Photo: Adam Butler/AP
The desert town turned holiday resort, Sharm el-Sheikh, is a north African Las Vegas in progress. The streets are lined with palace-style hotel after hotel (some of them still under construction) into which pale visitors from Russia, Italy and the UK unload themselves.
Sharm is, as our Egyptian driver put it, "100% tourism", so the emphasis is less on Egyptian culture than tourist pampering. The four and five-star hotel “parks” are equipped with everything from multiple swimming pools to in-house diving schools and western restaurants. The privatized beaches, particularly the one in Naama Bay, are beautifully sandy-white, and the weather allows for sunbathing even in late November - if it wasn't for the labouring, exclusively male Egyptian workforce, life would be just like in the holiday catalogues.
Sharm's greatest asset is the underwater world and snorkelling and diving are deservedly popular activities. The sea life in Ras Mohammed or the nearby blue water hole in Dahab are simply breathtaking. Nightlife, too, is plentiful in Sharm el-Sheikh: Shisha places, international restaurants, and western-style bars and clubs turn Naama Bay into a little Ibiza after sunset. But remember: this being a tourist place also means tourist rates. Paradise always comes at a price.