The Long Journey to Dahab

After Luxor I thought I’ve seen enough Egyptian monuments to last a lifetime. It was time for some rest and relaxation. After all I’ve been through in Egypt, I didn’t think it was possible. My couchsurfing back in Cairo host kept insisting that I should check out Dahab. Practically every local I’ve met has been recommending it too when I said I was looking for a place where I could unwind. I’ve also been reading good things about it online from fellow travelers. It was pretty close to the border to Israel. Since I was planning on heading there next, it made sense to spend at least one night in Dahab. If I didn’t like the place I could easily leave the next day.

From Luxor, there are two ways to get to Dahab by land. One way is to take a bus to Sharm El Sheikh. The bus company that runs this route is the Upper Egypt Bus Company and the bus leaves at 5 PM. This trip takes about 16 hours. It’s hard to describe where the ticketing office is exactly, but it’s very close to the train station on El Mahatta Street. Any hotel or hostel staff can point you to the exact location. This trip would cost about 200 EGP. Once you arrive in Sharm El Sheikh there are lots of buses heading to Dahab. There’s one leaving every 1-2 hours.

Another way is to head back to Cairo by bus or train and then take a bus to Dahab from there. I wasn’t too keen on backtracking. As much as possible I didn’t want to go back to Cairo but the time of departure was more convenient for me. Also, I’ve heard people say that taking the Upper Egypt bus was exhausting since the buses are old and the air conditioning can fail at times. I decided not to risk it. The easiest way is to ride with Go Bus on both legs of the journey so you can buy tickets online or through their app. You also don’t have to transfer stations because the Go Bus from Cairo to Dahab leaves from the Tahrir bus station. This is the last stop of the Go Bus from Luxor to Cairo. This is gonna cost a lot more though. The cheapest way would be to take the train back to Cairo then board one of the cheaper buses to Dahab.

You may have heard that there’s a ferry from Hurghada to Sharm El Sheikh. This service is no longer running since March 2018 and currently there are no plans to resume it. This would have been the fastest way to get to Dahab from Luxor aside from taking a flight, so it’s a shame that they cancelled it. I was actually ill informed that this service was still running so I  took a bus to Hurghada for 4 hours only to find out that there’s no ferry to Sharm El Sheikh. I wouldn’t have minded it if I actually liked Hurghada. It’s not bad. It’s just your typical resort town catering to tourists, full of hotels and resorts, and everything was much more expensive. It’s not a place I’d recommend to  backpackers.

The bus from Luxor to Cairo went smoothly. The 9 hours just flew by. I took the 12:30 AM bus to Dahab which arrives at around 10 in the morning. The seats were comfy and I was planning to sleep through the entire trip. I barely slept at all, and it’s not because there was something wrong with the bus.

I knew there would be check points. I just didn’t realize there would be so many of them. I counted 9 check points in 11 hours. Often some soldiers will just board the bus and just ask for identification and maybe open the bags you’re carrying with you. But three time we had to get off the bus, get all our bags from the luggage compartment and fall in line while the soldiers inspect all our belongings. Let me correct what I just said. They don’t really check all your belongings. When they were checking the bags of the locals, they removed all the contents of their bags, examining all items closely. This is why the trip takes so long. We spend so much time at each check point. When it was my turn, the soldier just put his hand inside my bag for a second and that was it. The second time we had to go outside the bus the soldier didn’t even bother checking my bag. The third time the soldier just glanced inside. Each time, I was like WTF. Since they were asking all passengers to disembark and fall in line, they might as well do their job properly and check all our stuff. This also happened during those time when the soldiers merely boarded the bus and asked for our identification. Most of the time they just glanced at my passport without even opening it. When it came to the locals, they took their time scrutinizing every detail. There was definitely some racial profiling going on. They didn’t pay much attention to me along with 2 white passengers. If that’s the way they run things, why even bother waking us up in the first place? They might as well say that only Arab looking passengers are to be checked at every stop.

I just have to say that I think racial profiling is incredibly stupid. Intentions cannot be gauged by one’s race. I could have easily hidden a bomb or a gun inside my backpack and they wouldn’t have noticed it. It’s also sad that Arab looking people are singled out. They are victims of racial profiling and discrimination in other countries these days because of Islamophobia. It’s a shame that they are treated the same way in their own country.

