Sharm El-Sheikh

Known by locals and regulars simply as 'Sharm', this name misleadingly encompasses both the town of Sharm El-Sheikh and the resort of Na'ama Bay (6 km further north). The area has developed very rapidly in recent years becoming an international resort destination, at once glamorous and gaudy. Besides the wide sandy beaches and pristine blue sea, Sharm offers a spectacular and exceedingly popular diving area. There is over 60 km of rainbow-coloured vibrant reef teeming with hundreds of different underwater species, dramatic drop-offs and breathtaking formations unparalleled anywhere else in the diving world. The rich rugged interior is also accessible through countless tour operators eager to share the wonder of their desert with nomads of a newer and richer sort. As the region is increasingly brimming over with Western tourists, local people are accustomed to their ways; and, as a result, there is significantly less hassle on the beaches. Sharm is one of the few areas in Egypt where bikinis, beer and booty-shaking are completely the norm.

Ins and outs

Getting there

Most travellers landing at Sharm El-Sheikh airport are already booked on a package tour. Independent travellers can take a private taxi 10 km to Na'ama and 17 km to Sharm. Alternatively, get a service taxi or microbus from the further side of the main road outside the airport.
Superjet
buses from Cairo (470 km) to Sharm via Suez (336 km) leave from Turgoman Station, as does the slightly cheaper and less comfortable
East Delta Bus
(which also calls at Abassiya terminal). Buses terminate at the bus station behind the
Mobil petrol station halfway between Sharm El-Sheikh and Na'ama Bay. From there, you can take a taxi or hail one of the many microbuses that run up and down the road between Na'ama and Old Sharm. Ferries from Hurghada arrive at Sharm El-Sheikh port, from where you'll need a taxi.

Getting around

Take a microbus or taxi to travel between Sharm town and Na'ama Bay. Microbuses also run up and down the hill to Hadaba in Sharm. In Na'ama, the micro effectively gets you across the bay but walking around is easy, as the area is quite compact. Getting to the bus station requires either micro or taxi. Most of the major hotels in Sharm offer shuttle buses to Na'ama Bay for free or for a nominal sum and will normally carry any visitor.

Information

There is a barren tourist office in Hadaba that is not worth the effort of visiting, but all the major hotels can provide detailed tourist information.

Sharm El-Sheikh town

The town of Sharm El-Sheikh, which existed pre-1967 as a closed military zone, was used by the Israelis. The small community, still dubbed by some 'Old' Sharm, is rapidly shedding its dilapidated image while managing to retain a relatively authentic Egyptian vibe. These days you can snack cheaply on a kebab or be refreshed at a local juice stall, yet rest assured every tourist requirement will be met at a modern, attractively landscaped hotel. In the Old Market there are still scars from the decimation caused by the bombs that killed 17 people in July 2005, but the area has bounced back and souvenir stalls, supermarkets and unpretentious restaurants teem day and night with a mix of Egyptians and foreigners. Cushions and r
ag-rugs festoon the caf├ęs and fairy lighting is de rigeur along the pedestrianized strip. H
owever, some holidaymakers will feel disillusioned and short-changed by the soulless air and obvious construction rife in Hadaba, and by every second sign being in Russian.

Many high-quality hotels are now springing up around Hadaba, the hilltop neighbourhood between the town and resort area. While many of these cater to East European holidaymakers on package deals, there are a couple of decent mid-range places available and it's also home to an international community of dive instructors attracted by cheaper property prices and the proximity to Ras Um Sidd, a spectacular shore diving spot. Attempts to prettify Hadaba's wide wastelands are being made as palm trees are planted along sterile highways and new buildings are settling into the landscape. While friendly little communities form around the clusters of mini-markets, coffee shops and dive centres, the spanking new Il Mercato centre - a grandiose Italianate mega-mall selling every brand of coffee and training shoe imaginable - is a surreal reminder of the aspirations at work in Sharm.

Na'ama Bay

Purely a tourist resort, Na'ama Bay, or 'God's blessing' in Arabic, is generally considered to be more attractive than Sharm town and Egyptians are immensely proud of their 'Riviera'. Famed for its smooth sandy beach and peaceful Corniche, huge choice of international hotels and some of the best diving opportunities in the world, Na'ama is rivalling the ancient wonders of the Nile to be the leading tourist attraction in Egypt. Relative to other locales in the Sinai, Na'ama Bay caters to tourists with money to spend. The majority of visitors are on package tours from their home countries, which often include diving opportunities in addition to airfare and accommodation, at very reasonable rates. But for a true taste of Egypt, Na'ama is lacking. In fact there is little or no indigenous Egyptian life to be found and the vast majority of hotel workers come not from Sinai but from elsewhere in Egypt. Life here has been sanitized and simplified, and the result is a plastic version of Egypt by the sea. However, saying that, it can be a pleasant change to stroll down pedestrianized streets lit by faux-Islamic lanterns, where virtually every building is low-rise and no rubbish blows in the breeze. If respite and leisure are what you seek, spectacular views across the clear blue waters of the Red Sea to the mountains of Saudi Arabia make Na'ama Bay an inviting place for relaxation, partying and playing in sea and sand. You don't have to be interested in diving but it helps, as outside of the sea and surrounding desert peaks, there is very little to see. Bedouin villages that may be of interest are more accessible from Dahab.

