In late 2012 my best friend and I found ourselves in dire need of a holiday from our stressful job roles, so we took a seven night trip to Egypt. Read all about our adventures here….
We were looking for sunshine, but coming up to Christmas weren’t looking to break the bank (our original plan of Mexico was out!). Our range of sunny options were limited being October, but after good search online we settled on Egypt, more specifically Sharm El-Sheikh. Whilst I had always fancied the pyramids I had recently heard negative reports from my in-laws and Ben wasn’t so interested, he just wanted a pool and a sunbed. Sounded good to me, so after much deliberation we settled on 7 nights at Laguna Garden Vista all inclusive resort. It had little hut style rooms rather than the usual block type hotel, had good reviews on TripAdvisor and was a little bit different to the other hotels.
Upon arrival at Gatwick we were disappointed to find out our flight was four hours delayed. However, we weren’t going to let that spoil our holiday buzz and headed to Frankie and Benny’s for some dinner (on our compensatory vouchers!). After a wander round the shops we set up camp of some comfy seats and engaged in heavy amount of people watching before our gate was finally announced. I know most people hate airports, but I quite enjoy them and find the time always passes quite quickly.
Our flight with Thomas Cook finally departed and two movies and an in-flight meal later (otherwise known as about 5 hours) we were landing in Sharm El-Sheikh. Due to our delay it was already around 11pm at night and the airport was deserted, other than a few weary looking staff, who were clearly being kept from their beds by our late flight. Customs and luggage collection was smooth and eventually we were met by our reps and pointed to our coach. Immediately we found ourselves being hassled by people offering to carry our luggage, my BIG travel pet hate is being hassled! We managed to swerve these, but at arrival at our coach a man demanded money from us just to lift our bag on to the coach. Not convinced our bag would remain on the bus if we refused we were left with no choice but to open our wallets.
Fortunately we were only about a 10-15 minute drive from our hotel and we arrived just after midnight. Exhausted from our day we collapsed into our beds, looking forward to exploring properly the next day.
I usually like to break each day down in my travel blogs but frankly this holiday involved rather a lot of laying next to the pool and eating, so I won’t bore you dear reader. On our first morning we explored the hotel facilities. The hotel was very quiet and a lot of the time we found ourselves alone around the pool (heaven!). The restaurant was your basic buffet style with friendly waiters and whilst the pool was in need of a good clean and some repair work around the swim up bar, it was perfectly acceptable and we certainly weren’t put off using it. The only problem was a very dodgy CD player behind the bar which skipped constantly, combine that with the daytime bar tenders penchant for Celine Dion and it got annoying very quickly!
We did find ourselves get harassed on the first day or two by various people trying to sell us spa treatments, scuba diving and other excursions which was annoying, but the pool boy quickly saw them off when he could see us getting annoyed. He gave us a little do not disturb flag every day after that and in turn we gave him a nice tip when we left.
We did undertake a couple of evening excursions, as it was far too hot during the day time to do anything but sit and bake, with the occasional dip in the pool to cool off. On one evening we rode quad bikes through the desert, which was very good fun, but not for the faint-hearted. There is nothing quite like the sight of the sun setting over the mountains in the desert in Egypt and it’s a memory I’ll always hold close to my heart. On our ride out we visited Echo Mountain, which was a strange experience. Standing facing the mountain side we were all told to shout ‘Hello’ as a group, only to have to sound ricochet back at us at virtually the same volume and as clear as we had shouted it in the first place. We spent a good few minutes here shouting various names and other things at the mountain to have it shout back at us. We also visited a traditional Bedouin camp on our route, where we purchased some little rocks and other handmade things to support the community. One tip which applies throughout Egypt is not to expect to be able to take a photo of any kind of local person without payment. A couple of Egyptian pounds are usually sufficient so don’t be pressed for more.
