Undoubtedly the thought of Egypt invokes pyramids and camels, tombs and temples, caches of the most ancient civilizations lying beneath the desert, not the divers paradise of Dahab. What’s lesser known is Egypt’s other side – clear turquoise beaches with soft white sands, and the most intense mountain backdrop I’ve ever seen, aka the Sinai province. While most people may only have time to see Egypt’s historical side, travelers that make it to this relaxed part of the country will experience deserted beaches, delicious food, and the cheapest diving prices I’ve ever come across.
I visited Egypt as part of my Middle East trip. Read more about my Egypt Itinerary here.
Getting to Dahab
Dahab is located in the south Sinai peninsula, on the Red Sea. There are many ways to get there:
Flights leave regularly from Cairo to Sharm El-Sheikh, the closest city and airport to Dahab. I chose this method and paid about $40 one way. From Sharm’s airport, either take a taxi or public bus to Dahab. A private taxi, that I arranged with my hotel was 200 Egyptian Pounds ($25) and took 1 hr to reach Dahab.
Cairo to Sharm Bus
Buses leave at least once a day from Cairo and costs 100 LE (~$12). The ride is 12 hours through what I’m told is mostly decent roads. Make sure to have your passport on you as there will be numerous police check points, that are meant to keep the roads safe.
Safety in the Sinai Peninsula
Recently, due to the whole ISIS situation in the Middle East, there has been a big push to increase the security in this region by the Egyptian president. Traveling within the Sinai often requires traveling with a convoy, consisting of at least ten more passenger vehicles and an armed military escort. During my taxi from Sharm El-Sheikh airport to Dahab, I had to wait a half hour for other vehicles to join me before we departed single file with military vehicles on both ends. I wish I had taken some pictures but didn’t want to risk upsetting anyone or doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing.
Where to stay in Dahab
Dahab is the perfect place for backpackers looking to relax. It’s an incredibly cheap place and accommodations can range from a few dollars a night to $100 for the nicest and more luxurious of places. Backpackers and budget travelers looking to dive in the Red Sea, look no further than Dahab. Visitors that want a more luxury based all-inclusive type experience should look at staying in Sharm El-Sheikh.
I ended up staying at the Red Sea Relax Resort. I came to Dahab almost exclusively to dive the Red Sea and this place came highly recommended. If you’re diving with Red Sea Relax, dorm style housing AND breakfast is offered completely complimentary. Yes, 100% free! The dorms were nothing special but I had a comfortable bed, the company of other divers, and it was totally free! Otherwise, I could have stayed in one of the hotel rooms for a diver discounted rate of 230 Egyptian Pounds (~$28) a night.
Airbnb in Dahab
On my second visit to Dahab, I stayed in an Airbnb house with three others. If you are traveling with a group, this is most definitely the way to go. We booked a house on the beach near the main strip with sea views. It was built in the traditional Nubian way and was one of the more amazing Airbnb’s I’ve stayed in. I always advocate for staying in Airbnbs in places like Dahab over hotels and this just reaffirms that. We paid $100/night total for a house with three bedrooms, and outdoor deck and everything else you can ask for.
Other hotel options
Nesima Hotel – A lovely compromise if you want resort living without being isolated from town. Set amid a mature garden of blooming bougainvillea, Nesima’s cosy cottages have pleasing stone and wood overtones, domed ceilings and cute terraces.
Swiss Inn Resort – Awesome little hotel for those looking to stay a bit further away from the main strip. There are still plenty of restaurants, and dive shops located to this luxurious-leaning hotel.
No matter where you decide to stay, there’s a very high chance there’s a dive shop within the hotel, or they are located next door to one so do not worry about finding a dive operation at all.
Tourism in Dahab
Dahab was once a thriving tourist destination, frequently visited by backpackers and families. Walking down the streets, there are so many shops, restaurants, and hotels that clearly this place once had a plethora of tourists to warrant the creation of all these businesses.
Nowadays, Dahab is a sleepy shell of its former self. After the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, and the most recent issues with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, people have stopped coming to Dahab out of fear. It’s pretty sad really. Restaurants were maybe at 1/3 capacity and the owners were always heckling me, offering me steep discounts on food just for my solo business. I very much enjoyed my time in Dahab because of the small number of tourists, which is a bit selfish to say I know!
During my two week stay in Dahab, I never once felt in danger of anything. It was so incredibly relaxing and just so beautiful. My daily views were of the dramatic granite mountains on one side, and the beautiful Red Sea and the distant but clearly visible mountains of Saudi Arabia on the other. Not a bad way to live.
Eating in Dahab
Aside from the diving, the other perk of visiting Dahab is how cheap and delicious the food is. There is a plethora of restaurants in this town, all serving up delicious Egyptian fare and various other cuisines. From buying a falafel sandwich for 7 LE (~$1), to eating a big steak, prices are totally affordable, especially nowadays with the decline in tourism.
Seriously, I don’t think I had a bad meal the entire time I was here. I completely overdosed on falafels, hummus, kebabs, and lamb fattah. I tend to avoid the touristy strips in places that I travel to, but even the tourist strip of Dahab, with the most touristy of restaurants, had consistently delicious food.
