Do you find yourself longing for a holiday where the whole family can just go back to basics and get in touch with nature? Are you dreading going to a commercial and raucous family resort where you find yourself on one excursion after another when all you want is to sit still and soak up the sun? Two words for you: Nuweiba, Sinai.
What does Nuweiba mean?
Nuweiba is a coastal town in South Sinai, Egypt located on the Gulf of Aqaba. In Arabic it means “bubbling springs”.
The beauty of Sinai, and Egypt in general, is that you can visit any time of the year. It can get pretty hot during the summer months of July and August though. We visited Nuweiba, a town and port located in South Sinai, during the February half-term. The weather was warm during the day. But we had to wear heavier clothes in the evening because it got chilly and breezy.
We rented a car and drove there. We decided that next time we would be better off taking a coach since it is a 6-hour road trip from Cairo and we didn’t need the car there anyway. If you are arriving to Egypt by plane, then you can fly in to Sharm El Sheikh airport, which is well connected and a couple of hours away from Nuweiba. There are also airports in the nearby towns of Saint Catherine’s and Taba but these probably need connections from Cairo. In all cases, you will need a taxi or bus to take you to your accommodation in Nuweiba.
Where to stay
There are lots of hotels and camps in Nuweiba. My husband wanted us to stay at Basata, an eco-lodge that he frequented when he was at university. I had my doubts at first that it would be a good choice but I was in for a pleasant surprise.
The ethos of Basata
Basata is Arabic for simplicity and that is exactly the ethos of the place. It is the first eco-lodge in Egypt established in 1986 by married couple Sherif and Maria El Ghamrawy. Everything is built using Egyptian architecture, traditional techniques and natural materials. The staff are doing a stellar job to conserve water, recycle rubbish and protect the environment. Seawater is used to flush toilets and wash dirty dishes and the eco-lodge does not use single-use plastic.
You can choose one of three options of accommodation. There are chalets with ensuite bathrooms, electricity and solar-powered water boilers. They were built using white stone from nearby quarries. The furniture, rugs, baskets and accessories throughout the eco-lodge are all produced by the local Bedouin tribes.
The second option is a hut made of straw, bamboo and palm trees. These don’t have electricity or running water so you need to use the communal bathrooms and showers. There is also a camping site for those of you adventurous enough to get your tents and sleeping bags. A clear perk is you get to sleep under the stars to the sound of the crashing waves.
Cooking and dining
In the main hut is a fully functioning kitchen where you can prepare your own meals as well as outdoor seating for you to eat, relax and socialise. It is up to you to bring your own ingredients, or choose from a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, pulses, pastas and canned food.
There is a fridge full of soft drinks, juices, dairy and eggs. Just note down whatever you took in a ledger and you pay at the end of your stay. There are mineral water dispensers to fill up your water bottles or make hot drinks. You can bring your own alcohol with you if you want, but there is a code of conduct you have to abide by, out of respect for other guests.
If you would rather take a holiday from cooking too, a baker comes in every morning to make Egyptian “baladi” bread, pita pockets filled with feta cheese, flatbread with cheddar cheese, pizza, orange cake and anise biscuits. You can also opt in to the dinner which is a selection of Egyptian vegetarian or pescatarian dishes. During our stay, we had zucchini with bechamel, fish and chips, moussaka, battered cauliflower, pasta bake and cheese pastry – delicious!
Things to do in Nuweiba
Enjoy the beach
You can play volleyball, swim or snorkel in the sea provided that you don’t touch any of the corals. If you don’t own any snorkelling gear, you can rent some from the lodge and you can even rent a canoe or paddle boat. Jet skis and boats with engines are not allowed because of their impact on the environment.
Explore the desert
We went on a hike through the Malha valley and the Weshwashi valley before arriving at an oasis where we had lunch and tea prepared by the Bedouin guides. My daughter was too scared to ride the camel so we did the whole 5-hour hike on foot. But at least they carried our stuff and we had our hands free to pick up litter which we recycled back at the camp. The Bedouin guides can also arrange for you to camp outdoors overnight if that is your thing. In doing so, you would be able to visit other attractions such as the Coloured Canyon and hot water springs.
Visit Saint Catherine’s Monastery
I have visited Saint Catherine’s monastery three times already and every time I go I am taken back by its significance. It holds the relics of Saint Catherine as well as a fantastic library holding ancient manuscripts and books. We stopped at the Moses well and the Burning Bush which is believed to be the site where Moses spoke to God. The monks are quite strict when it comes to noise and they also don’t allow photos or videos to be taken inside the church. The monastery is closed on Fridays and Sundays as well as any other festival days in the Greek Orthodox Church calendar. It is open from 9 – 11:30 am otherwise.
Climb Mount Sinai
There are lots of mountains in Sinai but perhaps the most famous of them is Mount Sinai. In Arabic it is called “Jabal Mousa” or Moses Mountain and it is believed to be the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Lots of pilgrims climb Mount Sinai every year. It takes anywhere between 5 and 8 hours and most pilgrims start at midnight so they can be at the summit before dawn. There are two ways to do it. You can climb up on foot, which as you can imagine is quite a tiring journey up steep, crumbling steps. Another option is to use camels for most of the journey and then climb some steps at the end. Make sure you wear hiking boots and have enough water and snacks with you.
After all, this is a desert holiday in an eco-lodge in South Sinai, with no TV or Wi-Fi, so you might as well chill. My daughter and I did our yoga on the beach every morning and during the evenings we read, played cards and talked to other lodgers. Basata has a quaint library where you can borrow books and board games if you forgot to bring your own. Habiba, the camp’s dog and half a dozen stray cats also kept us entertained. My daughter also loved gazing up at the stars and used a star gazing app on her tablet to find out the names of the constellations and planets.
What to pack
Whatever accommodation your family will stay in make sure to bring these with you:
- Wet wipes
- Toilet roll
- Tissue paper
- Water bottle
- Food (optional)
- Snorkelling gear (optional)
- Insect repellant (during the summer)
If you booked a hut, in addition to the above, bring these too:
- Blankets (during the winter)
If you are going camping, then you would need these too:
- Sleeping bag
Looking for another desert adventure?
If you like the sound of Nuweiba, you might like other desert holidays in Egypt such as Fayoum or Dakhla. If you are more of a budget backpacker, then check out this great blog post about Dahab by Moheb Wessa aka The Wanderer Pharaoh titled Dahab Egypt’s expats & backpackers paradise.