Written on: 13/04/2006 by ivan1890 (23 reviews written)
SHARM EL SHEIKH is a relatively new Asian resort situated on the tip of the Sinai peninsular between the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Arabia and is approximately 320 minutes flying time from Bristol International Airport - one of several U.K. airports connecting to this resort.
The resort's airport is located approximately 20 minutes drive from a resort which effectively comprises several thousand acres of imported very fine gravel laid over rock, with the entire district surrounded by mountains. A truly artificial environment which although presently less than half developed already strains the very narrow beaches and scuba dive locations.
Most of the hotels are located a considerable distance from the resort's several bays and are built on long 'Milton Keynes' type highways - some of which run for several miles. It is absolutely essential to book into a five star hotel as the Egyptian hotel rating system cannot be compared with the U.K. system which has far higher standards, and it is also desirable to find one which has its own beach as most beaches are privately owned - albeit one can rent a bed and sun canopy for between £2.20 and £3.00 per person per day on most private beaches. If one has to book into a budget hotel then the three star 'Sun Rise' hotel (not to be confused with its five star counterpart) offers very good value and was far better than the four star hotel in which I stayed. The 'Sun Rise' Hotel appeared clean and attractive and did not stink of drains. My four star hotel was not even equipped with bathroom 'U' bends! Most hotel rooms have refrigerators but not kettles. The best beach location for both food and snorkelling is located at the El Fanar Italian Restaurant / private beach.
To move around one ideally uses one of the franchised taxis permanently parked in front of your hotel as one then simply agrees a price in advance with the driver and that is what the driver charges. Expect to pay around £2.50 for a 3-4 mile journey. If requested your driver will wait for you, with very little cost for waiting time, with a return journey only costing slightly more than a single journey if at all. Whilst the roads are inundated (one every 50 metres or so) with ancient blue and white Peugeot 505 taxis (few fitted with seat belts) many of the drivers are totally untrustworthy. If they are unfamiliar with your destination expect to be dumped anywhere. They are also prone to argue over pre-agreed fares and rarely admit to having change. One accidentally drove off with one of my bags and then demanded a small fortune to give it back!
Currency is the Egyptian pound which presently exchanges at around 10.50 EP / 1.00 £
at HSBC in Nama Bay, or expect to receive 9.50 EP / 1.00£ from your Hotel's Cashier. Expect HSBC one day to only have 100.00EP notes and possibly the next day nothing but 5.00EP notes. Money comes by lorry from Cairo and never arrives with a spread of denominations and whilst coins appear in the Cairo currency they are not seen in Sharm! Do not expect anyone to admit to having change so it is best to obtain small denominations - when available. These are incredibly bulky, but one can usually rent a hotel safety deposit box for around £2.50 a week.
Expect to haggle over everything! Local workers earn approximately £40.00 per month and view western European travellers as millionaires whom they try and exploit for every last penny. A beach newspaper vendor will be quite happy to haggle for ten minutes or more over the price of an old copy of the 'Daily Mail.'Some local prices can be inflated 25 times - eg. Medicines. (For fair priced medicines visit the chemist situated on the main road outside of Old Sharm Market - towards the Hyperbaric Medical Centre). There are many internet cafes and prices vary from £1.00 from a cheap I.C. to £4.00 (per 30 minutes) charged by a hotel. International telephone cards are available but there did not appear to be anywhere where they could be used and new cards litter the streets! Do not receive international calls by Vodaphone. That company charged me £18.00 for receiving a 2 minute call from England. Hotels normally charge around £1.00 per minute for international calls, but like almost every business at the resort they inflate and cheat, so keep a detailed record of hotel 'extras.'
Find a cheap local 'supermarket' (corner shop) which sells fairly priced water - around 20 pence for a large tall bottle, as one can be charged around £1.00 for a mini water bottle on the beach. DO NOT DRINK TAP WATER. It is lethal and one even needs to use bottled water for teeth cleaning. Hotel gardens and grass verges are watered direct from the nearest septic tank so do not get accidentally sprayed by one of the gardeners who invariably never even bothers wearing gloves. Also, stay well clear of hotel gardeners who appear to be spraying steam onto plants. Such is mosquito killer!
Both taxi drivers and shop keepers are pushy beyond belief: The highways (recently converted from dirt tracks into good quality roads) are a cacophony of beeping horns - aimed to attract pedestrians' attention - and a walk through any local market will result in several local traders trying to talk you into their shop. Some can be quite unpleasant if you do not buy so do not converse other than uttering a firm "No thank you" and look no local trader in the eye as such provides them with great encouragement. The initial over the top friendliness of local traders is largely totally false. (Many of the traders' shop windows bear the sticker 'No to the infidel religion and those who attack us. There is no God but Mohammed.'Unless of course you enjoy a 'hard sell' the extent of which I have seen no-where else in the world. Certainly most everyone I met on my two weeks' break avoided the markets like the plague, except for flying visits on the run - to grab a few holiday presents.
