“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Mark Twain
Situated between arid mountains and a stretch of coast offering world renowned watersports, Dahab is a playground for those looking for an active holiday in the sun, topped off with delicious dining and warm hospitality.
An hour north of Sharm el Sheik on the Sinai Peninsular, Dahab first gained popularity in the 1960s as a hippy enclave, and that relaxed vibe remains today. The pace of life is slower here than in the larger resort towns. The waterfront is lined with small and medium hotels while the town of Masbat bustles with independent stores and restaurants which welcome, rather than hustle for business.
Watersports are the main attraction with windsurfing, sailing, kiteboarding, diving, freediving and snorkelling accessible directly from the shore. For landlubbers there is mountain biking and climbing, camel safaris or, for those wanting to tune in to the relaxed vibe, yoga.
I’ve visited several times now as part of a group windsurfing and sailing holiday, organised by Datchet Watersports. The Coralia hotel, a former Neilson resort, is perfectly situated on a sandy bay just south of Masbat town and offers calm waters and medium strength winds, perfect for all levels of windsurfing ability. At the end of a day on the water, windsurfers migrate back across the bay towards the setting sun, as the mountains turn from orange to purple to brown as the light fades, picture perfect! Back at the beach, with the air still hot, windsurfers congregate on the beach for a sunset beer to compare their day’s successes.
For dinner and nightlife, Masbat has numerous restaurants offering local and European cuisine – try the local options for the best meal. Later, several bars offer music and dancing with a laid back party atmosphere until the early hours. Crucially, as a single female, I’ve always felt safe walking through the town on my own, this is a town where you can truly relax.
The early winter months are my favourite time to visit. The crowds thin out and the sun is still hot but not strong, meaning you can enjoy the sun all day with little chance of burning, and there’s plenty of room on the beach and in the town’s best restaurants.
Egypt has gone through a tough time in recent years, with several countries advising against travel to the region for safety reasons. This has had a significant impact on the region, but the tourist industry is hanging in there. Having felt so welcomed during my visits there I hope it recovers soon, as the region has so much to offer.
Sinai Mountain Climb
This was one of the highlights of the region for me. Mount Sinai is over 2000 metres high, with nothing but nature for miles around so the views are pure nature, and breathtaking. Typically the climb starts at a point an hour’s drive from Dahab at around midnight, climbing through the night to reach the summit for sunrise.
We hired a personal guide, which for 5 of us was the same total cost as joining a larger group, and ascended up a path less travelled, only merging with the hundreds of other climbers near the top. While we climbed gingerly over loose rock with head torches, our Bedouin guide led us without a torch, knowing every step of the way. He seemed to know when we needed a rest stop, during which he shared history and anecdotes about the mountain and region.
Although the four hour climb is hard, there are rest stops along the way with makeshift huts built into the mountain selling refreshments and snacks, all available for around £1 despite the arduous journey to transport supplies up the mountain. Sitting in one of the huts drinking hot coffee, we watched other climbers, some on camel back, snake lazily past the doorway in the dark outside, kicking a haze of mountain dust into the air.
Just below the mountain peak we congregated with other climbers in a tiny settlement of shacks offering food, drink and blankets for hire. Summiting the final steps just before sunrise, we watched as the sun crept over the distant mountain range, instantly warming the air.
According to the bible, Mount Sinai is where Moses was given the Ten Commandments by god so a lot of religious groups climb to pray as the sun rises, greeting it with chanting and singing, it’s really quite atmospheric.
The two to three hour climb back down on tired legs is a race against the ever increasing heat, finishing at St Catherine’s Monastery where the famous burning bush is still alive and remarkably green.
Sleep deprived and tired, a few of our intrepid group jumped straight onto windsurfers for a day on the water, while I retreated to a shady bamboo beach shack to catch up on sleep.
One of our group had struggled with the climb. It was, he said, the hardest thing he’d ever done, but by the end of the following evening he was regaling friends with the experience. As with much of life, the hard work was worth the reward.
Windsurfing and sailing
The bay just south of the main town of Masbat is shallow, clear and deliciously warm. The winds in the bay are good for beginners to intermediate, with some advanced conditions just outside the bay during summer months. Some of the resorts along the beach offer watersports kit for hire and training.
There are several dive operators who visit some great dive spots up and down the coast, having avoided mass tourism the reef is still in relatively good condition. With little current and no tide the area is great for beginners and equally enjoyable for more experienced divers. Diving is often from the shore, and most locations have beach shacks offering coffee and snacks before or after your dive, a really nice local experience.
Freediving and snorkelling
A couple of miles north of the main town is the world famous blue hole. A sink hole 94 metres deep, it’s popular with freedivers, while the surrounding coral reef is great for snorkelling.
Mountain biking and quad biking
Mountain biking and quad biking are widely available here, with routes up into the surrounding mountains. Trips often include tea in a Bedouin settlement.