The Sinai Peninsula or Sinai is a triangle-shaped peninsula in Egypt. Sinai is the part of Egypt that lies in Asia. It lies between the Mediterranean Sea (to the north), Red Sea (to the south), and the Gulf of Aqaba (to the east) forming a land bridge to Southwest Asia. It falls between Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and is well connected to all of them. Its area is about 60,000 km². It is world renowned for its amazing diving and snorkeling and is visited by millions (mostly Europeans and Israelis) annually.
Some twenty million years ago Sinai was connected with Egypt and the Saudi Arabian Peninsula as part of the same land formation. Thermal currents in the earth’s mantle created huge cracks, which lifted and spread the land. Sinai is part of the Great Rift Valley, the great fracture in the earth’s crust, that begins in East Africa continues through the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aqaba through the Jordan Valley (Dead Sea, Sea of Galilee) widening each year about 5mm moving the Saudi Arabian Peninsula northwards.
The Sinai Peninsula is currently divided among several governorates, or provinces, of Egyptian administration. The southern portion of the Sinai is called Janub Sina’ in Arabic, literally “South of Sinai”; the northern portion is named Shamal Sina’, or “North of Sinai”. The other three governates converge on the Suez Canal, including As Suways, literally “the Suez”; on its southern end and crosses into Egypt-proper. In the center is Al Isma’iliyah, and Bur Sa’id lies in the north with its capital at Port Said.
Approximately 66,500 people live in Janub Sina’ and 314,000 live in Shamal Sina’. Port Said itself has a population of roughly 500,000 people. Portions of the populations of Al Isma’iliyah and As Suways live in Sinai, while the rest live on the western side of the Suez Canal in Egypt-proper. The combined population of these two governorates is roughly 1.3 million (only a part of that population live in the Sinai, while the rest live on the western side of the Suez Canal).
In part due to its being a tourist destination due to its proximity to Israel, the Sinai has been the site of several terrorist attacks targeted at Westerners and Israelis, but also Egyptians on holiday.
All visitors to Egypt are required to have a visa and a passport valid for six months. A visa stamp can be purchased upon arrival at many airports and border crossings at the costs of US $15. The 14 days Sinai Visa is granted free of charge upon arrival to Taba border, Taba and Sharm el Sheikh airports and Nuweiba Port to many nationalities. The Sinai visa is limited to the coastal area between Taba and Sharm el Sheikh and includes St. Catherine Nature Protectorate and Monastery, but excludes Ras Muhammad and Wadi Feiran.
Sinai possesses many great little towns for both backpackers and package tourists. Sharm El Sheikh is the most upscale, popular and largest of the tourist towns. Sharm el Sheikh has developed into a luxury holiday resort most treasured by divers and sun-lovers. Among famous hotel names are Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, Four Season and many more Egyptian themed hotels sharing the beautiful bays between Ras Um Sid to Naama Bay and Nabq. Scuba diving and dive safaris in the Red Sea are offered along with all different kind of waterport activities.
There is plenty to do in Sharm el Sheikh. Though the main activities are water sport activities and diving but the terrific interior of the Sinai desert invites for adventurous and fascinating trips by quad runners, motorbikes and jeeps . Another exciting adventure is a ride out into the desert on camel or horseback.
When I was there with my cousin, we chartered a yacht with a bunch of other people and went diving for the day. It was one of the most memorable experiences I had out there and was a terrific way to enjoy the Red Sea without dealing with all the tourists.
Every resort has got its own bar with different happy hour offers. An evening stroll along the promenade gives you an insight of what the beach bars of the hotels have to offer for the evening. Some hotels entertain their guests with belly dancing performances . After the shows you can dance the night through in one of Sharm’s discos. If you are not in a dancing mood-like I am usually not, you find play pool tables at some places or you hang out in the coffee shops until late night smoking the water pipe and playing chess. If the glitz of Sharm wares on you after a while, then head up to Dahab-about an hour to the north.
Dahab is one of the most attractive beach resorts in South Sinai, located half way between Sharm el Sheikh in the south and Nuweiba in the north. It is best known for its laid back back days and nights and is very popular with the backpacker and hippie types. It is really a lot of fun to be there. This may be the Red Sea’s best windsurfing, diving and snorkeling spot.
Dahab consists of two bays. El Qura Bay and Ghazala Bay. In the latter one the Bedouin village El Assalah is located. Within the years the area has developed into a tourist center with camps, motels, restaurants, and bazaars. The newly constructed beach promenade is the core of Dahab’s activities, where globetrotters from all over the world meet in a lively atmosphere. A large variety of restaurants offer international and local cuisine at reasonable prices. Prices for accommodation are still very reasonable and you may find yourself not wanting to leave for weeks or months because Dahab is infectious and so easy going that you can stay there stress free for a long time.
In addition to the towns of Sharm and Dahab, there are many other places you can visit including a climb of Mount Sinai in the middle of the night for a gorgeous sunrise early in the morning overlooking the whole peninsula. Taba in the far north of Sinai will serve as your jumping off point into Eilat, Israel and Aqaba, Jordan where from either place you can move on to possibly the greatest site in the world of Petra-Jordan’s amazing new wonder of the world. Also, you can fly from Sharm El Sheikh and check out the Pyramids in Cairo or head off to Europe on the many charters that fly to and from Sharm. Finally, you could also catch a ferry to the further south Egyptian resorts of Hurghada and beyond to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.
Sinai is great and there is so much to do. The weather is perfect and the mix of people you will see there is amazing as well. The food is stellar as long as you like Middle Eastern food but there are selections of everything from Europe and beyond. But most of all the Red Sea is enchanting. The color of the water is tough to describe but if you’ve seen it and dived into it them you will never forget the color or the perfect temperatures and cool breezes. Sinai may be the worlds most perfect destination.