Sharm el Sheikh
Sharm el Sheikh stands near the southernmost tip of the Sinai, where the Red Sea divides into two separate branches in the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez. Its name means the 'Bay of the Sheikh' in Arabic, after a small, secluded cove where it's said a Sheikh of the Muzeina tribe was once buried. For most of the last few centuries, the huge, coastal plains on which Sharm el Sheikh stands were home to only a few seasonal Bedouin camps and fishing outposts. A small resort was built in the area during Israel's occupation of the Sinai in the 1960s and 70s, but by the early 1980s Sharm el Sheikh still had no more than 13 hotels. Everything changed when the Sinai was returned to Egypt, with the government marking Sharm el Sheikh as prime real estate; the grand showpiece of the country's newly-imagined 'Red Sea Riviera'. Transformation was rapid, with the Sinai's barren coastlands being turned into a modern-day settlement covering nearly 150 square kilometres in less than 10 years. Today, Sharm el Sheikh has a population of more than 70,000 people. It is a major hub of regional government administration and an increasingly common setting for high-profile global conferences. Above all it is a year-round international tourism destination whose entire look, feel and character is dominated by its high-end, five-star resorts and the large groups of holiday-makers that pass through. Sharm el Sheikh shows the starkest of contrasts between the luxury-trappings of the modern settled world and the more simple, traditional life pursued by the Bedouin in the rugged mountain wilderness on its doorstep. It is one of two major gateways for the Bedouin Trail in the Sinai, with Nuweiba the other. Hikers will pass through Sharm on their way between the Sinai and Hurghada in mainland Egypt.
Sharm: a quick glance
Sharm el Sheikh stands on wide plains at the southern end of the Sinai and has several distinct hubs. The oldest part of Sharm el Sheikh is Sharm el Maya, at the southern end of town. Centred on the Old Market, this is the closest thing Sharm has to a downtown district; a hub of cafes, restaurants, juice bars, grocery stores, souvenir shops, modern malls and big hotels. Sharm's port stands 1km south west of the old market and is sometimes connected to Hurghada by a passenger ferry. Another kilometre away to the east is Hadaba; a residential suburb where banks, post offices and administrative government offices are clustered, along with other useful services like supermarkets, clinics and mobile phone stores. Connected to Sharm el Maya by a long highway known as Sharia Salem is Naama Bay; Sharm's best-known tourist hub. This is a cluster of large hotels, diving clubs, bars, casinos, nightclubs and everything else most visitors come for. Hay el Noor is a large residential suburb about half way between Sharm el Maya and Naama Bay, around which bus stations and some of the town's best hospitals are dotted. Sharm el Sheikh has two other districts of note, one of which is Shark's Bay; a cluster of tourist resorts with a quieter feel 10km north of Naama Bay. The other one is Nabq; a district of tourist resorts on the northern limits of the town, next to the pretty nature reserve of the Nabq Protected Area. Outside Sharm, Dahab is approximately 80km to the north, with Nuweiba 140km.
Between Sharm & Hurghada
Sharm el Sheikh is the major gateway through which hikers will move between the Sinai Trail and Red Sea Mountain Trail sections of the Bedouin Trail. A narrow stretch of the Red Sea divides the Sinai from the Red Sea Mountains of mainland Egypt, with Sharm el Sheikh standing almost the same distance from Hurghada as it does from Dahab. Travelling over the Red Sea is the nicest way to go and a sea passage takes two and a half hours. La Pespes and AB Maritime have both operated passenger ferries between Sharm and Hurghada over the last decade, but services have been on and off with the ups and downs of tourism. La Pespes stopped its services with the pandemic in 2020 but AB Maritime is currently advertising the route and it is said services will begin operating soon. Travelling overland between Sharm and Hurghada involves driving a country-sized hairpin around the Gulf of Suez. The shortest route is along coastal roads linking Sharm and Hurghada via the town of Suez, but only local minibuses run this route. It involves a long, cramped ride and the hassle of changing between unmarked minibuses in Suez half way. A better option is to go via Cairo, perhaps with a night's break in between; comfortable, modern buses run daily between Sharm, Cairo and Hurghada taking 7-8 hours each way, with GO BUS the best company. Air Egypt also runs a direct 25 minute flight between Sharm and Hurghada three times weekly, costing EGP1200-1800 one way.
