12+ Dahab sits on the southeast coast of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, 80 km northeast of Sharm el-Sheikh on the bottom tip, 148 km south of Israel and Jordan, and across the Gulf of Aqaba from Saudi Arabia, whose desert hills are visible from the beachfront at sunrise and sunset.
Although sailboarders, kite surfers and jet skis have overrun the bay in recent years, a principal attraction of Dahab for tourists remains diving and snorkelling on the reefs which run close to the shoreline. It was this and the promise of a non-touristy resort that drew me to Dahab for the first time in 1991, just before the launch of Desert Storm on 17th January. While I had left the Sinai by the 17th, rumours of the looming war in Iraq and possible collateral attacks ran rife among tourists and locals alike.
I revisited Dahab twice more, in September and October 1995, while on a grand overland trip from England to Australia with my wife. We made our way to Dahab with fellow independent backpackers in September, crossing into Egypt from Aqaba in Jordan. And then we returned a few weeks later in October on a group truck expedition that we had joined in Cairo to help us travel through Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
After my first visit in 1991, I had raved about Dahab to anyone who would listen — which mainly meant my wife! I had loved diving on the reef, with its abundance and variety of colourful fish and coral. The sandy beaches were clean and lined with laid-back cafes and restaurants. And the locals were friendly and keen to practise their English and discuss life, politics and religion without pressing for the perennial Baksheesh.
1991-1995 Travel Journals
On the following pages are the travel journal entries from my three visits to Dahab:
In transcribing the journals, I noticed how little interaction I had with locals in 1995 compared to 1991. Other than to order food and drink, organise excursions, or to complain! I guess part of that was because I was on my own in 1991. Also, there was a shared concern about Iraq on my earlier visit. It seemed to help tourists and locals alike to talk about it.
And perhaps, most of all, in the almost five years between my first and last visits, Dahab had changed and was no longer a "non-touristy resort".
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Twenty+ Years On
Is it wrong to want our favourite places to stay the same? Probably. It's over twenty years since I last visited Dahab. I have read tourists still flock there from all over the world. But aspects of Dahab's villages and surroundings must have changed beyond recognition for this "old-timer".
Hopefully, the local people have benefitted from the increased tourism, not just the international hoteliers and tour companies. And I hope the reefs have not been too damaged.
Of one thing I am sure, the sunrises and sunsets at Dahab will still be stunning!