Egypt Beach Vacations, Part IV:
The Sinai Beaches
by Jimmy Dunn
Many people today still think of Egypt as a desert country, which it is to a large extent. But between its mainland Mediterranean coast, its long mainland Red Sea coast and the Sinai, it has an impressive amount of beach area. In fact, despite Egypt's aggressive construction of new beach resorts, the Sinai's western coast remains almost completely undeveloped. However, a notable exception is Ras Sidr, which is a very nice beach better known to Egyptians than foreign travelers. It lies about sixty kilometers south of the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel at the gulf of Suez's northern end.
The eastern coastline and the southern tip of the Sinai have a number of beach resort regions, though by far the most developed region is the region in and around Sharm el-Sheikh. At the other end of the Gulf of Aqaba to the north, Taba has also seen significant development, including an attempt to reproduce the success of El-Gouna on Egypt's mainland Red Sea coast in a project called Taba Heights. Between Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh, the major resorts are found at Nuweiba and Dahab, but all along the eastern coastline of the Sinai are a number of more primitive, though frequently popular, camp areas intermingled with some better resort compounds.
Sharm el-Sheikh is a very different resort community for Egypt, more like one might find in Europe, or even the US. Many of the main resorts are connected by a "boardwalk", which allows one to walk along a path bordered by shops, restaurants, clubs and hotels. There is excitement in the air here,
particularly in the evenings when various entertainment cascades down the walk, and it seems like the crowds walking along speak in dozens of different languages.
The main beach areas at Sharm el-Sheikh itself comprise two adjacent bays, known as Na'ama Bay and Sharm al-Maya. Of these, Na'ama Bay is the oldest development and the location of the boardwalk. Here, hotels are just separated from the beach by the boardwalk, with some facilities such as beach front restaurants and bars built on the beach itself. Sharm al-Maya is less developed with slightly more isolated beach resorts.
The resort community of Sharm el-Sheikh, usually simply referred to as Sharm, is one of the two main beach havens in Egypt, the other being the vicinity in and around Hurghada on the mainland coast. While Sharm has a completely different flavor than Hurghada, it too receives most of its visitors by European charters. Even though there have been some very fine hotels built at Hurghada, and particularly at El-Gouna just north of Hurghada (and in other areas around Hughada), Sharm el-Sheikh has always been considered the most upscale of the two resort areas. In fact, one will find very few hotels other than four or five stars in Sharm el-Sheikh, while those of Hurghada are more varied.
However, if one wants it all, from the Hard Rock Cafe to the Four Seasons Hotel, from beautiful reefs and crystal waters to almost a Las Vegas style atmosphere, then Sharm el-Sheikh has to be the Egyptian beach resort of choice. It is a world class spot to launch scuba diving expeditions, with crystal clear waters and many nearby dive sites.
While Hurghada may still receive more beach tourists than any other region in Egypt, Sharm is famous throughout the world as the "City of Peace", a very secure area where, not infrequently, world leaders, attending summits, mix with the beach vacationers, and one need not simply be limited to beach activities and world class scuba diving. Sharm el-Sheikh hosted the first ever official European professional golf tournament at the Movenpick Jolie Ville Course, and one may also visit what is, perhaps, the most famous of Egypt's ancient, and still active, monasteries known as St. Catherine's at the foot of Mount Sinai. For nature lovers, there is also Ras Mohammed, Egypt's best known and first National Park just south of Sharm.
There is also, thirty-five miles north of Sharm, the Nabq Protectorate, the largest coastal park on the Gulf of Aqaba, which includes the world's most northerly mangrove forest.
Further up the eastern coast of the Sinai, about 85 kilometers north of Sharm, is Dahab. At one time, Dahab had a bit of a reputation as sort of a hippie haven, which time has not completely erased, though it now has grown up and matured into more of a traditional beach resort. There are still beach camps here, but there are now also some good hotels, Italian restaurants and other trappings of tourism.
There is a mixed variety of accommodations along a paved beachfront path.
Considerably further up the coast, after passing through the Ras Abu Gallum Protectorate, is Nuweiba, really one of our favorite small beach communities. The atmosphere at Nuweiba is really laid back and completely relaxing. It is, perhaps, not unlike some individual camps along the beaches at certain spots, but at the same time, does provide a little more in the way of accommodations and amenities, though only enough to be utterly comfortable. Here, Bedouin boys lead their camels out in the surf to use as diving platforms, while beach goers eat fish just caught by the same people who cook it up and serve their patrons.
Nuweiba is divided into three parts. To the south is the port with its bus station, banks and the one really upscale hotel, the Hilton Coral Resort. About eight kilometers south of the port is the city center,
which is spread out but contains a small selection of tourists shops, a few restaurants and a small bazaar. Still a bit further north is Tarabin, with a number of small hotels and camp-like operations.
