In my last two posts, I have sung praises of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. By this, I mean the southern part of the peninsula, because the north still remains closed for any kinds of travel. There is more to Egypt than just pyramids, ancient temples and glitzy resort towns of Hurghada, Sharm-el-Sheikh, and Gouna. After getting bombarded with amazing experiences in one of the world’s oldest cultures, you would want a place to hang your hat, let your hair down, and simply relax. You are still on your vacation after all and meant to recharge your batteries. Dahab in southern Sinai offers you just that and it is a laid-back beach town, which is also famous as a diver’s paradise. I have talked about Southern Sinai safety issues and why you should visit Dahab at the beginning of this series. If the amazing photos of the Blue Lagoon and the lure of the Blue Hole have tempted you enough, then read on for detailed Dahab travel guide and tips.
A bit of regional understanding of the Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai Peninsula is the only part of Egypt to be located in Asia. It is wedged between the Mediterranean Sea in the north and the Red Sea in the south. Acting like a land bridge which connects the two mega continents of Asia and Africa, Sinai is astonishingly beautiful. Some of Egypt’s premier Red Sea destination like Sharm-el-Sheikh is located here and Dahab is also close by. The Suez Canal connects the two seas through Sinai and due to recent unrest, northern Sinai remains a completely sealed off area. Southern Sinai, however, is as nice as ever, and Dahab lies there.
Recommended Read: Is it safe to visit the Sinai Peninsula?
How to reach Dahab
Dahab lies 100km north of Sharm-el-Sheikh. The easiest and quickest way to reach Dahab is to fly to Sharm el Sheikh airport. A taxi from Sharm airport to Dahab costs around 30-40 USD (2100 INR) and this depends on your polite bargaining skills. Egypt Air and Air Nile operate daily flights to Sharm from Cairo and Sun Express connects it with many European destinations like Cologne/Bonn. It takes approximately an hour to reach Dahab from Sharm and the drive through the mountains or along the coast is extremely beautiful. There are buses available from Sharm bus station in town for Dahab and you will have to take a taxi from the airport to reach there. Alternatively, you can also arrange with your hotel/campsite in Dahab for pick-up and drop to Sharm-el-Sheikh.
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There are basically three options for Cairo to Dahab bus journey.
- Go Bus – A reliable bus company with many categories with different prices and comfort levels. The timetable is also quite sensible and it is the most comfortable way to reach Dahab by bus. Most expats living in Cairo opt for the night bus, which takes around 10 hours (with many checkpoints for baggage screening). The deluxe plus is a pretty comfortable option with moderate legroom, wide seats and entertainment systems.
- Blue Bus
- East Delta Bus Company
By private car
If you do not like the idea of public transport and have some cash to spare, then there is always the more comfortable choice of going to Dahab by private car. Hunt around at various hotel travel desks and travel agencies and make sure you know what kind of vehicle you are getting for your money. Prices vary according to the car type and bargaining skills.
There are three routes to Dahab from Cairo and all of them will make you take the Suez Canal underpass. This is a high-security area and guarantees tight checks and long queues. Time your trip right so that you can sail through this bottleneck either at night or early morning. The three routes are –
- Taba – Nekhel Road (540 KM) – recently not allowed to foreigners, Christians, military men & policemen (at the moment closed for all)
- St. Catherine Monastery Road (600 KM), an extremely scenic route which we undertook
- Sharm El-Sheikh Road (590 KM) – commonly used by bus companies. We took this on our way back to Cairo from Dahab.
Understanding the Dahab town
Dahab is divided into two main parts: the new part known as Dahab City and the older part known as Masbat. The old part is comprised of three sections, although it’s comprised of three sections, Assala in the north, Masbat in the middle, and Mashraba in the south. The old and new parts of Dahab are connected by a road and a seaside promenade. Laidback Assalah hugs the Ghazala bay and has a long stretch of cafes, campsites, restaurants, and hotels. The main market of Dahab, i.e. the Ghazala Market runs parallel to the corniche. Most budget accommodations are located in Assalah and there are plenty of scuba diving centers and snorkeling schools. Dahab main city lies in the west and the bus station is also there.
Getting Around Dahab
Dahab is small enough to explore on foot or by bike. There are plenty of two-wheeler rentals and you can also hire them through your hotel or campsite. Understanding Dahab town makes navigation easier. In Dahab, pick-up trucks operated by local Bedouins double up as taxis and make sure you agree on the price before hopping on one.
Places to Stay in Dahab
Dahab is most popular with backpackers and there are many budget accommodations there. Ranging from beach shacks, homestays, campsites, rental apartments, rooms, and guesthouses, Dahab suits all pockets. For those on extremely tight budgets, you can choose basic huts with shared amenities and bathrooms. Since it is fast becoming popular among mainland Egyptians and families with children, Dahab has plenty of luxury kid-friendly hotels. They are mostly from mid-range to luxurious and the best options are by the shallow lagoon. We stayed at Ganet Sinai which was a nice child-friendly beach hotel with small villas on the beach, surrounded by lovely gardens, pools, and playgrounds. For 60 USD (4000 INR) per night, we had a little beach villa with breakfast and dinner included.
The best time to visit Dahab
Dahab is a year-round destination you can visit year round. While there is always sunshine and hardly any rainfall, Dahab has distinctly different seasons. The summer months of June, July, and August are super hot and best avoidable. Winter months are from November to February and while the sea is a bit too cold to swim, the days are nice and warm. However, it does get cold at night in Dahab in winter and the temperature drops to 10 degrees C. Spring and Fall are somewhere in between and the best time to visit Dahab.
