After the chaos that we experienced in Cairo, we were ready to have some time to relax in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. We knew that this rest would be important to us since we were headed to Europe from Egypt and had a packed schedule with lots of things that we wanted to see before we returned to the USA.
Go Bus from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh
There were a decent number of flights from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh on EgyptAir, but they were around $100 each. Since we were working on a budget and had friends with us who were also working on a budget, we looked into taking the bus.
I was pretty excited when I found the Go Bus as they had direct buses from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh, without any stops in between, for only 130LE or $16. We booked our tickets for the early morning bus which allowed us the maximum amount of time at the beach.
The bus was not very full when we left, so we moved to the back of the bus where nobody was sitting. We were each able to have 2 seats to ourselves which was a lot more comfortable since we had a lot more space. I was happy to see that our ticket price included a box breakfast with 2 different types of rolls, a juice box and bottle of water.
Security was pretty tight on the route as we had to go through the Suez Canal and over to the Sinai Peninsula. Several times during our trip, the bus stopped and was checked. After spending over a week in Egypt, we had gotten used to the high level of security and were not overly surprised that there would be so many security checkpoints along the route. The only thing that was surprising to the security officers was the fact that there was a group of foreigners taking the bus. I assume that the majority of tourists that travel around Egypt end up flying or taking organized tours.
Our tickets said that the ride would be 5 hours, but it ended up taking us 7 hours to get where we needed to go. Even though it took longer than we would have liked, it ended up working out alright since the price was so much less than taking a flight.
Tamra Beach Resort
Throughout our trip, we have been pretty good about keeping within our budget of $50 or less per night for lodging. Since the Egyptian tourism market is down, we were shocked at just how much we were able to get in a resort town within our budget.
When we first saw our room we were shocked by how large it was. Everything was clean and the room felt very much like a resort, the exact opposite of how our rooms had felt for the past few months.
Every day when we were out and about our room was serviced. In addition to our bed being made, the bathroom towels were not only changed out daily, they were also folded in different shapes, something that made the hotel feel more resort like.
Our room had a mini fridge which was great. Before we upgraded to an all inclusive package, we had planned to purchase beers at a store in town, then keep them in our fridge, pulling them out as needed. This plan was foiled when every single store only had non-alcoholic beer available for sale. While this is common in Arabic countries, I was surprised that this was the case in a tourist town.
Similar to the rest of the room, the bathroom was also quite large. We had not only a shower, but also a massive bathtub. The shower was clean and had ample hot water, but the water pressure wasn’t great.
On our last night, Andy and I decided to take a bath. It took forever to fill the tub and before it was full, the water went a little cold. It was still nice to get in and relax, but made me remember that baths always sound better on paper than they do in reality.
When we arrived at the resort, we were impressed by the grounds which were extremely well maintained with lush, manicured gardens and sparkling clean pools. I was surprised how few guests were there. One day we asked Hassan at the front desk if it was normal to have this few guests at the resort in February. He told us that the resort was usually at 80% capacity in February, but didn’t tell us what the current capacity was. If we had to guess we would say it was probably at about 5%. We knew that the economy had likely been hurt due to the plane that was shot down leaving the Sharm el-Sheikh airport, but was shocked at how much of an impact that event had on the economy.
The resort we were staying at was an Italian resort. In fact, we seemed to be the only non-Italians at the resort, something that was a little confusing to some of the staff members. One of the staff members said that she worked at 5 different hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh and had never met an American before. I was shocked by this but then figured that most Americans, if they wanted a beach vacation, would head to the Caribbean which is much easier to get to.
The resort had many different amenities which was perfect for us since we rarely left the resort grounds. While I have never been on a cruise ship, it reminded me of what I imagine a cruise ship would be like – buffet meals, entertainment and plenty of places to relax.
When we booked our hotel we opted for a breakfast only option. We figured that we would have a big breakfast late in the day, then go out for a dinner. Once we arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh, we realized that there were very few restaurants nearby. Those that were close to our hotel were somewhat expensive and didn’t look overly appealing.
At first we were going to upgrade to half-board which included breakfast and dinner, but then decided to go all inclusive as for not much more we were able to get breakfast, lunch, dinner and alcoholic drinks. At only 100LE or $12.50 per person per day, it was a bargain.
All of the meals were buffet style and had tons of different types of food. My favorite part of our all inclusive package was the pizza snack hour before lunch. I always seemed to be hungry when it was pizza time and not surprisingly for an Italian resort, the pizza was great.
