If you are planning to visit the Egyptian Red Sea coast for a beach holiday in 2012, chances are you’ve got Sharm el-Sheikh on your destination list. Read our hassle free guide from Sharm el-Sheikh holidays expert, Jess Lee, for practical help with planning a holiday you’ll never forget.
Spectacular sun and a sparkling blue sea that begs to be snorkelled and dived, all backed by the craggy red mountains of the Sinai. Sharm may only be a five hour flight away but it’s a completely different world from the winter skies of the UK. It’s also a far cry from the troubled Egypt we’ve watched on the news. A long way from Tahrir Square and other flashpoints of trouble, Sharm is an oasis of calm where the golden beach sands provide perfect fodder for chic winter break relaxation.
When to go
Spring (March-May) and autumn (September-November) are the most popular times to travel to Sharm el Sheikh. Unless you revel in the heat steer clear of July and August when temperatures regularly hit 40 degrees Celsius. Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting), when most businesses in Sharm only open after sunset, is probably another period to avoid if you aren’t Muslim yourself. In winter temperatures drop dramatically once evening sets in but as long as you pack a jumper for the nights you’ll find the prevailing blue skies during this time a welcome vitamin-D injection.
Getting the best deal
There are excellent deals available throughout the year. To hook the best bargains avoid travelling during the major school holiday periods. If you’re planning on spending time exploring Sharm’s feted underwater world you can save a lot of money by buying a dive package at the same time as you book your hotel.
There’s no need for any particular travel shots before visiting Egypt. Check that your insurance covers scuba diving if you’re thinking of sampling Sharm’s below-surface sights.
Packing and baggage
Thanks to the central Carrefour supermarket in Naama Bay most creature-comforts can be easily found in Sharm. Sunscreen is expensive though, so bring enough to last. Don’t forget to pack some lightweight long-sleeved tops and long trousers and skirts for when you’re off the beach. Sharm is a resort but attitudes to dress remain conservative in Egypt and once off the beach any effort you make to respectfully cover up will be appreciated.
Where to fly from
EasyJet fly direct to Sharm from Gatwick, Luton and Manchester. Prices fluctuate but excellent savings can be found by booking early. Egypt Air and BMI fly from Heathrow but most flights include a Cairo stopover and prices are usually higher.
Surviving Sharm el Sheikh Airport
Sharm El Sheikh Airport is easy to navigate. South Sinai two-week visas are free but if you want to travel outside the Sinai resort-zone you’ll need to purchase an Egyptian visa (US$15, about £10) upon arrival. These are available at the banking counter before you pass through immigration. Note that the Sinai resort-zone includes the popular day-trip destination of Mt Sinai.
From the airport a taxi into central Sharm el-Sheikh costs around 40EGP (about £4). There is not a surcharge for having the taxi’s air conditioning on, no matter what your driver tells you! There are also regular local minibuses (‘meecros’) which rattle between the airport and Sharm and cost 2EGP (about 20p) per journey. There is no set timetable and no website for booking them. But they run regularly and you can buy your ticket on the bus.
Once you are there
The perfect first night Sharm
At sunset, head down to the promenade to watch the moon rise over the jagged peaks of Saudi Arabia across the water. Afterwards, dive straight into the joys of Levantine cuisine with a feast fit for a Pasha at Fayrouz where the view over the bay is as sumptuous as the mezze (Middle Eastern tapas). Or for something a little more budget-friendly, head to Sharm Old Market where several good local restaurants specialise in fresh seafood. After your meal pull up a seat in one of the market’s cafes and try an apple-flavoured shisha (Arabic waterpipe) or stroll the lanes of handicraft stores where the heady scent of spice hangs in the air.
Practical considerations for planning your holiday
The best of the Red Sea’s famous underwater world is only a short boat ride away from Sharm’s shore. If you want to dive into the depths, it’s worthwhile spending time researching the various Sharm dive operators before signing up. Check out the Chamber of Diving and Watersports (CDWS) website at www.cdws.travel for a list of recommendable companies. When arranging underwater adventures, don’t forget that you shouldn’t fly for 24 hours after diving.
Sharm el-Sheikh sprawls out along the coast. To the north are the newer hotel zones of Nabq Bay and Shark’s Bay. In the centre is Naama Bay with its beach-side promenade and lively nightlife and restaurant scene. Six kilometres to the south is Sharm al-Maya, a less touristy area with a good selection of cheap restaurants and Egyptian-style cafes. Between Sharm al-Maya and Naama Bay is the Hadaba hotel district. Be aware when booking your hotel that many in the Hadaba area are not on the beach which is usually why they are cheaper. Nearly all these hotels though run shuttles to and from the beach several times per day.
Transport around Sharm el-Sheikh is very cheap. A taxi ride between Naama Bay and Sharm al-Maya costs about 10EGP (about £1), with a bit of bargaining. There is a centrally located taxi stand at the entrance to Naama Bay. In Sharm al-Maya taxis hang out around the entrance to Sharm Old Market though it is usually cheaper to hail a taxi off the road. No taxis are metered . It’s easiest to negotiate your fare before getting into the taxi. There are also regular local minibuses which zoom between the centres and cost 2EGP per journey.
What to see and do
Had enough time on the beach? Just south of town the waters of Ras Mohammed National Park are home to spectacular coral reefs and fascinating wrecks. If plumbing the depths isn’t your style you’ll find great snorkelling with loads of colourful fish here too.
Back on dry land, there are plenty of desert-adventures on offer. Cycle tours to the Nabq Protectorate and quad biking in the dunes outside of town are fantastic ways to see a different side to Sharm as are evening star-gazing sessions. Overnight trips to St Katherine’s Monastery and Mt Sinai are one of the most popular tours. One of the Holy Land’s major biblical sites, this trip is not to be missed.
Most tourists don’t bother renting a car while here but if you’re a confident driver and want to explore the South Sinai coast, the main highway which connects the major towns along the coast is easily navigable as long as you stay vigilant at the wheel. Always take your passport when leaving town for the army ID check-points along the highway.
Sharm el Sheikh Hassle Free – the map
View larger map
Before leaving for the airport check which terminal your flight is departing from as the terminals are a ten minute walk apart which is no fun with baggage, in the heat, if you get dropped at the wrong one. The airport’s restaurants and snack shops are ridiculously overpriced so don’t arrive hungry.
A great way to share your Sharm el-Sheikh holiday tips and reminisce is to get involved with the Trip Advisor travel forum. You can also post your photos from your holiday on the Sharm el-Sheikh Facebook page and keep up to date with the latest Sinai events by streaming Radio Sinai through your laptop. And don’t forget to share your knowledge and top tips on Sharm el-Sheikh below this article or on the Directline Holidays Facebook page.
- Sharm el-Sheikh Holiday Website: http://www.sharmelsheikh.com
- Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport Website: http://sharm-el-sheikh.airport-authority.com/
- Sharm el-Sheikh Weather Report: http://www.wunderground.com/global/stations/62460.html
- FCO Egypt Travel Advice: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/middle-east-north-africa/egypt
- Egyptian Ministry of Tourism Official Egypt Website: http://www.egypt.travel
- Ramadan calendar: http://www.holidays.net/ramadan/dates.htm
- Chamber of Diving and Watersports (CDWS) website: www.cdws.travel