I’m just back from another Sinai trip. A few days in Cairo then 10 1/2-hours by bus to Dahab.
In Cairo I stayed at the same $10 Downtown hotel I’ve briefly called home on numerous occasions since my first visit to the city in the late 1980s. I’ve seen the place buzzing, filled by young Israelis and foreign backpackers, and empty, save for the elderly Scots lady resident who has long preferred Cairo to Edinburgh, with no fuel for hot water. This time it was different again. International visitors were few. The reasons for the collapse in Egypt’s tourism are well known. However, domestic travellers appear to have taken up some of the slack. An almost 50% devaluation of the Egyptian Pound (LE) has made foreign travel expensive for Egyptians. As a result many are choosing to restrict their travel to Egypt. My hotel was full.
Travelling from Cairo to Sinai involves either a 50-minute flight or a 10-hour bus ride. The British government advises against flying to Sinai’s airport gateway, Sharm el Sheikh. Following the bombing of a Russian MetroJet flight in 2015, killing all 224 passengers and crew, no Russian or British direct flights have operated. Lapses in airport security were identified in the subsequent investigation. Though no advisories are in force for Sharm el Sheikh itself, the British government advises against overland travel through the entirety of the Sinai peninsula. For UK tour ops the glittering jewel in Egypt’s mass tourism tiara remains off limits.
I took the overnight GoBus from Cairo to Dahab – about 90km north along the coast from Sharm el Sheikh. A ticket cost LE145 (about £6.30). The bus left at 9:00pm and arrived into Dahab the following morning at around 7:30am. Police and military check points punctuated the route. Standing in a line, in the middle of the night, my ‘checked bag’ was searched twice. My passport was examined more times than I can remember. Egyptians themselves require special permission to travel to Sinai. Checks on their IDs and documentation were even more stringent. That said, a raft of alternative-minded young Egyptians have adopted Dahab as a weekend escape, a kind of turn on, tune in and a bloody long bus ride to somewhere less conservative. For tourists Dahab is a breeze.
Dahab existed before tourism. It has grown chaotically but organically. It’s still small – though no one is quite sure how small, maybe fewer than 10,000 people. It’s relatively resilient style of tourism has helped it endure the worst of the Egypt’s downturn. Visitors today are either domestic weekenders or summer holiday families, foreign residents or independent foreign travellers. Perhaps most surprising is the number of young Israelis now choosing to venture across the border to Dahab. Some estimates bandied around suggested 50,000 have journeyed to Sinai this year. This influx in the face of government travel advice at least as negative as our own.
I’ll write about my travels for the Indy, but in the meantime I thoroughly recommend Sinai. For adventurous hikers, have a look at sinaitrail.org – something I tackled last year – and for an alternative Red Sea break (see indirect flights from the UK with Turkish Airlines or Egypt Air to Sharm – then a taxi) Dahab for tourists is engagingly earthy crunchy.