THERE’S MORE TO EGYPT THAN CAIRO AND PYRAMIds.
Cairo is an intense and incredible city, and a visit to the pyramids of Giza are a must when in the country. Egypt is a juxtaposition of modern and ancient times colliding together; the evidence of its glorious past is preserved in stone, and the complexities of modern life are lived out daily.
While the history and glory of Egypt’s mighty kingdom and structures draw millions of visitors per year, there’s a side of the country’s history that many people never to get experience.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Cairo’s traffic and the majesty of the Nile River, lies another historic body of water, the Red Sea. With multi-colored waters that glisten like rare jewels, and surrounded by the Sinai mountains, the Red Sea and South Sinai Desert should be on your “not to be missed” list of places to visit in Egypt.
While planning our trip to Egypt in October 2018, I knew that I wanted to spend time in the Sinai Peninsula. I took to Google to research how to get there from Cairo, what were good cities in the area to visit and if it was possible to camp in the Sinai Desert. Little did I know, the internet was going to thrust upon me every fear-mongering article known to man about this part of Egypt.
Just do a Google search on Egypt travel safety and see what comes up.
Listen, I’m not the type of person who is easily led astray by government travel warnings, biased blog posts or the worries of people who may be from a country but now live abroad. But I also want to be sure that my wanderlust and adventurous spirit doesn’t overtake the reality of keeping myself and my children safe while traveling. I searched the internet for weeks, looking for positive articles on the region—I only found a handful of them.
I talked with Egyptians who live abroad and most told me they’d never be caught dead traveling to the Sinai.
I wrote a Canadian woman who lives outside of Cairo, and who was married to an Egyptian man, to see if she’d heard any news about the area—she told me not to go.
I asked an Egyptian friend in Minneapolis if he was aware of any news on the Sinai besides ISIS attacks, and he said it had been a while since he’d heard anything.
I talked to a couple of Facebook friends—one who is Egyptian-American and another Black American who lived in Egypt for a few years—and they both told me the Sinai was lovely and, indeed, safe to travel to.
Okay, things were starting to look up.
The ladies mentioned Dahab as a great city to visit; I had read a bit about it but wasn’t sure exactly where we would go if we did make it over to the Sinai.
I decided to wait until we got to Egypt to talk to locals and hear their opinions and safety concerns.
Here’s the thing, folks: if I’ve learned anything about travel advisories and even getting advice from people who may have ancestral ties to a country but live abroad, it’s that you can’t always take these opinions and “warnings” to heart because they may be biased for varying reasons. I will take some of the information into consideration, but I find it’s most often best to hear from the people who live in a particular place before coming to a final conclusion. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, I’ve learned not to be led astray by western-centric government warnings and biases of those not living in the country. Or even the biases of those who’ve married into a culture—but that topic is worthy of its own blog post and I’m trying to stay on topic.
After meeting lots of great Egyptians in Cairo, and learning their views of the safety concerns about the Sinai, all of them seemed confident we would be fine taking the bus to the area.
I named a few cities that I thought about visiting, but everyone I talked to unanimously agreed that Dahab was beautiful and a must-visit.
The night before we were set to leave Cairo, I booked an Airbnb in Dahab and bought bus tickets the morning we were leaving.
I make plans a day in advance when traveling with kids.
Yup, I’m loca.
Where is Dahab?
Dahab rests in the eastern corner of Egypt’s South Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai Peninsula is the only region of Egypt located in Asia, bordering the Holy Land and a short trip across the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan and Saudi Arabia—you can literally see Saudi Arabia from Dahab.
Surrounded by Mt. Sinai and situated right on the Red Sea, Dahab is truly an oasis in the desert.
Once primarily known as a Bedouin fishing village, Dahab has become one of the coolest and chillest beach towns in Egypt. Formerly under Israeli occupation after the Six-Day War, Dahab and the Sinai Peninsula were returned to full Egyptian control in 1982. Dahab would soon transition into a hippie utopia, drawing in free spirits from around the globe; eventually, adventure travelers seeking windsurfing and incredible snorkeling and diving experiences would find their way to the area.
