Earlier this summer, I took advantage of a four-day weekend to explore a nearby country I had yet to visit — Egypt!
As Ramadan comes to an end each year, the Muslim world celebrates Eid Al Fitr — Feast of Breaking the Fast — which marks the end of a month of fasting. Eid also means a four-day weekend for celebrations. To take advantage this time off of work, relax, and explore somewhere I hadn’t been before, I headed to the Sinai Peninsula to check out the resort town of Sharm el Sheikh.
Sharm el Sheikh, or just “Sharm” as it’s known, has been referred to as the Las Vegas of the region. Located out in the desert of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and on the Red Sea, the resort town is a popular tourist destination for those from the Middle East and also Europe. It has amazing snorkeling and diving, sandy beaches, and a beautiful background of desert mountains.
When making plans to travel to Egypt, many people asked us: “Is it safe to travel to Sharm el Sheikh?” Due to a terrorist attack in October 2015 and ongoing insecurity in the Sinai, many tourists have stopped visiting Sharm. However, Egypt has taken steps to increase security at the airport and throughout the Sharm el Sheik resort area. Today, the greatest security concerns are inland in the Sinai rather in the resort town. The U.S. Government maintains security warnings for traveling to Egypt; however, “U.S. Mission personnel are permitted to travel to and from Sharm el Sheik by air” (July 2017). During our visit to Sharm, we never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. However, due to the security situation, we decided not to leave the Sharm area and venture further into the Sinai. (Although, one day I hope to visit St. Catherine’s Monastery!)
Arriving to Sharm el Sheikh
We arrived to Sharm after a quick hour-long flight from Amman. The airport was modern and efficient, and, as we were staying in the Sharm area for less than two weeks, we didn’t even have to get a visa. We waited in a short line at immigration and then met a driver from our hotel just outside the airport. (Note: While arranging a car from our hotel was a bit expensive for the short ride, we’d heard mixed information about how easy it was to get a reasonably priced taxi from the airport and many stories about tourists getting ripped off with few options. So, we decided to just arrange a car with our hotel.)
Arriving at our hotel at 10:30 am, I was worried that we would have to wait hours for our room; however, we checked in, were invited to have a welcome drink in the lobby (our all-inclusive package started the moment we arrived!), and then 15 minutes later we were ferried via golf car to our beautiful room at the Cleopatra Resort.
Where to Stay in Sharm el Sheikh
The Cleopatra Resort is located in the Nabq Bay area, just north of the airport and north of Na’ama Bay, which is the most famous area of Sharm el Sheikh. Being our first trip to Sharm and that I wanted to have a relaxing, low-key vacation, we decided to stay a bit further from the action of Na’ama Bay, but somewhere that we could easily take a taxi from to check out the other areas. (A taxi cost us just around 100 Egyptian pounds, or $5, from the hotel to the Old Market.) I was very pleased with our choice!
The Cleopatra is in a beautiful location across the water from Tiran Island. And, while there are resorts on either side, the beach wasn’t cramped or crowded. The sandy beach was full of lounge chairs and umbrellas and a pier led out into the water where you could spend your day snorkeling. The resort also had several pools, restaurants, and bars.
What to Do in Sharm el Sheikh
Once we arrived to Sharm el Sheikh, we were set on having a relaxing vacation. Honestly, I rarely have relaxing vacations. I mean, if you don’t come back home completely exhausted, was it really a vacation…? (Kidding…kind of….) Despite my record of not relaxing on vacation, we were intent on enjoying some R&R and belatedly celebrating our wedding anniversary (six years!) while in Egypt.
Based on our quick trip to Sharm, I can say that it is an ideal place to rest, relax, and even celebrate a special occasion.
Here are my top five recommendations for what to do in Sharm:
1. Book an All-Inclusive Package
In addition to not taking relaxing vacations, I’ve also never stayed at an all-inclusive resort before. When we were selecting our hotel in Sharm, we found that due to few tourists coming to the area that prices for not just 5-star resorts, but all-inclusive 5-star resorts were extremely cheap. (Including being much cheaper than spending the weekend staying in Jordan and going to the Dead Sea.) All-inclusive packages at the Cleopatra included all meals, drinks (water, soda, local spirits and wine, and juice – but not fresh juice, that’s extra!), and snacks (ice cream, crepes, waffles, and more!).
Upon arrival, hotel staff provided a list of what exactly what was included in the package and where you could eat/drink at various times throughout the day. We also wore wristbands while at the resort so it was clear which package we were on.
2. Spend the Day at the Beach
My favorite part of Sharm was the beach. While we went on a popular holiday weekend, there were never any more than 10 other people down on the beach. I loved the beautiful views, sitting under an umbrella listening to the waves come in, and reading and napping the day away. It was heaven!
One of the things that I loved most about Cleopatra (and one of the reasons that I selected this hotel) was that there was snorkeling at the resort — just about 100 meters from the beach. I liked that we didn’t have to leave the hotel or take a boat elsewhere to explore underwater. Whenever we were in the mood for snorkeling, a beautiful, underwater world was just a 5-minute walk from our hotel room. Off the hotel’s pier was a wall of coral, filled with brightly colored fish as far left, right, and down into the water as one could see. The wall of coral dropped 25 meters into the water and exploring it made for the perfect afternoon activity. (Plus, hotel staffer Ibrahim was extremely helpful in getting everything set up for us anytime we wanted to come snorkel.)
4. Trip to the Old Market and Na’ama Bay Promenade
While I absolutely loved the beach, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to check out the Old Market, as well as the popular Na’ama Bay, while visiting Sharm el Sheik. Just a quick 15-20-minute taxi ride from Nabq Bay, we spent an afternoon exploring the more famous part of Sharm.
The stores and stalls of Sharm’s Old Market primarily catered to tourists selling souvenirs, snorkels, sunglasses, spices, and shisha-smoking accessories. There were also a number of restaurants and juice stands around; however, as it was still Ramadan when we visited so these were not open during the day.
The most impressive part of the Old Market area was the breathtaking Al-Sahaba Mosque, which was inaugurated in March 2017. It is unique and one of the most beautiful mosques I’ve seen in all of my travels. While it’s hard to pull yourself from the beach in Sharm, I highly recommend taking the time to see the Al-Sahaba Mosque in person.
After visiting the Old Market and mosque, grab a taxi just down the road to Na’ama Bay. Here, there are a seemingly endless number of restaurants, cafes, and clubs. If you continue walking, you’ll reach the promenade, which divides the hotels from the beach and is a nice place for an afternoon stroll. Along the promenade, there are also numerous vendors who can set up excursions for you around the Sharm area or to other parts of the Sinai.
5. Enjoy Your Resort’s Amenities