If there is anywhere that Egypt lets its hair down, it is unquestionably Dahab. Extremely laid back, cheap, and friendly, Dahab is one of those towns where time gets lost and next thing you know you’ve spent waaaay more time than you intended to. Diving, snorkeling, and lounging around doing nothing is the name of the game here, where hippie lifestyles and backpackers are the norm rather than the oddity.
Currently Dahab is much quieter than it usually is, with most outside the main pedestrian street looking like a ghost town. This is due to the fact that most western government foreign travel advisory sites places Dahab and the Sinai Peninsula in the no go zone. Years of these travel warnings has begun to hurt the local economy considerably as tourism is the big economic driver and tourist numbers appeared to be close to nothing while we were there. Its a daily occurrence to have a restaurant to yourself and dive sites are mostly uncrowded. The majority of tourists that do make the journey to Dahab are local Egyptians, with a sprinkling of foreign tourists here and there. How much longer, Dahab and the peninsula can hang on is uncertain as it already seemed to be on life support during our stay.
Is Dahab and Sinai Safe for Travel?
What I have mentioned above is a shame mostly due to the fact that travel warnings for the area and people’s perception of the safety situation in the area is over inflated. If one only reads the travel advisories from their respective countries, one can’t be blamed for choosing to not travel to the peninsula. After doing your own research however, the picture becomes a lot clearer.
In general, government travel advisories tend to be very conservative. They have to be because if something does happen, they don’t want to be held accountable for saying an area was safe. So what’s the deal with Sinai and why is it being avoided by most travelers?
A small area of Sinai up north along the Gaza Strip is currently plagued with terror organizations that carry out attacks weekly in and around the city of Arish. This is without a doubt a no travel zone. Attacks occur frequently and the Egyptian military has a very heavy presence here, effectively containing the terror groups to this small region.
While attacks have occurred outside of the contained area, they are few and very far between. To put it in perspective, Dahab’s one and only terrorist attack occurred way back in 2006. In that same time frame, New York City has seen six successful or thwarted terror attacks yet most people wouldn’t think twice about visiting the city in an instant. When looking at security risks, it is important to not over inflate the possibility of something occurring. To be in the wrong place at the wrong time here, would be extremely unlucky… you driving to work everyday is a riskier roll of the dice than a visit to Dahab.
With tourism being a crucial part of Egypt’s economy, the government has gone above and beyond to ensure tourists are kept safe. Throughout Sinai, military checkpoints monitor who and what is coming in and out of the region, making it difficult for trouble makers to move around. Sinai is extremely inhospitable and mountainous, making evasion of these checkpoints next to impossible. Security may be high in the region (and in Egypt in general), but chances are you will only be confronted with warm smiles throughout your stay.
What to do in Dahab
Alright, now that we got the heavy stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the fun stuff! With very little expanses of beach, there are only really two main activities in Dahab, diving, and the complete lack of activity which is also known as doing absolutely nothing.
Diving in Dahab
Dahab is one of the cheapest places for divers to safely get underwater in the world. Competition is fierce meaning you will always get a good deal and equipment is usually in good shape at most places (always check). While the dive sites around Dahab are good, experienced divers are not going to be blown away by anything they see. There are much better dive sites located farther south along Sinai and down the coast of Egypt proper. Prices in Dahab however, make it a perfect place to add on a new certification to your dive record.
Who to Dive with in Dahab?
We highly recommend using 7 Heaven Dive Club. The family run business have been in Dahab for decades, starting back when most of Dahab was just a tumbleweed away from being the middle of nowhere. Their dive masters were professional and their equipment was in good shape. Best of all is you will be hard pressed to come across a better deal in terms of price and quality. Dive packages will save you money but as a reference, in 2018, expect to pay around $30 a dive including a full equipment rental. PADI courses will run around the cheapest you can get worldwide. During our stay at 7 Heaven, we took our Advanced Open Water Course for $200 USD (book, 5 dives, and equipment rental included). If you know of anywhere else cheaper to get certified, please let me know as I have not been able to find anywhere.
Famous Dives in Dahab
One of the best things about diving in Dahab is the water clarity and sharp drop offs. The ocean floor plummets rather sharply from shore and water visibility is as clear as it gets. Most of the shoreline is adorned in beautiful coral reefs and small sea life, but seeing big marine creatures isn’t common in the area.
Blue Hole Dive
The most famous dive site perhaps in all of Egypt is Blue Hole, a sink hole that drops to 115 meters (492 feet) directly offshore. While the site has taken hundreds of lives, the dive itself is very safe and only gets dangerous if you go beyond your limits. Most of the deaths occur when divers go beyond their training ability and try to reach an arch that leads to the open sea located 54 meters down. For advanced divers, you will most likely enter the water at El Bells which leads divers through a small arch at 26 meters. From this point, its a drift dive along a bottomless wall until you reach the saddle of the Blue Hole at 7 meters and after passing into the Blue Hole, the water depth reaches to 115 meters.
The Canyons Dive
Another fun dive is through the canyons located a few kilometers north of Dahab. The dive takes you into a narrow canyon in around 30-35 meters of water. Once you come out of the canyon, notice all of the bubbles making their way up through the sand and to the surface. It creates a magical curtain effect and is caused by diver’s air getting trapped in the cave near the canyon and permeating through the porous rock underneath the sand (This is why you can no longer enter the cave as it is now unstable. There are a lot of Octopus in the area so keep a keen eye out for them. Unfortunately, my gopro malfunctioned during the dive and I didn’t get any photos of it.
