I reach Dahab in the early afternoon after an eight-hour road journey from Cairo. Although the route goes through bumpy terrain and involves a lot of winding roads, it’s a surprisingly pleasant experience. Soaking in the views from the minibus windows provides a unique insight into this fascinating Egyptian region.
Dahab has much to offer visitors, and its expatriate community makes for a unique experience compared with Egypt’s main tourist cities such as Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. This seafront town is recognisably Egyptian, but with a quintessentially European twist. This is demonstrated well by the shopping culture of the town, striking a distinctive balance between the in-your-face chaos present in most of Egypt and the Western tendency towards helpfulness with no pressure. With a population of just 14,000, the community consists of 6,000 Bedouin people, 4,000 Egyptians and 4,000 European expatriates.
Located in the picturesque Sinai region of Egypt, Dahab is well positioned to allow a full exploration of sights and history both within Egypt and its neighbouring countries. The Sinai region mainly consists of desert and sandy cliffs; this combined with the bluest of skies and a colourful, mesmerising coral beneath its waters creates an atmosphere of serenity in the area.
Sinai is of great historical significance, playing host to the infamous Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God – a scene prominently depicted in the books of Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious traditions. It’s possible to arrange an overnight visit to Mount Sinai, which entails watching the sun rise from near the top, and exploring Saint Catherine’s Monastery on your way up or down the mountain. Guides are available to accompany your climb up Mount Sinai, or an alternative option is to take a camel ride for most of the journey upwards.
Daytrips are also available to visit Jordan’s capital of Petra, various parts of Saudi Arabia and nearby Israel during your stay in Dahab, though there’s little chance of not being able to occupy yourself by staying local either.
During my stay, the Dahab International Festival of Watersports, Culture and Desert Adventure is in mid-swing. Organised by members of the local community and, in particular, expatriates living in the area, the festival happens in April of each year and includes activities for children, teenagers and adults throughout the day and night. Every event involves a local organisation, business or individual, and activities focus on celebrating and sharing culture, skills and talents from anybody who wants to take part. Cooking classes, camel races, meditation and yoga, poetry readings and live music are just some of the events of this annual gathering, and almost all of the festival’s activities are offered free of charge.
The locals are laid-back and friendly, many of them working as artists and writers, while others are involved full-time in the local scene through community work. Dahab is incredibly bohemian, but without any of the pretention of London’s hipster suburbs. Our tour guide, the kind and knowledgeable Ahmed, beguiles us with tales of Egyptian culture and stories from his own life, at least half of which might be true.
Dahab has a fantastic food culture, particularly as a result of its prominent fishing location on the Red Sea. Most of the restaurants along the seafront offer a ‘catch of the day’ dish, including a scrumptious sea bass mixed grill at El Fannar during my stay. Other recommended restaurants include the Ali Baba restaurant offering traditional Egyptian and Bedouin food, and The Kitchen Restaurant which offers Chinese, Indian and Thai food. Every café, bar and restaurant I visit in Dahab is elaborately decorated and boasts a fantastic welcoming atmosphere.
Each night, freshly baked flat breads and an array of dips grace our table before we’ve even ordered – hummus, beans, aubergine, yoghurt and cucumber, and a strange orange dish that is supposedly (doubtfully) cheese. At the end of the meal, fresh sliced fruit or a traditional pastry dish is offered, such as a cake garnished with desiccated coconut. There doesn’t appear to be a charge for these bookends of our meal, because we’re with tour guide Ahmed who is known well at all of the local haunts.
As you enjoy a meal at one of Dahab’s many restaurants, almost all of which look out over the town’s stretch of the Red Sea, you’ll be greeted by a series of faint glimmering lights from the other side: Saudi Arabia. This part of Egypt is so close to other Middle Eastern countries, that Saudi Arabia is visible just a short distance across the water, and the sight of it is wonderful.
Kite-surfing and windsurfing is popular along the Sinai coast, as well as diving, snorkelling, sailing and quad-biking. After a few jokes about taking a swim across the water to visit Saudi, Ahmed tells us about a tourist who took a windsurf all the way across the Red Sea, and reached the shore over in Saudi Arabia. Without a passport and visa, he was arrested and then deported back to Egypt by bus. This story serves as a jovial warning to us, and the idea of travelling over to Saudi Arabia unannounced is quickly abandoned in favour of a cup of a Bedouin tea.
Lauren visited Dahab with Encounters Travel as part of their 14-day Nubians and Beaches tour in April 2012. Encounters Travel have been operating tours in Egypt for more than 15 years and offer a range of different trips, varying in length, activities and Prices start from just £339. More information on everything Encounters Travel offer is available from their website: www.encounterstravel.com.
Egypt Air offer direct flights from London Heathrow to Cairo eleven times per week as well as flight options to Luxor and Sharm El Sheikh. To book flights or find out more, please visit www.egyptair.com.