A Week in Dahab: the beginning of our month-long adventure across Egypt

A cute street in Dahab that we walked down everyday to get to the beach side cafes
A video of our time in Dahab, captured and edited by Ed Carlton

Getting to Dahab

We arrived in Egypt around 2:30AM after catching a midnight flight from Istanbul to Sharm-el Sheikh with two friends we had met while in Turkey. From the moment we left the airport at Sharm-el Sheikh, we had realized that everything we had read about Egypt on the internet was correct–we would never be offered legitimate prices up front, and would have to negotiate for most things to get a fair price. A large part of the Egyptian culture involves bartering, so it was something we would have to get used to. We knew that taking a taxi from the airport to Dahab should cost around 300 Egyptian pounds ($19 USD), but the small collection of late night taxi drivers wouldn’t seem to offer anything less than 1,000 pounds (around $63 USD). Julian and I were much too tired to argue about it, but our friend we were with took over, and managed to get the cost down to 550 pounds (after ten minutes of arguing with a driver).

The drive was meant to be about an hour long down an empty highway through a desolate desert. About fifteen minutes into the drive, we reached a police checkpoint. It wasn’t even 3AM yet and we were all so sleepy at this point, but we all became more alert once the taxi driver was asked to step out of the vehicle. He was talking to the police for about ten minutes, and the four of us were starting to wonder what was going on. The driver came back to the car and asked us for our passports. None of us were comfortable being separated from our passports, so we attempted to get out of the vehicle to see what was happening. The police officers shouted at us and insisted we return to the vehicle, so Julian tried to go by himself to ask what was happening. He was turned away, so we all waited in the car hoping our passports were in good hands.

Ten minutes later, our passports were returned to us, and the driver explained that we would need a police escort to Dahab “for safety”. We continued the drive to Dahab with the escort following about a mile behind us, as we quickly made our way over the sandy highway. The highway was dark, with no street lights, and on either side of the road was desert. Our driver kept receiving calls along the way, and we assumed it was the police checking in to make sure everything was okay. I drifted off to sleep, and woke up as we arrived in the small beach town of Dahab.

We wandered up to the entrance of our hostel around 3:30AM, under the impression that the owner was aware that we were coming at this time. There was some sort of miscommunication, but essentially, there was no room for us and nobody at the reception desk, so we ended up hanging out on the roof terrace of the hostel until sunrise. It was an incredible way to start our first day in Egypt. We made a friends with one of the hostel residents who was an early-riser, and he played ambient background music as we watched the sun come up over the Red Sea.

Waiting for the sun to come up and the hostel to open

The hostel manager came around after the sun had fully risen; it must have been around 7:30 AM at this point. We were exhausted, and he led us to our dorm that we would be staying in. It was amazing to be able to get some rest after being up all night. We slept until close to noon, and I woke up to the sound of voices arguing outside our dorm. Julian came in to update me on what was happening, and apparently we were being told that we were going to have to pay for a full night for the night of our arrival (even though we didn’t get into our beds until that day). Not wanting to have to pay extra to stay in the hostel for one more night, we were frustrated and decided to go elsewhere.

Our first sunrise in Egypt

Although things didn’t go exactly as we had planned, we ended up in moving to a wonderful hotel that had rooms available for us and our friends that were coming to meet us the next day. We found Dahab Plaza Hotel through Booking.com, and we were able to get a good deal on two rooms that had three beds a piece. The hotel manager was extremely welcoming, and even walked us into the main part of town to show us where the market and the best local eateries were. We ended up staying at Dahab Plaza Hotel for 5 days, and loved every bit of it!

Dahab Plaza Hotel captured by Ed Carlton

The hotel had two pool tables, a swimming pool, and plenty of space to hang out with our groups of friends. There’s also handful of sweet kitties and a couple dogs that stay on the property; we absolutely adored playing with them! We had 4 friends come meet us at the Dahab Plaza Hotel when they arrived in the middle of the night, and that was the beginning of our group adventure through Egypt together. The seven of us ended up staying together for almost a whole month, up until days before Julian and I left for Colombia. It was our first time travelling in a group this size for an extended period of time, and it really made the whole experience of Egypt a lot less overwhelming.

Blue Hole

On one of our first days together with the whole group, we caught a taxi ride to Blue Hole so we could go snorkeling. Most of the taxis in Dahab are unmarked pickup trucks, and we somehow managed to squeeze the seven of us into the cab of the truck. It was tricky, to say the least. Two people went up front with the driver, and four people were crammed in the backseat with me lying horizontally across their laps. Once we were outside the city limits, we were able to have three people go into the truck bed so we weren’t all packed in for the whole ride. Every so often, a group of children would run up and jump into the truck bed to hitch a ride, giggling the whole ride while trying to sell us bracelets and asking us to take photos with them.

Blue Hole Area

The dirt road leading into Blue Hole was very bumpy, but it made riding in the truck bed even more adventurous. Giant sandstone cliffs align one side of the landscape, and on the other side is the crystal clear blue sea. It’s a fascinating contrast. Never before had we seen anything like it. We paid a small entrance fee to get into the area of Blue Hole. Blue Hole is a world-famous snorkeling and diving area that is right on the coast. There are a variety of oceanfront restaurants and cafes that are able to rent you snorkel gear while they keep an eye on your belongings. We ended up going to the restaurant Bedouin Star, where they welcomed us with affordable prices for snorkel rentals and delicious Egyptian food and Bedouin tea.

