Low-key, laid-back and low-rise, Dahab continues its ongoing evolution into the Middle East’s prime beach resort for independent travellers. The startling transformation from dusty Bedouin outpost to spruced-up tourist village is not without its detractors, who reminisce fondly of the days when you dossed in basic huts by the shore. But for all the starry-eyed memories of ‘the good old days’, there are plenty of plusses that have come with prosperity. Diving is now a much safer and more organised activity thanks to better regulation of operators; the shoreside restaurants have calmed down their touting to become more friendly ‘hello’ than sales barrage; and it’s cleaner and much more family-friendly, offering accommodation choices for everyone rather than just hardened backpackers.
Meaning ‘gold’ in Arabic – a reference to the area’s sandy coastline (despite the main tourist area having no golden sands to speak of) – Dahab is the perfect base from which to explore some of Egypt’s most spectacular diving and snorkelling. A short walk or jeep ride will bring you to plenty of the Red Sea’s most memorable dive sites, and a boat can bring you within easy striking distance of the world-class reefs in nearby Ras Mohammed National Park. Predominantly a Bedouin enclave at its heart, Dahab is also the preferred base for organising guided trekking and camel excursions into the interior deserts, as well as to the lofty heights of Mt Sinai.
This is the one town on the south Sinai Peninsula where independent travellers are the rule rather than the exception and Dahab’s growth has not destroyed its budget-traveller roots. Reeled in by a fusion of hippy mellowness and resort chic (where good cappuccino and sushi are as much a part of the action as cheap rooms and herds of goats fossicking in the back alleys), many travellers plan a few nights here and instead stay for weeks. If Dahab is in your sights, be forewarned – after a few days of crystal-clear diving, desert trekking, oceanside dinners and countless sheesha sessions, you’re probably going to want to cancel the rest of your itinerary.