The Charm of Sharm
by Jimmy Dunn
The site of Sharm el-Sheikh shows up as early as 1762 on a Spanish map, but until about 1968, it was nothing more than a quiet fishing community. However, in recent years, Sham el-Sheikh has become one of Egypt's best known and most visited beach resorts. In fact, in recent years, the Egyptian government has worked hard to spread around the Beach vacationers by developing or encouraging the development of many other beach resorts, but Sharm remains the leading tourist spot in the Sinai and there are a number of reasons for this.
First of all, it is a year round resort, hot in the summer, but pleasant and warm in the winter, and it has an international airport that attracts both private and many international charter flights.
Next, the area between Tiran Island and Ras Mohammed National Park on the tip of the Southern Sinai features some of the world's most amazing underwater scenery. Here, one finds crystal clear water, rare and beautiful reefs, and an incredible variety of exotic fish amongst the colorful coral. Much of this can be seen simply by snorkeling off the coast, but of course it is well known world-wide for scuba diving, with easy access to some of the Red Sea's most prominent and interesting dive sites. Just to the south of Sharm, on the very tip of the Sinai, is also one of Egypt's oldest and most beautiful, mostly underwater protectorates, Ras Mohamed.
To accommodate divers, Sharm has ever possible amenity, including first rate dive shops, centers and boats. Many of these are operated by Europeans, and they also provide excellent diving training. A few of the oldest include the Camel Dive Center and South Sinai Divers.
However, Sharm el-Sheikh also offers the beauty of the Sinai, with its majestic mountains and valleys, a number of national parks, as well as some well known nearby tourist attractions such as St. Catherine's Monastery.
There is more to Sharm, however, than the beaches, sea and landscape. It is a well developed area that almost seems more like a European resort than Egyptian, with refined facilities and amenities, including these days, some more budget oriented accommodations as well as five star hotels equal to most any in the world. And, while one is capable of spending most any budget at their disposal here, for most Europeans, it remains a relatively inexpensive alternative to more costly beach resort alternatives elsewhere.
Add to this the fact that, because of the number of tourists who continually pour into Sharm, there is just about every activity a vacationer could hope to find, and it is no wonder that the resort area is so popular. Name a water sport and it can almost certainly be found here, but there is also every other activity from four wheeling to go cart tracts, from horse riding to championship golf.
One may bowl, bungee jump or, believe it or not, even ice skate. Furthermore, there are any number of activities for children, as well as adults, because Sharm is very much family oriented. Then in the evening, Sharm takes on almost a Las Vegas flavor with, all along the boardwalk between the hotels and the sea, various types and styles of floorshows (animations), bands, both Arabic and Western, and other entertainment. Its a circus, but it is a charming circus as one walks along the boardwalk, hearing a dozen or more languages from every part of the world.
True, Sharm el-Sheikh is often called the "City of Peace", because of the various peace conferences held in the city and attended by world leaders, but it is also a "world resort", popular among and visited by people from all over Europe, because of its affordability, but also by those from much more distant lands, because it is fun.
The Sharm el-Sheikh area consists of three main areas, consisting of the old town Sharm el Maya (Moya) and its bay, a number of other bays, where most of the tourist facilities are located, though in fact some very fine resorts are located elsewhere, and El Hadaba, where there are vacations villas, apartments, condominiums and a few hotels.
A map of the Great Sharm el-Sheikh Resort Region
In the greater resort area of Sharm el-Sheikh, the bays include, from south to north, Sharm el Maya, Na'ama Bay, Garden Bay, Tiger Bay, Sharks Bay, and Nabq Bay. There are all sorts of hotels and resorts along this strip of coastline. Some are resort compounds, similar to those more frequently seen on the Red Sea coast, which attempt to provide every option to vacations in one spot. Others are more open, particularly along Na'ama bay, where the board walk provides access to various hotel facilities making them available to everyone.
Of the bays, probably Na'ama Bay, which means "pleasant" in Hebrew, is best known, and this is also where the most hotels are located. These include some of, but by no means all of the finer hotels, including several Hiltons, several Sonesta hotels, a Marriott, the Movenpick, and the less expensive Ghazala, run by the always hospitable people of South Sinai Travel. Up the coast just a bit, near the airport one finds actually some of the newer, very exclusive hotels, including the Four Seasons, the Hyatt, the Intercontinental, another Hilton, the Sheraton, the Movenpick Golf Hotel, which was host to Egypt's first professional golf tournament, and others such as the Holiday inn. A number of other hotels are scattered about, including the Ritz Carlton and the Hilton Waterfalls to the south of Na'ama Bay nearer to downtown. There are a number of other very fine hotels that are not part of major chains, as well as more affordable hotels, some private and some chain, such as the Days Inn.
The downtown area of Sharm, or at least the old town, around Sharm el Maya (Moya) is not large, but there are any number of restaurants and nightspots, such as the Hard Rock Cafe, and various well known fast food chains. Here, one finds the local bazaar (suq). This is also where the main port and marina at Sharm are located, though there are several other marinas up the cost from here at Na'ama Bay and Sharks Bay. Here, one finds the fishing and diving boat jetty. There are banks, and other facilities, as well as one of the three hospitals located in the area.
Sharm el-Sheikh is really, in the end, an extravaganza of entertainment in a beach setting backed by the natural wonders and historic enclaves of the Sinai. I suppose that Sharm is not for everyone, though this author has always enjoyed his visits to this part of the Sinai. What it is not, for the most part, is a laid back experience. For that, one would need to head a little further north to somewhere like Dahab or Nuweiba. Let there be no doubt Sharm is a tourist town with little other purpose, but the community has taken pride in making it more than a vacation destination. It is a one of those places where memories are made, that remain pleasant and fondly cherished dreams.
Last Updated: June 9th, 2011
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