Sharm el Sheik

My husband, Neil, my son, Philip and I flew to Sharm el-Sheikh from Gatwick with Libra Holidays for a 1-week holiday in May.

Hopefully you are able to see the google map above, if not, click on the following link: &s=AARTsJrPrbsQ9Oxol9ET2KajiUMAPRpWxgMap

Getting there

It's a bit daunting when you arrive at this airport. The first thing you need to do before going through passport control is to go to a table where a couple of guys will sell you a visa for about £15. Get your partner to queue at passport control while you get visas for all your party. You have to pay with "hard currency" (pounds sterling, euros or dollars), Egyptian pounds (about 11 to £1) are not acceptable. When you hand over your passport at the control, have it open at the page with the new visa on it, with the landing card you filled in on the plane. Be careful not to take photographs at the airport, it's classed as a military site and they could get touchy.

Trolley guy

When you get through passport control a guy will try to hire you a trolley. Since the ground outside is quite uneven it's a good idea to get one. Give him 50p-£1, a euro or a dollar, again "hard cash". On the way to the coach that will take you to your resort, someone will offer to push the trolley and load your bags into the coach, again for a pound/euro/dollar. Let him do it (but keep an eye on your belongings), these people need the money and it won't make a dent in your wallet.

Local currency

On the subject of money, take some Egyptian pounds (you can get more at the ATM in the hotel - it only gives Egyptian pounds), but many places give a very good discount for "hard currency". e.g. the dive centre gave a 10% discount for hard cash, 5% for Egyptian pounds and 0% discount for credit card, so take most of your cash as pounds/euros/dollars. The hotel should have a safe in the room - ours did.

Resorts

The coach ride to Naama Bay, along Peace Road takes about 15 minutes. Shark bay is even closer, being right next to the airport. Sharm el-Sheikh itself, if you are staying there, is about 15 minutes past Naama Bay.

The hotel

The hotel we stayed at, the Hilton Sharm Dreams (www.hilton.com), was very nice. None of the buildings is higher than 2 storeys, it has something like 7 swimming pools, including one that was used for scuba diving training. Pool towels and sun beds are free, as you would expect. The sunshades get taken up quickly, so get there early, if you are going to lounge by the pool for some time. The hotel has 3 restaurants, a large one used for breakfast, lunch and dinner, an Italian and a Tex-Mex, both of which served quite good food. You can get the usual snacks and drinks at the pool side bar throughout the day. A good meal will set you back about £8, a local beer (Sakara) about £2 and local wine (Obelisk is more than drinkable) about £10. We had bed and breakfast and I reckon we spent about £100 per head on meals for the 7 days we were there. You can get a taxi to the market at Sharm el-Sheikh for about 15 Egyptian pounds. Just stand outside the hotel and every one that passes you (2 or 3 a minute) will hoot his horn and slow down, hoping for a fare, even if it's obvious you are not looking for a taxi. Use your common sense and only use the official blue-and-white taxis and agree the fare before you get in.

The beach

To get from the Sharm Dreams to the beach involves a 5 minute walk, across Peace Road and through the sister hotel Hilton Fayrouz. The road is not busy (but you'll get beeped by taxis about 5 times before you get across) and the walk is not unpleasant. Most areas of the beach are private, belonging to the hotels, so when you get there, obtain a beach towel from the attendant, giving him your room number, and find an empty sun bed to plonk it down on. Most of the people at "our" beach were Russian or Italian but, as in the hotel, the staff there, including the security patrols, spoke most languages. I didn't worry about leaving my stuff by my sun bed at the pool/beach (but don't take silly risks with your valuables).

Snorkeling on the reef

Within a few metres of the shoreline are a couple of small reefs with a myriad of brightly coloured fish weaving their way in and out of the multicoloured corals. Make sure you bring your snorkel and mask, you can have hours of fun here. If you have one, bring your underwater camera, you can catch moray eels, blue spotted sting rays, parrot fish and many more. It is a good idea to bring diving shoes to the beach. My son got a small urchin spine in his foot when he wasn't wearing his and my husband had to dig it out using a safety pin, savlon and an ice cube - he's quite ingenious at times. One day I decided to have a go at parasailing, having done that in Florida. It was brilliant.