Further up the coast between Nuweiba and Taba are a number of small beach camps, some of which, while having fairly primitive accommodations and amenities, nevertheless front exotic and beautiful beaches with stunning blue water. These include, beginning from the south, Maagana beach, Ras Shaitan and Mahash. Maagana Beach is located about eight kilometers north of Tarabeen (the northernmost part of Nuweiba).
Ras Shaitan is another two kilometers north of Maagana. Of these beaches, Mahash, about twenty kilometers north of Nuweiba is by far the most developed, though still a beach camp for the most part. Here, Basata is an eco-minded camp with about 18 huts and a common kitchen, but there is also now the Tango Beach Resort, a four star hotel with 64 rooms. Mahash is about twenty kilometers north of Nuweiba. There are also several hotels, such as the three star Awaki Beach hotel, and Club Aquasun, which is a 72 room domed hotel with somewhat more amenities. Finally, a bit further north, about 35 kilometers south of Taba is Bir Sweir, which is also a small hut style camp.
Just prior to the actual city of Taba, some seventeen kilometers to the south, is the massive new Taba Heights development. This is a resort community being built by the same people who put together El-Gouna, in much the same way. There is already a Hyatt Regency, a Marriott and a Sofitel along with a golf course, and there will very soon be a Three Corners El Wekala, if it is not now open. The Taba Heights Inter-Continental is expected to open in 2005, and there will be at least several other major hotels opening in the near future. Like El-Gouna, this resort center is being planned with all of the amenities of El-Gouna, including many water sports facilities including diving shops, as well as a casino.
In between Taba Heights and Taba itself is another small harbor named the Fjod, with no real accommodations but a small restaurant and beach area. There is also a small hotel called the Salah ad-Din Hotel just a bit further on adjacent to Pharaoh's Island, just before Taba.
Taba itself is a few hundred meters of beach, and only one real luxury hotel, the Taba Hilton which was recently heavily damaged by a bomb attack. Taba sits on the Egyptian-Israel border. In fact, all that separates the Israeli beach resort of Eilat from Egypt's Taba is the border.
The hotel is actually a managed property of Hilton Hotels and not owned by them. In a recent interview, Tour Egypt was advised that the owner does intend to repair the facility, though no timetable has been provided for such repairs.
However, we were advised that the damage to the hotel may not have been as severe as originally thought, and that the repairs will probably take place as soon as possible.
The Sinai is really a wonderful place to visit, with majestic mountains and scenery like nowhere else on earth.
An Analysis of the Recent Events in and Around Taba (Mid-October, 2004)
As the Jerusalem Post noted in a recent article, "Israelis consider Taba, just across the Egyptian border with Israel, part of their own backyard - partly because Israel controlled the tiny enclave for 22 years, and Israelis built the hotel that was wrecked by an explosion. Unfortunately, Taba, caters to many Jewish citizens, and it was almost certainly them, and not tourists in general that were targeted in the Taba attack. Nevertheless, the Egyptian government knows that, even though Taba is relatively isolated from most other beach areas in the Sinai, such an attack hurts tourism all over Egypt, and they will do everything in their power to protect the resort, as well as others, from any future problems. In fact, security in the region has already been stepped up considerably.
The location of the bombings are of some significance. The Taba Hilton sits right on the Egypt-Israel border, basically within meters of the physical crossing. This was the largest of the blasts. The second one occurred at Ras Shaitan, a fairly undeveloped beach area on the northern side of a rocky spur that juts out into the Gulf of Aqaba. The third explosion took place, not at Nuweiba as reported by almost all news sources, but about ten kilometers north of the town. In fact, one of these explosions did not cause much damage, we understand, because the vehicle was prevented from reaching its destination by Egyptian Tourist police.
One interesting and relevant fact about these events is that places such as Taba Heights was not affected, probably because larger resorts have additional security, but perhaps also because there was less of a Jewish presence there.
The bombings at and near Taba were the first such incident that has occurred in Egypt in some years now and a pity according to just about everyone's perspective. The incident killed and injured Muslims and Jews alike. Egypt considers itself a country of peace, and rightly so. Though an American, I have many friends in Egypt, and while I am not naive enough to think that there are not bad people everywhere, in every country and of ever religious persuasion, there are no more moderate, considerate and caring people than Egyptians. The Taba bombing was an act that alienated those responsible from everyone, crossing both borders and religions. Men such as those who performed this vicious act are always misguided, but these particular men were even more so.
And while such incidents can happen in any corner of the world, obviously including the US, the Egyptian government is dedicated, above all else, to protecting its tourists. There is no doubt about that, because tourism provides essential hard revenue to both the Egyptian government and the people of Egypt, many of whom directly or indirectly support their families through the tourist industry.
In the final analysis, Taba is not a major resort area for Egypt, really having less facilities, for example, than even Nuweiba or Dahab. It is a nice area and, of course, we can expect that Taba Heights some distance to the south, but not to really be confused with Taba itself, will be a very major and secure facility, as is El Gouna.