First holiday with my boy, first time to Egypt, and first travel feature published in Bedfordshire on Sunday earlier this summer. As one of the main reasons I took geography (because I somehow thought it’d help my career sail towards that of a… travel writer?), it was a bit of a deal to get it in print.
So here ya go!
SMELLY and irritable (no, not me as I got off the flight, says BIANCA CHADDA), the awful sound my camel made when I sat on it was a little daunting. But I’ll admit; riding a camel provided a bit more leg room than the Thomas Cook jet. It may only be five hours away, but boy was my trip to Egypt out of this world. The plane was cramped, but the 36C breeze as we got off made up for it.
When you arrive at the airport expect to be herded, much like a camel in fact, towards the visa desk. If you’re planning any excursions, you’ll need to buy one of these.
Sharm El Sheikh, meaning ‘the bay of the Sheikh’, has gone from just three hotels in 1982, to more than 320 today. But don’t worry; the huge tourism industry won’t stop you from getting any authentic Egyptian culture.
Getting on our transfer bus was our first experience of the Egyptian expectation of tipping. A man stopped us putting our cases in the hold, just so he could do it and then ask for a tip. Hand held out, he demanded money. My boyfriend and I exchanged awkward glances. “We have no money,” we said in sync. He hissed and turned to the next tourists, leaving us a little scared our cases wouldn’t make it to the hotel.
Just fifteen minutes from the airport, The Three Corners Palmyra looked rather grand with its terracotta coloured domes and arches. But it was the incredibly helpful staff that made the hotel the most amazing place to stay, so remember to tip before you leave if you think they did a good job.
Sharm’s Old Market is a barrel of laughs, if hassle from Egyptian shopkeepers is your sort of thing. I can’t deny that it’s an extraordinarily cultural place. I mean, we saw a boy on stage swinging a cobra around his head, camels carrying anxious looking tourists and cats roaming the streets like pigeons, but ladies, don’t wander anywhere alone as it might not be safe.
If the hassle gets a little too much, pay Soho Square a visit. It’s much more westernised, with a British bar and plenty of English tourists. It’s the best of both worlds, with all the Egyptian shops but none of the full-on shopkeepers. With bars, clubs and even free wi-fi, it’s a must-do night out.
Naama Bay, one of the first tourist establishments in Sharm, is your place to go for a drink and a bite to eat. Not without its home comforts in the form of McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC, there are still lots of authentic Bedouin bars, complete with dancing and shisha for all the culture vultures. Expect some hassle here too, but probably more for the bars and restaurants than in the Camden-esque shops.
Our hotel had a private beach in Shark’s Bay, where we took like ducks to the warm Red Sea waters, spending hours snorkelling off the shallow, coral-lined shores. As one of the world’s top three locations to dive, Sharm has, in my opinion, even more beauty underwater than on shore.
We took a surprisingly cheap day trip, snorkelling with amazing English-run dive company Ocean College, who took us to Ras Mohammed National Park. Here we had the luck to catch a glimpse of, not only sea turtles, but a breathtakingly colossal Manta Ray.
Coinciding with my 21st birthday, we took an excursion into the middle of the Sinai Desert, where we met lots of Bedouin children who helped us up onto our camels, ready for a ride to their camp for tea.
We tasted some authentic dinner, consisting of humous, chicken, salad and incredibly sweet Bedouin tea, it was a real experience. That and the funky dancing around the campfire, the happy birthday singsong just for me and Ashley getting his groove on in a Bedouin dance-off.
We also did some stargazing, where a very nice Egyptian man used a super-strong laser to point out constellations before we had a peek through an amazing telescope to see Saturn (the planet with the rings!)
Despite the often barren desert landscape, and besides having to put your toilet paper in a bin and not down the toilet, Sharm is most definitely charming, and I’d recommend it in a flash. With so much ancient culture, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and breathtaking views both on land and off, it’s a place to visit before you die, for sure.
Mind you, I think I’d take a bus over a camel any day.