Sinai, that triangular peninsula that rests between the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea, is nothing like the rest of Egypt. Dahab in particular is absolutely nothing like one could imagine in the Arab world. In fact, during our incredible week in Dahab, we often forgot that we were still in Egypt. Yes, camels and bedouins can be found roaming about, but the landscape sparkles with beauty, the laid-back atmosphere relaxes the soul, and the chaos of traffic does not exist. Hookahs and even beer were also not uncommon.
Catering to independent backpackers, hippies, wanderers, scuba divers, and beach junkies, Dahab’s tiny waterfront boasts numerous international cafes, restaurants, and inexpensive hotels. Decent music softly plays from all the eateries as opposed to repetitive religious music throughout the rest of Egypt. To top it off, touts in Dahab also prefer to do business at a leisurely pace, and the Red Sea is a beautiful sea that has earned world-class recognition for its underwater treasures. It would be dangerous to come to Dahab without an itinerary; time would fly by and the days could easily become weeks.
Of our 3.5 weeks spent in Egypt, we spent an entire week in Dahab. We could have stayed longer. Beautiful and stress-free, yet with so much to do. Considering how filthy, exhausting, and exhilarating the rest of Egypt is, Dahab is truly the *best* place to spend one’s final days in Egypt.
What exactly did we do in Dahab? Other than relaxing and hanging out at beach cafes, we didn’t do a whole lot. But I lay out the details below.
$1 cappuccinos along the Red Sea? Yes, please. Make that everyday.
Souvenir shops cannot be avoided when strolling along the promenade for the first time.
Okay, fine, maybe they can be avoided. But the fresh seafood restaurants CANNOT be passed. Not only is the seafood fresh and incredible, it is freakin’ CHEAP. The most popular restaurant is Shark, and for good reason. Check out the ambience at this place. And better yet, we got all this fresh food for 180 LE (less than $10). We even picked our fish of choice in the storefront.
We “splurged” on a 280 LE ($15) seafood platter at another popular restaurant, Nemo.
Aside from the unbelievably cheap and delicious seafood, we scuba dived, biked, snorkeled, and hiked. Not far north of the town center is a trail leading up into the rocky hills that overlook the Red Sea. Round trip is only a few miles and the hike makes a quick, independent trip. Hikers can even wave hello to Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea.
On another day, we rented two crappy bikes from some random bike stand in town for 100 LE ($5.30), rented snorkeling gear for 25 LE ($1.33) each, and pedaled 5 miles out to the famous Blue Hole. Tour agencies all over Dahab sell snorkeling trips to the Blue Hole for only 60 LE ($3), but we preferred our own schedule and adventure. I assumed the Blue Hole was overhyped and that we’d be underwhelmed due to our scuba experiences, but after swimming out into the hole I immediately saw how wrong I was; the Blue Hole certainly deserves its reputation. Unfortunately we forgot to bring the GoPro for underwater footage; just take my word that the walls of coral and sea life resemble scenes from Disney’s Finding Nemo. You can enjoy photos from our quick cycling trip along the coast.
Because I have no footage to share from our dives, you just have to believe how epic diving is in the Red Sea. There are literally dozens of dive sites along the coast of Dahab, but perhaps the most famous dive site of all is the Thistlegorm wreck dive near Sharm el Sheikh. Thistlegorm is a British armed naval ship that was bombed and sunk by a German plane in 1941. Diving down and into the sunken ship not only entails fantastic sea life but also cargo trucks, motorcycles, machine guns, military equipment, and more. Hovering above these sunken artifacts in the deep dark blue with flashlights is nothing short of surreal. It is an absolute must for divers, despite the effort required to get there.
Although located significantly closer to Sharm el Sheikh, I read that it is cheaper to dive with a dive shop from Dahab than from Sharm. (My guess is that Sharm caters to the higher-end resort crowds, while Dahab caters to budget travelers.) Due to the time and travel involved, the logistics require plenty of energy and an entire day. I explain below about how to dive at Thistlegorm.
First, due to the low number of tourists, you must tell a dive shop that you are interested in diving at Thistlegorm. Dive shops coordinate with other dive shops to gather enough interest, and once the minimum headcount is met, the trip is a go. The journey begins between 3-4am with a shuttle picking up all divers from their hotels in Dahab, followed by an hour-long drive to the boat harbor at Sharm el Sheikh. At around 6am the boat departs the marina and heads for Thistlegorm, about 2.5 hours out to the Gulf of Suez. From 9am to noon, divers make two dives with a long decompression time between; the first dive goes around the wreck, and the second goes into the wreck. After the two wreck dives, the boat heads to Ras Mohammed National Park for the final, third dive. And finally, the boat heads back to Sharm el Sheikh, where everyone rests for one hour of decompression time before heading back up to Dahab. The shuttle returns to Dahab between 7:30-8pm. A long, exhausting, yet epic day at the cost of only 120€ per person! That price covers three dives, dive equipment and gear, land and boat transportation, and a delicious, hot breakfast and lunch. Incredible deal!
Between all the eating, diving, and relaxing, I also quickly learned that the animals in Dahab are probably the best-treated animals in Egypt. While the strays in other Egyptian cities are filthy, defensive, and terrified, all the strays in Dahab are well loved and friendly. I befriended every cat and dog I came across. Sometimes, the dog picked me too.
I write this exactly a month after leaving Dahab. I continue to miss Dahab, and think about it from time to time. Out of Cairo, Giza, Aswan, Luxor, and the White Desert, we long for Dahab most. Compared with other dive towns in Malaysia, Thailand, and the Galapagos, Dahab simply offered the most attractive environment and dive culture. When I speak of Dahab to friends who have visited, we all exhale a wistful sigh and the words, “Oh, Dahab…” barely escape from our lips. The people, food, music, vibe, weather, underwater life, and animals are all factors that bring people together in Dahab and makes it difficult for anyone to leave.