Things to do in Dahab
- Diving and Snorkeling – The reefs surrounding Dahab are famous for their abundance of healthy marine life. It is a diver’s and snorkeling paradise. The three most popular snorkel sites are the Lighthouse, Canyon, and Eel Gardens. The world famous Blue Hole and Ras Abu Galum lie outside the town periphery. The Blue Hole is an underwater sinkhole that is extremely popular with divers. It also has some fantastic snorkeling spots on the outskirts. Ras Abu Galum is a national nature reserve, accessible by boat, camel ride or hike from the Blue Hole. It has the gorgeous Blue Lagoon and is one of the top diving and snorkeling spots near Dahab.
- Water Sports – Kite surfing, windsurfing, and paddle boarding are other worthwhile aquatic sports to try out in Dahab. The lagoon area has several schools offering lessons and equipment for rent.
- Hiking – Dahab is set so snugly amidst alluring desert and rugged mountains, that you just cannot resist exploring both as well. You can do this either by day or multi days hikes with local Bedouins or by camels. The scenery is a mindblowing mix of colourful canyons, imposing cliffs, and pretty oases, and you will simply love the solitude it offers. The best part of all is the delicious Bedouin meal cooked by your guide over hot coals in the open.
- Quad biking, Cooking, Yoga, and many more – Dahab being very cosmopolitan, has plenty of activities to offer. You can opt for cooking, baking, yoga, and meditation courses if relaxation is on your mind or choose to go quad biking and rock climbing in the desert for some action.
Day Trips from Dahab
- Wadi Gnai for Rock-climbing
- Wadi Weshwashi
- Mt. Moses to watch the sunrise or sunset, even better if you spend a night on the mountain and get to witness both
- Mt. Catherine’s Monastery It is a small chapel built in 300 AD, besides the supposed burning bush from which God spoke to Moses. This chapel is one of early Christianity’s only surviving churches. The historic and religiously significant hike to the top of Mount Sinai can be done from here. It is where Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe God delivered his Ten Commandments to Moses. Hikers must be accompanied by local Bedouin guides and most camp at the summit overnight to experience the sunrise.
- Castle Zaman between Taba & Nuweibaa
- The Canyons near St. Catherine’s Monastery and Nuweiba
- Ras Mohammed National Park (diving in Thistlegorm Wreck, Abu Nuhas Wreck, Anemone City, Shark Reef, and Yolanda Reef)
- Ras Abu Gallum Complete with a blue lagoon with sawtooth-like mountains for a backdrop, this is a stunningly beautiful place. The Bedouins run the simple beach camps and they cost about $6 a night. The pickup truck taxis for the Blue Lagoon are available at Ras Abu Gallum and the food served here is simply amazing. At night, you can see entire galaxies in the sky.
Most people leave Dahab from Sharm-el-Sheikh, with a handful crossing over to Jordan by ferry. Many also cross the border at Taba to enter Israel. The ferry to Aqaba in Jordan leaves from Nuweibaa which is an hour drive from Dahab. Buy the ticket in advance. There are plenty of day or short trips to Jerusalem from Dahab. Indian nationals, please bear in mind, that if you choose to enter Israel from Taba, it is helpful to go in a group and not get an exit stamp from Egypt on your passport. Going in a group usually helps prevents this as the exit stamp on your passport means that you can only enter Egypt until the MFO (Multi-Force Organization) border near Sharm-el-Sheikh. In case you have your return flight from Cairo, avoid any such complication. The Taba border crossing is relatively hassle-free from the Egyptian side, while from the Israeli end, it is (according to most travelers) a nightmare.
How to stay safe in Dahab and southern Sinai?
The Sinai Peninsula has been riddled with conflict throughout history. Northern Sinai is a trouble zone due to the Israel-Gaza strip-Egypt land triangle. Until today, it is a NO-GO zone, for all foreign and Egyptian tourists. South Sinai is safe and by this I mean, it is a “go ahead” zone. Needless to say, there have been a few terror attacks in Dahab in the past, namely the 2006 bombing which killed 23 people and the attack in Sharm in 2005. This doubled up with the recent massive attack in a mosque in north Sinai, has put this peninsula in a bad light. However, let’s think about it this way! European cities like New York, Paris, and London, as well as Bangkok and Bali, have been victims of even bigger terrorist attacks. That does not stop travelers from flocking to these destinations. That is why to label Dahab as unsafe for an attack which happened more than 10 years ago is not fair. I traveled to Dahab via the St.Catherina Monastery road and though there were plenty of checkpoints, not once did I feel threatened or unsafe. Having said this, I still took plenty of precautions in the form of extra documentation, time on my hands etc. Read on to know more about Dahab travel tips.
Things to remember when visiting Dahab
- To make Dahab trip as hassle-free as possible, it is advisable to travel with a valid Egyptian I.D. or passport, copies of your accommodation booking, as you may have to show them at checkpoints. In our case, it was easy since Tarek has the dual nationality of German-Egyptian and as his wife, according to Egyptian laws, I get treated as a resident. Please be aware that your bags will be searched at certain checkpoints, so try to cross the busy Suez Canal at night time.
- In Dahab, you will have to leave a copy of your ID or passport with the Blue Hole tourist police. A copy there costs 2.5 Egyptian Pounds. Do not forget to mention, if you are staying overnight at Ras Abu Ghallum, along with the details of your accommodation.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE