I am writing this quick post from the wonderful little beach town of Dahab, Egypt on the Red Sea, following my 2011 travel plan so far. The question I got most often before my little jaunt over here to the Middle East from everyone back home was twofold, “why go the Middle East at all… and more particularly… why now?”
The second question is probably the more important one to answer these days. Basically, it is perfectly safe in the Middle East right now, save for visiting Syria or Libya. Even during the revolution in Egypt back in February of this year, the Red Sea tourist towns, like Dahab, were completely safe places to visit. In fact, you could have gotten some amazing deals here in February and March, because tourism ground to a halt. And there are so many things to do in Dahab which make it worth your while to go.
There are so many things to do in Dahab worth your while… and so many reasons to hit this little town on the Red Sea.
Small, manageable and chill:
The two most popular places for tourists on the Red Sea are Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada. I am going to commit one of the travel writing sins now and trash both of them, though I’ve never been to either. From talking to a number of people that have done both, they are both large tourist resort towns with high-rise hotels on the beach, thousands upon thousands of tourists on package deals from Europe and Russia, with all that goes along with that type of tourism. On the other hand, Dahab is still a small little town where the highest building is two stories, everything is close enough to walk to and it has that laid-back and relaxed vibe that leads many conversations along this line:
Me to a dive instructor: “So how long have you been living in Dahab?”
Him: “Well, I came here about seven years ago, intending to stay about 6 or so months. Just never wanted to leave.”
Cheap, cheap, cheap:
I like a good deal as much as the next long-term traveler, and Dahab is one big deal. I am staying at Red Sea Relax Resort and you can’t do any cheaper than this… free dorm room there if you are diving. I am. I’ll be here a month. And I won’t pay a penny for lodging. There are also a variety of private rooms there also and I’ve taken a look at them and can say they are great.
It gets better, unlike the majority of Dahab Hotels, Red Sea Relax offers a free gym, yoga classes, as well as free wifi and an extensive free breakfast. I’ve been quite happy with this as my current base of operations.
I am not the most experienced diver in the world, but the Red Sea is one of the best locations I have been able to dive in. The coral is still in good shape, the fish life is excellent, the famous “Blue Hole” is nearby — there are plenty of good diving reasons to base yourself here.
And not to go back to the previous point, but let’s talk price again. Most places I have dived cost about $100 (U.S.) for two dives and sometimes doesn’t include your equipment rental. At the Red Sea Resort Dive Shop, you can get 10 dives for about $330 in current exchange rates, so $33 per dive, all equipment included. I was also able to negotiate a little reduction on top of that, because of the current downturn in tourism.
One thing I didn’t get to do were any of the liveaboard dive ships in the Red Sea, but I want to give that a try also.
Bargaining for Dinner:
Bet you didn’t see that one coming. One of the things that I adore here is the negotiation over your dinner, if you go to any of the dozens of restaurants that are perched right at the edge of the water. Every night when you walk by their are guys out front asking you to eat there (in a friendly way that somehow doesn’t put you off like it does in some places). They all have menus and set prices… but it is all negotiable.
So you walk up and tell them what you want. “How much for a kilo of calamari, some bread and hummus, and perhaps that fish (you point to the fish displayed on ice right out front in a case)?” Then you go back and forth. I’ve never negotiated for dinner before, but it is sort of addictive. And so I need to repeat this again… cheap.
There is a lot more to say about Dahab and Egypt — and the Middle East in general. Lucky for me that I’ve got notes enough for another couple dozen posts on this part of the world, which is one of my all-time favorites.
Postscript: Photos from Chris, the great owner of Red Sea Relax Resort. And if you want to book a room here (not just a dorm room, but any variety), please click through the button displayed below. I get a small percentage of any bookings via Hostelworld, which helps offset some of the costs of this blog and helps keep be traveling and writing… which I hope you are enjoying.