I wanted to go to Egypt since I was a child. For years my favourite movies and documentaries were those, featuring the pyramids, pharaohs and ladies, wearing pretty fringed wigs, black eye liner and extravagant heavy jewellery. 15 years later my dreams finally came true.
A couple of years ago I was choosing my next holiday destination. I was planning a trip for the beginning of March, somewhere very hot and, preferably, exotic. Away from grey and wet London. Money was scarce, as I had returned from Thailand a couple of months back, so I needed something, that would not break the bank. A few hours later, I found an all inclusive deal for mere 500£ in a 5* hotel.
A four hours flight later, we landed in Sharm EL Sheikh. We had a transfer arranged, but depending on where you are going, you can get a taxi very inexpensively. You do need to haggle though, otherwise you risk to pay twice or thrice more. ALWAYS agree on the price before you get in the car.
I never realised what a desert of a country Egypt was. I knew about Sahara desert, but never thought that almost 96% of the country looked just like that. Landscapes that we noticed from our car were anything, but picturesque.
Our hotel, on the other hand was very green and absolutely lovely. I can only imagine, what a hard work it was, to sustain all those flowers and palms in the unfriendly thermal conditions.
We chose Melia Sinai as our hotel as the reviews were mostly good, and in general this hotel chain has a good reputation. Even though advertised as a 5* hotel, 5* it was not. More like a 3* European version. The hotel consisted of a few small 2 storey buildings. The room was a bit shabby, but clean. Toilet smelled a little, but it is a common problem in Egypt, as using bleach is prohibited, since it can kill corals. We also had our own little balcony with a coffee table, where we would watch a movie on the IPad in the evening. Awesome!
The hotel also had an amazing coral reef, where other tourists even came by boat to snorkel.
My recommendation for everyone going to Egypt is to take an all inclusive deal. Unless you have a black Amex, of course. Normally I am against such an arrangement, as I like eating out, sampling local cuisine, trying weird things at the markets ect. Egypt is not your typical tourist destination. There are no pretty promenades, there is hardly any infrastructure within walking distance outside the hotel. All you see for miles is the hotels, villas, blocks of flats, some more hotels being built. There are no restaurants or bars, where you can walk to, in the majority of cases. You need some sort of transportation, like hotel shuttle buses (free or not), taxi or a local mini bus for the more adventurous types. In my experience, taxi was the best option, as it gave freedom of travel on our terms and was relatively cheap. Cheap, if you don’t use it a few times a day, that is. Eating out would turn into a nightmare if we needed to pay 10$ one way to have breakfast, lunch or dinner. Because of that a lot of people go to Egypt to have a vegetable-type beach experience, and master the art of doing nothing for a week or two, hardly ever leaving the territory of their resort.
But do not think, that Egypt has nothing to offer entertainment-wise. We spent the most incredible week, saturated with events. First of all, the Red Sea – it is the second largest attraction after the Pyramids. I met a diver in our hotel, who had been coming to Egypt for 14 years, as in his opinion Egyptian underwater world was unparalleled. I didn’t dive, but I had a few snorkelling attempts, and must say that the amount of colourful fish and corral blew my mind.
There is also a blue hole in Dahab, one of the most famous diving sites in the world. We bought a half-day excursion, including the transfer, camel ride and lunch.
On the way we stopped at the dive store, where everyone could rent the equipment. We chose not to dive though, as the weather was very windy, and the locals were even wearing thick wind proof jackets. Everyone who did, came out a few minutes later with blue lips and trembling, like homeless puppies.
The attraction that my boyfriend liked the most, though, was the quad bike safari, with its amazing feeling of freedom, that came with the riding on a high speed in the desert.
Going to the Old town of Sharm was also a great experience, especially after the nightfall. Loads of options for having dinner, buying souvenirs, or having a glass of fresh mint tea on the illuminated mountain.
The thing I hated about Egypt most was hassling, everywhere we went. People offering taxis, inviting to have a look at the restaurant menu. I am not even mentioning shops and markets. As much as I wanted to have a look at papyrus, statuettes, hand-made jewellery and so on, this unwanted attention drove me to despair. I felt like a celebrity haunted by paparazzi. Instead of driving me in, they scared me away.
