Difference between revisions of "Sharm el-Sheikh"
Revision as of 20:32, 15 January 2013
Sharm el-Sheikh (شرم الشيخ, also transliterated as Sharm ash Shaykh and popularly known simply as "Sharm") is a well-known port and resort town at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, popular with package holiday makers and divers. About 9,000 British tourists are in Sharm on any given day. Numbers have doubled in the last 3 years and seem set to continue to rise despite the worldwide economic situation.
Sharm el-Sheikh is sometimes called the "City of Peace", referring to the large number of international peace conferences that have been held there. It was known as Şarm-üş Şeyh during Ottoman rule and was known as Ofira during Israeli occupation between 1967 and 1982.
Sharm el-Sheikh is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Arab world. But there are also some very good reasons to visit it if you are not the common tourist, who likes to lie on the beach all day. It is one of the finest diving spots in the world and a trip into the desert is an unforgettable adventure.
The Sinai Peninsula is a remote desert mountain range. The rocky mountains are parted from the deep-blue sea by a flat desert strip. This combination of desert and sea is an incredible sight and makes you believe you are on a different planet.
About 40 years ago, Sharm el-Sheikh was nothing but a small fishing village with about 100 Bedouin citizens. When Sinai was occupied by Israel in 1967 Sharm el-Sheikh started to develop as a tourist destination (like the rest of the peninsula). Israelis evacuated Sinai between 1979 and 1982, following the signing of a peace agreement between the two countries. Since the 1980's the Egyptians have been continuing the development of Sharm where the Israelis left. Sharm's 100 grew into a bustling 10,000 population. There is now a nice promenade, a Hard Rock Cafe, one of the most modern hospitals in Egypt and so on.
Sharm El-Sheikh has an arid climate, generally warm and dry, although summer months can be humid. The water temperature is always warm, although cold snaps may affect the region occasionally each winter.
Na'ama Bay part of the city is the center of nightlife and dining: most of Sharm's clubs, cafes, restaurants and shops are here.
Sharm el Sheikh has grown into three distinct areas now, Nabq is a new area to the North of Na'ama, Old Market and Hadaba to the South of Na'amaa Bay.
See Sinai for information on the Sinai visit pass, which allows visa-free travel for up to 14 days.
Sharm el-Sheikh Airport (IATA: SSH) (ICAO: HESH) is the largest in the Sinai and receives planeloads of charter tourists daily in the winter high season. The only airline for local flights is EgyptAir . Your travel agent may have trouble booking flights with them but they can also be booked on some of the online booking engines. For departures: timetable shows only nearest 1-2 hours, makes you watch over the row of check-in desks for your flight number.
Cafes after security check are: Sbarro (overcrowded), Cafe Europa' (on the back of the lounge, less crowded): sandwiches, coffee, Egyptian sweets; outlet of Caffè Ritazza international chain coming soon (also in Athens, Budapest, Madrid, Milan, London, Paris, New York, Stockholm, Zurich, Vienna).
Shops in the airport
After security check: Patisserie offers lucums, khalva and other Egyptian sweets.
International Fast Ferries  runs fast boats to Hurghada on the mainland Red Sea Coast, currently running four times weekly. The ride takes 1.5 hours and costs 250/450 LE one-way/return for foreigners. Warning: this ride is notoriously bumpy and prone to cancellations.
By car / By bus
Sharm el-Sheikh can be reached by driving down the eastern coast from Eilat (Israel) via Nuweiba and Dahab, or via the western coast from Cairo. There are daily buses for both routes. From Cairo,East Delta buses take approximately 8 hrs (80 LE) while Superjet buses take 6 hrs. When taking the bus from Cairo, keep your bus ticket and passport handy, as you will pass through a number of checkpoints, which require passengers to present identification and ticket. The drive is interesting with beautiful scenary, throughout the route.
The Sharm el-Sheikh bus station is removed, by about a kilometer, from the Peace road. If you should arrive during the evening hours your only option may be to take a taxi, as micro-bus service can be spotty. Since Sharm is a tourist-driven economy, you should be prepared to do some bargaining. If you are of the hiking type, the main road is, roughly, twenty minutes from main road. Just ask anyone to point you in the direction of Peace road. Once at Peace road you should have no problem hailing down a micro-bus.
When heading to the bus station via micro-bus, it should be noted that, as of February 2009, there were no direct routes, which go down Peace road, to the bus station. In order to reach the station, you must indicate that you are going to the bus station, and want to be left off at the gas station. This may take some work, given the limited English skills of the drivers. Once at the gas station, you should see micro-buses, which will take you on the final leg. Remember, transfers are not issued, you will need to pay another fee for the final leg.
About micro-bus fees If your journey is within a kilometer or two, the cost should be about (LE 3 to 5 LE). If your stop is further out, or if you are traveling during the late night hours, be prepared to get a demand for more money, in some cases drivers may demand up to (LE 10 or LE 20). Demands for higher fees can also take place, if the driver feels he you have money! So, be prepared to negotiate. If the drivers fee is unreasonable simply get out, this will often bring down the cost. One final note on fees, when arriving, ask a local how much the bus costs before hailing one down. The information provided will give you a base-line price, from which you can bargain with.
