Nowhere in Sinai is the tourist boom as concentrated as in Sharm el-Sheikh.
The town of Sharm El-Sheikh, which existed pre-1967 as a closed military zone, was used by the Israelis. The small community, still dubbed by some ‘Old’ Sharm, is rapidly shedding its dilapidated image while managing to retain a relatively authentic Egyptian vibe. These days you can snack cheaply on a kebab or be refreshed at a local juice stall, yet rest assured every tourist requirement will be met at a modern, attractively landscaped hotel. In the Old Market there are still scars from the decimation caused by the bombs that killed 17 people in July 2005, but the area has bounced back and souvenir stalls, supermarkets and unpretentious restaur- ants teem day and night with a mix of Egyptians and foreigners. Cushions and rag-rugs festoon the cafés and fairy lighting is de rigeur along the pedestrianized strip. However, some holidaymakers will feel disillusioned and short-changed by the soulless air and obvious construction rife in Hadaba, and by every second sign being in Russian.
Many high-quality hotels are now springing up around Hadaba, the hilltop neighbourhood between the town and resort area. While many of these cater to East European holidaymakers on package deals, there are a couple of decent mid-range places available and it’s also home to an international community of dive instructors attracted by cheaper property prices and the proximity to Ras Um Sidd, a spectacular shore diving spot. Attempts to prettify Hadaba’s wide wastelands are being made as palm trees are planted along sterile highways and new buildings are settling into the landscape. While friendly little comm- unities form around the clusters of mini- markets, coffee shops and dive centres, the spanking new Il Mercato centre – a grandiose Italianate mega-mall selling every brand of coffee and training shoe imaginable – is a surreal reminder of the aspirations at work in Sharm.