Lighthouse reef is a joy for snorkelers and divers alike. In fact this is where we spent most of our time in Dahab as it is within walking distance of the tourist area and is the best place for snorkeling when not diving. The water is clear, the reef is bright, and there are plenty of pretty little creatures to keep you busy for hours. For divers, this is popular as a night dive spot. The shallow reef wall is full of places for fish to chill and allows you to spend more time underwater due to the shallow depth. If your snorkeling, the coffee shop across the street will be more than happy to watch your belongings in exchange for buying a coffee or other drink.
While we didn’t dive here, we did snorkel it and it was beautiful. The water stays shallow for an unusually long stretch for Dahab standards and opens up to these small coral reef bowls. The site is a long walk away from the main tourist area near the small peninsula that hooks around the south end of Dahab.
Need a Beach?
Dahab is known more for its underwater treasures than golden strips of sand. Most of Dahab is built up right to the water’s edge, not making it an ideal place for beach bums to set up. The only exception is a small peninsula at the south end of town. This is the only sand you’ll find and it does make for an enjoyable afternoon. When the beach gets too hot, there is plenty of coral to snorkel around. You will have to be self sufficient out here as there is nothing around for a few kilometers. It is possible to walk to here and back but it is a long walk. Your other option is to hire a cab and schedule a pick up time with them in advanced.
Days we weren’t diving or snorkeling were literally spent doing nothing. Lounging around, petting the house cats that would stop by, and letting time slip by was the name of the game for much of our time in Dahab. After traveling for several months, we were perfectly fine with that. With the affordability and comfort offered in this town, it’s easy to see how some people never end up leaving this place.
Where to Stay and Where to Eat
We cannot recommend 7 Heaven Divers and Hotel any higher. The staff treat each other like family (because they are) and they extend that hospitality unto their guests. Diving here is one of the best deals in town and the price of accommodation is almost unbelievable. For a private room (shared bathroom and no a/c) we spent a mere $3.60 a night. Keep in mind however, that this is a back to basics resort. While you have wifi, the shower is a fresh/saltwater mix. If you’re comfortable with this, then you can’t get any cheaper and better than this while in Dahab.
As for food… every place along the waterfront is pretty much the same so pick the one that looks best to you. We cannot recommend the Thai restaurant at the edge of restaurant row as it was overpriced and not very good. All restaurants serve pretty much the same thing. The only restaurant that stood out to us was a new Mexican joint that was just opening up despite the economic situation. The food was good (not authentic) and the place offers a nice view of the Red Sea as you chomp down on lunch. The burger is pretty good here.
Day Trips from Dahab
There are two really good day trips from Dahab, one heading to St. Katherine’s Monastery, and the other to the SS Thistlegorm Wreck. Both can be arranged by almost anyone in Dahab.
The tour to St. Katherine’s Monastery takes visitors to the world’s oldest continually occupied monastery and up to the summit that inspired the story of Moses encountering the burning bush and the Ten Commandants. Most tours target to have visitors up at the top for sunrise or sunset when it can be pretty chilly so be sure to pack a jacket and hat. Unfortunately, Claire and I didn’t make it to the mountain, but we plan on visiting the peninsula again so it gives us something to look forward to when we get back.
A popular day trip for divers in the area is a long haul to the SS Thistlegorm wreck. The WWII supply ship has been in its watery grave since 1941 but wasn’t rediscovered by the world until 1956. The ship was headed to Egypt in order to deliver supplies for the African theater of the war but was sunk when two German fighters dropped two bombs onto the ship’s deck.
Lying in only 30 meters of water, the ship is one of the best wreck dives in the world due to its contents and location within recreational diving limits. The ship is filled with war goods ranging from motorcycles and trucks, munitions, guns, and even a train locomotive. Usually dive tours allow for two dives of the wreck, one to explore the outside of the ship and one to penetrate the hull in order to view the goods inside.
Sadly, the Thistlegorm was yet another activity that Claire and I will have to wait to do. Tourist numbers are simply too low for companies to organize daily or even weekly trips. To our luck, a group was just getting back when we arrived in Dahab, but after waiting around for over a week, there still wasn’t enough people to organize a trip. This will definitely be on our list when we return as it is arguably one of the best wreck dives in the world.
Dahab: Losing Track of Time Along the Sinai Coast
While Dahab lacks any must see dive sites unless you are a technical diver, there are many good reasons to take a trip to this sleepy little town. Those looking to take their first breaths underwater or looking to advance their certifications will be hard to find cheaper prices elsewhere in the world (even within Egypt). The towns proximity to Mount Sinai also makes it a good base for those on the Bible pilgrimage route. Experienced divers or those not looking to take a course will want to look elsewhere in Egypt for diving by heading south to Sharm- El Shek or, even better, Marsa Alam where Egypt’s prime dive sites are located. It is hard to find a more chill place, as Dahab is a place where even time seems to get lost. As we didn’t get to everything we wanted to while in the area, we plan on returning in the future. We hope tourist numbers rise once again for this town, as it would be a shame for this gem and Sinai as a whole to struggle any longer than it already has recently.