After the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, Egypt’s tourism industry would come to a relative standstill as the political shifts sparked fear in foreign visitors, striking critical blows to the national economy. And while the foreign tourism industry halted, domestic tourism exploded as financial and political insecurities caused Egyptians to travel within their own country.
What makes Dahab special
While Israeli and western “hippies” looking for low-key vibes flocked to Dahab, it has emerged into an Egyptian hipster solace. Young Egyptians and Sudanese looking for escapes from the hustle and bustle of city life, and also for a break from the conservative culture in other parts of the country, come to Dahab. Here you’ll find Egyptian and foreign women in bikinis and shirtless Egyptian men with dreads. Dahab is an eclectic fusion of Bedouin and Rasta culture with artsy beach vibes. One can snorkel, do yoga, relax on the beach, go to a spa, horseback ride and enjoy views of the Sinai mountains. And for those who find peace in seclusion, a trip into the Sinai Desert is a must.
While Dahab is primarily known for its adventure and free spirit culture, it’s not just reserved for backpackers and millennials. Dahab appeals to those of all age ranges, as well as singles, families and those married without children. We saw a mix of travelers of varying age ranges, along with families from Europe, Asia, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East enjoying the city. One who would not consider one’s self “a hippie” would also fit in and enjoy the area.
Just think of it like this: if Sharm El Sheikh is like “the Cancún” of Egypt, filled with all-inclusive resorts, water parks, fast food restaurants and night clubs, then Dahab is Tulum. Tulum appeals to a wide range of travelers while having a unique and bohemian vibe. Dahab is like Tulum fifteen years ago but much smaller and with a North African and Bedouin flair.
How to get to Dahab from Cairo
Flights to dahab
The most convenient way to get to Dahab from Cairo is to fly to Sharm El Sheikh and then a bus or taxi to Dahab. A flight from Cairo to Sharm is approximately one hour long, and it’s roughly an hour drive from Sharm to Dahab—this, of course, depends on varying factors.
Egypt Air, Fly Egypt and Nile Air all offer direct flights from Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh. Prices will vary depending on the season and availability. Before searching for tickets, be sure to put Egypt as your country of origin to find economical prices—it could literally save you hundreds of dollars.
bus to dahab from Cairo
Taking the bus from Cairo is another way to reach Dahab. The trip takes about seven hours, but if you’re like me and too cheap to pay for the nice deluxe bus with fewer stops, it’ll end up taking around twelve hours. Well, at least that’s how long it took us; between military checkpoints, stops to pick up passengers and a bus change in Sharm.
There are a variety of bus companies one can use to get from Cairo to Dahab, all of varying price ranges and amenities offered.
East Delta Bus Company and Go Bus are the most popular bus companies with service to Dahab. East Delta is a more economical option with air conditioning, while Go Bus is more expensive with amenities such as WiFi, movies, fewer stops and comfortable seats.
Private transfer to dahab from Cairo
For those who love taking the scenic route but don’t want the hassle of the bus, private transfers from Cairo are also available. Now, those of you who know me know that I’m cheap. Arranging a private car was out of my budget, but for those willing to pay for the convenience, it’s a great option. Taking a private transfer eliminates all of the stopping done on the bus and allows for flexibility. There are many different private transfer services in Egypt, and a trip from Cairo to Dahab may average around $200USD.
Where to stay in Dahab
There are plenty of hotels, apartments and hostels options in varying price ranges available in Dahab. Sharm El Sheik is where one goes looking for luxury, but Dahab does provide a number of nice hotels for those who seek higher end accommodations.
Hotels in dahab
There are many hotels at all budgets and interests available in Dahab. Overall, Egypt is a very budget-friendly country to travel through. Those who, like me, are always on a tight budget will have many options in Dahab, and will maybe even be able to splurge on a hotel that may often be out of reach in other destinations.
