Author: Namig MAYILOV, Baku - Sharm el-Sheikh - Baku
Crystal clear sea, coral reefs, rich culture, summer all year round. What else does one need to enjoy vacation staying in a comfortable hotel that offers unlimited meals, a lot of different services and entertainment?
Located in the south of the Sinai Peninsula on the Red Sea coast, the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh fully justifies its name, which means “a sheikh bay” in Arabic. Hundreds of hotels, a variety of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and casinos, a large selection of entertainment for every taste. Pure pleasure only sheikhs can dream about...
In fact, it all started with the six-day war of 1967, which ended with the Sinai Peninsula going under Israeli control. Before that, Sharm el-Sheikh was just a small fishing village. Egyptians continued the development started earlier by the Israeli military only after returning in 1979. The barracks of Israeli soldiers converted into a hotel still receive guests from around the world.
Direct flights in winter and summer
Because of its young age and purely tourist orientation, Sharm el-Sheikh looks different from other Egyptian cities, like a typical Mediterranean resort. Perhaps this is one of the reasons of the city's popularity among tourists from Europe and the former Soviet countries. Until recently, Russian tourists were on the top list of visitors traveling to Sharm el-Sheikh, accounting for about 30% of the total tourist flow. However, after the tragic crash of Russian aircraft in 2015, direct flights from Russia were discontinued. Therefore, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are leading in the number of tourists among the CIS countries.
But the tourist authorities of Egypt make every effort to resume direct flights from Russia. For example, a separate terminal for Russian tourists is constructed at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, where Russian services will serve and ensure their safety.
Egyptian tour operators are also looking for new markets. On July 18, one such operator, Nefer Tours, started direct flights from Azerbaijan. With the support of Millennium Tourism Azerbaijan and its Kazakh partner Kompas, a group of Azerbaijani journalists and representatives of travel agencies had an opportunity to visit Sharm el-Sheikh on the first flight. The Kazakh SCAT Airlines, which received the fifth degree of freedom from Azerbaijan, provides the aircraft on the Baku-Sharm el-Sheikh route. Flights are operated by a Boeing 757-200 airliners under a tourist brand Sunday Airlines. “The first flight is 99% full. Our sales is expanding before Eid al-Adha,” Valentina Kharakhordina, deputy director of sales for Selfie Travel said. She informed us that the flight program would last until winter. “We have already received requests for reservations until the New Year. As soon as we get hotel prices, we'll extend the sales accordingly,” Kharakhordina added.
Galina Gorelova, director of sales and marketing for the Egyptian company Nefer Tours, also confirmed that the demand for regular flights from Baku to Sharm el-Sheikh is quite large. Traditionally Azerbaijani tourists visited the city mainly during the holiday seasons of Novruz and New Year. It seems they can do this all year round now.
“We know that Azerbaijani tourists traditionally prefer Turkey and UAE. Egypt is a relatively new and interesting direction for them. It has a rich culture, amazing sea, plus a pronounced beach season all year round. We hope to extend our program covering Azerbaijan until the winter season when temperatures here reach 25-30 degrees for air and 23 degrees for water. And you can relax comfortably. This is not an expensive vacation, which everyone can afford,” Galina Gorelova noted.
What can surprise Azerbaijani tourists spoiled by the Turkish “all-inclusive” service in Sharm el-Sheikh? “Egypt is a completely different country with different nature, different mentality. Here we have different religious monuments, landmarks and entertainment. It is just something new and fascinating. We can offer a good all-inclusive service, which is more budget-savvy than a Turkish one. Now I'll ask you if you would prefer to visit the Maldives or Thailand in winter with no all-inclusive service, or Egypt?” the representative of Egyptian company asked us a rhetorical question.
Gorelova believes that until October they can receive about 235 tourists every week thanks to direct flights from Baku. After that, they can think about extending the flights for the whole year. An important factor is the great purchasing power of Azerbaijani tourists. “Do not underestimate the consumer demand of your population. You have a country with a beautiful, developing economy. I was in Baku in 2016 and a month ago. Things are changing fast in Azerbaijan! Positive and visible changes. Your population is quite educated, people work well and like vacating comfortably,” Gorelova said.
How to visit the paradise?
Sharm el-Sheikh is a wonderful place for both families with children, young people and the elderly. It is easy to move around and almost impossible to get lost. The city is small and located along one main road - Peace Road. It is a little over 30 kilometres from one end to the other. On the roads, you can often meet police checkpoints, but this should not scare you. On the contrary, everything is done for the safety of tourists. There are closed reserves on both sides of the city. But today it expands for another 50 kilometres. It is expected that in five years a second Sharm el-Sheikh will appear behind the reserve.
Travel companies also hope that the government of Egypt will approve the appropriate bill to build a bridge across the sea. It will connect Egypt and Saudi Arabia and for 40 minutes tourists from the rich Arab countries of the Persian Gulf will be able to get to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Apparently, these expectations sparkled a new investment boom in the tourism sector of Sharm el-Sheikh. Along the roads you can see a lot of frozen construction, but gradually the signs of renewed optimism among investors appear. The owners of the Turkish hotel chain Rixos, for example, have begun construction of a 4,000-bed hotel with a Disneyland on the Red Sea. Sharm el-Sheikh has enough entertainment to trigger your interest in the trip.
