11 Things to Do in Dahab, Egypt
Dahab is a little beach town on the southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that has great food, comfortable hotels, and a laid-back atmosphere. While most tourists flock to the more glittery and developed Sharm El Sheikh about 100km south, Dahab is a great little town to get away from it all. Though it’s a small place, there is more than enough in Dahab to keep you busy, but aside from all the touristy tours and four-wheeler trips into the desert, there are a few more things you have to do while you’re in Dahab, Egypt.
Divers at the dive entry/exit point in Blue Hole
Dahab is home to some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the Red Sea. Every year thousands of divers from all over the world come to Dahab to hang out underwater. A short thirty minutes from the city center lies Blue Hole, the main attraction for both newbies and veterans. If you’ve never dived before, Dahab has a number of training centers that supply all the equipment you’ll need and take you on practice dives in the sea off of the boardwalk, which means you can walk from the center to the beach, before taking you to Blue Hole. One of the best technical diving centers, Dahab Divers, doubles as a hotel with great rates and a prime location.
2. Have a meal on the water
Most of the restaurants in Dahab are located right on the water with seating on a platform that overhangs the sea. The cool breeze and glow of the water make for a great meal. And there’s no shortage of places to eat.
Literally every sea-front property along the boardwalk is a restaurant, and each has a persistent salesman posted outside trying to entice you to come in for a meal every time you walk by. Even if you walk by three times a day for a week, if you’ve already eaten at the place, or if you screamed terrible obscenities at the “host”, he’ll do his best to sell you on another meal. This can be a bit annoying, but don’t be put off by the aggressive tactics, most of the places have amazing food. And don’t forget to haggle for your meal. It’s rare to find a restaurant that isn’t willing to offer a 10-20% discount, free appetizer, and free dessert, especially if you’re there when tourism is a bit slow.
3. Start a conversation with a stranger
Dahab used to be the secret of Egypt, a small beachfront town where divers and youthful free spirits would meet. Though the town has become much more developed and tourist-centric over the past ten years, Dahab still attracts some interesting people, tourists and locals alike. So if you’re in Dahab having a drink somewhere, ask your waiter how he/she ended up there or strike up a conversation with the table next to you, you’ll be surprised at the stories people have to share.
4. Drink an Egyptian Beer
Not necessarily because it’s the best, but because as far as beer goes, it’s your only choice. It’s rare to find any kind of imported beer outside of a major hotel. Being that there are no major hotels, or major anything for that matter, in Dahab, Egyptian beer it is! Your options at any given restaurant are usually some combination of the five biggest beers in Egypt: Stella, Heineken, Sakarrah, Luxor, and Meister Max. But before you get all excited about Stella and Heineken: Stella is an Egyptian brand, not the Belgian Stella Artois, and Heineken does not mean it tastes like the Heineken you’re used to. To learn more about what makes the beer different, read this article covering Beer in Egypt. In short, they don’t taste the best, but for around $2 for 20oz. at a restaurant, they make up for it in price.
5. Haggle for a souvenir
There are almost as many shops in Dahab as there are restaurants. When you’re not being bombarded with unwanted conversation by a restaurant host there’s a shopkeeper to take his place. Unlike the restaurants, almost all of the shops have the same stuff. Though there are a few variations in what the shop’s product focus is. Some shops specialize in textiles, others in jewelry, some in statues and decorations, and a few are devoted to spices, but for the most part, they all have identical merchandise. This is the definition of a buyer’s market. If you haggle well, you can get some pretty good deals on interesting souvenirs. No one back home has to know that you paid $3 and they were everywhere. If you’ve never practiced the art form of haggling before, read this article on How to Haggle. There are a few tips and pointers that will surely save you some money when you’re shopping in a flexible price country like Egypt.
6. Eat a full meal for 15 pounds
You can get a meal for around 30 -50 Egyptian Pounds ($5 – $8 as of 2011) at most restaurants in Dahab, but there’s one magical little spot where you can stuff yourself for next to nothing. The Fighting Kangaroo, on the boardwalk close to the footbridge, sells full meals with messa (tajina, salad, soup, and bread) for 15 pounds, which is around $2. A steal if I’ve even seen one. The food is pretty good, the chicken is a bit dry and the meat a little tough, but for $2 it’s more than worth the price. This family-owned eatery has one of the smallest dining areas in Dahab, the cheaper lease means cheaper lower prices. And when you’re done eating there’s a little shop owned by a very friendly younger guy with handmade crafts at reasonable prices right across the walkway. He also sells Bedouin tea, which I’ll get to in a minute. (The meal pictured: 1/4 chicken and lamb tagin, only $5)
7. Pet a stray animal
If you’re an animal lover, then Dahab is the place for you. There are a handful of dogs and there are cats everywhere. And they’re all your best friend when the food comes. Most of them are friendly and love to be pet, and I haven’t seen a single one bite or scratch, but make sure you wash your hands if you do decide to pet a furry friend. If you’re not a fan of stray animals at the dinner table, don’t worry, your waiter is likely to give you a spray bottle if they bother you and they’re used to being shooed away.
8. Drink Bedouin Tea
Dahab is known for their Bedouin tea, which is mixture of tea leaves and desert herbs including habuck and marmaraya. Bedouins, and many Egyptians, use it as a cure for an upset stomach. I’m not sure what exactly does the trick, but as an adventurous eater I’ve had a fair share of stomach pains in Egypt and I can say first-hand that Bedouin tea really does work. It can be more difficult to find in Cairo, but you can get a bag of it in Dahab for pretty cheap for yourself or that frend/relative who loves herbal remedies.
9. Wave to Saudi Arabia
On a clear day you can see some sandy mountains of Saudi Arabia on the other side of the water from the boardwalk. This would make for an interesting day trip but unfortunately, there’s no kind of ferry to take tourists back and forth between Dahab and its Saudi sister town. But according to the locals, it’s nothing to be upset about, apparently Saudi Arabia isn’t the most fun place to visit unless you’re into fully covered women and strict Islamic law.
10. Make friends with the salesmen on the boardwalk
Back to those salesmen I was telling you about. If you’re going to be in Dahab for awhile you might as well make nice with the ones you walk by ten times a day. Maybe make a joke, look around the shop for a minute, or if they are handing out a flyer always take one and smile (they’ll stop once they give you 3 or 4). If nothing else it will make those awkward “no thank-you” encounters a little more bearable. Most of them are genuinely nice guys and if you give them a minute of your time they’ll recognize your face and start to ease up on you. This isn’t true with all of the shopkeepers, some really do just want your money, some want to sell you pot, and some want your girlfriend/sister/wife (these are usually the same person by the way), but most are honest guys trying to make a living.
The laid-back atmosphere (minus the restaurant salesmen and shopkeepers) is what makes Dahab a great vacation spot. If you want to just sit around all day, do it! There are no car horns to interrupt your thoughts or bumping nightclubs to keep you up at night, so take the time to relax. If you want to swim or log in some time in the sun there are a number of restaurants along the water with comfortable reclining beach chairs to sit in if you buy some food or a drink or just tip the guy. Do whatever you want to do, after all, it’s Dahab.
Have you been to Dahab? Share your thoughts below!