Le Méridien. There is a Le Méridien in the Dahab area for those who enjoy upscale hotels. It’s possible to get an all-inclusive suite with Red Sea views for around $150 per night depending on your dates.
Swiss Inn Resort is another affordable 4-star hotel in Dahab with rooms starting around $70 per night.
Dive Urge is a lovely hotel/restaurant right on the Red Sea and in one of the coolest areas in Dahab. Owned by a British woman and her Egyptian husband, the hotel is affordable, family-friendly, disabled-friendly and eco-friendly. The hotel provides scuba lessons and excursions for ages 10 and older. The kids and I had the pleasure of chatting with, Lynne, the owner while eating at the restaurant. It was one of our favorite places to stop for yummy food and mango lassi.
Shams hotel has rooms starting around $40 per night. It offers free breakfast and WiFi, allows pets, has a BBQ area and can arrange diving and horseback riding excursions.
Airbnb in dahab
As I stated in my recent article on Huatulco, México, I’ve used Airbnb to find affordable and unique places to stay since 2011. Even with all the corporate changes, it’s still my go-to site for places to stay when traveling. The kids and I rented a room on Airbnb for our stay in Dahab for $19 per night. We stayed with a lovely British woman, Rosie, and her daughter, Summer. The home was very kid-friendly, we made food on the fire pit together and had an incredible and authentic stay. She has since moved to Morocco so I can’t recommend her place, but there is an array of apartments and rooms available in Dahab on Airbnb—below are a few examples.
For groups or families up to six people looking for a lovely apartment to stay in, this beautiful and centrally-located apartment with a balcony is available for $60 per night.
This similar apartment owned by the same host for up to six guests is available for $50 per night.
This quaint apartment with bohemian vibes is only $30 per night and hosts up to four guests.
This modern apartment complete with a washing machine has room enough for four guests and is only $33 per night when the discount is applied for a week’s rental. Otherwise, it’s $39 per night.
Hostels in dahab
I, personally, am a huge fan of hostels—even when traveling with children. Hostels gives one the opportunity to travel inexpensively, build community and make friends from all over the world. The kids and I have stayed in hostels all over the world since the girls were toddlers, and using communal bathrooms never hurt anyone! There are a variety of hostels in Dahab, below are a few examples.
eating in dahab
Where to eat
Because Dahab has an expat community from Europe, and receives visitors from around the globe, there are many options to choose for dining experiences. From Bedouin classics, Egyptian food, vegan options, to Korean, Thai, Indian, burgers, pizza and even a Mexican cuisine—though the authenticity is questionable—Dahab has many lovely restaurants and cafes.
There are also quaint coffeeshops to chill at as well that serve a variety of coffees, teas, natural juices and smoothies.
Again, Egypt is a very economical place to visit, so food will be inexpensive. The most I spent eating out in Dahab was around $15-$20 for lunch at the Diver’s Urge hotel restaurant. That was for a pizza, chicken fingers and fries, my delicious Bedouin chicken meal, three bottles of water and three mango lassies.
We most often made dinner on an outdoor open fire pit with Rosie and Summer at our Airbnb, but we also had dinner together at a great Bedouin restaurant, Chicken King. For around $4, the kids and I shared a meal that included chicken, rice, pita bread, soup, salad, Egyptian beans, hummus and a dill dip. It was delicious and enough to fill us. The price also included bottled water.
For those craving western pastries and breakfast, Ralph’s German Bakery is a great spot to visit. There are also plenty of waffle and crêpe shops all over town.
eating seafood in Dahab
There is a possibility one will eat seafood that has been fished from the reef, which apparently is illegal in Egypt, at local seafood restaurants. You can ask restaurants where their seafood is sourced from; I’m not sure you’re going to get a straight answer but it’s worth a try.
You will also find men outside of restaurants selling fresh fish that may have come from the reef. Overfishing in the Red Sea has become a huge problem in Egypt, but there are also heavy economic hardships in the country. When left with a decision between selling this fish or feeding one’s family, it’s hard to expect one not to choose the latter. As much as I believe in respecting the environment and preserving its natural resources, I also don’t believe in getting on a privileged high horse and judging people without considering their realities.