The super hippie chilled environment in Dahab naturally led me to smoking copious amounts of shisha. Why not? For 10 LE (~$1.40), I’d have an apple flavored shisha to myself. Every day, I’d have one of these before dinner to enjoy the sunset views and sometimes after my dives just because I could. It was not hard to live well here. Many of the foreigners here stay long term, and I can’t blame them.
Some of my favorite restaurants in Dahab are:
Ali Baba – Delicious Egyptian fare located on the touristy strip. There’s probably 20 other restaurants with essentially the same menu as Ali Baba, aka seafood, meats, hummus, etc. but I found the quality of Ali Baba to be the best.
Friends – This place had a rooftop deck with seating. I routinely came here at dusk to get myself a shisha and beer, and enjoy the epic sunsets that would befall me daily.
Shark Restaurant – Best seafood hands down. Get the whole fish for 45 LE and it’s just heaven.
King Chicken – If full rotisserie chickens sound good to you, then this place serves the best chicken I had in the entire country. This would be my routine go to spot for a quick protein chow down. It’s off the main tourist strip but worth the walk.
Yum Yum Falafel – Easily my favorite falafel sandwich spot. I didn’t try the shawarma but it also looked good.
Scuba Diving in Dahab
Finally to the good stuff. Diving is without a doubt Dahab’s main attraction. From first time divers, to those wanting to do their Divemasters and Instructor certifications, to the most advanced tech divers Dahab has it all.
Of ALL the diving I’ve done in the world, Dahab is the cheapest I’ve ever seen. I’m also pretty sure Dahab has the cheapest dive prices in the entire world, and I would love to know if I’m wrong. A dive at the Red Sea Relax Resort where I did all my diving, was a flat 19 Dollars. That’s INCLUDES all gear rental. Granted this is shore diving prices, but it is still the cheapest price I’ve seen anywhere in the world, with the next closest being Moalboal, Philippines.
I can also highly recommend the Red Sea Relax resort’s dive center. Jordan, the head instructor, runs a very professional and laid back shop and I felt like part of the family during my few weeks in Dahab. Also, divers at this place get to stay in the resort’s dorms for free, free breakfast, and a discount at their restaurant for lunch and dinner. The next cheapest dive location I know of is Utila, Honduras, which is about $25 a dive with all gear, and Koh Tao in Thailand for similar prices.
Anyone wanting to do their divemaster certification, the Red Sea Relax offers it for about 600 euros which is just incredibly cheap!
Part of the reason Dahab is so cheap is almost all the dives are shore dives, where you literally walk with all your gear from the dive shop a few steps to the sea.
The Blue Hole of Egypt
Diving in the Sinai peninsula is famous because of the Blue Hole, a giant submarine sinkhole with depths well over 100m. Not to be confused with the great blue hole of Belize, there are actually multiple blue holes in the world. It’s famous because of how many people have attempted to dive to the bottom and died along the way. While most recreational dives peak at 40m, tech divers routinely make the dangerous and mystifying journey to go where few have gone before. Without proper planning and experience, it’s an easy formula for a quick death. In fact, when you arrive at the Blue Hole, there’s a giant wall of plaques with the names of divers that have died, serving as a clear reminder how dangerous the dive site is.
The dive site itself is nothing impressive as far as corals and wildlife goes, but rather it’s one of those places where you dive and say you’ve dived the great blue hole of the Red Sea.
For interested tech divers, there’s plenty of dive shops that will take you down with the necessary tech diving experience, but all other simple folk like myself can just enjoy diving to “normal” depths and avoid the extreme nitrogen narcosis and potential visit to the decompression chamber!
Free Diving – Diving without any air, is wildly popular in Dahab. I always thought it was crazy, and just couldn’t comprehend how people could breathe for 3-5 minutes underwater, especially as I can barely go one minute and I already think that’s impressive. I just can’t see myself improving THAT much, let alone tripling my time underwater. Well, I’m proven wrong because I saw an abundance of free divers, and routinely saw them on my “not so free” dives. If you’re curious about free diving, then this is certainly the place to get started.
How is the diving?
Diving in the Red Sea is as impressive I had hoped. Crystal clear visibility, abundance of marine life, colorful corals, and just the most chilled out vibe. My day’s routinely consisted of:
- Waking up late (as we didn’t need to go out on a boat)
- Getting two dives in for the morning
- Smoking some shisha and eating kebabs for lunch
- One more dive in the afternoon
- Take a nap
- Watching the incredible sunsets over a shisha and beer with good company
- Eating copious amounts of delicious Middle Eastern fare for dinner
- Sleep, and repeat
Ya I know, tough life! Some of my favorite dive sites besides the Blue Hole are:
Yes, a garden of eels – a population of hundreds of Red Sea Garden Eels to be exact. They burrow into the white sandy slope, swaying half their bodies in the water to look like living plant stalks. Approach too close or too quickly and the garden disappears as the eels retreat into their holes. Ascending towards the entrance area you will see pretty coral gardens with their populations of resident fish including grey morays hiding in their crevices. Eel Garden is just on the northern edge of Dahab so is popular for day and night dives. This dive site is suitable for open water divers.
