When the Spanish Conquistadors sailed across the Atlantic Ocean searching for the lost city of gold (known to them as Eldorado), they unknowingly headed in the wrong direction. Perhaps fortunately, they missed what was right under their noses, across the Mediterranean, amidst the awesome mountains of the Sinai Peninsula. The city of Dahab (meaning “gold” in Arabic), lies on Egypt’s placid Red Sea. Located approximately 50 miles (90 Km) north of the Sharm-El-Sheikh resort, this place has a brilliant magic: punctuated by the spectacular natural scenery of soaring red mountains, gently swaying green palm trees, and a calm and clear deep blue sea. It is impossible not to become totally intoxicated by the magnetic pull and incessant charm of the total serenity. A long dip in the Red Sea can truly cleanse one of any stress or worry.
The volume of energy radiating in this treasured land is preserved in the Old Testament, but can be felt just as strongly today. This is a place replete with peace, healing, reflection, self-discovery, and creativity. It also is a place where time drifts away; days seamlessly melting into one another. Whether meditating amidst the colored canyons of Sinai, or submerged in the turquoise water of the Laguna, one cannot help but inhale the transformative energy of nature reverberating all around. From the sound of the low waves crashing on the coral asunder, to the faint echo of the wind on the mountain slopes, it is a place of magnificent wonder.
Dotting these stunning landscapes are the local Dahabian people who are often good- humored and almost always ready to strike up a conversation with a stranger over a cup of sweet Bedouin tea. Furthermore, although many Egyptians have suffered acute economic hardship in recent years, random acts of kindness are far from an unusual occurence. For example, a restaurant waiter saved the loose papers from my journal which were blown into the sea while I was swimming, and actually ironed each page dry…and wrinkle-free! This is the special charm of the people you will encounter in Dahab. And speaking of the local tea – the Egyptian cuisine is a mouthwatering experience on its own: the food in Dahab is delectable. Travelers will be able to sample a dizzying array of spice-filled aromatic flavors in their vegetarian dishes of choice, ranging from grilled eggplant, to cumin rice, tahini, warm bread with whipped feta cheese, and finally, a plate of baked beans with olive oil known locally as foul.
Once the exclusive home of Bedouin fishermen, Dahab had remained, until somewhat recently, mostly unknown to foreign tourists as well as Egyptians, despite being a world-renowned destination for wind/kite surfers and divers. In the past few years, however, an astonishingly diverse (though small) group of divers, artists, digital nomads, adventurers, and wandering souls seeking solace have all found a home in the city of gold. Lately, expatriates and young Egyptians alike have begun to escape the chaos and pollution of big metropolises for this tranquil paradise.
The journeys relayed by people I met reflect this shift best: an American consultant has moved his base from Washington, D.C. to Dahab because he prefers the aura of this charming town to the politically charged one he left behind; a British marketing executive left his hectic life in London to become a dive instructor and is simultaneously experimenting with developing coral-friendly skin treatments; a Russian real estate magnate has chosen to raise her kids in the open alleys of Dahab where they can run free, as opposed to being cloistered in the cold cement jungle of Moscow; an Egyptian interior designer from Cairo told me she laments that Dahab is one of the few places the disillusioned youth, disappointed by the aftermath of their much celebrated revolution, can afford to escape to for mental and spiritual relief; an Egyptian graduate student studying epidemiology in Alexandria boasted that he makes a 26 hour roundtrip bus commute to Dahab twice a month (as he describes it, all worries and exhaustion disappear once he reaches Dahab and gets a glimpse of the sea); and an Egyptian electrical engineer came to Dahab to volunteer on an organic farm and learn about permaculture. After six weeks there, he agonizes over whether he wants to start his new position with a petroleum company, or instead seek a career to help restore balance to the environment.
But the allure of Dahab definitely extends further than what is being left behind in other places.
Out of this quiet oasis, a nascent healing community is budding, led by the dynamic expatriates of Dahab. Nestled among the numerous dive shops and seaside restaurants, a few yoga studios, health food cafes, juice bars, and organic farms have sprung up in the town, mostly catering to free divers and health-conscious travelers. Dahab is definitely ripe for exploration by yoga and wellness retreat organizers.
Additionally, Dahab offers exhilirating experiences for every type of traveler: world-class snorkeling; scuba and free diving; rock climbing and canyon trekking; star-blanketed bedouin dinners; picturesque wind and kite surfing lagunas; quad biking in the valleys and mountain biking in the peaks; yoga and meditation; and trance dance parties.
For those seeking natural nourishment for the soul, and a transformative awakening of the spirit, the treasured appeal of Dahab is irrestible. So to travelers, I say: go for the gold rush!