It’s easy to assume that the obvious choice would be to not fish from the reef. And while it is, by all means, the optimal option, it does not reflect everyone’s reality. It also fails to acknowledge lack of opportunities many people with strained resources are faced with, and it assumes that they are able to make the “eco-conscious” decisions you may be able to make.
There are Egyptians out there doing the work to teach their fellow countrymen the importance of conservation. Even if their efforts do not live up to your own standards, it’s not your place to confront, chastise nor harass them.
If you are concerned that fish you are buying was illegally sourced, just turn down the opportunity to purchase it.
Do your own research beforehand to see what fish come from the reef and which do not.
Build connections with trusted locals and ask them where to buy seafood.
drinking alcohol in Dahab
One can drink alcohol in Dahab. It is easy to find restaurants that serve alcohol, and Dahab even has a couple of liquor stores that carry a variety of global wines and spirits. I want to re-enforce that while many cities in the Sinai Peninsula are less conservative than other parts of the country, one should not display excessive public drunkenness. I did see a couple foreign tourists walking around with beers in their hands, and while they weren’t drunk or acting obnoxious, I would still advise against this. Egypt is a Muslim-majority country and alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islam. So show respect towards the culture and drink one’s liquor in a restaurant, one’s hotel/rental property and with discretion and common sense. Definitely don’t get openly intoxicated, but this behavior is wack no matter what part of the world one may be in.
Other important Dahab info
Dahab is a cash-only city. You will not be able to use a credit or bank card in restaurants, shops and hotels. I never saw an exception to this rule while there, though things could have changed in the last year. Thankfully, there are cash machines all over the city, though it’s not uncommon for them to run out of cash. Be prepared to carry cash on you at all times and be sure to have enough.
Although Dahab, and the Sinai area overall, is much less conservative than Cairo and other parts of Egypt, women and men should still be respectful in their clothing choices. It’s okay to show legs and arms—and even wear bikinis—in Dahab, but do not sunbathe topless. I would also advise against heavy kissing and making out in public.
Summer months are unbearably hot in the Sinai, planning a trip from October through spring makes for a much more enjoyable experience.
There are still hotels and apartments in the area with no, or very limited, WiFi. You can find cafes with internet access, but you may still experience connection issues using public WiFi. If your work depends on being connected to the web, travel with your own portable WiFi device.
For further information on planning a trip to Egypt read “When Is The Best Time To Visit Egypt With Kids” to answer all your Egypt questions. The information is geared toward all travelers and is not limited to families.
If any medical emergency were to arise, there is a hospital in Dahab.
There are many EXPERIENCES to enjoy while in Dahab:
1. the red sea
The Red Sea is absolutely beautiful. I grew up listening to stories of Moses and the Hebrews standing before this enormous sea with Pharaoh and his massive army chasing them. When Moses raised his staff, the sea split in two and the Hebrews escaped to safety. This event is indelibly imprinted in my mind and seeing this beautiful body of water up close took my breath away. It’s multi-colored hues and sun-kissed warmth are magical; both the faithful and faithless cannot help but be seduced by its power.
No trip to Dahab is complete without the opportunity to snorkel in the Red Sea. Home to some of the most remarkable sea creatures in the world, it’s a must-do activity. I’m a non-swimmer and was still able to see aquarium-like sea life in very shallow water. The sea is full of corals and schools of beautiful fish are everywhere.
3. Beach Cafes
There’s something about laidback beach towns boasting bohemian vibes that enchant my soul. Dahab does not disappoint in serving up an abundance of unique cafes with impeccable views of the Red Sea. Each Dahab cafe posses its own distinct flair, displaying the rich creative and artistic essence of the city. Many cafes are lined with indoor swings, giving one the feeling of swinging over the Red Sea.
With tons of reggaetón and Bob Marley blaring in the background, the beach vibes are hard not to feel. One could sit in these cafes for hours writing, eating, drinking Bedouin tea and enjoying the company of others while gazing upon the sea.