Naama Bay

Naama Bay is quite small. It has a promenade that you could walk from one end to the other in about 20 minutes. The centre has quite a few cafes and restaurants serving very good food, try the Danaeer. There is a shopping mall, there are no prices in the shops, but the shopkeeper will always give his "best price", you have to haggle (I find it very difficult), start at 20% and expect to pay less than half. Don't forget at that exchange rate, once you're haggling over 20 or 30 Egyptian pounds it isn't worth it.

Excursions

We did a couple of excursions while there, one to Ras Mohammed National Park, which was well worth it and one to visit a Bedouin village in the desert and then on to dinner in the Bedouin style under the stars, complete with "shiska", the water filled pipe (also called "hooka" elsewhere) with scented tobacco. I tried one and liked it so much I bought a small one later to bring home. After dinner we had an astronomy lesson which was very entertaining, as well as informative See the picture of the moon I took. Prior to going on the excursion we were a little apprehensive, but we really enjoyed it and I'd recommend it. My husband had an upset tummy that day, but after half a dozen small cups of Bedouin (mint) tea it cleared up. On the last day we went on a brilliant snorkelling trip.

Red Sea Diving College

I went down to the Red Sea Diving College, which is just off the promenade, and booked 3 days of diving. I told them that I was a little apprehensive as I had only just got my certification and had only dived 5 times. They suggested I have a private instructor for the 2 dives on the first day. Mick was very good in this role and complimented the instructor I had had in Hawaii on the strength of my performance during the 2 dives, which were both local ones.

The first dive

The first dive was at the White Knight site, about 40 minutes' sail around the northern headland of Naama Bay, just past Shark Bay. It has a gently sloping reef that extends to a depth of about 40m. There is a canyon with a sandy bottom and a large cave here, there is also the wreck of a dive boat at a depth of 15m.

The second dive

The second dive that day was a drift dive between the Middle (or Out) Garden and Far Garden sites about half way back to Naama Bay. These have a plateau at about 30m and from this plateau at Far Garden rise several pinnacles, some of which almost reach the surface, teeming with glass fish, I saw a lion fish here (or it could have been a turkey fish).

More dives

A couple of days later I went on another 2 dives. Neil and Philip came along for the ride and to do some snorkelling. The first dive that day was at the Temple site, to the South of Naama Bay, just before getting to Sharm el-Sheikh proper. There are a couple of coral pinnacles, with their attendant glass fish, a large one of these reaches just beneath the surface. I saw loads of lion fish, a barracuda and a giant puffer fish. We then moved to the other side of Naama Bay for a drift dive between the Middle Garden and Near Garden sites. It was a bit choppy on the surface, but the diving was spectacular, with pinnacles, the ubiquitous glass fish, parrot fish, grouper, butterfly fish etc.

Ras Mohammed

On the last diving day the boat went to Ras Mohammed. The first dive was at the Ras Ghazari site, where we saw dolphins. This was followed by a drift dive at Ras Za'atar. This site has caves at about the 30m depth, but it can also have strong currents, so exercise caution. Finally we dived at Ras um Sid, which is spectacular, with a narrow plateau at about 25m and a small cave at about 5m. We saw some really big moray eels on this dive.

Wrecks

There are lots more dive sites to visit, including wrecks such as the Dunraven and the Thistlegorm. I intend to check these out the next time I visit Sharm el-Sheikh, which hopefully should be in the not too distant future (September maybe?).

Summary of dives in Sharm el Sheikh
Date Depth (m) Time (min) EANx Sharm El Sheikh Dive
29 May 15.8 50 - White Knight - stunning corals
29 May 15.9 50 - Middle/Far Garden - pinnacles with glass fish
31 May 18.0 50 - Temple - stunning scenery
31 May 15.2 49 - Middle/Near Garden - Myriad of fish
2 Jun 28.1 50 - Raz Ghazami - dolphins & giant sea fans
2 Jun 24.5 41 - Ras Ziatar - Napolean wrasse, large grouper
2 Jun 18.7 45 - Ras um Sid - Big morays & scorpionfish

Sue - August 2004

 
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