Hidden Gems of Sinai's Sharm el-Sheikh: Beaches, Parks and the Best Food

Sure, Sharm el-Sheikh's blue lagoons are among the best snorkeling sites in the world, but Egypt’s famous tourist attraction has a lot more to offer

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A general view of development of Farsha mountain lounge areas in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The Farsha mountain lounge areas in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Unlike other Sinai beaches, Sharm el-Sheikh is a real resort town: There is plenty to do. Not that you need to do much; after all, many go there for a do-nothing vacation. For others, Sharm offers a potpourri for people of all ages.

The town’s biggest hits are of course its huge hotels along 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) of Red Sea coast. Sharm offers resorts of varying prices and luxury  and even five-star hotels at reasonable prices. Even for an all-inclusive vacation where you don’t have to leave the hotel compound, you won’t pay much more than $200 a night.

But if you suffer from the fear of missing out, here’s everything you have to see and do in Sharm el-Sheikh. Then go back to your hotel, take a dip in the sea and swim in your private coral reef.

Tourists enjoy a day by the beach in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Attractions:

Ras Mohammed

In 1982 Egypt declared Ras Mohammed a national park. The peninsula’s southern tip some 20 kilometers from Sharm offers a great day trip. Ras Mohammed stands between the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. In front of your eyes, two gulfs merge into one spectacular sea.

April 2022: Ros Mohammed National Park. Where the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba merge.

The main reason for coming here is diving. Ras Mohammed’s coral reefs aren’t just very much alive, colorful and diverse, they’re easily accessible. Just a few meters from the beach and along almost the entire length you’ll find a reef home to thousands of different kinds of colorful fish – including big players like barracudas and even dolphins.

The tip of the peninsula also has a mangrove forest – a mangrove is something between a small tree and a bush that grows in saltwater and contains its own sort of filtration system. This beautiful desert park has several beaches that look out on the clear waters of the Red Sea.

There are three main ways to get to Ras Mohammed; two are by boat or bus, which you can order at your hotel or any tour operator in Sharm. All told, the eight-hour boat tour (around $60 per person) includes a visit to two dive sites and usually includes lunch. The bus tour (around $50 person) includes three dive sites and swimming at the beach.

The third way is a private driver throughout the day; make sure he has a tourist license that will get him through all the necessary checkpoints.

Tourists enjoy a day by the beach and swim in the sea in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt's Sinai.

A private driver is recommended; then you have the independence to visit several sites at Ras Mohammed National Park. A private driver for the day should cost around $60 for the vehicle and the $5 entry fee to the park.

Tiran Island

Aficionados say that while the reefs at Sharm are very colorful, they’ve faded in recent decades. To enjoy real wild reefs, the locals say, one place to go is Tiran Island. This gem has been controlled by Saudi Arabia since 2017.

An eight-hour boat tour ranges between $30 and $80 depending on the luxury and privacy you choose. Either way, the snorkeling will be among the best in the world, replete with a sunken ship, blue lagoons and hypnotizing reefs.

Tiran Island, one place with particularly good coral reefs.

Nabq National Park

About 5 kilometers north of the town of Sharm el-Sheikh, Nabq National Park offers beaches with dunes and a mangrove patch that goes right into the water. Underwater you’ll find that sunken ship.

You can drive through the dunes on an all-terrain vehicle or a buggy, and you can be hosted at an “authentic” Bedouin tent. The cost of a day trip, including that ATV or buggy ride, starts at around $50 a person.

Members of Bedouin tribe of Muzeina, from South Sinai, rest from their fishing trip, in Girgana village at Nabq area, north of the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Beaches

Each hotel has its own private beach, and most of them are fantastic. But some Sharm beaches aren’t rocky and have a view a little different. For example, El Fanar Beach in Ras Umm Sid not only has pleasant, sandy beaches, it faces southwest with a stunning vista (maybe the only one in Sharm) over the desert sunset.

Then there’s Shark’s Bay, which might have the most colorful coral reef in town. The beaches at Ras Mohammed, full of reefs and dramatic desert views, are the most recommended for a dip. The beaches at Nabq Bay are less crowded than at Naama Bay, where it’s hard to find a quiet corner.

Water parks

It’s not clear why, but lots of us with kids like to take them to water parks. There are dozens of such parks in Sharm. One that stands out is Aqua Blu, which has no less than 60 water slides and is the biggest water park in the Middle East. The Albatross is smaller, but its selection of slides is no less impressive.

Each park sits within the compound of its hotel of the same name, but even if you aren’t staying there, you can buy a day ticket at $40 to $50 including lunch.

The Farsha Cafe. Great views in the evening.

Food:

Farsha Cafe

Despite its name, the Farsha Cafe is a tea house, but most importantly, it’s a great place to sit in the evening and enjoy the breeze smacking down the hamsin, the desert wind.

Turkish coffee at the Farsha Cafe.

The place has a carefully designed nonchalance, a sort of mix of Sinai with Coachella. Thousands of small red lanterns and dozens of vintage items from motorcycles to boat parts are scattered around the cliff where the cafe (uh, tea house) sits.

The coffee man will cook your Turkish coffee (at least half a cup remains as dredge) and tea with cinnamon on charcoal sand. Also, a shisha water pipe is a great way to pass the beautiful sunset hours and the beginning of Sharm’s nightlife.