4. Bedouin Culture
The fusion of nationalities, laid back and artist beach culture make Dahab special, but its Bedouin community is the true star.
Bedouins are nomadic Arab peoples found in the deserts of North Africa, the Levant and Arabian Peninsula. They are clan and tribe peoples known for herding camels, goats and sheep. While most Bedouins are Muslims, there are also historic Bedouin Christian clans as well.
Bedouin culture is still alive in Dahab and one can find older men dressed traditionally in their desert clothing, women wearing their versions of Jilbab, goats wander the dusty roads freely and people love to openly share their traditions with you. Bedouins have mastered the art of “chill”, and their laidback and simplistic approach to life is contagious.
5. sinai camp
Anyone looking to experience intense beauty and complete tranquility while encountering camels roaming wild and a sky filled with stars, should not miss the opportunity to camp in the Sinai Desert.
It’s truly a spiritual experience.
Before leaving for our trip, I knew I needed to experience one of these Dahab camps, and there are a variety of Bedouin camps located in the Sinai Peninsula.
Ras Abu Galum is within close proximity to Dahab, and it made for an adventurous trek via camels. The kids and I were able to spend a weekend camping in straw huts, playing with camels and goats, drinking Bedouin tea, swimming in the Red Sea and gazing upon thousands of stars. Those looking to unwind and find serene peace should not miss this opportunity.
6. Mount Sinai
For billions of people around the world who belong to the three Abrahamic faiths, Mount Sinai is a holy site. It is believed that after the Hebrews left Egypt, escaping centuries of slavery, they wandered through the desert surrounded by the Sinai mountains. During this time, Moses would climb these rocky mountains and have divine encounters with God—this is where he received the Ten Commandments.
For believers and non-believers alike, the opportunity to bask in the beauty of these mountains holds special spiritual power. There are many excursions giving one the opportunity to climb Mount Sinai and experience Abrahamic faith history first hand. One could also attend yoga and meditation retreats in the area as well.
Nothing heals the soul like the power of nature.
7. St. Cathrine’s Monastery
Many in the world today forget that Christianity is not a western faith that emerged from the heart of Central Europe, but that it is, in fact, an Eastern faith birthed in Palestine. Shortly after the resurrection of Jesus, his gospel spread throughout Africa, the Middle East and other parts of Asia. Egypt is one of these African nations that is rich Christian history, and many of the oldest churches and Christian relics are still in the country.
One of the many common misconceptions of the Islamic world is that Muslim-majority countries are hostile to Christians and Jews—I haven’t found this to be the case in my travels. In fact, all of the Muslim Egyptians I met were deeply proud of their country’s Christian heritage and its place in biblical history.
St. Cathrine’s Monastery is just under two hours away from Dahab and makes for an easy day trip. Built on the site where Moses encountered God speaking to him through a burning bush that was not consumed, St. Catherine’s is believed to be one of the earliest monastic communities. It is the oldest fully functioning monastery in the world and has one of the oldest functioning libraries. The monastery’s library contains treasured and priceless Christian texts that are thousands of years old, one of them being the world’s oldest nearly complete Bible.
8. go Diving at the blue hole
Diving in the Red Sea is a special experience, and the opportunity to dive at Blue Hole is dream for any serious diver. Located just 20 minutes outside of Dahab, the Blue Hole is not only Egypt’s most famous diving site, but it is also one of the top diving spots in the world. Formed from a large sinkhole that is over 300 feet deep, thousands flock to the area every year experience this natural wonder. So grab your diving mask and experience the best of Dahab diving at this natural phenomena.
So many people that I encounter do not realize that Egypt has a vibrant beach culture that is drenched in fascinating history. Dahab is truly is an oasis in the desert. Filled with rich history, a sprawling desert, beautiful beaches, mountains, relaxation and amazing people, it should not be missed on your next trip to Egypt.
Were you aware of Egypt’s beach culture?
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