Hubby and I just got back from an amazing week in the Egyptian sunshine and thought I would share a few tips for traveling to and around Sharm El Sheikh (hotel review here) – this is some of the stuff we found out along the way, but that would have been useful to know in advance…
VISAS – required by most, regardless of nationality. If you are visiting from the UK like we did, I can recommend the great service we got from Hussain at Instant Visas (www.instantvisas.com) who helped us to organise ours in advance (cost us around £30-£40 each)
RECENT UNREST – despite all the recent political violence and problems in Cairo etc that you have probably seen on the news, Sharm was very peaceful and quite unaffected, and I would comfortable say that you don’t need to worry about any of that stuff when arriving/while staying there* (check out the latest news here)
THE PEOPLE – we experienced great service from those working in and around the hotel, and everyone we came across was super friendly in general, always wanting to know your name and where you were from and to make polite chit chat. We only felt uncomfortable when it came to visiting the market (read about the ‘hasslers’ in SHOPPING below) but otherwise the friendliness and sincerity of the locals was impressive. Most people can speak a little English which helps when you don’t know a word of Arabic :) FYI – a nice word to learn and use is: shukran (kind of pronounced like “shook-raan”) which means thank you.
Cute little Egyptian girl…
CURRENCY – admittedly, we should have done our research first… Kind of just arrived at the airport on the day we were leaving and thrusted some cash at the lady working the Bureau De Change booth, requesting ‘Egyptian money’. She handed us some Egyptian Pounds (LE) and that was that. Until we got to Egypt and found that most things were priced in US dollars! Not a problem though, the locals are very happy to convert for you and to take whatever you have on you (sometimes they will even take your GB Pounds!) but working between three different currencies can get confuzzling so… A basic ‘rule’ that you can apply is: LE100 = £10 and anything priced in $ can be multiplied by 6 to reach an approximate LE value**
TIME – Egypt is +2 hours GMT (so two hours ahead of those of us based in the UK, and same time as those of you in SA!)
WINTER WEATHER – the Egyptian winter is mild, warm and sunny during the day, cooler at night – if you are going over the this period, make sure you take a jersey for the evenings or for when it gets windy, but pack your sunblock and hat for the day-time because you will definitely still need them
FLIES – the buzzy, really annoying kind – they are everywhere. Just deal. If this is something that is going to really bother you, invest in some sort of insect repellent and/or a fly swatter to take along!
WATER – don’t drink any water straight from a tap – run yourself a bath and you will see why! Fine to shower in but would recommend that only bottled water is consumed during your stay. Luckily we didn’t have any problems with ‘the dreaded tummy bug’ but I have heard enough horror stories not to even take a chance – same goes for: brushing your teeth with tap water, washing fruit/veg in tap water etc. Just be careful :)
PLUGS – random, I know, but useful to know if you want to buy an adapter for your hair straightener or phone charger or whatever before you go! Egyptian plug sockets look like this, and as you can probably see, you will need a two-prong round-pin adapter to fit in them…
TIPPING – where I come from tipping is something you do at your own discretion, when you’ve really enjoyed an experience, or when you have experienced really good service etc and want to show your appreciation… Apparently in Egypt, tipping is a given. It is expected that you tip for pretty much everything including transfer bus drivers/camel herdsman/tour guides/housekeeping etc… When you sign up for those all inclusive outings (for example, the “desert safari/camel riding/snorkeling trip with lunch” that we went on), make sure you take some change along because “all inclusive” is never all inclusive!
SHOPPING – have to admit I was a bit disappointed on the shopping front… We hit the market in Naama Bay with great expectations: I was hoping for beautiful textiles, handmade crafts and authentic treasures, but was confronted instead with mainly with the same touristy crap in every shop! Not saying that you can’t lay your hands on some great offerings (think hookah/shisha sets and interesting Egyptian perfumes/oils to name a few) but have to say, the knock-off clothing/bags/glasses; Made-in-China magnets, trinkets and other junk; and mass produced papyrus ‘art’ didn’t impress us much… Perhaps we should have visited the Old Sharm Market to see if there was anything different there, but after experiencing the ‘hassling’ at the one we went to (seemingly friendly shopkeepers trying every trick in the book to get you into their shops and not taking no for an answer!) we were too exhausted to try again!
HAGGLING – a.k.a bargaining or negotiating – DO IT! Don’t be shy or feel bad about it, the locals expect it and they know (or at least they think!) that you are a tourist with cash to burn, so they’ll also try to get the best deal out of you! If you do find something you like and want to buy, it’s a great way to get some good deals and it can make the experience quite fun if you enjoy that sort of a challenge! I’m obviously not saying that you need to rip the guy off, but at least try to get some sort of discount that is fair for you both :)
STUFF TO DO
– there are loads of water-based activities to try in Sharm because of it’s beautiful coastline: swimming, snorkeling, diving, parasailing, water skiing and boating to name a few. We went on a submarine trip that allowed us to view the marine life and coral reefs without getting wet (if you go, make sure half your party sits on right side, and the the other half sits on the left so that you can swap and see everything), and we also hired a speed boat to take us on a visit to the beautiful uninhabited Tiran Island
and ship-wreck nearby… As previously mentioned above, we also went on a safari-type adventure that had us bouncing around the desert in 4×4’s and trundling along on the backs of grunting camels – not the only way to explore the dunes though! Why not pick up a dune buggy or 4-wheelers and ride off into the sunset! All these sorts of activities can be organised locally, I definitely dont think there is need to book in advance – generally the people at your hotel reception will be able to provide more info, otherwise there are loads of tour companies around that all provide similar deals.
*a safe judgement at the time this post was written
**a correct approximation at the time this post was written, definitely worth checking again before you go…
Hubby, parasailing in the sunshine…
ALL IN ALL – I WOULD DEFINITELY RECOMMEND A VISIT TO SHARM, IT REALLY WAS A MAGICAL HOLIDAY x