The Sharm El Sheikh 101 | Jaini’s African Adventures

As you know by now, I visited Sharm El Sheikh over last Christmas. A stunning destination, here’s the travel lowdown:

HOW TO GET TO SHARM EL SHEIKH

From Kenya, we flew to Cairo using Air Egypt (the only direct flight available for us) and then a short layover, later we flew down to Sharm El Sheikh. We stayed at the Coral Sea Waterworld Resort (I reviewed it here).

WHEN TO VISIT SHARM EL SHEIKH

The best time to visit Sharm El Sheikh is in March-April when temperatures are ideal for sunbathing and swimming. Avoid the summer months from June to August as the heat is extreme, with temperatures going up to 40°C during the day. We visited during the winter, which was okay, though the nights were a little chilly with temperatures going down to 15°C. While the days were sunny and warm with temperatures of 27°C, the days were short as the sun set at 5PM.

THINGS TO DO IN SHARM EL SHEIKH

While our goal for visiting Sharm El Sheikh was to relax, we also wanted to explore the city and sightsee. We managed to do quite a bit in charming Sharm so here’s what you can do in this beautiful seaside city.

  • Go Diving & Snorkelling*

Sharm El Sheikh is one of the world’s most known destination for marine life, with unspoiled sites stretching from Tiran Island in the north to the southern tip of the Sinai region. With splendid coral reefs just below the clear blue surface of the Red Sea, there are corals of every hue and shape, from flame-red, branching soft corals to intricate yellow fans waving in the current. Catch a glimpse of these underwater marvels by snorkelling and diving at White Knight, Middle Garden, Gordon and Jackson Reefs, Ras Mohammed National Park and Ras Um Sid.

Alternatively, explore one of the top five wrecks in the world – Thistlegorm, a 129m-long cargo ship build in England that sunk during World War II. The ship had been its way to Alexandria carrying supplies to restock the British army there and its cargo of armaments and vehicles. Another wreck dive is the Dunraven, which sank in 1876 on her way from Bombay to Newcastle. The shipwreck is encrusted in coral and home to various knick-knacks including china plates, metal steins, and jam jars, among the debris.

All these sites are all accessible by boat but are far from residential areas so transport must be arranged beforehand.

  • Go on a Submarine or Glass Bottom Boat

if you’re not into snorkelling or diving in the ocean, try a submarine or a glass bottom boat so that you don’t miss out on seeing the famous coral and marine life for yourself. Since it was promised to be wheelchair-friendly, we decided to go for the Seascope Semi Submarine excursion. We were picked up from our resort and were driven 30 minutes to their sea dock. There, we had the option to browse through the stalls or pick up a freshly-made drink from the juice bar, before heading to the board the semi submarine. We opted to head straight to the semi submarine, which turned out to be a two-floored vessel, with one top floor being like a normal boat while the bottom floor is underwater, making it the “submarine”.

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Photo | Hitesh Shah

We sailed out to Sharm El Maya Bay which had the scenic Sinai mountains behind and cliffs around. The water was so clear. After 40 minutes or so, people started to head downstairs. Unfortunately, despite how helpful the Egyptian tour operators were, the flight of stairs to go down were far too narrow and steep for me to be carried down. However, while everyone was spending an hour three meters under the water looking at the stunning sea life and corals, I managed to spot some tropical fishes that swam close to the surface of the clear water. However, I did note that the tour operators would use bread to lure the fishes. Plus, we would just go back and forth in one area so it can get boring if you are sitting on top.

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Photo | Hitesh Shah

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  • Visit the Night ‘Souk’ in Naama Bay
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Photo | Hitesh Shah
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Photo | Hitesh Shah

Stroll through the market full of plenty of souvenir shops loaded with Egyptian trinkets, lamps, sheesha pipes, spices, and papyrus and Egyptian cotton products at the night souk in Naama Bay. After you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped (as Diva says), grab a bite at one of the many restaurants around.

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Photo | Hitesh Shah
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Photo | Hitesh Shah

I highly recommend Pomodoro – an al fresco Italian restaurant that has plenty of pizza, pasta and seafood to give you more energy to browse through the shops. And don’t forget to check out the Egyptian tanoura dancers (tanoura refers to the colourful skirt won by the whirler, often a Sufi man). Associated with Sufism, tanoura is performed at Sufi festivals, and by non-Sufis at folk dances or concerts. The dynamic centrifugal effect of the dance is not only visually appealing but also helps the dancers augment their balance with the tanoura. It is a mesmerizing must-watch!

IMG_4426Alternatively, check out the Sharm Old Market to pick up a souvenir and eat at some of the cheapest and most authentic places in the city.

  • Go to Soho Square at Night
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Photo | Hitesh Shah

For those looking for a more elegant shopping center, head to Soho Square next to Savoy Hotel in White Night Bay. Enjoy a range of shops and entertainment including restaurants, cafes, bars and a club. Check out Africa’s first ice bar or go ice-skating on the ice rink, or check out the nightclub and casino. Alternatively, enjoy a game of bowling, tennis or squash. Or go to the Culturuma, a large panoramic cinema experience which showcases a wealth of cultural and natural heritage information on Egypt and its people.