So we eventually arrived in Dahab at around 10:30 in the morning. I was cranky because I barely slept. The hotel I picked was directly across the Go Bus station so I didn’t have to deal with touts. When I got off the bus, there were about 4 taxi drivers asking if I needed a ride. When I said no, they immediately backed off.

What the heck. Was I still in Egypt? That felt really off.

I had to wait a while before I was able to check in. Once I paid one of the staff grabbed my stuff and led me to my room. I tried to stop him because I didn’t need help carrying my bags, and I didn’t want to give a tip either. Once we got to the room, I was about to get my wallet to get some money for him, but he already disappeared the second I turned around.

WTF. He didn’t want any tip. That felt really off as well lol.

It was the first time I was staying in a hotel in Egypt. Even though Dahab is considered a backpacking destination there weren’t many hostels on booking websites. There were a lot of cheap hotels though so I still didn’t spend much. I only found two hostels in a booking website and the reviews were horrible. When I was walking around I saw that there were a couple of better hostels, you can find them by the waterfront. They just don’t do listings on booking websites for some reason. It may be risky not to book a place before arriving since the hostels may be full. The safest option is to just book a room at a cheap hotel for a night then transfer the next day if you really want to stay in a hostel.

I didn’t need to stay in a hostel to make friends though. The hotel I stayed at may be kind of a dump, but they had a pool and a lot of people hung out there. Most of the guests were locals but everyone was friendly and they were all keen on interacting. I gained more friends when I looked for a place to eat. Some fellow travelers eating at one table asked me to join them. Dahab exudes a certain vibe wherein everyone seems to want to be friends with one other. One more thing I noticed? No touts were bothering me. Not a single one. When I passed by the market, no one was shoving their wares to my face. The storekeepers simply wait for customers to approach them. Even those people promoting and selling tours weren’t approaching me. I had to go inside one tour agency to ask about tours. I’d expect them to be more aggressive because there weren’t many visitors around. That’s one more thing I liked. There were barely any crowds. It wasn’t touristy at all. In fact, most of the visitors seemed like locals. This might explain why there were so many cheap places to eat. I haven’t seen much of Dahab yet but I was starting to fall in love with the place. It felt as if I was in a different country. No wonder everyone I’ve met who has been here has been highly recommending it.

The town is a really chill place, but you have to do one of those days trips to reach any of the good beaches. Since no one was pestering me about tours, I had to take matters into my own hands. I went inside one of those shops offering tours and I asked the guy which ones were the most popular tours. I told him I wanted to go swimming so he showed me the popular snorkeling and diving tours. The Blue Hole is definitely the most popular site. It’s a submarine sinkhole that is excellent for both snorkeling and scuba diving. To maximize the time they combine it with some other site. It is often combined with the three pools, which are three different snorkeling sites close to each other, or Ras Abu Gallum. I saw more people signed up with the Blue Hole -Ras Abu Gallum combo so I decided to join that tour. I asked the guy how much it costs. He told me it costs 25 USD, and I can pay in local currency if I didn’t have US dollars. The price included lunch, snorkeling gear, round trip transfers from my hotel, and the boat transfer between sites. That seemed too good to be true. I expected to pay more than 25 USD. I asked him several times if that price did include everything. I wanted to make sure there were no hidden charges. He just laughed. He told me I was in Dahab, we’re far from all the scammers. When everything was set he told me to just wait outside my hotel at 9 AM the next day. He reminded me to bring a copy of my passport because there would be several check points along the way.

The next day I was promptly picked up at 9 AM. There was already a family inside the jeep so I had to squeeze in. It was a bumpy ride but it only took about 30 minutes. Near the Blue Hole, we reached the first check point. I was gonna grab my passport but apparently I left it. Crap. I thought they wouldn’t allow me to go in. Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Like on the bus to Dahab, the guards took their time looking at the identification cards of the locals. When it was my turn they just smiled. That’s right. They didn’t even ask for any form of identification from me. Racial profiling reared its ugly head again, but that time I was thankful lol.

The Blue Hole was amazing. Any pictures I took can’t do it justice. Snorkels and goggles were free to use, but if I wanted a life vest I’d have to pay and additional 50 EGP. I wish I could have dived though, people were saying it gets more amazing as you go deeper into the hole. Obviously you’d need some sort of certification before you’re allowed to dive. There are lots of courses offered in Dahab  and they’re pretty cheap. I’ve seen courses offered for as low as 50 USD for 2 introductory dives.

