Egypt’s jewel of the Red Sea
Flanked by sparkling turquoise water on one side, and rocky mountains and desert on the other, is Dahab, a small coastal town along the Red Sea coast in the Sinai region. As far as destinations in Egypt go, Dahab is low-key. It doesn’t have the wow factor of Cairo’s grand pyramids, or Luxor’s views of the Nile; archaeologists don’t flock to Dahab in search of ancient Egyptian wonders and it can’t compete with the romance of Alexandria. But what Dahab lacks in historic grandeur it more than makes up for with a relaxed bohemian vibe and its location as a base for day trips to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea in Israel, Petra in Jordan, or a hike up Mount Sinai to catch the sunrise.
The town makes a great first impression. The promenade is filled with seafood restaurants, curio shops selling perfumes, teas and spices, rugs and Bedouin crafts and jewellery, and a massage parlour. It’s also great for people-watching: men in swimming shorts with rock-hard torsos take their poodles or huskies for walks by the sea.
For water babies Dahab is paradise with an abundance of swimming, diving and snorkelling options. One is Blue Hole, a 120-metre sinkhole known by the macabre nickname of ‘diver’s cemetery’. If nothing else, Blue Hole offers comedic value with countless people contemplating the dive. Other less intimidating spots for a dip include the Blue Lagoon and Ras Abu Galum. There are several locally owned tour companies in town, which makes a huge difference on the budget. Organised travellers will want to book all activities online, but don’t: the difference in the price tag locally makes it worth waiting until you are there.
For those not too fond of the water, a 4×4 track to the desert and day trips to Petra, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem are all good alternatives, and at Happy Life Village, a collection of family-friendly beachfront cafés about 15 minutes away from Dahab central, you are more likely to see mums and aunts wading in the water with toddlers than you are deepwater divers.
A locally organised trip to the beach between Dahab town and Happy Life Village comes with a meal cooked Bedouin-style on a open fire. Though it is not quite in the mountains – as it is often sold by tour operators – a traditional dinner under a dark sky with thousands of stars and a moon peeking from behind the clouds is just as romantic.
It’s not just the cultural and religious references that make a visit to Mount Sinai a must. The trip is a two-hour camel journey up the mountain and then a further one-hour stretch on foot. Hiking groups returning with injured toes and scratched legs are proof of how gruelling the climb can be on foot. Moses may not have stood in this exact spot, but a view of a cloudless sky and sharp, rocky mountaintops that stretch to the horizon feels like the right way to end your stay on the highest note.
This article came from the November 2017 print edition of The Africa Report