The only frustrating thing with the all inclusive was that nobody walked around the grounds taking orders for drinks. I think it might not be something that is done in Egypt, but is what I have seen done in Mexico previously. Since the resort wasn’t full of guests, we sometimes had to wander from bar to bar to find out which bar was open at any given time. The drinks that were included in our package were local beers, local wine and local rum. After our first glass of Egyptian wine, we decided it was pretty terrible and never ordered it again. The rum wasn’t bad and they gave generous pours, but there was not much to mix with it, so we typically ended up ordering Egyptian beer.
This was the first time that I have ever had an all inclusive package at a resort. While I never thought I would be the type to get into unlimited food and drink, I really did. We never went hungry when we were there as there was always tons of food. The hardest part of the all inclusive package was making sure that I didn’t overeat!
There was a group of 6 Italians who were hired by the resort to do entertainment. After dinner, we stopped by the theater to watch one of the performances that was put on. Even though we didn’t understand much since it was all in Italian, we had fun watching.
Being a beach resort, there were a number of pools all over the resort. Since we were there in February when it wasn’t too warm yet, the pools were all freezing. Fortunately, there was one pool which was heated and much nicer to get into.
Unlike other resorts which never seem to have enough chairs for the guests, there were plenty of chairs available for us to use. Every chair had a cushion on it which made it much more comfortable to sit on than a mesh or plastic chair.
The one thing that the resort did not have but I wish that they did was a hot tub. In the colder months or even the evening of warmer months, it would be nice to sit in a hot tub to relax.
Waterfront Chairs and Dock
The resort was located right on the water. There were chairs right along the beach but it was not a beach in the traditional sense. The water was very cold and as you walk out into the water, there were a lot of stones, coral and even sea urchins that you had to look out for. Needless to say, I enjoyed the view from the beach instead of going in the sea.
I enjoyed the dock that was on the resort property. As we walked along the dock, it was mostly shallow water. Once we hit the end of the dock, there was a large reef and the water dropped off. While it was too dangerous to get into the water, we were able to see a number of bright fish by the coral.
All of the staff that worked at the resort was really great. Our main contact was Hassan who worked at the front desk. Of everyone, he spoke the best English and was who we seemed to interact with the most. He went above and beyond, even changing in some spare Egyptian pounds that we had for Euros which allowed us to not get screwed over exchanging them at the airport.
The rest of the staff was great too – from the bartender who would start pouring me 2 beers whenever he saw me coming to the staff at the dining hall who always cleared our table shortly after we finished eating, they were all great.
When we looked over the literature at check in, we realized that wifi was a paid amenity. While this made us sad, we were not willing to spend money for it. Fortunately, there was always wifi available for free at the reception area. While the wifi wasn’t very fast, we didn’t expect much for Egypt and for everything that we needed to do, the speed was fine.
Attempting to Scuba Dive
One of the reasons that we were excited to visit Sharm el-Sheikh was to go scuba diving in the Red Sea. We made plans to go scuba diving and for our friends to go snorkeling with Sheikh Coast Diving Center, the highest rated diving company in the area according to TripAdvisor.
We followed the instructions that were given on the phone and were on the road outside the hotel, ready to be picked up at the stated time. When it was 15 minutes past the time we were due to be picked up, we had the front desk call the company. The diving company told us that we were not where we needed to be, which we argued we were. After some further investigation, they discovered that the car that was due to pick us up was at the wrong hotel. Why the driver didn’t contact the hotel to see where we were when he arrived I’m not sure.
We were then told that because it was late and the boat was leaving, it wasn’t possible to get us out in the water. Without much apology, they told us that they would put us on the schedule for the next day. I was livid! Not only did we all wake up early for absolutely no reason, our friends left the next day so they were not able to go at all, plus the diving company assumed that after their error that I would still give them my money. I told them not to bother and hung up the phone.
Our backup plan was to call the second highest rated dive shop, Elite Diving, a British owned company to see if we could get out the next day. Sadly, there was no boat going out so it was not possible to book with them.
Not knowing what to do next, we asked our hotel if they organized any scuba diving through the hotel – they said yes and we met with Mohammed. After agreeing on a price, we were ready to go the next morning.
The evening before we were due to dive, we were told we had to pay for our diving. This is when we started to get frustrated. The price for the diving was quoted in dollars but since we wanted to pay in Egyptian Pounds, we were going to get screwed with the exchange rate. The actual exchange rate was 7.83 pounds per dollar but we were quoted at 9 pounds per dollar. With this terrible exchange rate, we were looking at paying an extra $30 for our dives. Not one to back down, I straight up told Mohammed that if the price wasn’t within the ballpark of what we agreed to, we were out.