Ras Mohammed National Park

Ras Mohammed National Park, Egypt's first, was designated in 1983 and subsequently expanded in 1989. A terrestrial and marine area covering 480 sq km, just 30 minutes from the mania of Sharm, the park offers an underwater spectacle unsurpassed anywhere on the planet. Ras Mohammed is a small peninsula that juts out from Sinai's most southerly tip and is the point where the waters of the shallow (95 m) Gulf of Suez meet the deep waters (1800 m maximum) of the Gulf of Aqaba. The strong currents have resulted in a truly extraordinary ecosystem that encompasses virtually every life form thriving in the Red Sea. Besides the huge variety of brightly coloured fish that live on the coral reef, deep water species like sharks, tuna and barracuda also come to feed. Two of the reefs in the Straits of Tiran are the permanent residences of Hawksbill turtles and there are also turtle nesting beaches within the restricted areas of the park. With more than 20 acclaimed sites, the diving in Ras Mohammed is internationally renowned. (To ensure care of the area, authorities are limiting the number of dive boats coming in so try to book ahead. If you would rather dive from shore, plan to bring a diving guide and your own gear with you). The beaches around the marine gardens are also beautiful. There are some clean shallow sheltered coves perfect for snorkelling as well as more exposed stretches where wind and strong currents necessitate caution. Particularly good fossil reefs dating back 15,000 years can be found all around Ras Mohammed but are especially vivid around the mangrove channel and the visitors' centre.

Ras Mohammed is remarkable too for its rare northerly mangroves that lie in a shallow channel at the tip of the peninsula, in an area with many rock pools and crevices in the fossil reef that shelter shrimp, among other stranger creatures. The famous Hidden Bay confuses visitors, because it appears and disappears with the changing tide. The Saline or Solar Lake is interesting for its range of salt-loving plants and bird watchers will also find this a delightful spot. In late summer months, thousands of white stork stop over to rest during their annual migration to East Africa. The park is also an important area for four heron species - grey, goliath, reef and greenback - as well as gulls, terns and ospreys.

Although much of the land appears to be barren and hostile it is in fact home to a variety of life, from insects to small mammals, Nubian ibex and desert foxes. The foxes are often seen near the main beaches and cubs can be spotted at sunset in late spring. They are harmless if approached but should not be fed.

Note 
Don't come here looking for isolation - there are over 50,000 visitors annually. Some visitors are upset by the number of boats containing inexperienced snorkellers, which scare away marine life. Come on a safari boat if you are a diver, so you can arrive as the sun comes up and beat the crowds - then your first dive can be enjoyed in relative solitude.

Nabq Managed Resource Protected Area

Nabq Managed Resource Protected Area, 35 km north of Sharm El-Sheikh, is also an outstanding area (designated in 1992) of dense mangroves - not only the largest mangrove forest in Sinai but the most northerly in the world. The area covers over 600 sq km around Wadi Kid, at the edge of which are rare sand dune habitats and a swathe of
arak
bushes, still sold in bundles in the village markets and used for brushing teeth. The presence of the mangroves has allowed multiple ecosystems to develop, sheltering more than 130 plant species and a diverse selection of wildlife. Storks, herons, ospreys and raptors are quite common; mammals like foxes, ibex and gazelles are more rare. The hyrax, a small rodent-like mammal which is actually the closest living relative to the elephant, can be found here in Wadi Khereiza. The area's sandy bottom make it a great place for swimming and the diving is good although there is risk of sediment and the reefs lie at some distance.

A small Bedouin settlement, Ghargana, lies on the coast where the tribesmen continue to fish in a traditional manner. Another Bedouin village, Kherieza, is inland from the main coastal valley Wadi Kid. The parks make a sincere effort to involve the Bedouin in their work and to protect their traditional lifestyle, currently under much pressure from the rapid development in the area. Near the settlement is a more modern establishment, a shrimp farm that supplies much of the produce for the hotels and restaurants in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Though popular with safari groups, Nabq is significantly less crowded than Ras Mohammed, but the beaches are decidedly inferior.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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