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Me and my partner just returned from a 8 days holiday in Sharm el Sheikh (Naama Bay). It was a wonderful experience - please read our review.
********** BOOKING **********
We booked via lastminute.com just 4 days before we went there - at £ 179 per person for 7 nights a real bargain. Included were: - flight with Astraeus (charter airline) from and to Gatwick - 7 nights accommodation incl. breakfast in the Ocean Bay Hotel - transfer from and to the airport in Sharm el Sheikh Travel insurance is included in our bank account arrangements, so we didn't need to buy. If you intend to go diving a lot, an extra insurance cover is advisable.
After the booking we got contacted by the travel agency ('Explorers' - specialist in diving holidays). The whole transaction went very smooth, no problems whatsoever. Two days before departure we received our travel tickets and vouchers for the hotel via 1st class mail.
********** THE FLIGHT **********
The flight from Gatwick with Astraeus Airlines (a British carrier) took ca. 5 hours, the food was not outstanding, but good. Service was friendly and helpful.
********** VISA **********
EU/UK citizens do not need a visa to travel to Sharm el Sheikh. HOWEVER, if you plan to move outside (e.g. Ras Mohammed National Park) a visa is required. You can purchase the visa (£ 10) on arrival at the airport, fairly easy procedure. My partner (Brazilian) had to obtain a tourist visa (£ 15, for single entry) with the Egyptian Consulate in London before travel. Check visa requirements with the Egyptian Consulate before travelling if you are not a UK citizen.
********** ARRIVAL & ACCOMMODATION **********
We arrived late in the evening and our reps from 'Explorers' escorted us to our bus to the hotel. We were immediately struck by the heat - we went in July, hottest time in Egypt... Our hotel was the OCEAN BAY HOTEL***, basic and nothing luxurious, but very clean, friendly and a very spacious room. Our room was equipped with double bed, bedside tables and wardrobe, satellite TV, air condition (absolutely necessary, of course) and en suite bath room with shower. The room was clean and tidy, spacious and perfect for our needs. Every day the cleaner folded our towels into nice animal shapes - and it put a smile on our faces. The hotel has one main restaurant and two bars incl. a roof top bar with live music once a week. There is almost daily shows (belly dancing, fakir show etc.), a Mongolian BBQ. The hotel has its own pool - nothing spectacular, but if you want to have a free 15 mins try dive you should use it.
********** ACTIVITIES **********
There is plenty of activities even for a longer holiday in Sharm. Once a small fisher village it has grown now into a full resort with loads of hotels, almost every known hotel chain is present here. Diving and snorkelling are most obvious, the Red Sea is a paradise for underwater sports. The stunning coral reefs and hundreds of fish species struck me as a first time diver, and I was really overwhelmed. We booked an introductory dive with the Ocean College Dive Center (with offices at the Ocean Bay Hotel), and went to many different snorkelling trips (go to the Tiran islands and Ras Mohammed National Park - wonderful long reefs along the beach, but be aware of the sometimes strong currents).
Perhaps the highlight of our visit was climbing Mount Sinai (Mt. Moses) and the visit of St. Catherines Monastery (one of the oldest monasteries in the world). We went to the foot of Mt. Sinai by bus in the late evening (ca. 90 minutes bus ride). Climbing up the 7500 ft (2285 m) mountain in the middle of the night is exhausting but exciting. Take a camel if you want, there are hundreds of Bedouins waiting to take you up - it's only £ 6. It takes about 3 hours to the summit, but the most stunning and beautiful sunrise rewards for everything. There are Bedouin huts in regular intervals on the way up that provide drinks and shelter for a rest. After climbing down (which appears to be quicker somehow) you should visit St. Catherine's Monastery with the Burning Bush. Our guide was not very good and did not have much knowledge, but we got the gist, and the beautiful icons in the chapel are really worth it.
The beaches in Naama Bay are sandy and clean. Every hotel has its private beach, only a very narrow strip is the "public" beach. Ocean Bay Hotel, however, doesn't have an own beach, we had to purchase vouchers from reception to use the beach of the Kanabesh Hotel. Other activities include: camel riding in the desert with Bedouin dinner, Quad biking, star gazing, glass bottom boat tours (for those who prefer to see the corals without puttin their head under water)
********** EATING & DRINKING **********
Most important piece of advise: Drink LOADS, at least 5 - 6 litres a day to avoid de-hydration. Do not drink tapped water, or you will most certainly end up with stomach cramps and diarrhea. Use even bottled water to brush your teeth.Try not to drink too much alcohol, the heat accelerates the effects and makes you drunk quickly. If you do drink the occassional spirit, drink even more water, to avoid further de-hydration.
We did not particularly like the food (apart from fish and sea food restaurants), although you find McDonalds, Hard Rock Cafe and Pizza Hut that provide more "European" food. These restaurants are VERY cheap compared to UK standards (a medium sized pizza in Pizza Hut was around E£ 25, which is £ 2.50). Be prepared to pay a bit more for a good fish/sea food meal.
********** SHOPPING **********
Well, Sharm el Sheikh is full of shops, and full of Egyptians that want to sell, desperately. The shop owners try to lurk you into their shops by calling you "my friend, where are you from" and try to make you feel guilty if you ignore them ("I asked you a question, why do you not answer me?"). Most common phrase is "Come sign my guestbook in your language" - you'll most guaranteed end up buying something you don't want or need. There is lots of shopping opportunities, but if you do not want to buy anything, a firm but friendly "No, thank you" will be sufficient. Haggling is a national sport - you will HAVE to haggle, it's fun and you can make real bargains. We bought a Sheesha pipe in the end for E£ 50, which was first offered for E£ 280, after "threatening" to leave the shop without buying anything. Only in shops with price tagged items you can not haggle, in all other shops it's a must. Go shopping in Old Sharm, it's cheaper than at Naama Bay, but the shop owners are more persistant in trying to sell you stuff.
********** SAFETY **********
After the bomb attacks in 2005 in Sharm el Sheikh security has improved a lot, and we felt very, very safe. There is a police man on every other corner, there are metal detectors at the hotel entrance. However, you can see that tourism does only slowly return to Sharm, the beaches sometimes seem almost deserted.
********** A FEW TIPS **********
- Drink lots of water, all the time. Never forget, or you'll end up feeling awful. - Bring strong sun blocker, don't forget your back and legs if you go snorkelling. Take a hat as well. - Temperatures in summer are up to 42 Celsius, it's REALLY hot, with almost no breeze. - One British Pound is worth ca. 10 Egyptian Pounds - easy to work out. - If you have belly problems, ask the pharmacist. There is all medicine available over the counter (even Viagra!!!), and it's cheap. - If you plan to climb Mt. Sinai at night, take a jumper, it's quite cold up there. - Diving is great fun, if you have never done it, do it. Ocean College Dive Center or Camel Divers are well known diving schools and the staff are very helpful and friendly. Book diving courses in advance from home if you can, it'll save you money. - Buy your own snorkelling equipment, it's in the end cheaper than renting it. - Don't attempt to take corals or parts of corals with you - it's strictly forbidden and - in my opinion - not respectful. - Do not walk on corals, they can be poisonous and sting, and it destroys the reefs.
All together the Sharm el Sheikh experience was a wonderful one, we had a most memorable week with loads of fun and activities. The Egyptians are very friendly and extremely welcoming. We'll return for sure.