Difference between revisions of "Sinai"
Revision as of 11:37, 11 July 2007
The Sinai Peninsula is the easternmost part of Egypt between the Mediterranean and the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba, both forks of the Red Sea. The western and northern coasts are practically uninhabited, but several Bedouin settlements-cum-tourist attractions dot the eastern coast.
Above ground is a harsh, forbidding and (in summer) brutally hot desert of parched rock. The reason most tourists come here is the vistas underwater: the Sinai coast offers some of the best diving in the world.
In 1967, Israel took control over the entire peninsula. The Suez Canal, the east bank of which was now controlled by Israel, was closed. In 1979 Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty. Israel pulled out of Sinai in several stages, ending in 1982.
The tourist cities are built around previous Israeli settlements. While the original population are bedouin, most of the staff and workers in this area come from Lower Egypt and especially the canal cities.
Tour is the regional center of Southern Sinai, which includes Dahab, Nuweiba and Sharm. Al-Arish is the regional center of less visited Northern Sinai, close to Rafah and the border to the Gaza strip.
Like in all Egypt, the language of the Sinai is the Egyptian Dialect of the Arabic language. But in tourist areas you also get through with English, and on the east coast also with Hebrew, because here many Israelis come for holidays.
No Egyptian visa is required, as special 14-day Sinai permits are granted on arrival at the Taba border, Taba Airport and Sharm el-Sheikh's airport. Note that this permit allows travel only on the eastern Sinai coast and the Mount Sinai with St. Catherine's monastery.
Two ferries run between Nuweiba and Aqaba, Jordan. One is a standard speed ferry, the other a so-called high-speed ferry. For travelers interested in bypassing Israel by crossing the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt to Jordan directly, these ferries offer some degree of convenience. Patronized mainly by Arab nationals prohibited from entering Israel, the ferries will save other travelers little time and hassle over the land route from Taba through Eilat to Aqaba.
Regular ferry: US$35, plus 50 EGP or 5 JD departure tax.
High-speed ferry: US$50, plus 50 EGP or 5 JD departure tax. Though its marketing materials say, "On time departure, first class service," that is not quite true of the high-speed ferry, named the Princess. The boat departs daily from Nuweiba at 3PM, or so its schedule says. However, the consensus among regular travelers is that the real time of departure is more like 5PM. (Schedule of Aqaba to Nuweiba trips unknown.) For trips departing Egypt, passengers must arrive at the station in Nuweiba and purchase tickets by 1PM. AB Maritime, the company that owns the Princess, does not offer any baggage handling service; indeed, luggage must be stacked against the walls of the vast cargo hold beneath the passenger deck, and cannot be taken as "carry on." And, non-sensically, dirty crowded buses transport passengers from the customs terminals in both Nuweiba and Aqaba to the boat, meaning an extra busride on each end of the trip adds time to the schedule.
There are trains to Port Said.
Whether you're going from the airport to your hotel, traveling from beach resort to beach resort, trekking up to St. Katherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai, or heading to Nuweiba to catch the ferry to Aqaba, Jordan, the trick to getting around in Sinai is to coordinate all ground transport through your hotel.
If you're on any kind of reasonable budget, avoid at all costs the local taxis, whose prices are higher than Cairo taxis by a factor of around 10.
Inexpensive minibuses travel on regular scheduled throughout the peninsula. The key to utilizing them is to do it through your hotel. Ask your hotel to coordinate your timetable, pick-up, and pricing. The exceptions to this hotel rule are minibuses traveling to and from Cairo, which leave all day, as soon as they are full of passengers, from Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab. In Sharm el-Sheikh, you can find these minibuses at the west end of the taxi parking lot in front of the strip mall in the center of town.
Regular cheap full-sized coaches depart daily for points throughout the peninsula from bus stations in Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab. Be sure to check schedules at the bus station, however, because the times are always changing and even hotels can get them wrong. In Sharm el-Sheikh, the East Delta bus station lies about 2km outside of town on the road toward the airport and Dahab. As of Feb 2007, buses from Sharm el-Sheikh to Dahab and Nuweiba ran daily only at 9:00 AM and 2:30 PM.
Several local organisations offer trekking and excursions into the Sinai desert. The Bedouin tribe of the mountains (http://www.sheikmousa.com) organises treks in St Katherine's national park.
Others offer yoga trips to the St Katherine's area and the desert itself (http://www.yogatravel.co.uk) where the silence and tranquility is ideal for relaxation and meditation.