Rayahen

Rayahen is a confectionery owned by a Syrian family that specializes in both traditional and modern desserts. Here you can find all the glory of Arab desserts from baklava to sweet date biscuits alongside a huge array of scrumptious chocolates.

There is also a roastery with all the nuts and seeds known to Westerners and all the nuts and seeds not known to Westerners. And don’t forget the stellar coffee.

Wares at the Rayahen confectionery and roastery.

This confectionery has two branches, one in the Mercato mall near the southern tourist area and one in Sharm’s Old Market. Like the entire market area, Rayahen awakens when the sun goes down, the desserts don’t melt as fast and the coffee doesn’t make you sweat.

Abo Ali

A little north of the Old Market (which of course isn’t old; the town was founded in 1982) is a market with fruit and vegetable stands and lots of superb restaurants. The best of these is the Abo Ali Restaurant & Cafe that serves veal shawarma and a selection of skewered meats, along with very soft falafel and vegetables grilled to perfection.

The kadaif machine at Abo Ali.

Next to this enormous restaurant is a traditional confectionery with a machine for manufacturing thin kadaif noodles that is absolutely hypnotizing.

This market area isn’t a tourist spot, but another reason to go there is Abo Ali’s falafel. One option is to stop there on the way back from a visit to Ras Mohammed.

Fares Seafood

Sharm el-Sheikh’s most famous chain of fish and seafood restaurants has three branches – at the Mercato mall, at the Old Market and near Naama Bay. All serve the same deal – pick your own fish and seafood from the icebox at the restaurant's entrance and say how you want it cooked.

Fish at Fares Seafood.

The price depends on your choice. Watch out for tourist traps and be careful of your generous waiter suggesting that you take the full course meal that includes salads and soups. Just stick to the jumbo shrimp by weight.

Al Hosiny

The Al Hosiny meat and grill restaurant in the Old Market serves good kebab and some of Sharm’s best shawarma. It's particularly pleasant to sit here in the cooler evening when the market is nearly empty.

The Sahaba Mosque near the Old Market.

Shopping:

The Old Market

The Old Market at night with the stunning Sahaba Mosque in the background is a congenial spot for the almost obligatory Sharm shopping spree.

It’s important to remember that the various shopping sites have similar stuff on offer: djellaba gowns, paintings, home decorations, diving equipment, perfume, jewelry and bronze lamps.

Each district has its own style and pricing, but the products are identical. The Old Market has lots of restaurants where you can relieve the fatigue of haggling over prices, which the traders practically force you to do.

The SOHO Square complex. A Las Vegas atmosphere.

SOHO Square

Located next to the exclusive Savoy Hotel, a shopping and entertainment area dubbed SOHO has risen from the sands in recent years. The place is replete with restaurants and luxury stores, while  light sculptures and a musical fountain pale in comparison to those in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

You can find the same items here as in the Old Market, just without the bargaining.

Naama Bay

Naama Bay changes completely when night falls. During the day, the focus is on the beach and its many cafes and restaurants.

At night the bay becomes a big lit-up shopping area, a kind of mix between the reasonably authentic Old Market and the nouveau riche SOHO compound.

The place also has the biggest bars in town, which attract tourists from all the hotels. The biggest of these is the Buddha Bar, which is a restaurant until 11 P.M. and then becomes a disco.

The view from a Sharm hotel. Five stars for $150 a night.

Hotels:

Hotels are the jewel in Sharm’s crown. The town has dozens of resorts and hotels at various levels; the big attraction is the relatively low price for a high level of service.

Most of the hotels are three to five stars and offer options from overnight stays with breakfast to all-inclusive packages. Prices are up to $300 a night for a couple, with the exception of hotels such as the Four Seasons, which the locals say is overpriced but still has its fans.

There are also adult-friendly hotels such as the Rixos (all-inclusive) and the Royal Savoy. Both also have family-friendly resorts with a range of water attractions. The Sunrise and Albatross chains both have several hotels at various levels, offering an almost ridiculous $150 a night at a five-star hotel.

All the beach hotels have a bevy of pools, a spa and a private beach where you can enjoy a selection of water sports. There are also cheaper hotels in the second row from the beach, and Airbnb is an option at Sharm too. But in Sinai, Sharm stands out with its luxury resorts at an affordable price for the family.

Stuff you need to know:

Money
Storekeepers and taxi drivers will accept almost any currency you offer them, from Egyptian pounds to dollars to shekels. You can also change money at ATMs around town and in most hotel lobbies at the representative rate.

Transportation
Taxis are the only way to get around Sharm, which is pretty large and lacks public transportation. You can order a cab from your hotel; they’re usually air-conditioned, pleasant and more expensive than the white taxis you can hail in the street.

Flights and COVID
Arkia and Israir fly directly from Ben-Gurion. Despite the agreement for dozens of flights a week, for now there are only nine due to security issues still to be finalized with the Egyptians.

Swinging on a Sharm el-Sheikh beach, with Tiran Island in the background.

The flight takes an hour and 20 minutes. EU, U.S. and Israeli citizens don’t need a visa to go to the Sinai resorts, but as far as COVID is concerned, you should have a Green Pass or a PCR test 72 hours before your flight.

Casinos
There are three large casinos in town, the biggest being the Grand Casino and the Casino Royale. You’ll need a passport to enter these places, at least on your first visit.

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