At around 12:30 PM the guides told us it was time to go to the next stop. I asked about lunch, they told me lunch will be served when we get back. I was already a little hungry by then, I wished I brought some snacks. We made our way to the docks and rode the boats. The boat ride took about 10 minutes.

I have to say I loved Ras Abu Gallum the minute I laid eyes on it from the boat. It was very different from the beaches I’m familiar with. It looked so rustic and dare is say— authentic. Something about it looked distinctly Egyptian, it was full of local color. I could simply sit on the beach all day admiring the view, but I had to check out the snorkeling sites and they’re as amazing as the ones in the Blue Hole. A funny thing happened on the huts though. So i was walking around with a couple of locals, and when we got back apparently lunch was served. We were so bummed that we missed lunch. Turns out we didn’t. Some Bedouins set some food on the table and everyone grabbed some. That wasn’t our lunch, the Bedouins were just selling food lol. There was a bit of commotion because of this misunderstanding. A couple of folks refused to pay, saying they thought the food was included in the tour. Eventually they agreed to pay, the food wasn’t expensive anyway.

After about two hours we were all led to some old pickup trucks. I thought we were heading back  to that restaurant near the Blue Hole to have our lunch. Turns out we had another stop. I don’t know the name of the beach but it’s about a 15 minute ride from Ras Abu Gallum. The beach looked similar though it seemed better somewhat. There also seemed to be more people just chilling on this other beach.

We got back to the Blue Hole at a little past 5 PM. Man, they should have just said dinner was included and not lunch. We had a huge serving of grilled chicken, rice, and salad. Maybe I was just really hungry, but at that time it tasted like the best grilled chicken I’ve had in my entire life. When we were about to leave I expected the guides to ask for tips. Throughout this tour I felt I was given some sort of special treatment, maybe because as far as i could tell I was the only non Egyptian in the group. They kept asking how I was, if I was having fun, they were always checking in on me, stuff like that– so I expected them to ask for tips. None of them did. As I’ve mentioned earlier I also had the same experience in the hotel. The staff were totally hands on, they carried my bags without being asked and they did not expect any tips. I really appreciated this. And of course I gave them a little tip. That’s how it should be when it comes to tipping. No one should be forced to give tips. People should just give tips if they can spare some money to show their appreciation. I wish I could say the same for the rest of Egypt.

There’s more to Dahab than just snorkeling tours. Day tours to the desert are also very popular. These include trips to the White Canyon. St. Catherine’s Monastery is also a popular destination from Dahab, especially for people doing pilgrimages because it is said that the burning bush from which God first revealed himself to Moses is enshrined here. I didn’t go on these tours but the people I’ve met who’ve done em were highly recommending them. I could’ve gone to these places if I wanted to, but I chose to just stay in town and relax.

I planned on spending just one night in Dahab, but I ended up spending four. I guess it’s obvious that I fell in love with the place. Honestly, it’s the only place in Egypt that I really liked. It doesn’t seem like a part of Egypt at all. The absence of touts and scammers played a huge part. But mostly it’s the incredibly chill atmosphere. I can imagine staying for weeks in this part of the country and I still wouldn’t get tired of it.

Would I recommend it to everyone though? If you’re planning on crossing the border to Israel or Jordan by land, I’d say definitely. It’s on the way, it would be a shame to skip such a wonderful place. If this isn’t your planned route though, I’d say it depends. It’s really far from the main tourist attractions in the country, and those numerous checkpoints can be such a pain if you’ll be traveling by land. If money is not a problem then I’d say go for it— you can easily take a flight to Sharm El Sheikh then take a one hour bus ride or taxi ride to Dahab. For those traveling by land, if you just want to go to the beach or go snorkeling and scuba diving, there are many other options. From Luxor, going to Hurghada is more convenient. There are also good options up north near Alexandria. These places are your typical resort towns catering to tourists though. If you’re looking for a more laid back and chill vibe, and if you want the best spots for diving in Egypt, then maybe that long trip to Dahab would be worth it.

Choosing Dahab as my last stop proved to be a good decision. It was the perfect spot to spend my last few days in the country. Thanks to Dahab, I didn’t leave Egypt on a bad note.

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