The view from Bedouin Star

Snorkeling in the Blue Hole is a MUST if you’re ever around Dahab. If you’re into diving, more often than not, you will have to go with a guide or instructor, as this spot is nicknamed “the diver’s cemetery” due to many diving fatalities that have taken place in an underwater tunnel at this location. But if you’re snorkeling, the water is very tame and easy to swim in. I’m not a strong swimmer and was able to do it without a life vest. The underwater scenery in this location is UNREAL. The hole itself is 120 meters deep, with tons of coral reef and aquatic life to explore. I’ve gone snorkeling all over Hawaii and in some places in Mexico, and this is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever snorkeled.

GoPro footage of Blue Hole

Blue Lagoon

Another must-see destination in this area is Blue Lagoon. Getting there can be a bit tricky, but it’s super worth it, and you will definitely want to stay in this area for a night or two or maybe even ten. To get there, you need to take a boat taxi from the Blue Hole area. Walk to the north end of the area and you will see the docks where you can buy a ticket. Don’t forget to bring a copy of your passport! It’s needed to purchase a ticket.

The boat taxi will drop you off at Ras Abu Qalum, another awesome snorkeling spot with beachfront cafes. You could hang out here for a bit, or head straight to Blue Lagoon on one of the many pickup taxis that wait there. Don’t forget to haggle the price! Never take the first price they offer for a taxi ride. It’s usually much higher than it needs to be. Follow your gut.

The taxi ride to Blue Lagoon

Once you get to Blue Lagoon, there are many places you can choose for lodging. All of them are very simple/bare bones. We were able to get a bunch of beachfront huts that were made of sticks and only had a mattress on the sand inside. It only cost around $10USD per person per night!Very simple, but a nice escape from reality.

It costs $10 a person to stay in these sweet little huts

The stars at Blue Lagoon at night are incredible, and on a good clear night, you can even see the Milky Way! There’s tons of kite surfers you can watch surfing in the lagoon, and there are even lessons offered here if you want to give it a go! I don’t recommend going to Blue Lagoon if you aren’t into bare bones traveling. There’s a few cafes and restaurants, one market, and not a lot of variety. Even the bathrooms were very simple open-roof toilets that don’t have full plumbing. I recommend bringing your own toilet paper, hand soap, and sanitizer when you visit here, because these items are not readily available. Other than those small, easily overcome quirks, Blue Lagoon is a must-see destination for travelers and backpackers.

Can you see why they call it Blue Lagoon?
Sunset over Blue Lagoon

Our Favorite Restaurant in Dahab

YumYum!!! If you’re in Dahab and you like falafel, you MUST go to YumYum. You can get fresh falafel wraps for around 30 cents USD, and they’re so incredible, it’s near impossible to eat just one. They also serve fresh hummus, and it’s so delicious!

Our Most Frustrating Experience in Dahab

Don’t go into an essential oil shop in Dahab (or Egypt in general) unless you plan on purchasing something, or are really firm with your “no”s. We learned this the hard way. We had similar experiences like this throughout our time in Egypt at these shops, but this particular time was the most frustrating of them all.

One evening we were walking around looking for a place to grab some food, and didn’t even intend on going into an essential oil shop. An elderly man stopped us and asked where we are from. Not wanting to be rude, we engaged in a conversation with him, expecting it to be brief. He insisted that we go into his shop for some tea. Expecting the same hospitality we received in Turkey, we figured it couldn’t hurt to join him for a cup.

We sat down in his shop, and as he heated the water for tea, he started opening glass jars for me to smell the oils. Up front, we tell him that we have no interest in buying anything. He assured us that we don’t need to, then went to pour us some tea. As we waited for our tea to cool, he starts wrapping two small glass perfume vials in paper. “A gift for you,” he claimed.

“No, no thank you sir,” we told him, getting the feeling that he is wanting us to pay for them. “We really don’t need them. We’re traveling long term and can’t carry glass that could break.”

“Trust me, trust me,” he reiterated, handing us the wrapped packages. “It’s a gift.”

“Alright…” we responded, as we awkwardly sip our tea. The tea was still too hot, but we were looking at each other and telepathically communicating that we needed to get out of there before he can try to sell us anything.

Then he grabs a larger vial. “Which one did you like best?” he asked, pointing at the oils he let me smell.

“I don’t want any, thank you though,” I responded kindly.

“No, trust me, trust me, just tell me which one,” he continued. I pointed at a random one, then he started pouring into the vial.

“We told you we don’t want to buy any,” Julian said.

“Trust me, trust me,” the man kept saying. He finished pouring it then wrapped it up to hand to us. “I give it to you for only 50 pounds.”

“We literally told you we don’t want it,” I said.

“Please, please, don’t break my heart,” he said, somewhat aggressively. We were both frustrated at this point and stood up to leave. “Give gift back,” he demanded. We gladly hand him back the small vials; we literally did not want them in the first place. He made some angry noises at us as we walked out and said something in Egyptian. But honestly, we had no use for the oils, and it wasn’t fair for him to invite us inside under false pretenses.

Overall, we learned our lesson to have our guard up. The hospitality in Egypt is far and few between, very different from our experience in Turkey. In Turkey, people invite you into the shops, offer you tea, cookies, and a friendly conversation, and expect nothing in return. The people in Egypt are very kind, but most kindness is given with an expectation of money in return. After that evening, we never entered a store we were invited into if we had no intention of purchasing something. Lesson learned.

Three Hitchhiker’s Tips for Visiting Dahab

1. You can’t hitchhike in Dahab. If you try, you will be picked up, but they will ask you for money in the end 99% of the time.

2. Check out the oceanfront cafes and their roof decks! The ocean views are amazing, many of them offer snorkel gear to rent, and they are great chill-out spots.

3. Practice patience, especially if you plan to explore more of Egypt, and get used to several flies landing all over your body at once (they’re harmless).

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