The Blue Hole at Dahab is a name that is probably better known to divers than it is to the casual tourist, but the waters here and the whole coastal region has a lot to offer to diver and non-diver alike. Geographically Dahab is found about half way down the east coast of Egypt's Sinai peninsular its waters being part of the Gulf of Aqaba that forms the top of the Red Sea. Dahab is a town that evolved from a mixture of Bedouin groups, Israeli settlers and western travellers, many drawn here to experience the beauty and fun of the water activities that are so suited to this calm stretch of water. There is more here than just the hole here so I will provide a breakdown of what's on offer.
The town itself is not much to look at as you approach from the desert highway that runs the length of the coast from Taba and Eilat in the north to the better-known Sharm el Sheik in the south. The outskirts of the town seems run down and dirty, typical of many of the dwelling areas in this poor region. Once you get to the main strip that runs along the sea front though you can see that an effort has been made to encourage their main source of income, the tourist. All the usual type of shop is to be found here, papyrus, trinkets, pots and lamps as well as all of the normal tourist gimmickry. Remember that this is Egypt and that means that you have to adopt their special shopping technique, one that is fairly alien to us westerners, haggling. Whereas in the west we expect an item for sale to be labelled with the price and that's what you pay, here there are no price labels. An item is worth what ever the shopkeeper can get you to pay for it and so the battle begins. It isn't as random as that may suggest, the keeper does know what sort of price he is after and through window shopping you will have an idea of what you want to pay. The haggle is always good-natured and if you decide that you are not willing to pay his price just walk away; he will probably call you back with a better price. Dahab does however have a supermarket where the normal western rules apply and although it's mainly a food shop there are a number of the regular tourist items available. I managed to pick up a shisha pipe (well when in Egypt ) for 150 Egyptian Pounds (£15) and some rather lovely local paintings for 45 Egyptian Pounds.
Aside from the shopping there are a number of bars and cafes, the later are the hangouts for the locals and for a chance to mix with the real denizens head to one of these and have a drink. The owners are normally chatty but make sure you count your change, its all part of the game. An hour spent along the towns sea front is an hour well spent as you look out over a calm azure blue sea set beneath a cloudless sky watching the ferries and tourist boats moving over the water with a cold beer in your hand. And an hour is really long enough here as its only a small town but then the town is really the side show to what you have probably come here for.
The Blue Hole.
The Blue Hole is a large depression that lays in the water literally a few metres off of the beach at Dahab within an easy walk of the town. The waters all along this coast are very shallow which makes for easy snorkelling and swimming but means that serious divers need to travel further out into the Gulf. Here is the best of both worlds. Divers have a deep swim area right off of the beach and swimmers and particularly snorklers are treated to a reef that is deeper than anything that they would normally be able to swim to. One of the best approaches to the Hole is to walk down the coast a few hundred metres and swim back on the tide and approach the Hole from the seaward approach, whilst this is not a major challenge its probably for those of at least a moderate swimming ability. This way you get to experience to outer reef, which is a wondrous experience and rightly regarded as one of the premier dive sites in the world. In these clear warm waters even from the surface you can see a long way down and like all reefs in the region you will find yourself surrounded by a myriad of sea life. Beautiful Parrotfish, Angelfish, Blenny's and the famous Lion fish will all be easily found, the later should be given a wide berth, he's not aggressive but he is does have poisonous fins though he's slow and very easily spotted and at worst his poison is like a bee sting. In fact the Lionfish is the worse that you have to worry about, sharks don't come this far north and those small sea snakes you keep seeing are actually harmless eels that have cleverly adopted the same camouflage.
The Hole is a great place to dive for all styles and abilities, the reef and the unusual depth here bring in a wide range of beautiful fish within easy view and the rocks and waters themselves and outstanding to behold. All this is easily accessed either from the route I mentioned or from the jetty that will drop you straight over the Holes deepest part. And if you find yourself tiring or get into any trouble you are never more than a few metres from the rocks but be warned coral reefs can be razor sharp. All in all a great experience and a great place to try snorkelling or diving for the first time. Experience the Blue Hole and I can assure you that you will be hooked on exploring the warm waters of other coasts but you may be hard pushed to find anything that matches this.
The chances are you will make your way to Dahab and the Blue Hole as part of an excursion organised by your travel representative and so will probable be given a few other options whilst in the area. The journey down may incorporate a jeep safari, which is a good way of seeing the surrounding desert. Local Bedouins provide the transport and if you have the image of a Bedouin tribesman as something out of Lawrence of Arabia then think again. They may still wear traditional costume for very practical reasons; they now drive Toyota Land cruisers and have mobile phones. Their style of driving is not for the faint hearted, its fast and of a manner that you get you arrested for dangerous driving in England, but the roads are very quiet in the Sinai so you will come to no harm. The desert around is the red rocky almost lunar landscape which is breathtaking but don't expect the rolling dunes, your in the wrong end of Egypt for that.
You may also be treated to a camel ride, this was my first and it's a great little journey along the coast from the town to the hole. The first thing that springs to mind is that you are one hell of a long way up and its not the smoothest of rides. Its worth experiencing though, even if you only do it the once, its one of the essentials for a holiday in the Middle East and will give you something to talk about when you get back.
Also near by is Saint Catherine's Monastery where you can see the biblical Burning Bush (its gone out now) and Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments so there is plenty to do in the area. If you are staying anywhere on the eastern Sinai coast this is one area that is worth visiting even as a non-diver and essential if you are a diver. A wealth of memories and experiences are to be had here and it is best experienced before the rest of the world gets to here about Egypt's best kept secret.