The most frequently visited site in all of Dahab due to the positioning and the fact that it is a great site for beginners as well as more experienced divers. Entry point is from the beach on to an easy sandy slope. The western route has a sandy bottom with many hard coral towers while the Classic route winds in and out of the towers and reaches a depth of 30 metres. Photographers may get the opportunity to take a good shot of an octopus, seahorses, turtles or a puffer fish. This dive site is suitable for open water divers.
A really fun site with lots of swim throughs and spectacular coral reef. Once entering through a narrow coral channel you pass through a series of sandy bottom hard coral pools, then you reach some really beautiful swim throughs at a depth of about 7 to 10 meters; maximum depth is about 22m. You get to hang out with a school of resident juvenile barracuda, follow lion fish along the coral ond spot the occasional large puffer fish. It is truly a great dive so make sure you check it out. This dive site is suitable for open water divers.
If you want to have a really great dive and check out some big beautiful morays, then this dive is for you. It is situated next to the Happy Life Village, directly opposite the Bedouin restaurant Wadi Qnai where you can relax after the dive. The route for this dive allows you to visit another one called Golden Blocks. Swimming down a sandy bottom slope and over a sea grass bed on the right to a depth of 16 to 20m you reach several pinnacles which swarm with some beautiful marine life. This dive site is suitable for open water divers.
The last site on the southern coast of El-Qura bay, 30 minutes from Dahab. The entry point is in front of a Bedouin restaurant in a gap in the reef. Descend down a mild slope to a depth of 3m and 2 caves appear. The cave to the right really makes this dive worthwhile with a really nice display of soft corals, black corals and sponges. This dive site is suitable for open water divers.
Day trips to consider
Other day trips to consider while in Dahab are the Ras Abu Galum dive sites, and Gabr El Bint. I didn’t have time to do these tours while I was here but everyone raved about Gabr El Bint. The corals and marine density there are the best in the area from what I heard. Will definitely be making a return visit!
Diving in the Ras Mohammed National Park
Ras Mohammed is a town in the southern tip of the Sinai province. It’s about a two hour drive from Dahab and is a great day trip for divers with time, and desire to get away from Dahab. The diving is superb and the vibe around the beaches there is so chilled out. The tour usually consists of 3-4 dives, with lunch included before coming back to Dahab.
Dive shops in Dahab can easily arrange day trips for you and normally work in conjunction with shops in Sharm El Sheikh. The diving in the Southern Sinai is considered to be the best in the region. The only downside is you need to be near Sharm El Sheikh which is a totally different world from Dahab.
The Ras Mohammed National Park is famous for its incredible density of marine life, colorful corals, large peleagics like sharks and rays, and most of all for the SS Thistlegorn. The SS Thistlegorn is a sunken battleship from WW2 that is colossal in size being 130m in length! It is absolutely massive and a marvel to see underwater.
Day tour from Dahab to Ras Mohammed
For the day trip to Ras Mohammed, it is normally three dives. The first two in the morning are focused on the SS Thistlegorn. The first is around the outside of the wreck where you will see the mighty flanks of the 126 meter ship. The stern was blown off the main body of the wreck and sits at a 45% angle, looking up you can see the unmistakable shape of the ship’s, ultimately useless, guns. The current normally runs bow to stern and large groupers are often to be found near the prop. Venturing over the debris of the impact area look out for the two upturned Bren-gun carriers and lots of Wellington boots. Up to the deck area we find many fish, locomotive rolling stock and the Thistlegorm’s huge winches which dive boats use for tying on to.
The last dive in the afternoon is spent at a dive site of choice in the Ras Mohammed Marine Reserve. The Shark & Yolanda Reef is the most popular and one of the most stunning dive sites here so if you’re lucky, you will get to do that! From Dahab, we were picked up very early at 5:00am. It takes roughly 1.5 hours to get to Sharm El Sheikh and another 2 hours by boat to the dive sites. Overall, it is an incredibly long day but well worth it.
Beaches in Ras Mohammed
The beaches in Ras Mohammed were some of the nicest beaches I saw in the Red Sea. It’s so different than your traditional tropical style beaches, that I can’t describe but in a good way.
Getting out of Dahab
As amazing as Dahab is, there’s plenty to do outside of Dahab. The easiest excursion is hiking up Mount Sinai (where Moses did his 10 commandments thing), and visiting St. Catherine’s monastery. Along with camel rides, sandboarding, and quad-biking, there’s a bunch of day tours available from Dahab.
Visiting Israel and Jordan from Dahab/Sharm El Sheikh
Israel is actually a quick trip from Dahab and reachable via bus to Eilat. Jordan is right around the corner and accessible by land travel once reaching Eilat. I ended up traveling by bus from Dahab to Israel, and then by land to Jordan to spend a few days visiting Petra and Wadi Rum. More details on my Petra trip here.