If you are going to rest on Sinai, you will not need an Egyptian visa. But if you want to see Cairo, the pyramids, the Sphinx, take a boat trip on the legendary Nile River, visit the cultural capital of Egypt, Alexandria, and see the famous Library of Alexandria, then you must apply for an Egyptian visa at the entrance. If you have not done so at the airport, do not worry. You can apply for a visa later through your guide. In this case, you should pay attention that your visa was certified by a triangular stamp, which is mandatory for all tourists from the post-Soviet space, except for Russians and Ukrainians. Otherwise, you will be fined $45 when leaving Egypt. Egyptian visa costs $25.
After spending only $100-110 and a day and a half, you can get to Cairo by bus, see the pyramids, the Sphinx, the Egyptian National Museum, which stores Tutankhamen’s 110kg mask made of pure gold, its sarcophagus, etc. This also includes a walk along the Nile. A one-way trip will take 8 hours of your time. But if you do not like long drive in a car, then Nefer Tours travel agency can organize you’re an air flight to Cairo for $230-300 depending on your requests. The flight takes only 40 minutes.
Sharm el-Sheikh is young enough to talk about the presence of many monuments of ancient Egyptian culture. However, here you can visit the mountain of Moses, the mosque and the Orthodox Church, where local Copts pray. As explained by our guide Mahmud, Christians make up a third of the population of Sharm el-Sheikh.
In order not to be disappointed when traveling to Sharm el-Sheikh, it is advisable to use the services of your tour operator. The practice of self-booking hotel in this case is not a very useful exercise. The reality cannot quite meet your expectations, formed after viewing colourful photos and reviews of tourists. But if you still decide to book on the Internet, it is necessary to note that you are not a resident of Egypt, because the prices for residents and non-residents are different in favour of the latter.
Many small oases
One can find a variety of hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh tailored for different tastes and opportunities. They all resemble oases in the desert with a lot of water, greenery, and flowers around. Hyatt Regency, Rixos, Mariott, For Seasons, Movenpick successfully operate here. In terms of service, local networks such as Jaz, Albatros and Baron are not far behind them. By the way, if you are very accustomed to the Turkish premium quality in the all-inclusive segment, then in Sharm el-Sheikh you need to go to the hotel chain Rixos and Baron, where the management is also Turkish. If you prefer new hotels, with more modern renovation and equipment, then you need to visit the area of Nabk. The only disadvantage in almost all hotels in this resort is that the Internet is weak to be impossible. Hoteliers are joking that this is also for the benefit of the guests - so that they can enjoy plenty of their stay in paradise.
In addition to unlimited food and the usual animation program, the most reputable of the hotels hold various concerts of local celebrities, soap parties and even horse shows for the guests. In some hotels there are also special offers for just-married - a free romantic dinner, a specially decorated room and a lot of pleasant little things that will decorate the first days of their life together. By the way, the 23rd French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni spent their honeymoon in one of the villas of the Movenpick hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Almost all the good hotels in Sharm el-Sheikh are located along the coast. They occupy large areas and consist of two- or three-storey buildings. As a result, most rooms offer beautiful views of the Red Sea. But even if the hotel is on the second line, you will be taken to the beach by buses for free. For lovers of beach holidays, it is important to know that because of the coral hat, which covers almost the entire coastal area, the beaches of hotels are equipped with pontoons, the length of which sometimes reaches hundreds of meters. If you do not like or cannot swim at depth, then you should try to find hotels with a sandy lagoon and shallow waters.
In Sharm el-Sheikh, sea trips to the islands of Tiran, Ras Mohammed, and White Island are very popular. Here you can go diving with an instructor, watch coral forests and get to know the rich underwater world of the Red Sea. If you do not like diving or are afraid, it does not matter either. Your guides will surely offer a lot of other entertainment that will be hard to refuse. For example, a ride through the desert in a caravan of quads and drink Bedouin tea in a hut. Here you can also ride a camel.
The weather here is hot but not stuffy. In winter, it is also warm, although some clouds are possible. The temperature of the water in the pools is 22-24 degrees. Moreover, in almost all hotels, the pools are also heated. The heating season traditionally begins on December 20 and ends on February 20. A reference point for the transition to winter operation is also the local police. “In this country, winter comes when the police changes the colour of their uniforms. If you see an officer dressed in black, it means it is winter, and white when it is summer,” Inga Ilienko, manager at the Movenpick hotel says.
By the way, Russian-speaking employees greet and escort the guests in almost all hotels and travel agencies of Sharm el-Sheikh. Most of them moved to work here from Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. In general, almost everyone in this city speaks Russian and English. And even in the market you will find bargaining easy. Signs of all restaurants and shops are also in Russian. Here you can buy natural aromatic oils, dates and oriental sweets, various medicinal herbs and teas. They can offer you at exorbitant prices, but after bargaining, you will definitely buy for a reasonable price. Bazaars and shops are also open during the day, but lively trade begins only in the evening, when the temperatures are bearable. That is why you will not waste your vacation time while shopping.
Are you still thinking?