Another evening we ventured into the desert again and rode camels. There is nothing quite like the smell from a camel or the noises and grunts that emanate from them to ruin the romantic ideal, but actually it all adds to the experience and was great fun. Ben was really not a fan of the idea of getting on a camel, but indulged me and we had a great time riding off into the sunset. After our camel ride we visited a ‘traditional’ Bedouin dinner. I’m not entirely sure how traditional this was as the industrial fans whirred from the kitchens behind us, but it was certainly an entertaining evening. The ‘camp’ was a very large arena type area, which probably seated around 500 people to hazard a guess, with a large stage in the centre. Here we sat on traditional Bedouin carpets on the ground with cosy cushions and little tables. Drinks were bought out including Bedouin tea. I did try it but it wasn’t to my taste, so I stuck with my trusty bottled water. Shisha pipes were available to those that wanted and eventually we were called up a section at a time to a buffet, which mostly consisted of variations of lamb and traditional sides dishes. I found it all very tasty but my more traditional ‘steak and chips’ companion wasn’t quite so enamored. Whilst we ate we were entertained by traditional dances on the stage. By this point night had fallen and the grand finale of a flaming whirling dervish was highly spectacular. I find it amazing how they can spin like that for what seems like hours and not fall over… I get dizzy when I stand up a bit too quickly!
On other nights we stayed in the hotel or ventured outside, a somewhat fraught experience on our first attempt! Having experienced similar cultures before I had warned Ben that ‘outside’ wouldn’t be like visiting other tourist destinations. However, he was adamant in his resolve to venture outside. After five minutes of being chased by a rather scabby looking camel and it’s owner, having every shop owner in the street attempt to sell us the entire contents of their shops and been approached by several beggars we decided daylight would be a better time to visit ‘outside’ and decided to stick to the safety of our hotel after nightfall, unless we had a guide with us. I am told other parts of Sharm El-Sheikh nearer Naama Bay are a bit less daunting, but we were further South than that and a bit less touristy. Having said that there were various fast food restaurants in the street outisde our hotel including a KFC and McDonalds.
During the day we ventured further and felt much safer… although still set upon by several street sellers it was less intimidating in daylight. We ventured down to the Red Sea on several of our days (our hotel wasn’t on the beach). The Red Sea is very different to the beaches I have experienced before, and was very nice, but to see it’s beauty you had to look closer! The first thing that struck me was a distinct lack of waves, this is not a destination for surfers! The water did lap the shore but it was more ‘lake-like’ than sea-like. There were not big foamy waves crashing against the sand like we are accustomed to. The sea was also very shallow; you could paddle a very long way out with the water barely reaching your bottom and the water was very warm. Looking down is where you saw the beauty. Little shoals of tiny fish darted around our feet and in the clear still waters it was easy to see them. Whilst this is not the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been on it was the most interesting if you looked beyond the surface. I spent a lot of time fish watching, standing as still as I could so they would come closer.
On the whole I did enjoy Egypt, but I must admit it’s not a destination I would probably rush back to as I prefer destinations I feel a bit safer wandering about alone in. My husband visits Sharm El-Sheikh every year to go scuba diving, so unless I suddenly get into that (I’ve promised I’ll try it!) I don’t think there are probably new adventures beyond what I have already experienced. If I visit Egypt again is is more likely to see the Pyramids and and Cairo.
Carry smalls denominations of currency, tipping is polite and also sometimes unavoidable, but you don’t want to part with more than is reasonable!
Don’t drink the water, stick to bottled water. Don’t have ice cubes in your drinks and avoid salads. The high mineral content in the water is upsetting to our fragile European constitutions.
Insect repellent is a must after dusk. I wore it all week and wasn’t bitten. On the last night I decided I was being over cautious and went without (because it does smell vile!) and was bitten to shreds!
Sun Cream, factor 50 at least, also a must! We went during October and although it was still very hot it was quite overcast. However I was still burnt through the clouds.
Be safe, don’t venture out on your own after dark, particularly ladies. This isn’t to say Egypt is more dangerous than any other place of course… I wouldn’t venture out in my home town after dark by myself either! Having said that DO get out into the desert, particularly as the sun is setting, it is truly magnificent. Just be sure you are there with a reliable tour guide.
You will be hassled by people trying to part your from your cash, there’s no escaping it, it’s just the culture here. The best thing to do is avoid eye contact with unwanted parties, use a firm no and if you do decide to purchase be ready to barter. Sellers do not expect anyone to pay ticket price and you can usually get around 50% off any purchase by bartering. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground.
Check your entry visa requirements at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/egypt/entry-requirements when travelling from the UK, The length of your stay and where you plan to visit affect which visa you require.
Vaccinations. I checked my vaccinations before travelling to Egypt. There was an advisory vaccination of Yellow Fever recommended. My doctor told me this vaccination was available free on the NHS so it seemed a bit silly not to get it!
I visited Egypt in 2012, before there were major conflicts in Egypt. Whilst Sharm El-Sheikh has remained calm throughout, it would be advisable to check the latest status and safety advice before traveling.