My first trip to Egypt didn’t start in Cairo, but in Israel instead. Personally, I’m a big fan of low-cost flights and usually I prefer to save money and waste time when I go backpacking. That’s exactly what happened this time as well. I decided to take the 50€ return flight and fly to Eilat, Israel’s resort town by the Red Sea. From Eilat, I planned to cross the land border to Egypt, straight to Sinai Peninsula.
The plan had two huge downsides. Firstly, crossing the land border from Israel to Egypt meant that I was automatically banned from visiting other Middle Eastern countries using the same passport. I have discussed my ventures with visas and passports earlier in my stories of Iran, the USA and Israel. However this time I decided to just go with it, as my passport is about to expire this year anyway and this trip to Egypt was supposed to be my last trip with this passport. The travel bans are directly connected to your passport, so once you change it, they don’t apply anymore. Unless you accidentally confess the wrong stuff at entry interviews.
The other downside was clearly the factor of time. Even though crossing the border didn’t take that much time in itself, then technically we didn’t enter mainland Egypt, but Sinai instead. Due to security measures, Sinai peninsula is only partly open for visitors. This means that the North of Sinai is unaccessible and you can’t cross the Northern part to travel to mainland Egypt. Instead, you have to travel along the coast of the whole peninsula. Looking at the numbers, this is a loss of at least 12 hours, compared to just crossing the North. But there’s nothing to do about it, as these laws have been adopted for our own security. Apparently Sinai has been famous for kidnapping, especially kidnapping tourists. So clearly we didn’t want to risk it and we couldn’t have, even if we had wanted to.
Despite the cons, the biggest pro for entering through Sinai and not Cairo was the costs. Flying directly to Cairo would have meant 400-600€ flights, which seemed slightly excessive for a backpacking trip. I don’t think I have ever paid this much for my own leisure trips; instead I’ve always found better deals than that. Additionally I was charmed by the idea of visiting Sinai. My Egyptian friends had told me how Sinai was a real paradise on Earth and I wanted to see it with my own eyes. And so the decision was made: entering the Sinai peninsula via Eilat and onwards to mainland Egypt!
As I had already visited Eilat a few years earlier and felt rather indifferent about the city, I was really hoping for the Egyptian side of the Red Sea to be slightly more special. Additionally, I was able to also compare it to my experiences in Aqaba in Jordan, which was only a stone’s throw away from Taba and Eilat. However our destination in Sinai was Dahab, which means gold in Arabic (yeeeah, the Arabic classes have paid off!). Sinai is famous for being a resort area that attracts leisure tourists with its all-inclusive hotel deals. Yet in reality, Sinai has a lot more to offer than just pools and hotels. For example, Dahab is a vibrant and lively town, accommodating both hippie-tourists, local vendors and just regular Egyptians who have nothing to do with the tourism industry. By the way, Wikitravel calls Dahab the hippie-mecca of the Middle-East and I can definitely second that.
And Dahab really struck me in the most positive way imaginable. Attracting tourists with mainly its water sports opportunities, Dahab was a fun town with mostly younger population. Divers, surfers and sailors spent their sunny days on the Red Sea and returned to the coast for dinner. There were an uncountable number of restaurants and bars right by the coast with incredible views on the Red Sea.
In one of the restaurants, I happened to chat with a local guy speaking incredible English. The young man had lived in Milan for years and travelled through whole Europe, getting finally tired of the Western individualism. In order to take some time off, he decided to move to Dahab, just to slowly exist together with the nature and the sea. I completely understood him; despite the fact that I had only spent a few days in Sinai, I was already hooked. For a moment out there I even reconsidered whether I really wanted to go to Cairo and not stay Dahab for my whole trip. In fact, I would have loved to spent a few weeks scuba diving in the Red Sea, especially during this beautiful off-season as January was. The streets were half-empty with only a few tourists around; instead it was local Egyptians having the time of their lives in Dahab. And yet the sun was already hot in January, making it possible to wear short sleeves outside and even to go swimming in the sea. True, the divers and scuba divers were still wearing wetsuits.
The pace of life was beautifully slow in Dahab. And the people were so incredibly kind and welcoming! For me, both Dahab and Sinai in general were like a paradise on Earth, perfect for slowing down and taking a break from life. I’m still thinking that maybe I should go back to Dahab, get my diving certificate and just enjoy the incredible underwater world of the Red Sea.