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Sharm el Sheikh – 10 Days At The Cleopatra Hotel

Having traveled around Europe and the Mediterranean extensively over the last 5 years we thought this year we would try something different. Having a 10 year old daughter we didn’t want to go too far off the beaten track so after watching some travel channels we decided to go on a visit to the Red Sea Riviera, more specifically Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt which I think most people would regard as one of the more up and coming destinations in world travel. After a lot of research we were happy in our choice expecting a cheap, friendly destination, obviously not Europe but familiar enough to have an enjoyable family holiday. It really appears as though the Red Sea is being marketing in direct competition to the Mediterranean resorts and we were really looking forward to our relaxing holiday in the sun with added excitement of experiencing a different culture.

We booked our one week trip with, Med Hotels being the tour operator (having recently being bought by We were staying in the 4 star Tsokkos Cleopatra Hotel. The Tsokkos chain consists of more that 25 hotels and we considered it to be a safe bet particularly with regard to food hygiene standards and staff quality. All literature confirmed that the hotel contained an entertainment program (very important when you travel with children) and a large number of facilities ranging from several restaurants to a beauty salon. Again we prepared for the different culture by reading as much material as possible from sources including tourist guides and websites; we were fully expecting to have to barter in every shop and to tip for most things. The Egyptian people were described as being friendly yet very good salesmen. Our holiday to the red sea in Egypt contained very little of what we expected…

Within minutes of landing at Sharm el Sheikh airport we were being hassled, harassed and ultimately ripped off. We wanted visas which “should” cost £15 each, the Egyptian official wanted 450 Egyptian pound (i.e. from now on) which is not £45, it is close but still more. There was no opportunity to pay in a different currency as we had been advised. Anybody not wanting a Visa was treated appallingly (A visa is not required if you only plan to visit Sharm el Sheikh itself). When you pass through passport control you will find a baggage trolley is thrown in front of you, very nice except when the hand comes out and the bloke is demanding “tips in English”. He has cornered all the trolleys in the airport and this is the only way to get one, I have no problem with tipping for a service but this man has done nothing more that steal the public baggage trolleys. This is not a friendly happy experience but an aggressive, intimidating really annoying one, I can think of no worse a way to start your holiday. It’s worth noting that there are plenty of security guards around at this point, all of them giving each other piggy backs and monkey scrubs! When you finally get outside of the airport you will face the gauntlet of making our way to the coach. It’s about 200 yards uphill to the coach park and the pavement is lined with people wanting to push your trolley. They will not take “no thanks” for an answer, if you are elderly or struggling you may need a hand, we were fine but still the trolley was grabbed away from me twice and money was demanded, again this is not a nice request but is extremely aggressive. You will need to wrestle your trolley back or pay up. The only way to get rid of them is to say you have no money, the reps offer no protection for the holiday maker and you are left to battle on. We finally got to the coach and I put our cases away, our med hotels rep was talking to a local who I presumed to be the driver, just as was finishing putting the hand luggage on he picked up my wife’s bag and put it on the cases, can you guess what is coming next? “Tips in English”. Presuming this man was the driver (after all the rep was hugging him and seemed very friendly), I gave him a pound, he then moved onto the next coach, hmmm I guess he wasn’t the driver after all? We’ve probably been in Egypt less than an hour at this point, we’ve not been left alone without people wanting money for maybe more than 2 minutes. Everybody from the officials, security, and holiday reps who are supposed to be there to welcome and look after you are only interested in extracted every last penny you may have, no matter what the currency. It soon dawns on me that we are like lambs being led to the slaughter. That was our welcome to Egypt. I should mention again that I was mentally prepared for Egypt and it’s culture but with it all being quite friendly and good natured, it’s really not. The passengers on our coach all appeared a bit dazed and confused at what had just happened.

The Cleopatra Hotel

our room in egypt

The Cleopatra Hotel was about a 40 minutes coach ride from the airport, it would probably be quicker but in Sharm el Sheikh there is a strange traffic management program where instead of junctions they use turning points that may require you to travel several hundred yards in the wrong direction just to turn around. Anyway this all adds to the fun and confirms that you are not in Europe. The hotel itself like all in this area closely resembles a fort, high walls and security guards are a must. Whilst on the coach we passed several tent cities and many groups of young men sitting at the side of the road. It is again another firm reminder that you are in a different culture and we found all this quite exciting. The Cleopatra was not what we were expecting, for a start it is much smaller than the travel agents would have you believe. There was confusion with our booking in that we had booked 2 adjoining rooms. At first the hotel wanted to offer us 1 room with 3 beds in it, I’m so glad we did not accept this, the rooms are small by any standard. Eventually we settled on 2 rooms together although not adjoining on the premise that when people left we would get our adjoining rooms. To be fair to the Cleopatra this mix up was not their fault but had failed to inform them of our requirements. Still it felt like we had to barter for the rooms we had paid for. On reaching the rooms it was very clear that they were not rooms normally used by guests but rather holiday rep bases. Our toilet leaked and the neither fan was working. The wiring has to be seen to be believed. The view from our balconies was that of the building site next door (luckily most of this was obscured by the Hotels security wall). This did not resemble 4 star in any way, luckily we were only to use these rooms for 2 nights before we could move to our new room. Our new rooms were much better, over looking the bar area (there was only one bar), the rooms were bigger, cleaner and we felt much happier. Still it must be said that this was not a 4 star hotel. This room lottery was repeated by everybody we met in the hotel, it appears as if you will be given a rubbish room until you complain.

