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Hot Desert

Hot Desert

"Hot Desert" is the rather brutal phrase geographers use to describe the climate in Egypt's Red Sea Riviera.

It's brutal because the promise is actually more of a pampered, hedonistic holiday in the sun: beautiful people lounging by the pool, swimmers enjoying the company of dolphins and colorful fish, bikini-clad young women wistfully looking at a sea coloured azure, while dark-skinned locals mostly wear tailored servant uniforms and friendly smiles. The fun could be taking place somewhere like the Caribbean or the Cote d'Azur but this is Egypt’s Red Sea Riviera. And very few people had heard of it until the latter part of last century.Perhaps that’s because most of the shiny, beach-resort hotels aren’t on the Red Sea at all, but rather on the Gulf of Aqaba, a narrow strip of water separating Egypt’s Sinaï Peninsula eastern coast from Jordan and Saudi Arabia.


Whatever, it was diving that started it. The area became a sought-after place to visit following the expeditions of Hans Hass in the 1950s, and later those of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.  However, it was when Israel occupied Sinaï in 1967 the place started to take off as a tourist attraction. Then, after Israel and Egypt made peace and the Israelis evacuated between 1979 and 1982, the Egyptians enthusiastically continued the development. And now, where there were once tiny fishing villages, there are popular tourist resorts including Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab, and Taba.


From the very north end, where Taba sits flush on the border with Israel, all the way down the rugged Sinaï coastline to the main tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh (known almost universally as Sharm), visitors exist in a luxury cocoon of pleasure with five-star hotels, restaurants and world-class scuba-diving, a Hard Rock Cafe, and four McDonald’s restaurants.
With its year-round sunshine, sandy beaches and cooling sea breezes, these resorts have everything to satisfy the devoted sun worshiper. Sharm, with its string of luxury resorts, is heaven for winter-sun seekers. It's only around a five-and-a-half hour flight from the UK (see panel Monarch of the Sharm skies), but with its cloudless blue skies, palm trees and breathtaking sunsets, Sharm is all about R&R. Its bougainvillea-clad hotel complexes are sprawling dedications to the pursuit of pleasure in spas and holistic centres. For those who seek more strenuous activities, there is golf, horse riding, hill-walking, camel riding, quad biking and world-class diving and snorkeling.


Sharm's nightlife is modern and developed. The colorful handicraft stands of the local Bedouins are a popular attraction. Visitors can take part in a variety of water activities such as snorkeling, diving, windsurfing, para-sailing, kite surfing, canoeing and boating.Throughout the region the temperature is tailor-made for languid swimming, sitting by a pool or lying in the shade. But the area, particularly Sharm, is also a world-class diving destination (see panel Dive In) and a great place to soak up some history.


Whether you want a laidback, cheap getaway or fancy living the life of luxury (but on much smaller budget than equivalent places elsewhere) , the Red Sea Riviera has it all. For those with a more relaxed style you could explore the desert on the back of a camel. As well as two, three or four-day treks, there are also daytrips and overnight safaris giving a fascinating taste of the Sinaï and its Bedouin people, allowing you to enjoy spectacular views, the silence of the desert and the huge star-filled sky.

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