photo of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

Beachside in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

What to do in Sharm el Sheikh

Sharm el Sheikh is the biggest and most important city on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, located on its southern flank, where the gulfs of Aqaba and Suez meet the Red Sea. Before 1967, Sharm el Sheikh didn't even appear on most maps, and even into the early 1980s it barely contained a village. However, it's always been strategically important. For many years, the area was actually held by the Israelis. Overlooking the island of Tiran, the area around Sharm el Sheikh is arid and empty, but the water is rich with fish and coral, which first drew tourists to its world-class diving. In 1983, the nearby Ras Mohamed National Park was set up to protect the watery scenery from overfishing. Covering nearly 300 square miles of land and ocean surface, the park has currents of plankton that attract a food chain that includes thousands of fish species. A bevy of shipwrecks add even more color to the area. To help protect the area, strict environmental laws were enacted in the 1990s, which greatly reduced commercial shipping.

Nowadays, with huge seaside resorts (including luxury picks like Four Seasons Resort Sharm el Sheikh and Hilton Sharm Waterfalls Resort), the spotless and well-oiled tourist infrastructure of Sharm el Sheikh makes it one of Egypt's top tourist destinations. In fact, it's been said that one-third of all the hotels in Egypt are found there. Dozens of flights descend on Sharm International Airport every day, many from major European hubs. Most attractions are in aquatic form, including Zouara Beach for windsurfing, Sharks Bay for snorkeling, and Aqua Park Sharm El Sheikh for waterslide enthusiasts. But camel safaris, desert trekking, and Bedouin starlight dinners help bring the ancient culture to life as well.

Sharm el Sheikh and neighboring Na'ama Bay cater more to package groups than independent travelers, while some budget accommodations are found around Sharks Bay. Sharm el Sheikh is divided into four distinct areas that are loosely strung out along the highway like towns. Arriving from the south, with the sea on your right, you come first to the Old Town. Then to your right, on a plateau that juts out into the sea, is Hadaba. A little farther up the highway is Na'ama Bay. Nabq is a newly developed area north, past the airport, with shopping malls and big, all-inclusive resorts.

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