Updated January 2021. Dahab already used to make an excellent sales pitch to long-term travelers. Now it’s one of the better (and only) options for sun-starved home office workers and vagabonds wondering where the heck to go while the Covid-19 storm passes. Looking for a quiet base to get some work done or simply relax? No quarantine, beach access even during lockdowns, sunny, warm and dry weather, relatively straight-forward visas and cheap cost of living offer a rare heaven in our brave new world of closed borders and coronavirus restrictions.
A few decades ago, Dahab was nothing more than a sleepy Bedouin village on the Red Sea. The former hippie and backpacker paradise has changed a lot since. Palm trees had to yield to ever expanding restaurants and hotels. However, unlike Sharm El-Sheikh, it’s bigger brother to the South, Dahab was largely spared from the excesses of all-inclusive resorts. Cheap flights and mass tourism did eventually summon the concrete demons to this part of the coast. But the extravaganza came to a screeching halt with the 2011 revolution. The 2015 bombing of a Russian charter plane delivered the final blow.
Fast forward 2020 and tourism was again on the rise, for better or worse. One could fear another tsunami of reckless building, hopefully mostly confined to Sharm, now entirely surrounded by a big concrete “peace” wall reminiscent of the Gaza strip. But them came Corona…
So why Dahab? You might hear exaggerated claims of “mostly local organic food” and “eco-friendly” town management. Don’t be fooled. The feral goats gingerly munching on plastic refuse near Assalah square are solid evidence of the contrary. But then there is the world-class diving and kite surfing. Against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the mountains of the Sinai desert. Add to this an eclectic community of friendly Bedouins, stranded expats and rogue Egyptians and you have a pretty damn good place to stay for a while in the Middle East. Ah yeah, and did I mention it’s cheap?
Accommodation In Dahab
You will find a plethora of options from run-down “camps” more reminiscent of war zones all the way to fancy upmarket hotels serving overpriced cappucino. If you are only looking for a cheap place to stay for a few days, have a look around the camps of Masbat. You can still find a simple double room with shared bathroom for 100-150EGP. No need to book anything, it’s much cheaper to just show up. There is always a free room somewhere, although prices do go up during Egyptian holidays, Christmas and Easter. You can get significant discounts if you stay longer.
For prolonged stays you can easily rent an entire apartment with bath and kitchen. Most residents opt for Asala, close to the shops and a little further away from the main touristic hustle and bustle. A good place to start searching is on the Rent & Sell Facebook group. As of early 2020 it’s still possible to find decent options starting at 2000-3000EGP a month. House sharing is also an option. Again, longer leases are more advantageous.
Finally, an honorary mention goes to the occasional hardcore backpacker camping for free on the beach. You can easily stay for a few days. For some privacy head South towards the Lagoon.
Food in Dahab
One of the main advantages of a touristic bubble like Dahab is the abundance of restaurants and quality ingredients. The best value is found in low-key Egyptian eateries, with Yum Yum (falafel) and King Chicken (BBQ) firm favorites. But enterprising locals and expats also offer Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Russian Mexican and even Cuban cuisine. A main meal will typically cost between 50 and 200 EGP, although a humble falafel sandwich will set you back a mere 7-8 EGP.
For budget-conscious long-term travelers a highlight is definitely the fruits and vegetables in the shops of Asala square. The choice is as good as it gets, with anything from tropical produce to Mediterranean favorites. You will not find much priced above 40EGP a kilo, with most products falling between 5 and 20 EGP a kilo. The local Bedouin tribes also produce good olive oil and farm eggs. Ask in the small Bedouin shops. True heaven if you ask us.
Clever businessmen and women have also learnt how to surf the latest Western food fads. That translates to a few specialized shops selling imported goods such as gluten-free pasta or bona fide parmegiano. Albeit at a hefty premium. Basically, you’ll be able to find almost anything if you don’t mind paying extra.
If you stick to local products and self-catering with the occasional restaurant, it’s possible to eat ridiculously well for 40-60 EGP a day. Daily mango for breakfast anyone?
Transportation In Dahab
Dahab is small and can be walked easily, although many residents opt for cheap mountain bikes to get around. New, this will set you back somewhere between 1500 and 3000EGP for a Chinese import. With a bit of patience it’s possible to score good second hand deals. Likewise, reselling your steel steed shouldn’t be difficult.
If you are too lazy or burdened to walk, a taxi to anywhere in town shouldn’t cost more than 20-30EGP. Almost any vehicle can magically transform itself into a taxi. So if you arrive at the East Delta bus station, bargain hard or walk away from the greedy drivers.
Transportation From Cairo And Abroad
Plus Covid-Related Travel Info
To/From Cairo. East Delta, Go Bus and Blue Bus leave several times a day. Blue Bus and Go Bus terminate more conveniently near the bridge in Mashraba. Travel is currently possible for tourists between the Sinai and the rest of the country, although this could change again. Expect contradictory and confusing information. For up-to-date news, check the US embassy website.
To/From Israel. The Eilat/Taba border crossing is the overland gateway to Israel. There is one East Delta bus a day to and from Dahab. Taxis are much more expensive, currently costing around 900 EGP. In the Eilat to Taba direction, there is an Israeli exit tax of 105 shekels plus a 400 EGP fee on the Eyptian side, shortly after leaving Taba. Eilat has a small airport that can be reached with the local city bus directly from/to the border. Update Jan 2021: the border is still shut.