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Photo | Hitesh Shah
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Photo | Hitesh Shah

At the entrance, where taxis await you, there are camels which you can ride on. We went during Christmas, so the square was decorated with beautiful light fixtures. We just browsed through the shops. Known to be high-end, the products in the shops were surprisingly affordable. We visited the square twice at night. There are four international a la carte restaurants, however, they didn’t have many vegetarian options so we ate at one of the cafes, one night and then ate at the hotel before going to the square the next night. A huge attraction for the square is the magical water foundation which dances every hour for 10 minutes, which was quite fun to watch.

  • Eat at Rangoli, the Indian Restaurant within the Mövenpick Resort
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    Photo | Hitesh Shah

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    Photo | Hitesh Shah

Make sure to eat at the best Indian restaurant in Sharm El Sheikh – Rangoli, located at the Mövenpick Resort, overlooking the bay area. Enjoy the delicious Indian cuisine, especially the warming cup of Masala Chai in the open terrace with panoramic views of the city.

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Photo | Hitesh Shah
  • Take a Quad Bike Safari in the Sinai Desert

Not a wheelchair friendly activity, but highly recommended by Diva, Dad and his friend, who all went for this exhilarating excursion. After arriving at the quad center, you are instructed on safety and security while riding the quad bike. Then, you can explore the nearby man-made tombs. Next, starts your desert adventure as you follow the desert tracks riding behind your tour guide. At the end of your ride, you are ushered into the Bedouin tent, where you are welcomed with free Bedouin herb tea. Then, you’ll return to the quad center, where you’ll pick up your souvenir photos before heading to the hotel. Diva guys managed to go for the sunset safari, and she recommends that you take a scarf along to protect yourself from the dust.

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Photo | Hitesh Shah

img_2030You can also enjoy an open-air dinner buffet with rice, vegetables, hot and cold mezze, grilled meats, kebabs, and of course, sheesha pipes, in a Bedouin tent. Then, a folkloric show will start featuring Belly dancers, tanoura dancers, and fire dancers. The evening will end with stargazing with telescopes and an experienced astronomer before being dropped back to your hotel in Sharm El Sheikh. I’m not sure if this is still offered in the Sinai desert, as Diva says that when she went on the desert quad safari, they had stopped hosting the folkloric show in the man-made tomb area.

  • Enjoy a Dolphin Show at Aqua Blue Water Park

While I have previously paid to see wildlife in captivity as entertainment, after educating myself, I now do not condone keeping wildlife in captivity for entertainment purposes, so I skipped this experience.

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Photo | Hitesh Shah
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Photo | Hitesh Shah

Dad, his friend and his family went to check this dolphin show, which consisted of three dolphins flipping and playing with their handlers, putting on a 45-minute fun and exciting show. At the end of the show, you can opt to pay extra to have a picture taken with the dolphins, without getting wet at all.

  • Climb Mount Sinai*

If you’re the adventurous type, climb Mount Sinai, where according to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim belief, God delivered the Ten Commandments to Moses. You can opt to climb it during the day or time your climb to see the sunset or sunrise. You’ll be accompanied by a guide and a local Bedouin.

  • Visit St. Catherine’s Monastery*

After climbing Mount Sinai, make sure to check out one of the world’s few extant early Christian sites, St. Catherine’s monastery located in a stark valley at the foot of the mountain. Standing fortress-like, the oldest continuously functioning monastery was established by Emperor Justinian in 527 AD at the spot where Moses supposedly encountered the burning bush. Inside its high walls is an architectural assortment of libraries, kitchens and living quarters. There’s even a 10th-century mosque within the walls, built as a sign of allegiance to the Muslim powers that had promised to protect it.

Outside in the gardens is the ossuary where they keep the bones of all the monks who have lived there.

*We skipped these activities

WHAT ELSE TO DO

Other places to visit from Sharm El Sheikh include:

  • Cairo – A day trip by bus or plane, you can visit the three pyramids of Giza, Sphinx and Egyptian National Museum, and then check out the various markets and museums.
  • Luxor – Just an hour’s flight away, visit Luxor’s “Thebes” the ancient Egyptian royal metropolis, the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak, the Hatshepsut Temple and the Valley of the Kings.
  • Petra – Visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1985) by boat to see the historical architecture cut into the rock and water conduits, in the city, established in 6th century BC as the capital city of Nabataea’s kingdom.
  • Jerusalem – A day trip by plane, visit this world heritage site, which has been destroyed twice and captured and recaptured 42 times. One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem, is a beautiful and remarkable place to visit. Israel and Palestine both claim Jerusalem as their capital, as Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there while Palestine ultimately foresees the city as its seat of power; however, neither claim is widely recognized internationally.

JAINI’S TIPS
– Make sure to carry sunscreen as it is quite sunny and you wouldn’t want to deal with a bad sunburn while vacationing.
– Get a local SIM card loaded with data because Wi-Fi connections were rather erratic for us. Plus, you can hotspot of a phone quite easily.


Photos by Hitesh & Diva Shah

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