There are some parts of Egypt which have attracted trouble for a while and the Sinai, a wedge of desert placed between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is one such place. Since time began there have been crusades and many significant biblical events. It was Moses’s stomping ground and the birth place of the Ten Commandments.
The Sinai is, as far as anywhere goes – dodgy. In the North near the border with Palestine it is kicking off, next door relations with Israel are heated and Syria is occasionally wanging a bomb over the border. Jordan for now remains peaceful and Saudi Arabia is a terrorist hotbed. With that in mind it’s no surprise of the tensions in the area, however there’s not actually a great deal in the Sinai other than some hefty mountains, deserts and a gorgeous coastline. It is this coastline that attracts hordes of holidaymakers, and when holiday makers head for Sinai they head for Sharm El Sheik.
Sharm was bombed in 2005 killing 88 tourists and injuring 200 more, in addition the town of Dahab was bombed in 2006 killing 23 people and injuring 75, and a bombing in Taba killed 34 and injured more than 150 in 2004. In February this year there were two incidents of kidnapping of foreign tourists, thankfully all were released without harm. However, security remains tight and the Foreign Office of the UK states it is safe to visit all Red Sea resorts and the roads that connects them. This includes Sharm El Sheik, and the road there from Cairo.
Buses to Sharm leave ‘Cairo Gateway’ which no taxi driver will understand and so you must ask for ‘Turgomen’ tickets for the 8 hour journey are LE£60 (£6) on a 1970’s ‘claims it has air con but actually doesn’t’ relic.
Carry your passport on your person as once in the Sinai you go through airport security style checks complete with sniffer dogs and vigilant security guards. And it can be completely understood, Egypt is not just facing a battle of protecting it’s own citizens but also a tourists industry which brings the economy some $12.5Billion.
When researching the journey I was overwhelmed by people writing about how stunning the journey through the Sinai is and I was expecting big things. The fact is I was let down, literally for around the 6 hours it takes from Suez to Sharm on the right of the bus is the turquoise ocean which really is beautiful, with the odd settlement popping up every hour or so. And on the left you have desert which is eventually replaced by sand like mountains. It’s actually a lot like driving through Utah without the sea, amazing for about 5 minutes and then just same old same old.
We had spent our last day in Cairo in the Islamic area climbing Minarets and chilling out in Mosques, it was full on Islam and we found it amazing. But we were certainly ready for some relaxation and a relaxed attitude, and so when the bus pulled into Sharm bus station, near the old market and about 6km out of town we were ready.
I have to say, Sharm is not a place I ever envisaged myself, or my kids coming. For instance, we have never been to the Canary Islands, Ibiza, Tenerife, Majorca or Benidorm. And it is through choice and there is no way to beat around the bush – Chavs. No doubt there are a great number of people who visit the said places and are just like us, but unfortunately these places are pure knob head magnets. Loud, raucous, arrogant, pissed British people are just not my thing and so heading to Sharm I have to say, we expected the worst.
The taxi from the bus station to our hotel should have cost around LE£10 and we was instantly quoted LE£100. And, without harping on about taxis too much that was the flavour of things whilst we were there. We were staying near the old market, in the quiet part of town with the respite of a private pool and a surrounding area inhabited by no one. The action happens in Naama Bay some 6km North and again LE£10 in a taxi. By and large we managed to pay the right amount but it wasn’t without a struggle. Every taxi journey was a hardcore struggle to get a fair price and every single time we walked off before being chased down with a more reasonable price or the one I had asked for. A common scam is being given a price and then at the destination the driver suddenly meant English pounds and not Egyptian. I have to say, the only reason we were able to get half decent prices in taxis was due to the fact it was blatantly obvious we weren’t in Sharm on a package deal and had actually come from Cairo.
Pretty much, in fact everything in Sharm was a lot more than Cairo and in comparison to the UK prices are around the same, or marginally less. In comparison to Egypt, prices were about double. What was LE£7 in Cairo was LE£14 in Sharm etc. Even McDonalds was significantly more expensive and coming from the UK you probably wouldn’t notice much, but coming from Cairo I felt we were being scammed every time I bought something.
Naama bay is tourist central and is literally a pedestrianised massive area of nothing but tacky souvenir shops, restaurants and bars and places like the Hard Rock Cafe and TGI Fridays.
Home to both Pacha and Space it is party central, but surprisingly it was quite deserted whilst we were there and save for every single shop or place we walked past trying to get us to come in, I can’t honestly say much was going on. But the “Mr I love you, come in my shop for cheap goods” was well beyond boring after about the thousandth time.
However, if you can see past the taxi drivers, hassle and party central you will eventually come to a beach which is massively over developed and the restaurants etc really spoiling the whole beauty of the place. But…See past the beach and into the water and Sharm becomes a whole different world. And believe me, it is amazing.
The Red sea around the Sinai is world renowned for offering some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world. Hardcore divers looking for reefs and ship wrecks don’t head to the Caribbean, or to Australia – They head to Egypt, for the Red Sea is one of the clearest seas on earth, and teaming with coral close to shore it is a divers paradise. So, snorkel and mask in hand we headed into the warm, genuinely crystal clear water and started to snorkel. About 10m out with the depth being only a metre maximum, was a mini reef, home to loads of varieties of tropical fish it was stunning. I even saw a sting ray chilling out and when mixed with angel fish, those things off Finding Nemo and fish that must have been half a metre long and wonderfully coloured – Suddenly Sharm felt like the right place to be. Charlie commented “I could swim around that reef all day” and Abi is suddenly not going to become a Dr anymore, but a professional diver. Bot the kids and I were in our absolute element and no longer did we notice the overdeveloped shore line, but palm trees and no longer did we feel resentment for being there, but were really glad we had come.
Literally, our time in Sharm was spent travelling to, or from the beach and then was spent submerged in the sea in amazement.
The only place I have ever been which comes close to the diversity of the tropical fish was a tiny island off the coast of Mexico called La Isla Majures and though we didn’t have the white sandy beaches, Sol and Fajita’s we had the 38 degrees, half board hotel (first time for me) a tropical underwater paradise and each other, and I have to say – Sharm surprised me, it was actually pretty damn good!