I’m a proud PADI AmbassaDiver + this post is brought to you by PADI. Want to explore Egypt with me? Nab one of the last two spots on either my Red Sea Dive + Yoga Retreat or my Mainland Egypt Yoga + Ancient Adventure Retreat! Both rescheduled to new dates in 2021!
After three exotic weeks exploring Egypt (and alliterating, apparently), it was time for one final adventure: a camel diving safari to the remote Bedouin settlement of Ras Abu Galum.
I know what you’re thinking. How the heck do you get a dive mask on a camel?! Believe me, it was my very first question, too.
Turns out, the camels don’t dive with you — missed opportunity, I know — but rather transport you to the very special area of Ras Abu Gallum Protectorate, a gem so hidden along the Sinai coast, it doesn’t even get a shoutout in my Lonely Planet, yet covers four hundred square kilometers of coastline between Dahab and Nuweiba. In fact, it was from the top of a camel, with tanks strapped across the humps on exploratory missions from Dahab, that divers first discovered the teeming reefs of this region.They were tipped off to the tropical treasures beneath the surface by Bedouins of the Mizena tribe, who live within the protectorate and have been sustaining themselves off riches from the reefs here for centuries. Today, some of these enterprising fishermen have built basic camps, welcoming wanderers like ourselves to go back in time and live simply, for a while.
The journey is half the joy when it comes to Ras Abu Gallum, and getting there by camel — or by your own two feet — puts you in perfect laid-back mindset to really melt right in upon arrival. After a quick taxi to the end of the road at the Blue Hole, H20 will load up a set of well-loved camels with tanks, dive gear, and everything else you’ll need for the next two days, and off you go along the coast.
I won’t lie: camel riding is a little scary. I’d forgone camel riding in Giza as the camels there seemed a bit, well, sad, and I didn’t really feel right about it. But these desert camels seemed to have a pretty sweet life, as far as camel lives go, and after a brief chat with mine I felt pretty good about the whole arrangement.
However, I quickly sensed that my affections weren’t quite being returned. I had hoped, in my mind, that camels would be like lumpy-shaped, overgrown puppy dogs, posing for selfies together and vying for the love and attention that I’d happily lavish upon them. Not so.
Camels, it turns out, have more in common with cats than dogs — disapproving, unimpressed, and perhaps even a touch judgmental. I started to think my camel may have even enjoyed teetering towards the edge of particularly narrow passages along the path, leaning ever so slightly over the waters’ edge until I let out a panicked squeal.
My dream of being best friends with a camel like a princess-from-a-Disney-movie-with-an-animal-kingdom-sidekick dashed, I settled for basking in what felt like time travel — going back to those early days when the Red Sea was still being discovered by boat-less divers who used camels to explore unmapped coastline untouched by road. And I could see what kept drawing them further into the wild desert — red mountains, dramatic sand dunes, and wind-swept beaches all crossed our path.
Eventually, a broad peninsula dotted with simple huts appeared. “Ras Abu Gallum,” our dive guide Jenny confirmed with a nod.
Jenny apologized that she wasn’t really the Ras Abu Gallum expert of the H20 Divers team — that honor goes to Frank, who we heard rave reviews of — but we’d requested her specifically after having so much camera fun altogether during our dives around Dahab earlier that week. Plus, #PADIwomen girl power and all that — a joke we took even further by mock requesting only female camels, something Kat and I found side-splittingly hilarious and everyone else seemed to politely tolerate.
After dropping our things in a shelter with the lovely, hospitable family who ran our desert camp, we set off to explore. When discussing the trip, Kat and I continually referred to it as “glamping.” “Oh, we won’t need accommodation that night,” we’d say. “We’ll be glamping.”
Turns out we kind of oversold it to ourselves. The sand-floored lean-tos were little more than shelter from the sun and wind. A bathhouse out behind the camp housed one preciously flushable toilet and a dribbled cold water shower. There was no electricity, no wifi or cell service, and no locks on the doors.
It was perfect.
Look, I’ve had some very glam camping experiences — in New York, in Thailand, in Peru, and at festivals all over the world. They are fun and frivolous and I hope to have many more of them. But I loved that this was unapologetically authentic, born of tradition and necessity, not the desire to be an Instagram backdrop.
The rest of the camps in the area had a similar vibe and aesthetic, with a few standing out as particularly funky, with Burning Man-esque installations and murals created by past guests. After a brief walk, we’d lapped the entire settlement. No surprise, as Ras Abu Gallum is home to just a few families.
A baby camel drew us in to what we gathered was named Peace Camp (our camp, in what a PR marketing executive enamored with the idea of speakesies might call genius, appeared to have no name at all), which was the busiest of the bunch — as in, they had guests at all — and we returned there a few times to say hi (to the humans, not the baby camel, but maybe also kind of both.)
Peace Camp was enthusiastically run by a young Bedouin who spoke perfect Hebrew to his group of exclusively Israeli guests, who were very excited to hear I was headed to Israel in just a few short days. At least I think they were excited — it was kind of hard to establish a group pulse when they were all too stoned to vary their facial expressions or vocal intonations, but, I mean, I presume they were pumped.
I was very grateful for our brief time at Peace Camp, however, for it opened my eyes to a chapter of history I hadn’t known existed. When I marveled to Jenny that the Bedouin host had spoken such fluent Hebrew, she gave me a look similar to the one my camel had been giving me earlier that day.