In Sharm the taxis are generally modern models, either Hyundai or Chevrolet. Don't bother with the meter in the taxi,it probably does not work anymore,they soon break due to the dust,and would work out more than the "fixed" prices anyway. Always note the drivers ID number. Don't assume they have meters. Locals tell you they don't. Make sure you have transportation waiting for you, or better yet take an airport Limo which has a fixed advertised rate inside the arrival hall at the airport.
Sharm el Sheikh airport is the worst part of Egypt for getting a reasonably priced taxi. They will ask for 150-400 LE for the 10 minute ride to Nabq. So, make sure you negotiate a rate lower than the limo advertised rate inside the arrival hall. Make sure you have Egyptian currency to pay the fare and never pay before you reach your destination making sure you only pay the pre-arranged price. Make sure that the driver knows that you are paying in Egyptian pounds. You can avoid the haggling and high rates by prebooking a transfer with Sharm Excursions, who will collect you at the airport, and charge only 10 Euros for a minibus transfer (total price, not per person, price correct as of Jan 2013).
There are also a fleet of blue and white micro buses which are used to ferry the locals around the region. These are a most economical method of transport compared to taxis, which are very expensive. To hail one of these, simply wait next to the side of the main street and raise your hand to flag one down as it approaches. When you take the bus, go inside and find a seat and simply pass your money forward to the driver (with the help of other passengers if you sit in the back). The fare should never be more than 15LE. If you start asking for the price the driver may very well try to make you pay much more than needed.
Make sure you have a stash of small coins and notes to pay your fare.
It can be cheaper and more convenient to hire a private minibus, example rates from Sharm Excursions: Sharm-Taba 75 Euros, Sharm-Dahab 35 Euros (price are in total, not per person, correct as of Jan 2013). They can also arrange full tours, including transport, tickets, English speaking guides etc.
A visit to the desert is highly recommended. Various trips to the Bedouins, the beautiful Coloured Canyon and beyond to Mount Sinai. The more adventurous should try to find a private guide, who takes them for a few days into the mountain desert with a camel. You will walk through hidden valleys, rest at secret oasis and during the night you sleep under a breathtaking firmament.
An unusual sight and a bit exotic for a westerner are huge fans pumping fresh air to street cafes and terraces near hotels.
Diving is the main activity in Sharm el-Sheikh. When you dive into the warm water of the Red Sea and leave the remote desert behind, you will enter a world full of life and colours.
There are dozens of operators who seem to use just the same route, length and sequence of stops: when you drive, you meet many groups who follow just the same route as yours. There are several really shaky pieces of the route, very much like a washboard.
Wear a long-sleeved shirt; shoes are safer than sandals. Always wear a helmet and make sure your travel insurance covers this activity. Expect all your wear (and skin) to be covered with grey dust.
2 hours of riding is just enough for a non-professional rider; expect several stops along the way. It's ideal to start your ride at 4pm or later--to catch a sunset and ride back when air is not that hot.
At departure point, choose a bike in the beginning of the motorcade: being one of the first allows to drive faster, and results in less dust.
Make sure you stay on the path and follow your guide, as Egypt has one quarter of the world's landmines buried in its deserts, some of them surprisingly close to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Para sailing is very enjoyable. But, for a less than 5 minutes ride, they charge 260 pounds for 2 persons and 220 pounds for one person.
The best place to do this is in the Sinai desert on a tour with the Sinai's on their own bred camels. After this you can look up at the desert stars at midnight after having a homemade meal cooked by the Sinais themselves.
If you need a break from resort food try one of the local places below. If you're looking for a taste of home Il Mercato houses a McDonalds, KFC, Costa and a Starbucks.
Fresh Guava juice is a must-try, excellent in any cafe.
Alcohol (including beer) is available in restaurants and street cafes. Travellers must be aware that taxes are now levied on alcoholic drinks that are purchased in cafes or bars that are not associated with the hotels. Please also be aware of drink prices in general as they can be relatively expensive, compared to other european destinations. Always ask to see a drinks menu before ordering a drink.
Most hotels in Sharm, particularly in the Na'ama Bay area cater for package tourists. There are mostly 3-6 star all-inclusive hotels and there are very few (if any) budget options.
Others are quite far from Naama Bay, so you either are tied to their all-included ration, or need to pay for taxi for every dinner in Naama (although taxi is inexpensive from most of hotels).
For hotels in Na'ama Bay itself, their territory is frequently crossed by a pedestrian street, so the beach may appear across the street from the hotel building--obviously affecting privacy even when using a hotel's pool.
The only Five Stars Plus resorts are:
Sharm Excursions is a highly regarded tour operator that offers good rates for tours with English speaking guides (prices are per person and correct as of Jan 2013):