Details correct as at March 2005, exchange rate £1 = LE11 approx.
Whilst given in good faith, no responsibility is accepted for reliability of this information – you should check and confirm for yourself regarding visas etc.
Airport and Visas
The situation regarding visa requirements is somewhat confused, if you intend to leave Sinai (this may include some trips to the northern areas) or are staying longer than a week then you will need one. Stays of 7 days, in the southern Sinai (Sharm area) seem not to need one – you simply write SINAI ONLY on the back of the landing card you will be given on the plane.
If you do need a visa then the price seems unclear $15, £15 or whatever (as long as it’s 15 and in non Egyptian currency). Visas can be bought at the airport on arrival.
Whether you need a visa, have one already, or just don’t know; you will be herded to the desks where you can buy one. After this you have to go through passport control and get your passport stamped.
The arrivals hall is simply not big enough if a couple of planes arrive at the same time and the chaos and queues are horrendous – it can take an hour to get to the desk. If you don”t need a visa then you can cut out the queue for the visas and join the one for passport control – but to be honest it”s often difficult to tell where you are.
In fairness; the biggest delays seem to be caused by passengers who haven”t bothered to fill in their landing cards and so the man at the desk has to do it.
Departure is equally as chaotic and crowded and some of the standards in the airport are appalling (the toilets deserve a special mention for filth – despite this you will still be blatantly asked for tips; ‘buy some bleach’ was my tip).
The Naama Bay resort area is kept immaculate and clean and it is probably safe to eat anywhere, there is a wide selection of restaurants and eating places from KFC and McDonalds to more traditional restaurants. In some of the larger restaurants the service standards fall away once you are through the door – but generally they are good.
The resort comprises 2 or 3 main roads where all the cafes, shops and shopping centres are located, the main roads are traffic free and lined with bars/ cafes (not all are licensed).
The standards in Naama are generally excellent and the place is a credit to who ever runs it – some may find it lacking in character, but you have to balance this against the advantages of not being ill and the quality of the surroundings.
Old Sharm is more Egyptian in character and whilst there are modern places to eat, the quality is not always good and others are probably best described as ‘at your own risk’. Old Sharm is generally quite tatty, with rubbish and building rubble lying about – whilst called the ”old town” there is probably nothing here older than 30 years. Worth a trip only for shopping or wandering about. The levels of hassle are greater here – probably because there are less tourists than in Naama Bay.
Expect to pay about LE70 – 80 per person for a typical meal (starter and main). Beer is around LE15 to 20 and wine is about LE80 to 90 per bottle – selection is limited and so is the quality…
Spirits are available in some places, but tend to be expensive at about LE50 per shot. A shish pipe costs LE10.
An honorable mention goes to Dananeer in Naama Bay (last building on the left at the bottom of the main road, entrance via the large wooden staircase), which specialises in seafood, but has a good steak selection as well. Dananeer often has queues, but they seem to move quickly and they don”t seem to need a ”hassler person” on the street – this must tell you something.
Tax and service charge are applied to everything and are usually quoted in the price you see, together these amount to about 25% and are included in the prices shown here.
Shopping and hassle
Expect to be approached constantly with invitations to look in shops, check menu boards etc (especially when you first arrive and are pale skinned!). A variety of tricks are used to get you in, from hand shakes (then not released) to shouting nationalities, a barrage of hellos, luverly jubberly etc, they can then try to make you feel guilty if you don’t respond.
The best best bet is to be firm but polite – just say ‘no thank you’ and walk on, otherwise have a look in the shop if you have time, this seems to placate the owners. Don’t promise to come back later unless you plan to – you WILL be remembered.
This approach can be intimidating at first, but most people are genuinely friendly and they are just trying to get business, most of the shops sell the same thing (jewellery or tourist stuff) so business must be hard…
If you do plan to buy something, or would just like to get a rough idea of what stuff costs; then check before you go (Google: Khan el Khalili Bazaar), prices on this site are in US Dollars.
Forewarned is forearmed – reality gets suspended when they start at several hundred times greater!
