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If you’ve recently read our Complete guide to Dahab, admit it: you’ve already begun planning your next trip to this favorite Red Sea holiday destination! (We know we are, and we just got back!)
But how will you get there? Since Dahab is such a budget-friendly vacation spot, it can seem a shame to double or even triple your whole trip budget on airfare. Or maybe you found one of those great flight deals from Europe to Sharm El Sheikh … but decide at the last minute to also make your way over to Cairo for the taste of the history and culture there, and you don’t want to break the bank! (For just such a last-minute Egypt scenario, read about how to spend 48 hours in Cairo here.)
So can travel in Egypt between Cairo and Sinai be done on a budget? And is it safe for foreign travelers to take the Cairo to Dahab bus? Absolutely! Let us tell you how.
A number of bus companies offer extremely affordable travel between Cairo, Sharm, and Dahab. Check out our Getting Around Egypt page for information on some of these companies, and how to find tickets.
The bus routes follow the southern coastline of the Sinai Peninsula – which is the longer route to these sea-side destinations, but the one that maintains a distance of 300-500km between the travel route and the troublesome areas of the northeast corner of Sinai. Moreover, the army keeps a very visible presence along the travel route, with checkpoints and vehicle inspections at various intervals along the way. This military presence – along with a barren mountain range spanning the middle of the peninsula – keeps southern Sinai cut off from the problems plaguing the northeast corner.
Once you’ve booked your ticket and have shown up at the bus station, here’s what you can expect from your journey.
Arriving at the Bus Station
Firstly, show up to the station around 30 minutes early. This will give you enough time to locate your correct bus. Oftentimes more than one bus will be about to depart, and it’s not always clear right away which bus is which. Note that destinations are generally not indicated on any type of signage on the bus. Those 30 minutes should be plenty of time to locate and confirm your bus, check any luggage into the lower luggage compartment area, and even buy some snacks at a nearby kiosk for the road. Don’t show up any later; the buses tend to depart within 15 minutes of their scheduled time. (I know, I know …that’s pretty darn impressive in Egypt!) If you’ve bought a ticket online and have the confirmation on your phone, that’s all you should need; I usually ride without printing out a paper ticket.
So that was the good news. Here’s the not so good news: the trip between Cairo and Dahab can take anywhere between 9 and 12 hours. Still, the average time is probably closer to 10 hours, and the westward trips tend to be faster than the eastward ones.
The variation in duration depends on a few different factors. There may be delays at the tunnel at the border of mainland Egypt and Sinai; the traffic pattern is strictly monitored and controlled by the military, and the tunnel can be closed for an hour or so without any warning. Also, the number of checkpoints and traffic stops along the way will vary per trip. Finally, trip length can depend on the number and duration of snack/bathroom/cigarette breaks taken along the way.
Regarding the military checkpoints, always have your ID/passport close by you on the bus. At various times, the bus will stop and a plain-clothes officer will board and check each passenger’s ID. Even if the announcement is only made in Arabic and you don’t immediately understand what is happening, you’ll see everyone else getting their IDs out and ready before the officer gets to them; do the same as to make the process smooth and efficient so your bus will be on its way faster.
Usually there will be at least one security check near the tunnel that will be a more thorough security check. The bus will pull over in a holding area; uniformed military members will ask everyone on the bus with luggage to remove their bags from the area below and assemble into a line with their luggage unzipped in front of them. A soldier will then walk by and quickly inspect the luggage (either visually or by briefly reaching into the unzipped luggage) and IDs before sending everyone back on the bus and on their way.
Again, instructions regarding this process may not be explained in English. But if you’re unsure — just ask, and someone will generally help you out. It’s a routine inspection, and one that again is carried out in a relatively quick and efficient manner.
Finally, you can expect a few quick stops along the way at rest areas with small cafes, snack kiosks, and bathroom facilities. Expect these bathrooms to be fairly clean and decently maintained, though remember to bring your own paper as well as a couple of Egyptian pounds as most facilities are pay-to-use.
The generally rule seems to be: the more smokers on the bus, the more stops you’ll end up making. These stops will last anywhere from 10-30 minutes, again depending mostly on the smokers. (They’ll be told it will be a 10 minute stop, but…well …. Egypt. 😁)
So… Is it Worth It?
My personal recommendation is to take the overnight bus rides; the stops tend to be fewer, and despite a movie or some music at the beginning and ending of the trip, most of the bus ride is spent in silence so passengers can sleep. But definitely bring along these necessities: a pillow, an eye mask, headphones or earplugs, and a blanket (the AC is something FIERCE – and I’m not the type of person who gets cold easily.)
The buses may not be the most comfortable means of transportation in the world – though if you spend a little extra money on the “elite” bus class service, they really aren’t too bad. Overall, they are great for travelling on a budget, and absolutely ideal for fulfilling spur-of-the-moment travel plans.
Foreigners really need not be intimidated by the overland journey. So if an opportunity comes up – even at the last minute – for you to travel to Dahab … take it! Dahab with it’s laid-back, anything goes vibe is practically MEANT for spontaneous travel, and many times these buses are just the means of travel to get you there!
We hope you really liked this blog post, as much as we enjoyed putting it together. If you want to ask us any questions, or engage with other people, join our facebook group here.