To/From Jordan. There is a high speed ferry from Taba to Aqaba, thus bypassing Israel. Confirm schedules with the company, Arab Maritime Bridge. A slower but more reliable option is the regular ferry linking Nuweiba to Aqaba. You will have to wait a lot for the once-a-day East Delta bus, or fork over 500-600EGP for a taxi to Dahab. Update Jan 2021: as far as we know this is not an option for tourists at the moment.
Sharm-El-Sheikh Airport. International flights are currently operating. You need a valid PCR test to get in. Check the latest updates on the IATA website. No quarantine upon arrival! In theory you need health insurance that covers Covid, but this Egypt, so as usual in reality this is not enforced consistently. Or logically for that matter.
Some cheap flight options currently exist, especially via Istanbul. There are 2-3 buses a day with East Delta between Sharm and Dahab. A taxi between the bus terminal and the airport should be no more than 100EGP. Pass the barrage of touts and head for the main airport road to flag down a vehicle. A taxi directly to Dahab should cost around 500EGP.
Snorkeling. The poor man’s alternative to diving will not disappoint you. One of the highlights of Dahab, the colorful underwater world of the Red Sea is never more than a few minutes away from your residence. The water temperatures do cool down during the winter, but never drop below 20°C.
Diving & Free Diving. The countless diving outfits around towns offer competitive rates on everything from fun dives to PADI courses. If you are a free diver you’ll find a big community. Local authorities have now started charging for the Blue Hole. It’s 10 USD for foreigners, but if you have the resident visa you can get away with a more reasonable 25 EGP.
Wind Surfing & Kite Surfing. Another highly popular sport, with over 200 windy days a year. The Lagoon is great for beginners. High season is during the hot summer months.
Hiking. The Sinai trail is rumored to be exceptional. There are many shorter options too in the wadis (canyons) and mountains behind Dahab or around St Catherine.
Rock Climbing. Dahab is home to a small climbing community. Nearby Wadi Gnai has over 60 sport climbing routes, and quality bouldering in the upper reaches. St Catherine is home to longer trad routes in an adventurous setting.
Dahab loves to pretend to be an eco-friendly town. Sadly, beyond some street art there is not much happening. The plastic bag ban is a joke. It’s up to us to do something.
Water. The tap water is (partially) desalted sea water and unfit for human consumption. The resulting consumption of bottled water is shocking. There is however an alternative. The Bedouins get water from wells and springs in the nearby mountains. Ask around, often it comes in refilled disposable water jugs. If in doubt, you can filter it, but basically it’s high quality mineral water lacking any sophisticated packaging.
Plastic Bags & Packaging. Shops in Dahab love to offer small portions on a styrofoam tray, wrapped in cling film and handed over in a plastic bag. What doesn’t end up in the sea is burned in open pits outside of town. By bringing your own bags and tupperware you can cut down dramatically on waste. And please, avoid takeaway at all cost!
Sinai Visa. If you arrive at Sharm El-Sheikh airport, Taba border crossing or Nuweiba port most nationalities can get a 15-day Sinai-only visa-free stamp. This might at first sound tempting, but if there is even a small chance that you stay longer or visit the rest of Egypt, the Sinai stamp becomes a hindrance.
E Visa & Visa On Arrival. Many nationalities are eligible for the 25 USD 30 day single entry visa on arrival. Even better, get the e visa for the same price and skip the queue. Important: if you enter via the Taba border, you can only get a visa on arrival after paying a local travel agent a “fee” of 30 USD to “guarantee your application”, whatever that means. Play it safe, get the e visa. Or a regular visa at an embassy if you are not eligible.
Visa Extension provides a fascinating opportunity to experience Egyptian bureaucracy. Rules and their application are constantly changing. But don’t worry, with a bit of patience there is always a solution. This page has reliable up-to-date information.
The best option seems to head early to the office in El Tor and get it done the same day. The 12 month extension (same price as the 6 month one, about 1000 EGP, go figure) is a resident visa, unlocking the local entry price at national parks and tourist attractions. The savings will be significant during your stay. A 6 month multiple entry add-on is also available for approximately 500 EGP.
WIFI. More and more hotels, camps, restaurants and cafes now have decent wifi. Then again, all you need is a few lonely souls streaming Egyptian movies at the same time and you might be left cursing. Most long-term rentals don’t come with internet.
Mobile Internet. Fortunately, local SIM cards are affordable and now easy to obtain. 4G recently made it to Dahab, fully cementing the relationship between visitors and their little screens. A brand new Vodafone shop eliminates the need for shady deals. Around 200 EGP will give you a SIM card for a month, 10GB of internet and enough minutes and SMS to tell your life story 3 times over to your new Egyptian friends. The validity of your SIM card is linked to your visa.
Dahab, like the rest of Egypt, is essentially cash based. Only a few fancy hotels will accept credit card payments. Getting your hands on the local currency is straight-forward. For reference, at the time of writing the exchange rate was roughly 16 EGP = 1 USD.
ATMs. It’s ATM galore around Asala square and the Lighthouse area. However, to keep things interesting they are often out of order or cash. And withdrawal limits are around 2000 EGP. Some charge a small commission, others don’t. The lonely QNB ATM by the promenade is commission free. That is if your bank doesn’t slap you with other charges.
Foreign Currency. The same ATMs usually also accept physical currency in US dollars, Euros and British Pounds. Dollars command the best rates at Bank Of Egypt ATMs. Simply follow the instructions on the screen and insert your money when prompted. For more exotic currencies you will have to try your luck at the Bank Of Egypt building. Shop owners can “help” you too, at much less favorable rates.
If you share a small apartment between two, mostly self-cater with the occasional local restaurant, and stick to cheap or free activities, it’s possible to get by comfortably on 300-400 USD.