Sharm el Sheikh

Sharm Old Market, Go tell it on the mountainSharm el Sheikh is the biggest town in South Sinai; an ever-expanding mass of resorts, casinos and gleaming shopping malls. Tourists are more common than the Bedouin here and the whole place feels a long way from the rugged mountain wilderness on the doorstep. Some people hate Sharm; others enjoy a few days here. It has plenty of plus points, including the best range of diving in the Sinai and some great restaurants and bars. As much as anything, you’ll need to think about your budget. You can rough it on LE150/ day in Sharm but you’ll need more to really get the most out of it: reckon on European prices. If that’s too much, head north to the more budget-friendly town of DAHAB.

ORIENTATION IN SHARM Sharm is basically a long strip of coastal development going north to south, but you can think of it as two main hubs. One is the OLD MARKET, at the very southern end of the city. This is both a tourist bazaar and an important service hub for locals with cheap cafes, internet etc. The other is NA’AMA BAY, about 7km north up the coast. It’s a more upmarket district with big hotels, shopping malls and an all-night party scene. Both areas are connected by SHARIA SALEM: the big, main road in Sharm. SHARK’S BAY is an area north of Na’ama Bay, not far from the airport, with a nice beach; NABQ is the nothernmost part of the town, home mostly to high end hotels. Beyond this is the nature reserve of the NABQ PROTECTORATE.

GETTING THERE & AWAY Most tourists come and go through Sharm’s international airport. If you’re travelling by bus, the EAST DELTA bus station is on the city’s outer ring road. You can get a taxi or walk from the MOBIL petrol station on Sharia Salem (half an hour). The EAST DELTA BUS COMPANY runs buses day and night between Cairo and Sharm (either way, LE60-80, 8-9hrs). There are daily buses to Dahab (LE20, 1hr) and Nuweiba (LE25, 2-3hrs), plus Taba and west coast towns like El Tur and Abu Zenima. There’s a second bus station near the East Delta one where other firms run buses to Cairo too. For long-distance taxis reckon on these rates: Dahab, LE150-200; St Katherine, LE350-400; Nuweiba, LE350-400.

Sharm minibus, Go tell it on the mountainGETTING AROUND Everywhere’s spread out, so you’ll need some sort of transport. Most locals use minibuses: they’re dark blue and run 24/7 along Sharia Salem. To catch one, flag it down, get in, then pass the fare over the heads in front to the driver. From the Old Market to Na’ama, LE1. From the Old Market to the far northern end of Sharm near Nabq, about LE5. Private taxis are blue and white cars and they’re not too expensive. It’s about LE25-30 to go between the Old Market and Na’ama Bay. You can rent cars, mopeds and motorbikes too, but deposits and the excess can be high so check.

STAYING IN SHARM Sharm is mostly a town of big, international-brand hotels like the Hilton and Four Seaons, but you can find cheaper stuff too. If you’re on a budget stay in the Old Market: everything is cheap here (food, internet etc). The cheapest place is the INTERNATIONAL YOUTH HOSTEL: it’s in HADABA, an area which overlooks the Old Market. A bed in a three-person room is about LE70. The SANDY HOTEL is another good budget place, at the eastern gate of the Old Market, with singles from LE100. At the mid-price level, OLD SPICES is a good pick: it’s a small, family-run hotel in an outlying Bedouin suburb called Rowaissat. In Na’ama Bay, the cheapest places are OONAS DIVERS and the CAMEL HOTEL.

Sharm public beachWHAT TO DO Sharm some of the finest coral reefs in the world but they’re owned by big, private hotels that non-guests pay upto US$50/ day to access. There are two PUBLIC BEACHES where you can at least have a sunbed and a swim; one near the Old Market, the other in Na’ama. Both open about 8am and cost LE10/ day. There’s a better beach, with a pretty reef in SHARK’S BAY, which you’ll pay about LE30 to access for the day, and which is well worth it. Don’t miss RAS MOHAMMED, a National Park 15km outside Sharm. There’s also the NABQ PROTECTORATE, another pretty nature reserve with a shipwreck you can snorkel.