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Sinai

Sinai once belonged to Israel after they expanded their territories after defeating the Arabs. The Israeli government encouraged settlement there as in Gaza and the West Bank by promising tax breaks and the like. Eventually, it was time to make peace with Egypt though and Sinai had to be given back to them in return for an end to the death threats.

In many ways this may have been a blessing for the place as, left in the hands of the Israelis, the Sinai Peninsula would probably have been turned into a garish tourist trap. As it is, the Egyptians are mostly too under-motivated to destroy the natural beauty and the tourism industry is run by the Bedouin.

The Bedouin have always lived in the Sinai and have survived variously as smugglers, traders and mercenaries over the centuries, Today they continue with the smuggling across the Israeli border of guns, drugs and prostitutes from Russia but they also handle the tourism.

From the Israeli border and down there are Bedouin resorts of traditional huts made from carpets and date palm fronds. Travelers come here to lie back on the carpets all day, play some backgammon and guitar, get stoned and swim in the magical Red Sea. Many of the cooler places to stay have no electricity and so there’s no noise or light pollution to take away from the sound of the lapping waves and the myriad of stars at night.

Sinai is unspeakably beautiful and is fairly cheap too. If you were to stay for a month in one resort then the rent of your hoosha and food might come to $300-500. It kind of depends on how well you get to know the Bedouin family who run the hooshas.

Behind the coastal resorts there are red hills of stone rising up as the gateway to the Sinai Desert and the Bedouin are more than ready to take you on camel treks through their domain for a fee.

Whilst there is some European tourism around the border town of Daba, mainly centred around the excellant scuba diving here, 95% of the business here is from Israelis who come to escape the stress of everyday Israel. In holiday times and the summer even the quiet places to stay can be over run with groups of young, raucous Israelis and the thing to do is look for somewhere even more isolated.

Generally, this means taking a taxi as far away from the border as possible and asking the advice of Israelis you meet as to where is off the beaten track. Anywhere near the border is likely to be loud and garish and many head down to the tent complexes of Ras-al-sitan.

Many Israelis are now scared to go though as there have been bomb blasts from the Intifada and even talk about kidnapping. This makes it a great time to travel in Sinai as there’s less tourism and prices are lower. It’s a damn shame for many of the Bedouin families who try to make a living here but it’s hard to believe that no one knew what was going on.

To get to Sinai you just pass through the border from Eilat. Typically, the Egypians will give you two weeks right of stay but you should be able to argue for more if you say you’re continuing on to Cairo. Coming back from Sinai to Israel, shave and wear respectable clothes and the immigration will still only give you 2-4 weeks entry stamp.