So things got better once I got to Dahab. People I interacted with on the street were much friendlier. Whereas Sharm El Sheikh is very resorty, kind of like Cancun or something, Dahab is much more chill and backpackery. It’s a small town on the coast with lots of budget/midrange guesthouses and hotels, a bunch of dive shops, and wood planked restaurants that are built overhanging the water. You can walk through it all in 20 minutes. The most hassle you get is people inviting you into their restaurants. Dahab’s economy seems to be doing a bit better than Sharm’s, but once you get outside of the main part of town there are lots of very empty and hotels and restaurants with some halted construction projects and stuff.
2016 was a very bad a year for Sinai’s tourism when a Russian plane was shot down by terrorists over North Sinai, which led to Russia and the UK to discontinue direct flights to Sharm, a very sizeable chunk of their tourists. Those flights are still discontinued and the region has had to pivot to more domestic tourists in the last few years (and the Gulf countries too). A massive terrorist attack also happened in North Sinai in 2017 (300+ people dead, claimed by ISIS) which even though it was very far from the tourists in S. Sinai, it certainly didn’t help the region’s reputation. 2017 was a terrible year for both Sharm and Dahab, although 2018 has seen a steady increase in tourists, moreso in Dahab.
I booked a hotel for a few nights; talked to a couple of dive shops and picked the one I liked the best. There are plenty of good dive sites around and you don’t even have to get on a boat! The majority of the diving is shore diving, so you just put on all your gear and walk right in. The most famous dive site is called the blue hole, which goes all the way down to 120 meters or so. At 60m (180ft) there is a fantastic underwater arch that opens the blue hole out into the ocean and it’s very popular with scuba divers and free divers alike. It’s also perhaps the sport’s largest underwater graveyard, as this type of depth is not meant for inexperienced divers on one tank. You need to take a technical diving course in order to go this deep (and the companies are better about enforcing it now) but I guess back in the day anyone wanting to try and do this dive could attempt it on a single tank and the results weren’t always so good. Nitrogen narcosis can be a real bitch at 60m. Don’t worry I’m not doing this dive!
I ended up doing the bulk of my diving with a Spanish girl about my age and German woman in her 40’s. So it was a good five days of diving, lots of nice healthy corals, blue spotted stingrays, octopuses, scorpionfish etc. Normally it’s kind of rare to find an octopus, but we saw at least one just about every single day! They are my favorite aquatic animals to watch! I would have preferred a larger dive group, err nightly social circle, but you can’t have everything! The German woman was off with an Egyptian ‘friend’ most nights. Apparently Dahab is very popular with European women who like to mix it up with the local guys here. Similar to Bali or Goa. Of course being an Arab country, the reverse could never ever happen!
So overall I liked Dahab a lot. It has a nice homely feel to it and everyone knows everyone else in town. Dahab is also traditionally a Bedouin community so you see them a lot when you walk outside the main tourist strip, white robes flowing and all, which also gives it a cool local flair. The dive company’s driver was also a Bedouin. It was nice to do a couple dives in the morning and have the rest of the afternoon to chill in one of the waterside cafes. I stayed six nights and then headed back to Sharm El Sheikh. I opted to stay at a small dive center/hotel in Namaa Bay, which was tucked in between the surrounding massive resorts. I’d be diving with two American guys and an older British woman.
It’s really easy to not like Sharm! With so many resorts around you lose any type of local feel. And all it is the ocean and the resorts, the rest is just desert. And now that most of the tourists are Arab, there is kind of a cultural divide. The parties that used to rage into the night several years ago don’t exist anymore. There’s doesn’t seem to be a fun western oriented bar to hang out at. The divers are fewer and far between and the local dive community has lost quite a few guides who have opted to go elsewhere. Resorts are often at 30 percent occupancy. But this isn’t exactly bad for diving, as you get less divers at each dive site and healthier corals! And there are lots of excellent dive sites around. No coral bleaching to be found in the Red Sea! (yet). So I definitely would never stay here if it wasn’t for the diving!
You see a lot similar things that yo do in Dahab, but everything is a touch brighter, there’s more schools of fish around, and there’s more features to the underwater terrain. It’s also quite a bit more expensive. In Asia, normally the equipment rental is included in the cost, but here I was paying $23/day just for equipment rental, plus the dive sites are in a ‘national park’ so that’s another $8/day, then if you want to go to some of the further sites they get you for a $30 fuel surcharge. None of that is including the normal price of each dive. So it was not cheap! There was one really cool wreck dive called the Thistlegorm, which was a British ship that got bombed during WW2. It’s a big ship and contained a whole bunch of ammunition, motorcycles, and even a tank, all of which you can still see today! It’s rated as one of the best wreck dives in the world, and it certainly is the coolest wreck dive I’ve ever done!
My stay in Sharm was 5 days, and besides the diving it really wasn’t too exciting. Doing three dives a day, everyday, gets you pretty wiped out! We’d have beer o’clock once we got back to the dive hotel at 5pm or so, regroup and have dinner, maybe smoke some shisha, and off to bed! Welcome to traveling in your 30’s! I was also really lazy about taking photos in Sharm. But imagine a lot of nice looking all white resort/hotels in the middle of the desert with nobody in them! Next up: Still the Red Sea, but on the Egyptian mainland. Here’s some iphone photos: