While the town still has a beatnik feel, it attracts myriad people, from New Age families to wetsuit-clad scuba divers who flock to experience the wonders of the Red Sea. With solid infrastructure in place to encourage the pursuit, it’s little wonder the area has become world renowned.
Also known as the Golden City (Dahab means ‘gold’ in Arabic) and the Koh Samui of the Middle East, the resort town hasn’t been without its setbacks. On April 24 this year, its usual placidity was rocked by three bombs that killed 23 and injured 80, including Australians. However, a dogged defiance by locals and tourists alike has seen little impact on tourism as it continues to be a travel highlight for everyone who treks through the Ancient Country. Many find solace in Dahab’s golden beaches, relaxed vibes and stark mountain backdrop.
Swaying palms, fine sand and a sparkling sea set a scene here that’s up to you how to utilise. Breathe easy with a book on a sun lounge in one of the beachfront cafés, have a splash around or don some snorkelling or scuba diving gear and get up close and personal with the sea life. You can hire a snorkel for next to nothing or tackle an introductory scuba dive for about £30 from one of the many diving clubs dotted about the town centre. Although I didn’t plunge further than a few metres during my dive at The Light House (perfect spot for first-timers, only a few metres from the shore), a whole new world decorated with angel and clownfish and fire and vegetable coral presented itself. Remember to take mental photographs so your instructor can let you know what you saw when you resurface.
When the sun goes down
You’ll be happy to know normal retail hours do not apply here with many of the shops and stalls opening well into the night. Dahab has all the goodies available at the more well-known Cairo and Aswan souks, but with a couple of differences: prices tend to be a little cheaper and the stall owners aren’t as pushy. It’s a good place to buy a sheesha pipe and some apple tobacco, jewellery and clothing.
When it comes to tucker time, there’s a fine selection of open-air eateries and plenty of seafood on offer, much of it on display to entice you in. Friends Restaurant on the waterfront is a top choice. With a motto of come as a guest, leave as a friend” and waiters so smiley you’d think they’d won the lottery, who can resist? Whether you’re after seafood, a mixed grill, pasta or a vegetarian meal, these guys are right onto it.
Dahab also knows how to party, so make sure you sample the nightlife. The Shipwreck Bar and Tota Dance Bar are usually throbbing with cheesy (but fun) dance music and sheesha pipe-sucking tourists.
This is said to be the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Whether he did or not, Mt Sinai offers one of the most spectacular views you’ll ever see. The only catch? It’s a 90-minute bus ride to reach the mountain and a further two-hour hike to the top of the 2285m summit. However, Dahab is the best base from which to embark on this outing and if you can’t hack the pace, there are camel herders available to aid your journey (for a small fee). Unlike in the days of Moses, there are shacks selling drinks and snacks to help charge your upward surge.
With its rise in reputation, accommodation has sprung up leaving visitors with a choice between anything from a selection of red huts and simple camps (for the most skinflint of backpackers) to hostels and resort hotels. For the bottom end, check out Sunsplash (www.sunsplash-divers.com), while those more flush should check into Hilton Dahab Resort (www.hilton.com) and enjoy its spacious pool and private beach.
Additional information supplied by Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com). The eighth edition of Lonely Planet Egypt is out now.
Kim Smith travelled to Egypt with On The Go (020-7371 1113; www.onthegotours.com). Their 14-day King Ramses tour starts at £459.
Bonus points for: Late night shopping!
Loses marks for: Bit far off the beaten track
Check out: www.touregypt.net