When traveling, there are some places with which you feel an immediate connection.
As soon as you arrive (well, as soon as you check into your hostel, take off your huge backpack, and stop sweating), you feel at peace. It just fits. To be honest, I didn’t expect to find that in the Middle East; I figured I was more of a South America/Southeast Asia girl.
Thus, I was taken by surprise when I had this very feeling in Dahab, Egypt. It’s a hard place to describe, and I’m not sure I’m going to do it justice here.
(BTW, I did find it safe to travel to Egypt as a woman. Please note that I visited Egypt in March 2012, and that the situation is constantly changing. You should carefully monitor the news and consider your personal comfort level before deciding to travel there.)
The vibe & people
Hippie and laid-back. Dahab is a beach town, and people act like it. I spoke with many hostel and restaurant owners who had moved from Cairo specifically for the relaxed pace of life.
I loved everyone I met here. (Save that one shopkeeper who was super mean to me. I’m sorry, bro, I do NOT want to buy a tunic top from you. It’s no longer 2007, and it’s nothing personal, I swear!)
Like in a lot of sunny beach towns, the people there just seem to be happy to be alive. And those are my kind of people. When I apologized for being late on my room payment one day, the hostel owner said to me, “You’re in Dahab now, my love. Don’t worry.” That seemed to be the tone of Dahab’s residents, and it was a wonderful change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Cairo.
As a woman traveling alone in Dahab, I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. It’s definitely a backpackers’ town, and the people there make an effort to be friendly and accommodating towards tourists.
Keep in mind, however, that I still dressed conservatively. Unlike in the rest of Egypt, I did feel comfortable wearing sleeveless shirts or skirts, but remember that this isn’t Daytona Beach. No walking the streets in your bikini!
Dahab’s setting is pretty freaking idyllic. The water is a beautiful blue, and the town’s two main drags are fun to wander. There’s are a lot of little shops along these streets that cater mostly to a tourist/hippie crowd. Think: tons of harem pants, jewelry, and camel carvings. I had fun exploring them in the evenings.
The only thing keeping Dahab from perfection is the lack of a nice beach right in town. To get to a good swimming/lying out beach, you have to walk about 25 minutes, rent a bike, or take a taxi.
But what the beachfront lacks in sand, it makes up for in pillows.
All along the waterfront are decadent open-air restaurants drowning in brocaded pillows, candlelight, and hookahs. I took my computer there and worked a few times (most of them have wifi!) — but mostly, I just went there with friends to chat, eat, and party.
There’s an indescribable feeling of bliss that overtakes you when you’re reclining on pillows, laughing, smoking hookah, drinking beers… and then look out and see the Red Sea beside you. (Take. Me. Back.)
If you travel to Dahab, you’ll find a wide variety of things to do. Though many people, including me, go primarily for the world-class scuba diving, there’s much more than that.
The area is a famous wind- and kite-surfing destination, and though I didn’t try it, the lessons were reasonably priced. You can go snorkeling, take camel tours, or rent bikes or ATVs. As Dahab is traditionally a Bedouin community, it’s also a good jumping-off point for Bedouin desert tours.
As for diving in Dahab, it deserves its reputation. I was too much of a wuss to dive the Blue Hole (it’s the deadliest dive site in the world; give me a break!), but that didn’t matter much. Everywhere we dove was beautiful and unique.
I did my diving through Aqua Divers, which cost about $32/dive. This was quite close to my accommodations, with a bonus being that I could hang out at their lovely pool when I wasn’t diving.
Dahab also has a pretty fun nightlife. Whereas the bar scene in Jordan was pretty nonexistent (much stricter about alcohol there, apparently), Egypt was much more lax.
Dahab’s bars ranged from relaxed hookah lounges to an upbeat dance club, all of which were fun. (Note: I’d advise going with at least a few guys you trust, as the scene is very heavily skewed towards the male creeper population.)
I stayed at Bishbishi Garden Village, which I can’t recommend enough. The rooms are clean and simple, and it’s in a great location right in the middle of everything. The outdoor common area is comfy and inviting, making it easy to meet people, and the vegetarian-friendly breakfasts are yummy.
Both Jimmy and Oula were extremely friendly and helpful (love you guys!), and can book any activities or transport you wish. For a single room, the cost was around $7 (shared bath) or $14 (private bath). For a double, it was $14 (shared bath) or $22 (private bath).
There are many cheap and delicious Dahab restaurants at which to gorge, with my faves being Yum Yum and King Chicken. You could easily eat a MASSIVE, delicious, totally veggie meal for around $2. I think a good budget strategy is to eat at these restaurants, then go to the oceanside lounges for drinks and hookah.
As for getting traveling to Dahab, there are overnight buses from Cairo to Dahab (9 hours), which I’ve heard are quite safe. The average cost of an overnight bus from Cairo to Dahab is $15. There are also flights from Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh, which is about 1.5 hours away. These aren’t too expensive (often around $100), particularly if you book ahead of time.
My parents tweaked when they heard I was going to take an overnight bus by myself, so they offered to split the cost of a cab with me. The cost of a cab from Cairo to Dahab was around $90 — so it would definitely be worth considering if you’re traveling in a group.
When I left Dahab, I traveled north to Israel. The guys at Bishbishi arranged a microbus transfer from Dahab to Taba, at the Egypt/Israel border. The microbus transfer from Dahab to Taba cost $50 and took a few hours. From there, I crossed the Israeli border on foot and caught a cab to Eilat’s bus station.
Or, if you’re not quite ready to leave Egypt yet, day trips are a popular activity from Taba. And if you’re traveling to Dahab from Jordan, it’s possible to take a ferry from Aqaba. (Be warned: I heard a quite hellish story about the ferry and its insane delays from fellow travelers, so definitely do some research before deciding to go that route.)
In the end, I’m really glad that I had a scheduled flight out of Israel. If I hadn’t, I’m not sure I ever would’ve left Dahab.
It’s one of those towns that backpackers seem to get stuck in — and understandably so, with its pretty scenery, fun activities, budget-friendly restaurants and hostels, and laid-back locals. I hope that Egypt can find peace with its new government soon, so that they may once again boost their tourism and share their beautiful country with the world. I, for one, can’t wait to go back.