Sinai : Taba
Taba, in the eastern Sinai peninsula of Egypt, marks the location of the southern border crossing between Egypt and Israel, servicing travellers coming into Egypt and the Sinai via Eilat. The town has grown up around the border crossing and offers basic amenities for travellers - greatly enhanced by the Taba Heights development about 20 minutes ride further south. Taba is a centre for Red Sea diving.
Visitors to Taba arrive either north from Israel, south from Egypt or by air to Taba International Airport. On leaving Israel, a departure tax of 103NIS (until end 2012) is charged at the border, although if you pay this in advance at Eilat's main post office on HaTmarim Street, you will pay 5 NIS less. For entering Egypt, most nationalities can receive a free Sinai permit allowing 14 days within Sinai itself. You must have an advance visa if you wish to proceed out of the Sinai. Whether you have a visa or not, you'll be charged 75EGP (as of Sep 2012) as "Sinai tax". (The tax is collected at a checkpoint 1 km from the border.)
When crossing the border, there are 150 meters between the Egyptian terminal and Israeli checkpoint. Touts may offer you the use of carts to carry your bags, but will charge (approx. 2EGP)for this service. There is no charge on the Israeli side for carts.
On the Egyptian side, long-distance taxis await at the traffic circle. These are usually shared taxis, and they have the reputation of ripping off tourists. Except the usual haggling, pretending to go take the bus (from the bus station, further down the road on the left side) usually gets them to agree to a sensible price (30EGP to Dahab and 20EGP to Nuweiba). On the 1km walk to the bus station, you'll be offered taxi services many times.
On the Israeli side, local Egged bus #15 connects to Eilat's Central Bus Station about once an hour (7.5 NIS, schedule listed on the Egged website) or take a taxi.
The Taba bus station is on the left hand side of the main road about 1 km from the border. Look for the East Delta sign with a big gravel patch in front of it. (There may be buses parked there to make finding it easier.) The buses to Cairo leave at 10:30AM and 4:30PM and it costs 50-70EGP (Sep 2012), depending on the time at which it leaves. WARNING: as of September 2012, foreigners are BANNED from taking the bus from Taba to Cairo (they must make the much longer and more expensive trip to Sharm first, then Cairo, for about 85-105EGP). This bus ride will vary in time depending on how often check points decide to board the bus and inspect everyone's documentation. The trip takes at least 7 hours. Also it likely only stops once for a bathroom break, at a dusty and decrepit roadhouse that belongs in a Mad Max movie. The bus is generally a decent new-ish model, a notch or two below a Greyhound in the states. There is air conditioning but maybe not as much as you'd want. Seating is unassigned. (Avoid sitting near the toilet.)
If you are coming from Eilat, be forewarned that there could be a time change when coming into Taba, since Israel observes Daylight Savings Time while Egypt does not. You'll have a hard time finding a clock in Taba telling you what time it really is. The main effect of the time change is that in the summer, the bus to Cairo may seem to depart an hour late.
Most foreigners need an Egyptian visa to travel into Cairo. Unlike arriving in Cairo by air (where a visa can be purchased upon arrival), you need to arrange your visa in advance (at an Embassy or Consulate), before you get to Taba. If you don't have the proper visa, you'll be evicted from the bus at one of the checkpoints AFTER you have paid your tourist tax (75 EGP as of Sep 2012) at the first checkpoint.
Coming from Cairo there are four buses leaving from the Tugormen bus station (AKA the Cairo Gateway Mall) in Cairo heading to the Taba border crossing. Two in the morning: 6AM & 9:30AM and one in the evening: 11:30 PM (Dec. 2011). The cost is about 90EGP (Sep 2012). If you need help finding the bus station there is a tourist information stand in the main Cairo train station, they speak English and are generally helpful. Notice that this service is currently unavailable (Dec. 2012). Take a bus to Dahab (90EGP) and get another bus there.
It is not advisable to discuss further travel plans, as in going to Israel, aloud or with other travelers as this may elicit unwanted attention. Notice that when the bus arrives at Taba, the bus conductor will demand an extra 5 EGP to take you to the border itself from the bus station. Avoid the rip-off and walk those 600m by foot.
The border crossing facilities are nicely landscaped on the Egyptian side. The crossing doesn't see a lot of traffic—seemingly more staff than travelers—so if all your paperwork is in order you'll probably wisk right through. The first thing you'll see in Egypt is the ritzy Hilton casino-hotel.
The border zone at Taba is an artificial bubble extending for one kilometer and consisting of little more than two giant resort hotels, the Hilton and the Movenpick, and a small village supporting them. Beyond one kilometer, there is a checkpoint where foreigners are required to pay a travel tax of about 70 EGP, so if you are waiting for the bus, you are effectively trapped in the border zone until the bus comes. (The tax will be collected from you on the bus.)
Across the street from the bus station is a building marked "Taba Museum", but there is no indication on the outside if and when it is ever open.
About two blocks behind the bus station is a rocky beach on the Red Sea, where you can look through the fence at the somewhat nicer beach at the Movenpick resort. Crystal clear water, but any sand is probably trucked in by the resorts.
In the vicinity of the bus station and the Museum, there are a couple of tiny grocery stores. If you are smart about haggling, you'll get cheaper prices than in Israel.
Bir Sweir, an area located just some 30 km south of Taba, on your way to Nuweiba, offers lots of small beach camps. All have a restaurant section, and bamboo straw huts, where the Stars shine though at night. The camps are directly on the beach, with possibility to simply sleep on the beach, beside the sea. Figure on US$20/day including food and drinks.
It is worth noting however you can stay at the Hilton Taba from £20 GBP a night, £29 GBP including breakfast and dinner. This may still be a little steep for backpackers, but is much cheaper than the prices of a Hilton in Tel Aviv or Eliat. Good for if you are ill and need an en-suite, or just want a night of comfort!
Both the Banque du Caire and Banque Misr have currency exchange booths within the Egyptian checkpoint (sometimes irregular opening hours, go along ASAP if you need to change money). Money and cheques can also be exchanged at the Taba Hilton Hotel.