We were staying on a bed and breakfast basis as we envisaged having the opportunity to eat out most nights. Something that didn’t happen due to the dreaded Pharaohs revenge. The majority of guests in the hotel were staying on an all-inclusive basis and we did join them for some evening meals. The hotel food comprised of buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dinner choice was quite a bland mix of beef, chicken, potatoes, pasta, various soups and small amounts of root vegetables. Breakfast was the usual choice of a couple of cereals, a continental style breakfast or eggs in various guises. The staff whilst being in the most part very friendly (especially with children) were very keen to get your plates and in particular cutlery away from you as soon as you have finished, or before in some cases. This of course limits what you can eat but more importantly imposes a feeling of urgency on anyone left eating. Again this did not feel anything like 4 star, we were glad that we had not paid the all-inclusive price. On the subject of all-inclusive the actual operating of this within the hotel was something I had never seen before. As well as a wrist band (which is standard) guests were also required to sign for every drink, snack, meal, EVERYTHING. This made getting something to eat or drink an ordeal, there were plenty of waiting staff but only one person where you could sign for things. As B&B guests we also had to sign for everything against the room and settle the bill the next day. No cash payments are accepted in the hotel at all. Staff would comment on us not being all-inclusive and yet all-inclusive guests were complaining of the incredibly slow service they received. On settling this daily bill we would never get any change, adding more expense to what were incredibly expensive prices anyway, for a 3rd world country with a poor currency the actual costs of a drink within the Cleopatra are more expensive than you would pay in the average bar in England. This lack of change is something that appears to be common in Egypt (certainly Sharm el Sheikh) and tourists should be wary of the practice of locals not having change when a price has been agreed, you. We were staying in a hotel that was part of an international chain, if I choose to leave a tip that is one thing, but for reception to not give change as a rule, then that is another. I’m not talking about pennies either, over the course of our 7 days I imagine we paid about £35 extra to the Cleopatra reception. This left a feeling of being robbed on a daily basis until I decided that it would be best to leave the bill several days at a time before paying, at least this would limit how much extra we were “tipping”. A wiser policy still would be to not pay a penny until leaving.

One final thing about the Cleopatra you should be very wary of the “mini-market” as advertised within the hotel. This is not as you would expect somewhere to buy a packet of crisps or a drink for your room but rather a selection of small gift shops run by very aggressive salesmen. In fact the hotel will not allow you to buy food and drink from anywhere but the hotel, whilst we were there a young lad had his onion rings confiscated only to be given back when leaving! This appeared very strange, especially as he was an all inclusive guest and the hotel already had his money. The shop keepers pay a premium to be situated on the tourists door step and are a constant pain, you soon learn to avoid them and most guests find themselves scared of this lions den. Again, expect no protection from the hotel staff, who will gladly point you in their direction should you require anything from some change (which is then not available) to an excursion. Prices are over inflated (even by Sharm el Sheikh standards) and the only excursion we wished to book was cancelled eventually because the salesman could not deliver what he had promised, 3 days after a deposit had been taken. What makes things worse is that the left luggage area is in the middle of these shops meaning that you are unlikely to be able to avoid them, at least on your last day. Of particular note is the perfume seller, he will lock you in his shop and not let you go until you have bought his fake perfume at £30 for a small bottle. Using a well worn sales pitch it is very hard to escape without parting with your money, in fact on our way home we heard of a Irish couple in a different hotel who were followed back to their room by one of these hotel salesman demanding money, this all seems very wrong.

our hotel, Cleopatra in egypt

Overall our opinion of the hotel was not good. Bland food, poor rooms, a constant smell of sewage (That you eventually become immune to) and rules that made it feel more like a prison camp than a 4 star hotel. We knew of people that had paid £2000 for 1 weeks all inclusive (for 2 adults and a child) , they were devastated. What must be said is that it appeared as though the Cleopatra was trying to improve, what appeared to be senior management were around most days we were there over looking things, the entertainment crew must also get credit for trying so hard to keep everybody smiling, that said it still has a very long way before it could be regarded value for money or anywhere we would wish to stay again.

Sharm el Sheikh and Naama Bay Area

The area around the hotel was empty and you never felt very comfortable walking anywhere, so as a rule most people travel by taxi. The main shopping and tourist area around Sharm el Sheikh is Naama bay.