This was the time of crisis in the country and tourists were scarce. Someone told me that the tourism dropped by 50% since the riots started. Poor people had no jobs and desperately tried to get you inside, even dragging you in by the hand. “Hello! Where are from? Come inside, have a look! No buying, only look! Very cheap! Where are you going?”. As soon as we said no to one person, 10 more would appear. That was frustrating!!!!!!!
For those with loads of time on their hands, there were some excellent 2 day trips to Luxor, Cairo and even Israel with its Dead Sea. We booked flights from Sharm to Cairo prior to our trip for 50£pp with Egypt air. It was possible to make the same trip cheaper by bus, but it took the whole night to get there, and in our opinion saving 20£ Or 30£ wasn’t worth it. As soon as we arrived in Cairo, we rented a car with the driver for the whole day for just 50$. Very convenient, if you have one day only and have no time to figure public transport system out. We took his phone number and just phoned him, if we needed to be picked up after visiting a museum or market, or the pyramids.
The pyramids were situated just on the outskirts of the city. So they were not in the middle of nowhere as I had imagined, as we could see Cairo in the background. There even was a mini football field, made by the local boys next to the one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
As it often happens in Egypt, en route to your destination you are taken to someone’s souvenir shop, to the perfume oil store, ect. where they drop you off and offer to have a look at the goods, weather you want it or not. Just like that, we were dropped off by our driver by the Pyramid tour company, where we were offered to have a camel, or a horse back riding tour of the desert to experience pyramids better. We were told that it was impossible to walk there, too far and so on. We didn’t make any prior research, so believed them, and took two horses with the guide. My poor creature was so skinny, that I felt guilty for sitting on its fragile back, and was worried, it would collapse under my weight any minute. We passed some local areas first, and I noticed that horses and donkeys were quite a popular mode of transportation there, I even saw a few kids riding on their own on the streets.
Our horse tour was very uncomfortable and bumpy, our guide not particularly knowledgable. He did take a few pictures of us, though. From what I had seen, there was absolutely no problem reaching pyramids by yourself. You just need to buy a ticket and – Voiles! Thats another thing I didn’t like: everyone considered us as money bags and tried to make profit.
Another example was visiting the national museum. The entrance was something around 20$ if I’m correct. After walking around for ages in search of the famous golden sarcophagus of Tutanchamon, I decided to ask where it was. And I was told it was in a separate room along with other most interesting artefacts, but to get inside I needed to pay 10$ extra!!!!! Cheeky Egyptians! They know that the majority of people come to have a look at this particular exhibit, so they charge on top! It would be the same, if you bought the ticket to Louvre only to find out that Mona Lisa was in a private room and you need to pay 10€ more to see it. Ridiculous!!!!!
Another must see place in Cairo is the biggest market in Africa – Khan el-khalili. I was dreaming about walking its fragrant rows, sampling treats and trying on silk shawls. Once again it wasn’t to be. It looked like we were the only tourists there, so everyone was all over us. As soon as we got out of the car, we were attacked by women with kids asking for money. If you give something to one person, others would see it, and would run in your direction as well. Same with the sellers. I asked about the price of Egyptian cotton bed linen, so the seller was following me for 3 blocks, offering to sell cheaper.
The market is very big and absolutely lovely, you can buy the most beautiful, hand-made things there. I only wished they left me alone and allowed to have a proper look at the goods on offer. Not in Turkey, not in Thailand was I hassled in such an aggressive way. I jumped back in the car almost in tears. Once again I repeat, that may be the difficult financial situation was to blame, and people were desperate, may be it would change once the situation is better.
A few hours later we were back in Sharm in our hotel.
The next day we arranged a whole day boat trip, where they took us to three snorkelling destination, including the famous Ras Mohamed national park.
Every dip was amazing, but it was so windy, that I needed to wrap myself up for one hour in any cloth and towel I could find, in order to normalise my body temperature. I am not sure, if it was a March weather problem or Egypt in general, but I found the wind to be very cold and consistent anywhere we went. The temperature was high, we got great tan, but the cold wind made it very uncomfortable to get out of the water, be it a swimming pool or the sea.
The last day we spent chilling by the pool and swimming in the sea. Egypt has a typical desert climate, with high thermal amplitude. It is really hot during the day, but as soon as the sun goes down, temperatures drop. Every time we were smoking a water pipe outside, we needed to wear something warm.
When the day came, we were really sad to leave, and long time after that we fondly thought of our trip to Egypt, as one of our favourite trips.