Having travelled to Egypt about 7 times already and even lived there for a short period of time, I have never been to Sinai before, not even Sharm el Sheikh which is so popular amongst western tourists. But since I like to think of myself as a traveller and not a tourist, I had no reason to go there. Only until one of my Egyptian friends, who runs an event agency in Cairo, asked if we wanted to join a group of his customers in a trip to Dahab.
I’ve heard of Dahab before: It used to be a travel destination for hippies and alternative people, a little bit like Goa, but without the drugs (except for the obligatory and omnipresent hasheesh). And just like Goa, the hippies and drop-outs have moved on to other places as the middle-class package tourists arrived. Until the so-called “Arab Spring”, Dahab was not very known, not even with Egyptians. But the revolution made it harder or even impossible for many Egyptians to travel to foreign countries for many different reasons, so they turned towards the gems of their own country, of which there are plenty by the way.
So, Dahab became quite popular in the last years and people told me they come here at least once a year, some even go 4 times a year. I have a friend who has been to Dahab at least twice a year for the 7th year in a row. After having stayed there for 4 days, I fully understood why.
From Cairo, it took us 6 hours by car, sometimes going 200km/h. There are a lot of military checkpoints along the way, which can take a lot of your time. Always have your passport ready and be as nice and cooperative as possible, even though a lot of the checks are clearly nonsense. If you bring alcohol, make sure that you’ve got the receipt with you, or else they will consider you being an alcohol smuggler and will take the alcohol away from you and might even destroy the bottles right away.
You can also take a domestic flight from Cairo to Sharm el Sheikh and go to Dahab from there, the distance is about 80km. Dahab is on the Red Sea and on clear and sunny days, you can even see the Saudi-Arabian territory from there.
We stayed in a hotel which I can actually not recommend, but there are a lot of nice looking hotels with their own restaurants along the seafront, like the Acacia Hotel. There’s accommodation for every budget from the backpacker hostels to resorts (which are now built increasingly in order to attract middle and upper-class families).
When it comes to food, there’s plenty to choose from. You will find Bedouin restaurants as well as Arabic, African, Italian and international restaurants along the seafront. If you go “downtown” you will find falafel and fuul (that’s a very delicious paste of beans) places as well. Of course, when by the sea, I recommend fish and seafood restaurants, because the fish will be as fresh as it can get. Namely, the “Ali Baba” restaurant and the “Sea Bride” can be recommended by me. At Sea Bride, you choose your fish first and how you want it to be prepared (grilled, cooked, etc.) and they can tell you what it will cost, depending on the weight of the fish and so on. I had some really good fried and grilled calamari and some excellent shrimps.
Our hotel offered breakfast but we went to a German bakery instead, because it was recommended to us. It’s called Ralph’s Bakery and was allegedly established by some Germans who loved Dahab so much that they just decided to stay. But, of course, a true German loves his bread so much, they couldn’t live without it. Apart from a range of bread and pastries, they offer breakfast meals like Full English Breakfast or German Breakfast. It is absolutely delicious but also the place is quite crowded so better bring some time and patience.
So, after you’ve slept and eaten, of course, there are things to be explored, right? I mean, that’s what I came for in the first place.
On our first day, we had a lovely Bedouin dinner in the mountains. It was organized by my friends company, but there are also a lot of travel agencies in Dahab at the seafront where you can book it when you’re there (and nowadays there’s something called “the internet” and I am pretty sure, one can book it from the couch at home as well). There were campfires, Bedouin music and dancing, and a lot of stargazing.
The food was very delicious, which, by the way, I can say about Egyptian food in general. We had a really nice evening and drove back to the hotel full and tired.
Tip: Don’t forget your mosquito repellent or else they will eat you alive!
The next day we went snorkelling at the Seismic Crack Zone Ras Mamlah, which has a very interesting reef with all kinds of fish and other sea creatures. It’s about 25 km north of Dahab. You can get there by speed boat, which is a hell of a ride if you can’t manage to get the right seating spot as it had happened to me. The ride takes about 15 minutes but felt like forever, because I had to put all my strength into holding tight to a kind of a handrail and not to fall on the lady next to me. The next day, my muscles were sore. But actually, I have to admit that it was still a lot of fun going up and down the waves at full speed. Just like a rollercoaster ride. So, the morning was spent, snorkelling, swimming and relaxing in a Bedouin style café with mint tea and nice conversations.
Later that day, we headed for the Blue Lagoon by car, where we spent the afternoon chilling, napping, swimming or taking pictures (well, I did). You will pretty quickly grasp why it is called the Blue Lagoon. The water has a really nice turquoise-ish colour.
On the following day, we went to the Three Holes Dive Site. All over Dahab, there are plenty of diving schools that offer intro dives if you have never done it before, just like me. But there are also diving courses and trips for the more advanced divers. Diving was a whole new experience for me and I can understand that people can get kind of addicted to it quickly. It opens the door to a completely new world.
The Three Hole Dive Site is a popular place for the tourists so it can get quite busy there with all the people diving, snorkelling, and swimming. It’s a protected area so they take care of nobody stepping onto the reef.
Tip: Do not step on the reef under any circumstances. There are two entries/exits at the place where you are supposed to get in the water.
Tip: Do not forget to put on your sunscreen. Seriously. Especially at the sea, where there’s a mild wind blowing you won’t realise how quickly you can fully burn your skin.
We left Dahab too soon for my taste, but I will definitely come back. There are plenty more things to do, for example taking a trip to Nuweiba in the North, wreck diving, kite surfing, camel riding, going hiking (and even camping) at Saint Catherine, visiting the Saint Catherine Monastery and even taking a trip to Petra in Jordan! Dahab is indeed a very nice, laid-back, relaxed place and if you live for example in Cairo, you just need a break from this beast of a city from time to time. I don’t live in Cairo but I could get used to the Dahab lifestyle anyway.
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