The Bedouin Trail & Sharm
The Bedouin Trail section of the Sinai Trail begins from Ras Shetan, following the first part of its main circuit before joining an interior, secondary route towards St Katherine. After this, it aligns with the mountainous western part of the Sinai Trail, following it towards the southern tip of the route in Wadi Sabbah. It continues out of the mountains to the Nabq Protectorate - where sandy plains, mangroves and shipwrecks can be seen - before reaching an area known as Nabq, on the northern edge of Sharm. From Nabq to Sharm's port - from where ferries might be running to Hurghada - it is a 35km urban section, which can be done in a taxi. Support for all the Sinai sections can be organised through the Sinai Trail. For more information see Bedouin Trail: Thru Hike.
SHARM EL SHEIKH: WHERE TO STAY
Whilst most hotels in Sharm el Sheikh cater to higher-end, five star resort tourism, good mid-priced accommodation options are available for anybody who digs around a little bit. For those who want to stay longer in the Sinai, a good alternative to Sharm is Dahab; a small, backpacker-friendly town, an hour to the north, to which buses and taxis both run.
SHARKS BAY UMBI - good, Bedouin-owned accommodation in the pretty cove of Shark's Bay. Beach cabins or standard rooms, all with a/c & en-suites. Singles EGP1000-1300, doubles EGP1300-2000. Tel +201222-349-7157/ www.sharksbay.com
SHARK'S BAY OASIS - self-catering apartment-type option, also in Shark's Bay. All with balcony, sea view, a/c, bathrooms & kitchenettes. One apartment between 5 people 2000EGP each. Tel +2069-3600-450 / www.sharksbayoasis.com
SUNSHINE DIVERS - welcoming, friendly option on the beach in Shark's Bay. Simple, clean rooms, a/c & TV. Singles with sea view are EGP1800, doubles EGP2400. Tel +20106-443-3175 / www.sunshinediversclub.com
KANABESH - one of the older, cheaper hotels in Sharm, with rooms on the shabby side but a superb location in the heart of Naama Bay's tourism district. WIFI available in reception. Singles EGP800, doubles EGP1000. Tel +201010-506-9699
CAMEL CLUB - one of the first hotels in Naama Bay, recently renovated. Friendly place, excellent modern rooms with desks, a/c, en-suites, TVs & WIFI. Single rooms from EGP1500, doubles EGP1650. Tel +2069-3600-700 / www.cameldive.com
SHARM YOUTH HOSTEL - Sharm's cheapest accommodation option, near Sharm el Maya. Rooms are basic & shabby, with old but functional a/c units & en-suite bathrooms. Singles EGP250, doubles EGP300. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
AMAR SINA - small, boutique hotel in the Hadaba area. Good rooms with pretty oriental-type decoration, all with a/c, en-suites, fridges & TVs. Swimming pool. Singles EGP600, doubles 900. Tel +2069-366-2222 / www.amarsina.net
NAAMA BLUE - managed by Waleed Ali, an avid hiker who has put Sinai Trail photos in the rooms Good location, rooms have all mod cons with singles EGP950, doubles EGP1050, inc breakfast. Tel +20114-739-8064 / www.naamabluehotel.com
NAAMA FALCON STAR - sister hotel of the Naama Blue & another excellent option, just short walk from Naama Bay's bars & restaurants. Rooms have all mod cons. Singles EGP950, doubles EGP1050. Email email@example.com
SINAI OLD SPICES - superb boutique hotel, with themed rooms, in the Bedouin suburb of Rowaysat. All rooms have a/c, en-suites & pretty decor, friendly owners. Singles from EGP1000, doubles EGP1300 / www.sinaioldspices.com