What can I say! I never seem to absorb history until I’m in a place, which is how I now know that the Sinai Peninsula was actually part of Israel for over twelve years, first seized during the 1967 Six-Day War and later returned to Egypt in stages beginning in 1979 as part of the Israel–Egypt Peace Treaty. Who knew! (Other than Jenny, those with basic knowledge of Middle Eastern history, my camel… okay, never mind.)
In addition to history lessons, another thing I wasn’t expecting, based on our remote location, was the gorgeous food we were served at every meal. Fresh, healthy, and as always in Sinai, served with the biggest smile.
Believe it or not, Dahab is so magnetic that only a tiny percentage of its divers make the journey to Ras Abu Gallum every year, leaving the reefs in pristine condition. Those who do come tend to make the most of it, cramming at least four dives into an overnight stay. Because Kat was flying out of Sharm El Sheikh the next evening, we planned just two dives on our first day, and a morning snorkel our second.
I confess that I’d actually thought, while planning, whatever — two dives is surely more than enough there. How wrong I was! The diving was in fact so spectacular I have a whole post about it coming up next.
That said, our more relaxed dive plan left us plenty of time for what I think is an essential element to the place: relaxing. We laughed and played with the local kids as they splashed into the water when we emerged from a dive. We lay out on the rest area in front of our camp, letting the sun dry the chilly droplets from our skin. We drew shapes in the sand with our toes.
We watched the stars and drank wine we’d packed from Dahab and chatted with Jenny about expat life in a diving town. And finally we slept, deeply and contentedly, the way you do after a day full of incredible adventures.
The next morning we soaked up our last fleeting hours of Egypt together — Kat was soon headed back to the UK, and after one more night back in Dahab, I was on my way to Israel. We snorkeled in the reef right offshore from our camp, ate more beautiful food, took a few more lazy naps, and packed up to head back to reality.
When we’d first arrived, and Jenny had told us some hippie travelers would post up in Ras Abu Gallum for a week or more, I’d gasped. Just over twenty-four hours later, I kind of got where they were coming from.
I can sincerely say I can’t think of a better note to have ended my time in Egypt on. It was here that I knew with absolute certainty that the next Wander Women Retreat would be in Dahab — I couldn’t not bring you all here, after experiencing it for myself.
And as I started to daydream that retreat, I knew it would end exactly like this trip had: looking for shooting stars and starfish in Ras Abu Gallum.
Want to do it yourself? Here are a few fast facts to help get you there.
Cost of a Trip to Ras Abu Gallum
To head to Ras Abu Gallum with H20 Divers, pricing varies depending on what gear you’ve packed and how many total dives you’re doing with H2O — in Dahab and afield — but you can expect to pay around $25USD per dive, and around $120USD for the overnight trip, which includes all transportation, accommodation, meals, and non-alcoholic drinks.
While you can do this as a day trip for $60USD (by boat or by camel), I can’t imagine why you would. Staying overnight is just magical.
And don’t forget cash to tip. We tipped 400EGP (about $25USD) to the family that hosted us in Ras Abu Gallum for the camel ride and the camping, and went wild and tipped Jenny 1000EGP (about $55USD) for taking such great care of us throughout our time in Dahab.
Getting to Ras Abu Gallum
Ras Abu Gallum, like most places worth going, is not easy to get to. If you insist on traveling by road from Dahab, you’ll be making quite the journey — driving the hour north to Nuweiba, then doubling back along the coast with an off-road jeep for two more. A speedboat from Dahab is more direct, and takes about an hour.
But I recommend heading on foot — or hoof. A thirty minute taxi to the Blue Hole followed by a sixty to ninety minute hike or camel ride north will deliver you straight to paradise.
Where to Stay and Eat in Ras Abu Gallum
Well, you’re not going to be booking a place to stay on Tripadvisor! It’s my understanding that the vast majority of travelers who visit Ras Abu Gallum do so with a dive shop or travel agency that has a longstanding relationship with one of the Bedouin families in the area — and they call ahead and let them know who is coming and for how long so they are prepared with enough provisions. There aren’t really “hotels” or “restaurants” — just various camps that provide both basic food and modest shelter.
If you are DIY-ing the trip, you’ll just have to wing it — show up and hope for the best. However, there are (I think obviously, at this point) no dive shops in Ras Abu Gallum, so if you plan to dive there, you need to do the trip with one of the dive shops in Dahab. I can’t recommend H20 Divers more highly — they know the area well and have it down to an art.
What To Pack for Ras Abu Gallum
Not much — after all, you or a camel has to carry it all! We packed two swimsuits to always have a warm dry one, simple kimonos to wear around the camp, warm, comfy sweats to wear in the chilly evening, a headlamp to get around camp in the post-sunset darkness (I just linked to my favorite ultra compact travel version), any snacks and alcohol you might want, and eco-friendly toiletries. The last one is particularly important since the lack of anything beyond the most basic plumbing means anything you use will wash right into the ocean.
Lately I’m crushing on Stream2Sea, a reef safe brand with a comprehensive line of products — try out a bunch with a sampler pack of travel-friendly versions of their best sellers. Use wanderland to get 10% off!
Want a full rundown of the dive gear I brought to Egypt? Find it here!
Clearly, I can’t gush enough about this place. Stay tuned for one more post about our underwater adventures here!
Would you make the journey to Ras Abu Gallum?
This content was brought to you by PADI, the world’s leading dive organization. Many thanks to PADI dive shop H2O Divers for hosting me in Dahab and Ras Abu Gallum.