Planning a Trip
Sharm el Sheikh is divided into four distinct areas that are loosely strung out along the highway like close, but separate, towns. Arriving from the south, with the sea on your right, you come first to the Old Town. Then to your right, on a plateau that juts out into the sea, is Hadaba. Another 5 to 6km (3 1/2 miles) up the highway is Naama Bay. The international airport is another 5km (3 miles) or so past Naama Bay, which puts it about halfway to the new, almost exclusively package holiday resort, area of Nabq (pronounced Na-bik).
The Old Town -- About as close to a "real town" as Sharm gets these days, the Old Town is a somewhat ramshackle collection of shops and restaurants. Tourist items such as shishas (water pipes), snorkels and fins for snorkeling, and T-shirts are significantly cheaper here than in Naama Bay. Behind the Old Town, there's housing for the huge migrant tourism workforce that come to Sharm from all over Egypt.
Hadaba -- An almost autonomous pocket of hotels and amusement facilities -- there is a water park and two go-kart tracks -- Habada is also relatively isolated from the goings on down in Naama Bay. Though there are one or two restaurants and a large open-air mall is being developed, this is mostly a neighborhood of high-end resorts.
Naama Bay -- This intense cluster of restaurants, hotels, and a few bars around the bay is the "downtown core" of Sharm el Sheikh. It's the only part of Sharm where you can get out of your hotel and walk to a restaurant or a bar. For the most part boisterous and crowded, Naama Bay offers a pleasant almost-seaside promenade lined with restaurants where you can cruise for dinner. Many hotels that list themselves in Naama Bay, however, are well out of walking distance from the core.
Nabq -- This is a newly developed area north of the airport. Big money has been spent supplying the place with shopping malls and facilities outside the walls of the big, all-inclusive resorts here, but it's still on an inhuman scale and ultimately a bleak and unpleasant place to walk around.
By Plane -- Sharm el Sheikh International Airport (which you will very occasionally still see listed by its Israeli name, "Ophira") is Egypt's second busiest airport. There are more than a dozen flights per day out of Cairo, and the cost of the 1-hour flight is around $150 return (which is actually less than the cost of the long, hot, and dangerous taxi ride). Despite its modern architecture, it's not one of the country's best -- grit your teeth and remember you didn't come on holiday for the airport. It's also probably best to wait until you get to the hotel to use the toilet. There are always plenty of blue-and-white taxis around if you're not getting picked up by your hotel.
By Car -- You can get to Sharm el Sheikh by car, but it's really not worth it in anything less than urgent circumstances. Expect a car and driver for a one-way trip between Cairo and Sharm to cost around LE750 to LE1,000 ($136-$182/£70-£93).
By Bus -- The bus station is in Hadaba. There are usually plenty of taxis around to take you to your hotel. Walking is not an option. Super Jet (tel. 069/3661622) buses run back to Cairo regularly starting at 10:30am. There are more at 1, 3, and 5:30pm, and the last bus goes at 11:30pm. Tickets are LE70 or LE80 ($13-$15/£6.50-£7.40), depending on what type of bus it is.
By Ferry -- The fast ferry from Hurghada comes in to the south of the Old Town. You'll have to walk across a wide parking lot to get out of the park and out to the street where the taxis are allowed to wait. This can be unpleasant if it's hot and you have heavy bags, and especially so if you're feeling a little queasy after a rough crossing.
Arriving directly at the Sinai from abroad, you have a choice of two visas. There is a free, 14-day visa that's good for most of the Peninsula (including St. Catherine's), and there is the regular 30-day visa for all of Egypt that costs LE83 ($15/£7.60). If in doubt, buy the all-Egypt visa; upgrading from the free Sinai-only visa can be tedious, time consuming, and frustrating.
By Taxi -- Taxis are an unfortunate necessity in Sharm el Sheikh, where hotels tend to be a good long way from each other and from the nightlife and eateries of Naama Bay. On the other hand, the fleet here is the newest and cleanest in the country (you're going to be blown away if you're coming from Cairo), and even at several times the price of anywhere else in Egypt, the fares are reasonable compared to the West. Expect to pay LE40 to LE50 ($7.30-$9.10/£3.70-£4.63) to get between areas of town (for example Hadaba to Naama Bay, Naama Bay to a hotel up the coast or around the airport). Negotiate the fare before getting in.
By Car -- If you're going to be running around between the different sections of Sharm, visiting Ras Mohamed National Park and maybe even taking a day trip up to Dahab, Colored Canyon, or St. Catherine's Monastery, you should think about renting a car. With a little bargaining, you should be able to rent something small but reliable for around LE165 to LE220 ($30-$40/£15-£20) per day.
CRC, Plaza Mall, Naama Bay (tel. 069/3601297), is cheap, but the Peugeots they rent can be dirty and in rough shape. Rates start around LE165 ($30/£15) a day with about a LE1-per-kilometer (20¢/10p) charge after the first 100km (62 miles). It's open daily from 8am to 1pm and from 5 to 10pm.
Avis, Morgana Mall, Naama Bay (tel. 069/3600979), is more expensive, but the cars are generally a little nicer. Rates start around LE248 ($45/£23) a day for a compact model with an extra LE1.35-per-kilometer (25¢/15p) charge. It's open daily from 8am to 1pm and from 5 to 10pm.
Traffic around Sharm is generally quite manageable for an experienced driver, but in the summer months take care of the Gulf Arabs playing testosterone-fueled racing games on the public streets.
Banks and change offices abound in Sharm, and most hotels accept major credit cards and will also accept payment in foreign currency (dollars and euros). You can also change money at the going rate at the airport.
Travco, Bank's Road, Ras Um El Sid (tel. 069/3660764 or 069/3660765; fax 069/3664256), is one of the few good travel agents that operates throughout the country and deals in international bookings as well. The friendly and knowledgeable staff at Spring Tours, Um El Sid Hill (tel. 069/3664427), makes it my choice for booking local activities.