For many, the greatest draw to Egypt is the pyramids and the many other temples and ruins that stand as testament to one of the most fascinating civilizations of all time. For some, another world beckons — the one found under the surface of the Red Sea.
For scuba divers, the Red Sea is one of the world’s dive meccas, somewhere every aquaholic dreams of making a pilgrimage some day.
While the Red Sea has so many corners to explore, for this trip, my friend Kat and I decided to focus on the Sinai Peninsula and split our time between two bases: Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh. The truth is, Sharm El Sheikh didn’t really sound like my kind of place. It’s a fairly built-up, brash beach town where direct flights once brought package tourists from all over Europe to frolic in all-inclusives, leaving only to visit water parks rising out of the vast desert like mirages. Think the Cancun of the Middle East.
But everyone we spoke to agreed that while Dahab had the best traveler vibes in Egypt and a series of incredible and unique dive experiences, the waters off Sharm El Sheikh boasted the areas healthiest and most vibrant reefs, as well as some world-famous wrecks. We simply couldn’t miss those, so we vowed to do Sharm El Sheikh our way.
Kat and I met up at the Cairo airport after I said goodbye to my Travel Talk crew, and hopped a quick, cheap and easy flight to Sharm El Sheikh airport. Since we weren’t too fussed with spending large amounts of time on land in Sharm, we’d booked a mini-liveaboard — but more on that later. We still had a night in Sharm El Sheikh on each end, and dang if we weren’t going to make the most of it.
Though we briefly discussed taking advantage of the incredible prices at the mega-resorts dotting the shores of Sharm, we stuck to our roots and landed at a charming little boutique guesthouse, Sinai Old Spices.
This place is the real deal — it’s tucked deep in an authentic Bedouin village, with herds of goats roaming the streets and locals smiling curiously at the foreigners arriving by taxi. Sinai Old Spices is run by a lovely Italian woman named Desi who has created a colorful oasis with a handful of uniquely decorated rooms, a lush pool, a restaurant serving beautiful fresh food, and hidden zones for relaxation around every corner.
This is really saying something for a girl who normally can’t be pulled off the beach, but I can’t imagine staying anywhere else in Sharm El Sheikh. For $40USD a night including an unbelievable breakfast spread, it was a steal.
I could have hung around Sinai Old Spices all day, but with really only one day to explore Sharm, we set off quickly. Unlike in Cairo, Uber doesn’t exist in Sinai, so we negotiated a flat rate with our hilariously crabby taxi driver from the airport instead (our flight had been delayed and our baggage had come out at the wrong terminal, and when we finally emerged victoriously from the airport his greeting was to chastise us for being late, ha.)
Though I’d heard so-so reviews of the local Old Market and the Sahaba Mosque, I wanted to give Kat a well-rounded first trip to Egypt, so we decided to give it a go.
Sadly, Sharm El Sheik and Sinai on the whole have struggled to recover from the ongoing conflict between Islamist militants and Egyptian security forces, which has included attacks on civilians and tourists. Bombings in the resort town of Taba in 2004, a series of bombings across Sharm in 2005, the bombing of a plane flying into Sharm el Sheikh Airport in 2015, and a mosque attack in 2017 that killed hundreds of locals (which spooked travelers despite being hours away from any tourist destinations) have turned a once vibrant beach town into a ghost town.