On our second day we ventured into Naama Bay with a ride in the hotel taxi. It later turned out that we were dropped of right in the outskirts of the actual tourist area we wanted to visit. We never made it that far. Within a few minutes we had been pestered and taken into a little shop selling “authentic” Egyptian papyrus. There were people sleeping on the floor, clothes hanging up and Hassim the owner was really keen to lock the door get us some drinks and show us his art (yes he had hand drawn all these pictures!). We were here to experience a different culture and we certainly had that. THREE HOURS later after we had gone through the pictures one by one twice, he had taken us to the cash point, we’d had free drinks we left with 2 pictures and a hole in our pocket for 450 ie (about £47). His starting offer was 2000ie (£200) for each picture so going by the tourist guide of one third of the starting price we thought we’d done ok (I guess the locals have also started reading these books). He did seem very nice and was certainly friendly enough even phoning the taxi to come and take us back to the hotel, still we knew we had been done but had no idea how much, boy would we find out later. One of the things he did say though was that Sharm el Sheikh is only for tourists, there are no women, children or old people living here. Men come here to work and send money home. It is basically one great big tourist trap and has as much in common with Egyptian life as London does. For those of you looking to discover the real Egypt don’t give Sharm el Sheikh a second thought. On our last day we found a small market that had prices on goods, the actual pictures we bought could have been purchased for £3 each here. Whilst it’s one thing to experience a culture and barter whilst shopping you’d hope that the locals were not trying to rob you blind. It certainly appears that in Sharm el Sheikh the locals have become very greedy and with every piece of tat is given a price tag of hundreds if not thousands of Egyptian pounds. Buying fake goods and tatty souvenirs is all part of the average holiday experience but you would expect to pay a cheap price, especially in a country with such a devalued currency.

We did venture into Naama Bay again later in the holiday, this time at night. We managed to make it into the main tourist area this time and had a great time. The streets are lined with people smoking the …pipe in open air bars, there are enough shops to keep even the biggest shopaholic happy and strangely enough you feel as if you are experiencing some of the real Egypt. The fact that there are plenty of tourists about also means that you will have the chance to shop and walk around in relative peace. The restaurant choice is enormous and you could easily try a different cuisine for every night of a fortnight holiday. Our only regret is that we didn’t discover Namma Bay by night earlier in our holiday, when we think of the money we spent on the hotels dull food that could have been spent in these cheap yet very nice restaurants.

the sea in egypt

I have deliberately left the best part of Sharm el Sheikh to last, the beaches, snorkeling and scuba diving. The beaches tend to be quite packed and there are plenty that you will have to pay to visit, the fee is only nominal though especially when you consider the fish on show. Of particular note is Ras Umm Sid beach, here you can go snorkeling with fish as colorful as Nemo by only going out to water that is knee deep. This makes it an extremely child friendly area and the looks on their faces can certainly make your whole holiday to Sharm el Sheikh worth while. I’m not going to go on and on about the beauty of the coral reef and fish as there are already whole sites dedicated to the snorkeling and diving that can be had in this area of the Red Sea, but needless to say the pictures you see will never to it justice. My wife’s highlight of our whole trip was swimming over the edge of the reef into the open sea, this is a memory that will live with her forever.

Sharm el Sheikh, our conclusion

So the thing is would we go back to Sharm el Sheikh? I think that if it was for a honeymoon or maybe a backpacking holiday I would. If it was for a family holiday then for me I wouldn’t, the med is a far more child friendly environment (you can walk around, pools have lifeguards etc) and it is also cheaper, which has to be a consideration for anybody especially if you are taking more than one child. Besides this you will only truly get the best out of what the Red Sea has to offer if you can go diving or snorkeling out of your depth which is just not something most parents would want to do when they have kids to look after. As a family man the whole area just had a feeling of being slightly unsafe and it is not something that I would wish to go through with young children again. Overall we enjoyed our time in Sharm el Sheikh DESPITE the local sellers, we did get to experience a different culture however here are a few tips that will make your trip a far more enjoyable and bearable experience:-

  • Make sure taxi drivers have change when you have agreed the price
  • Egypt is a no flush zone, bring some baby wipes
  • ALL of the shop keepers are on the rob (this whole place is a tourist trap), be warned and expect it
  • There are plenty of nice cheap places to eat around Naama Bay, avoid all inclusive if you can
  • When shops say they have no change they are lying, 1 and 5 pound notes do exist in Sharm, it’s just the locals don’t like to part with them!
  • Even the duty free at Sharm el Shiekh airport is over priced (£15 for a box of chocolates and some boiled sweets), if you want to bring sweets back, buy them elsewhere
  • Bring one currency and stick to it, shops will try and confuse you by switching between Euros, Sterling, Dollars and Egyptian


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