Sharm el-Sheikh, Mount Moses, El Arish, Pharaoh’s Island – these are just a few names familiar to vacationers coming to the Sinai Peninsula for a sun-and-sand vacation in a top-notch beach resort. They flock here from northern Europe, the UK and the Middle East.
But to North Americans, the Sinai Peninsula is more familiar from press reports as a place of turmoil. And yet, visit any of the many resorts in the area and you’ll find a veritable United Nations of staff and guests, the latter often including Israelis and Egyptians as well as Europeans and British. In recent years, this coast has been called the Red Sea Riviera, reports Matthew Teague writing in the National Geographic.
Teague points out that this triangle of desert bears the roots of three great monotheistic religions. In biblical tradition, Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Jesus and his family fled here to escape a jealous King Herod’s wrath and early Christians hid from Roman persecutors among the mountains. And according to monastic tradition, says Teague, Mohammed took refuge here, staying at St. Catherine’s Monastery, built in the 6th century and the world’s oldest continuously operating Christian monastery. Today Muslim Bedouin live and work alongside the monks. Sinai is a spiritual refuge as well as a popular vacation spot.
Beautiful beaches draw sun lovers, nightclubs like Pacha – where bubbles and foam invite bodies to gyrate to the deep beat of the music – draw fun lovers. You’d be forgiven for mistaking this for the French Riviera – so many bathers go topless.
The range of international hotels, clubs, shops and bars dotted around the southern part of Sinai offers something for most people.
Yes, many come to party, but they also come for the treasures of the Red Sea and for its splendid diving and snorkeling experiences with hundreds of species of fish, vibrant coral reefs and mangroves. (You don’t even have to be in the water to enjoy the teeming ocean life – sit on a jetty with your feet in the Red Sea, and the fish will come to you.) People come for relaxing sun-and-sand vacations, for adventure trips in the Eastern Desert, for some of Egypt’s best golf, and to climb in the pink granite mountains. (Several tours offer basic training for beginners.)
Sinai, it’s reported, has overtaken Cairo as Egypt’s top tourist destination with more than five million visitors a year to Sharm El-Sheikh alone.
Today, each resort has its distinctive attractions.
Ismailia, for instance, a city of gardens, is not technically part of the peninsula, but sits on the west bank of the Suez Canal. Its colonial 19th-century ambience echoes the era of the canal’s construction. South along the shores of the Gulf of Suez, El Gouna has been developed around a series of lakes and canals to create a city full of beautiful and different beaches. At El Quseir, more southerly still along the Red Sea shores, and almost parallel with Luxor, vacationers can blend watersports (including terrific diving) with historic sightseeing. This was an important Roman port and many artefacts and ruins remain.
For more information about the Red Sea coast and Sinai, visit www.egypt.travel.