Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Sharm El-Sheik and Hurgada

If Dahab is the Kho Phi Phi of the Red Sea, then Sharm El-Sheik is the Las Vegas. While it's home to some of the most impressive reefs in the world, the land surrounding city seems more like an imaginary playland for the rich. Huge hotels cover every stretch of the beach, which means that if want to access the water, you pay dearly (or sneak in... our preferred approach). As there is virtually no budget accomodation in Sharm, we stayed at the Youth Hostel. It wasn't terrible, except for the utterly disgusting free breakfast, reminicent of (but much, much worse than) school lunch.

Along with the megahotels and shopping malls, Sharm was dotted here and there with various amusement-like attractions - a giant water park, life-size replicas of dinosaurs, a huge complex of pastel-colored buildings straight out of Disney's Aladin. When walking around Sharm Old Market, we came across a stucco oasis, complete with waterfalls and palm trees, where we enjoyed some overpriced ice cream and a free magic show. As ridiculous as the place was, it was a fun diversion for a night and if you are a serious diver or snorkeller, I am sure you'd be willing to sacrafice some authenticity to enjoy the spectacular ecosystem of Ras Mohammed National Park.

And, if Sharm El-Sheik is the Vegas of the Red Sea, then Hurgada is the Reno. We only stopped here for a night in transit to Luxor, but it was enough time to get a sense for the place. While this was once THE destination on the Red Sea, it's now well past it's prime and overrun with packaged tourists from Russia and Poland. Still, we preferred it's seedier atmosphere to the fairytale land that is Sharm and probably would have stayed and snorkelled another day if we had the time.

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