Sheikh and you will find…
Sharm el-Sheikh is situated on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, along the Red Sea.
It is a purpose-built resort set amid the natural wonders of white sandy beaches and stunning seas for snorkelling.
Given the recent trouble in other parts of Egypt, it is impossible for even the most seasoned traveller not to feel somewhat cautious about holidaying there.
However, with a little research and help from Red Sea Holidays, we were able to find a wonderful sun holiday with luxury hotels that rival even the most exclusive resorts in the Mediterranean.
For sun worshippers, it is worth mentioning that Sharm has on average just three days of rain a year.
Myself and my friend Geraldine O’Callaghan of TV3’s Apprentice recently stayed at the stunning 4.5-star Ghazala Gardens Hotel, just 30 minutes from the airport.
With the all-inclusive package we were given the option of two international restaurants and three à la carte restaurants – Brazilian, Mexican and Italian.
The pool, with its faux sandy beach, was perfect for those who don’t care to venture to the real beach, which was a mere five-minute walk across the road.
It is impossible to go to Egypt without wanting to explore the vast amount of ancient artifacts – three of which are on many people’s Bucket List at the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo.
Although there are plenty of museums and local excursions to whet the appetite of even an experienced archaeologist, I had my eyes firmly set on Cairo.
The price? A 4.30am start, a one-hour flight and an additional cost of about €250 – depending on which excursion you choose.
There are safety issues, which we feel is important to mention, and we did have an armed guard for some parts of the tour.
Regardless, I can confidently say that the day I spent in Cairo with two fellow explorers – Lisa from Scotland and Paul from Limerick – was the best day of my life.
We toured the Egyptian Museum, had a five-star lunch on the Nile, explored tombs at the foot of the
Pyramids and even learned how to make Egyptian papyrus.
Our tour guide was knowledgeable and passionate about his country; he simply made you fall in love with Egypt. This tour is unmissable and an invaluable experience.
Another tour which we decided to take was the Bedouin Night in the Sinai Mountains.
The Bedouins are a group of people descended from the ancient Arab nomads. Although most have now settled, they have firmly kept their traditions and cultural anomalies intact.
After a breathtaking 40-minute coach journey we found ourselves surrounded totally by desert.
With the expertise of the Bedouins, we trekked into the desert on camels before trying our hand at bread-making and enjoying a traditional tea.
We followed that by climbing a compacted sand dune, the height of which allowed us to watch the most-stunning of sunsets.
Already blown away by the sheer beauty of the land, we were then educated about the tribe’s culture and traditions, while we enjoyed a desert dinner in our sheltered tent.
Had the trip ended here, we would have thoroughly enjoyed it, but the best was yet to come.
Traditional dancing, sitting by a bonfire smoking shisha pipes (non-tobacco filled) under the stunning night sky and finally stargazing with an astronomer with high-powered telescopes, were also part of the package.
Full to the brim on culture, it took us only a day by one of the many pools at the hotel sipping cocktails before we wanted to explore some more.
For our next adventure we booked a boat trip. My friend, being an experienced scuba diver, was eager to explore the world-renowned coral reefs of the Red Sea.
However, she kindly met my inexperience halfway and we decided instead to choose a snorkelling trip.
My friend said afterwards that this excursion, called the VIP Boat Trip, was the highlight of her trip, whereas I blame it for my sunburn!
She had wanted to scuba dive and snorkel the Red Sea for years and it didn’t disappoint.
The sea was a little choppy, despite the sweltering heat on land, but we weren’t going to be put off and once in the water with face mask and snorkel it was easy to see what all the hype is about.
The sea life is so abundant and colourful it simply leaves you in awe.
If you can, it’s well worth free diving as deep as you can go as the coral gets more colourful and the fish tend to let you get that little bit closer.
They say if you are lucky on the day you might see dolphins, manta rays and turtles – we didn’t, but it didn’t make the day any less enjoyable.
The only reservation we had was that each site was pretty packed out with other boats and tourists – and, being selfish, we wanted it all to ourselves.
Overall, Egypt can be whatever a traveller wants it to be. It can be a destination to laze by the pool under guaranteed sunshine, it can be an adventure of culture and exploration, or it can be both.
Although I cannot recommend this trip highly enough, it might not be for everyone.
Some cultural differences can be overwhelming for those who have not travelled to a Middle Eastern country before. For example, only men work in Sharm el-Sheikh and this can take getting used to. Shopping can be hectic with all eager to haggle, but with some simple pre-planning and a reputable tour operator such as Red Sea Holidays you will have a wonderful trip.
Red Sea Holidays offer packages ex Dublin every Thursday between now and October.
Prices for seven nights all-inclusive in the 4.5* Ghazala Gardens Hotel in August start from as little as €679 per adult sharing, with guaranteed child prices all season regardless of duration of stay.
Visit www.redseaholidays.ie for further information.