Also check quality – many items in shops seem to be damaged and things are not always what they seem – you will be told that statues are carved stone, when they are often quite clearly a heavy plastic resin. If they tell you this get out a lighter and start to hold the flame against the item – the faces are a picture!
Haggling; if you state a price this means that you are willing and committed to pay that much – so don”t mention a price unless you want to pay that amount.
A final shopping tip, if you really want something and especially if it’s expensive; offering to pay in £ sterling can produce a further 10 – 20% discount, so having some £5’s and £10’s can be handy.
It is a good idea to keep small notes as these are often hard to come by and no one seems to have change, so not giving you your change back is a constant problem with taxi drivers and in some shops…
Hotels usually offer exchange facilities, but this is done via a visiting bank official, so may be only be available at certain times of day. Rates are as good as, if not better, than those in the UK.
Naama Bay has several exchange facilities and also HSBC ATM machines.
When receiving change watch that you get LE (£) and not the paise notes (100 paise = LE1), the paise is virtually worthless and to a new arrival they can look similar.
The tour companies will tell you tales of horror about using alternative companies (not being insured etc) – well they would wouldn’t they – however most hotels have booking agencies which seem respectable, so have a look at the prices and compare.
If you decide on a trip make sure to check the full itinerary and get all the details before committing; some of the trips offered turn out to be a nightmare, eg: Cairo in a day – this means a 2.00am departure, a 6 hour journey across the desert, a limited time in Cairo before a 6 hour journey back – not exactly a restful day out.
Similarly, St Catherine’s Monastery; this is only open to the public for 2 hours a day and it will be normal for 20 coaches to turn up (a coach holds upto 50 people). I had reports of huge crushes and being whisked through in a few minutes due to the crowds, they usually tag on a shopping trip to this day out – nothing you can’t get anywhere else.
A rather unusual – and frankly quite cheesy – night out can be had at Alf Leila Wa Leila, this means a 1001 nights… The complex is huge and contains fountains and other exotic displays. Towards the back is an arena where you can eat and see the floor show. The entertainment is all of a Middle Eastern flavour and can get a bit samey. But, on the other hand, I had never seem Whirling Dervishes before and its not like you are missing anything elsewhere.
A final note on trips: you may be offered a chance to swim with dolphins, Dolphin Encounter – or something like that. There are two types available: one where the dolphins are free and living in the sea and the other where the dolphins are captive and kept in very small pools. I would urge you not to support the latter version, these captive versions are not good for the animals’ welfare and by going you are supporting and helping it to continue. There are legal moves afoot to have these captive meets closed, (Google: Marine Connection for information), also consider that the dolphins poo a lot in the water and you are in it too…
Nerves of steel, the reflexes of a gun slinger and the agility of a gazelle are the qualities required to be a passenger in a taxi, so you can imagine the nerve required to drive yourself – a course in anger management or a few doses of prozac might help – in short don’t.
If you do decide to drive: road junctions are somewhat confusing – the concept of roundabouts having largely been abandoned in favour of filter lanes and being allowed to do U turns at various points on dual-carriageways. If you miss a U turn you could have to go a few km to the next one.
Where roundabouts do exist; who has priority seems to be based on size of the vehicle and how much you like the paintwork, it also seems acceptable to do a U turn at a roundabout – without troubling yourself to actually go round the island bit in the middle – if you see what I mean…
As far as Egypt goes, the Sharm El Sheikh area is quite easy to deal with and most people will soon get into the swing of things, having fun with the haggling etc.
Don’t let any hassle get to you – it really is light hearted in the main. You can quite easily have a blazing row with a taxi driver (over the price) and depart 10 minutes later the best of friends.
Most people seem to have what I call an Egyptian Moment at some point when it all gets a bit much and they get to you for whatever reason, but remember; in cash terms the values you are dealing with are often pence, so if you do feel a bit ripped off, put it down to experience and move on.
I would and probably will go back, the area represents tremendous value for money, the weather is excellent and the hotels excellent for the price – or even more.
Finally: if you have any recommendations or updates let me know and I will add them – better still print this page off and show it to taxi drivers, shops etc. The promise of an honest recommendation may start to work wonders, who knows…