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.
Getting to Dahab
Dahab is located in the south Sinai peninsula, on the Red Sea. There are many ways to get there:
Flying – 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.
Buses – 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 Recently – 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.
Other good places to stay are:
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.
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 16 Euros. That’s INCLUDES all gear rental.
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
Diving in the Sinai peninsula is famous because of the Blue Hole, a giant submarine sinkhole with depths well over 100m. 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:
- The Canyon
- The Islands
- Day Trip to the Thiselgorm (a sunken ship)
Day Trip to Ras Mohamed 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.
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 this subject in the next post.