Although local markets essentially offer a plethora of largely poor quality tourist memorabilia (mostly hubble bubble pipes) good quality 'T' shirts can be obtained for £3.50 each, or £4.50 for those with quality embroidery. But expect to be asked to pay at least double these prices. Holiday clothing will usually run out as a 9.30 am short walk will saturate one's clothing with perspiration within ten minutes or so. So, one could change one's clothing at least twice a day in order to remain comfortable. The weather is consistently hot and late afternoons / evenings are the only comfortable periods.
Medical insurance is absolutely essential. Do not, like me, find yourself at 2.30 p.m. at the Sharm International Hospital as a medical emergency or you could be told that all the emergency equipment is locked up in Out Patients and so come back when it re-opens at 6 p.m! Medical insurance will access an emergency doctor service and ambulance to a private clinic. For diving associated injuries it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to go direct to the local experts - Dr. Adel Taher & Associates, Hyperbaric Medical Centre, Sharm El-Sheikh - one mile beyond Old Sharm Market on the coast road. Tel: 069 3660922 /3 Mobile: 012 212 42 92. Few locals speak good English, but many locals respond to "Dr. Adel, Hyperbaric Medical." Divers will readily appreciate how important it is to know this.
There are between 60 and 100 local diving centres (many annexed to hotels) as this is one of the very best diving and snorkelling locations in the world. Four day courses are readily available, during most times of the year, for the 'Open Water' diving course qualification, with the possibility of a further two days in order to obtain an 'Advanced Certificate' - enabling successful students to scuba dive up to 30 metres. As many of the world's better diving sites are this deep the Open Water qualification of 19 metres is often insufficient.
One of the best experiences of my life was snorkelling at El Fanar: At high tide swimming 80 metres (in one metre of water) over beautiful coral and plants and exquisite marine fish - close enough to almost touch - to the coral reef which drops into 30 plus metres of breathtaking beauty which words could not do justice to. The water is gin clear with twenty or more metres of perfect visibility generally being possible. Whilst one can purchase fins, snorkel and mask locally, please remember that if you have defective vision you will need prescription lenses fitting into a diving mask or goggles before travelling. (Please see my review on 'Axis Opticals').
Whilst the local pink jelly fish are allegedly non-poisonous the spikey sea urchins hiding within rock crevices can cause immense pain. And, their barbed spines cannot be removed. I still occasionally scream with pain over one week after suffering this type of foot injury. So, do not paddle in the sea unless 100% sure that it is safe to do so.
Most hotels have nightly entertainment between 11 pm and 2 am and there is little else to do in an evening other than visit a casino, or 'The Hard Rock Cafe' or 'The Black House' which are both located in Nama Bay. My visit to 'The Black House' was one of the best nights out of my life and I have never seen a night club run better.
Sharm is predicted to become within the next few years the new 'Las Vagas' of Egypt which is very sad as there is simply not enough beach space to accommodate a large throughput of visitors. And, in peak months the diving locations must get far beyond over-crowded.
Would I recommend the resort? It has endless sunshine, fantastic diving and snorkelling locations, and multifarious food (for carnivores) at good prices. For the serious diver / snorkeller I would recommend an out of high season visit, but for the general holiday maker - "No," unless one simply wishes to sit in the sun all day. Incidentally at least Factor 30 sun cream is essential and take loads of it. Locally made sun cream is no better than asses' milk and you could easily get sun stroke if you rely on it.
Forget about hiring a car - it's too dangerous to travel out of the resort except by coach or air. Following last year's bombings police and security guards are everywhere and entrances to hotels come close to resembling airport security. But if you do hire a car then expect to pay 9 pence per litre for fuel!
I am told (but have not checked it) than an Egypt visa costs £10.00 in the U.K. and £12.00 at Sharm airport. However, the airport staff always ask for £15.00 (and presumably pocket £3.00 a visitor) and forget to mention that a visa is only necessary if you leave your resort to visit other parts of Egypt. So, apparently one can simply state at Sharm airport "No visa necessary." I met holidaymakers in the know who had successfully done this.
Vegetarian and vegan visitors need to take for example a suitcase full of dried meals and a kettle. For a nice hot meal ask your hotel chef to cook you 'Kosheri' using bottled water. This is fine local vegan food which is only given to local workers, not to hotel guests as the Egyptians consider that a meal without meat is only eaten by peasants. However, expect chef and his staff to consider you totally mad. Chef will often acquiesce in a request to cook this food but expect to pay a cash backhander of £5.00 per diner and also expect to have to swear to tell no-one!
For Eastern Europeans accessing this review please appreciate that a holiday to Sharm costs much more than you might expect as prices overall equate with the West, not the third world.
I doubt that I will ever return to Sharm but its unique experience will stay with me for ever.