE OLDEST Christian monasteries IN THE WHOLE WORLD. In the complex there is also a library, a Chapel of the BURNING BUSH (at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush) and many mosaics and a collection of many old icons – in fact, there is the largest collection of Crusader art icons in the world found in the monastery. A smaller town simply called Saint Katherine City has developed in the near of the monastery with a few hotels, swimming pools and restaurants.
Time to head back to the beach – the road to the coastal town of DAHAB is spectacular!
This smaller town, 80 kilometres north-east from Sharm el-Sheikh is considered to be one of the best spots in the country for WATER SPORTS and DICVNG. There are more than 50 DIVE CENTRES in Dahab, and there are also more affordable hotels to choose from. Dahab is divided into parts – MASBAT in the north, MASHRABA with touristic with lots of hotels and MEDINA with the nice Laguna area which is also popular for surfing. If Sharm el-Sheikh is more posh with expensive AI hotels and golf courses, Dahab is a great choice for BACKPACKERS and sports fanatics.
We decided to go a bit more north and stay a couple of nights in the less touristy NUWEIBA – the road to the town was again spectacular and the place itself well worth visiting.
Around one hour drive to the north of Dahab there is a smaller town called Nuweiba, which has A FEW HOTELS AND A NICE BEACH and most of all, there are less tourists, so if you are searching for peace this is the place to be in Sinai. There are also remains of an old CASTLE and from here you can continue to travel to JORDAN with a ferry from Nuweiba port. We liked the easy going evenings and days at the beach, watching CRABS coming out of their holes, relaxing and reading books.
At the moment there are LESS TOURISTS tourists spending holidays in the Sinai peninsula, due to the current events of the last couple of years – I strongly hope things get better in the whole area and when they do, I would very much like to come back and explore the unseen!