I was absolutely shocked when he walked away from the sale. I thought with the down economy that he would not give up the opportunity to make money, but he did. I do regret not getting the chance to go diving in the Red Sea as it looked like it would be absolutely amazing scuba diving. I just could not give my money to the company that screwed me over by hiring an incompetent driver or a man who was trying to gouge me on the exchange rate.
The City of Sharm el-Sheikh
When we arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh, you could tell that things were not the way that they used to be. During our drive from the bus station to the resort, we saw many construction projects which were all but abandoned and many shops which were completely shuttered.
Those shops that were remaining, you could tell were hurting for business. When we were doing some souvenir shopping, I was quoted prices that were astronomically higher than any other shops that we had been to in Egypt. I had to negotiate hard in order to get things for what they should be, proof that there are fewer tourists and they are trying to make as much as possible.
Flying to Italy
We knew that following our time in Sharm el-Sheikh, we wanted to head to Europe but were not sure exactly where we should start. After a lot of research, I discovered that Meridiana, a discount airline flew from Sharm el-Sheikh direct to Milan for a very reasonable cost. I booked our tickets and a few weeks before we were due to fly, we were told that our flight was cancelled.
After getting on the phone with the airline, I discovered that the flight I booked was cancelled, but there was a flight leaving at midnight that we could be rebooked on for the same price we paid originally. While I wasn’t wild about the idea of a flight so late, the alternative would cost us more money so we decided to book it.
We were going to book our resort’s car to take us from the resort to the airport, but the price that we were quoted was too high. After talking to the bartender, he told us that a taxi should cost 50LE or $6.40, not the 140LE that we were getting quoted. With our information, we were able to hail a taxi driving down the road to take us to the airport for a good price. Our driver left us on the side of the road outside the airport instead of dropping us off at the terminal, but for the price we paid we weren’t surprised.
The security at the airport was the most thorough security that I have seen in my life – to even get on the airport property we had to show our tickets. Once in the security line, in addition to the standard security protocol, we had to remove our laptops from their protective sleeves and take our camera out of the camera bag. Even though neither of us set off the metal detector, we were both patted down. The craziest part of the screening is when the agent opened up my bag of snacks. I had an unopened sleeve of cookies which I had taken out of the box for space saving reasons. The agent made me open the cookies, looked at them and made me eat one to prove that they were food.
Not surprisingly, just about everyone from our resort was on our flight. When I learned that the flight was delayed by an hour I groaned. We already were going to get in late, but our 3am arrival was now going to be 4am.
When we took off, I was a little bit nervous, something that never happens when I fly. I’m sure that the plane which was shot down was in everyone’s mind as we took off. The take off was very different than a normal flight path as we climbed very rapidly. As soon as we landed safe and sound in Milan, I felt a weight off my shoulders.
Exchanging Money at the Airport
Because we didn’t go diving, we had additional Egyptian pounds that we were hoping to exchange at the airport. Andy looked everywhere for an exchange booth, but was not able to find one that he could get to. There was one exchange booth he found, but it was only accessible to flights arriving at the airport. When he asked someone about exchanging money they told him it that it was Egyptian law to not accept Egyptian pounds in exchange for Euros, US dollars or any other currency. That is a problem when a country won’t even take back their own currency.
Instead of just wasting the Egyptian pounds on overpriced stuff we didn’t need at the airport we decided to hold on to it and try to exchange it in Italy. We were able to do this, but after the terrible exchange rate and the commission fees we received $45 instead of the $75 it was worth. Andy was really annoyed because even though we were out of Egypt it felt like we had just been part of our final Egyptian scam.
I’m glad that we made the journey to Sharm el-Sheikh. Having the time to relax after all the chaos of Egypt was very nice. It was my first experience with an all inclusive resort, something that made me very excited for our time in Mexico for our friend’s wedding, the final stop on our trip around the world.
It felt really great to visit a city which had previously been booming with tourism and was hurting. While it was very sad to see, I know that by us being there, we were able to help support all the workers of the hotel who may otherwise not be able to keep their jobs.
If I were to do it over again, I would book my diving with Elite Diving before I arrived and visit when the weather is warmer so I could enjoy the pools. I’m not quite sure if Andy and I will return to dive the Red Sea, but I certainly hope that we are able to someday.