Back to basics
Travelling on a shoestring budget doesn't mean your vacation needs to be any less enjoyable. Amira El-Naqeeb went on a fascinating journey to Beer Sweir
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Entertainment at night; Sally Land Hotel, the first to be built in the area after the end of the Israeli occupation of Sinai
When I first set foot in Beer Sweir, I promised myself this would become a secret spot to which I, and only I, would escape. Unfortunately, my confounded professional integrity came in the way, and with great pains I decided I'd better spill the beans. Beer Sweir, 450 kilometres from Cairo, lies along the three-kilometre coast between Taba and Nuweiba. It starts at Antiqa Camp, one of the camps that dot the coastline and ends at the Ghazaly Aqua Sun Club Hotel, approximately three kilometres before the famous Basata ecolodge which lies in Ras Borqa. Beer Sweir acquired its name when the Bedouins in the area used to depend on a certain beer (well); the word sweir is the plural of sweira, which is a small palm tree in the language of the Bedouins.
If you are a budget traveller, looking for a simple place to spend your vacation you will no doubt enjoy Beer Sweir. You will find hundreds of small budget-friendly camps offering seaside huts for as little as LE10 a night per person. The hut usually takes two people. Most have mattresses on the floor, cushions and mosquito nets. Naiem El-Sayed, manager of Love Beach Camp -- one of the camps along the coast -- says this kind of down-to-earth simplicity does not usually attract European and Egyptian tourists. "We depend 90 per cent on the Israeli market," he said. High occupancy rates expected by most camps' managers are during the Jewish holidays, mostly from April to October.
With a little more cash to spare, you can stay in one of the only two hotels in Beer Sweir: Ghazaly Aqua Sun Club or Sally Land. I chose the latter, and during my four-night stay at the hotel, which lies on Kilometre 33 on the Taba-Nuweiba road, right after Tranquilla Camp, I experienced the serenity and inner peace that I had been yearning for. My only wish was to stay marooned at this beautiful spot, shed the trappings of modern life and go back to basics.
Sally Land hotel was established in 1986. It is the first hotel built in the area after the end of the Israeli occupation of Sinai. It is a three-star hotel that comprises 66 double rooms. Facilities are divided into two buildings, both just one storey high. Building A is made of stones while the other is whitewashed and dome-shaped with a front. My room was relatively big, and furnished in a beautiful rustic style with a comfortable twin bed, a closet, an AC, two chairs and a private bathroom. Thank heavens, there was no television and no telephone to disturb the peace. Double rooms cost LE180 per night on a bed-and-breakfast basis. Dinner is for a supplement of LE44 per person including taxes.
The hotel has a beautiful beach pergola made of stone from the surrounding nature, open from all sides, with cushions and hand crafted klims arranged around low tables on the floor. As for the roof, it is covered with palm fronds. And if you are a romantic, you will love the terrace, which is an open-air extension to the restaurant. This will allow you to have all your meals with your eyes fixed on your beloved nature.
Hafez Yehia, Sally Land resident manager, said that his clientele is different than the rest of Beer Sweir. "Most of our guests are Germans, and French," Hafez said. He believes that the European predominance is due to their wish to enjoy nature at its best but at the same time have access to clean bathrooms and decent meals. Meanwhile, Hafez admits that services for the whole area between Taba and Nuweiba are utterly neglected. "We came here 20 years ago. Even now there is no electricity, no water, and no cable lines supplied from the government. Whatever facilities we have in place are the result of individual efforts," he said.
When I met traveller Silvia Glawsn over breakfast, she had just come in from Germany the night before. I could see the lost-and-found look in her eyes, as she was invigorated, excited. "I can feel that there is a special energy here, the warm spirit of the people, and the virgin nature. I first learned about this place from a German tourist agency. Now this is my second time in Beer Sweir. When I come to Sinai I come here -- it's the only place for me. I think a thousand years ago, in another life, I was an Egyptian wife!"
A DAY AT THE BEACH: Get up and smell the coffee! It's time to get up -- early. You would be guilty as charged to miss the sunrise on the beach. If you are a bit of a sleepy head you can ask the reception desk to have someone knock at your door at sunrise -- I did. The beach in Beer Sweir is your only option, and believe me it is a great option. If you are a tanning freak like me, grab your sun bloc and enjoy soaking in the constant sunshine. Snorkelling also is on the menu, as the coral reef is only 50 metres away from the beach. Also, you can enjoy simply walking along the beach, and start your own collection of pebbles, or rent a camel and ride through the water. But there is one thing that really turned me green with envy, which was forgetting to get my sea bed. Seeing people lying on their sea beds, while the beautifully flat sea carrying them, is an experience not to be missed. The special thing about this beach is that it is a protected bay. The Red Sea wind passes through this area, here the sea curves in and creates a protected area. There is much less wind here, and whoever knows Sinai knows that the northern wind is pretty dominant and only very few places are protected. After wearing myself out on the beach, I nestled on one of the hammocks scattered on the sand.
SAFARIS: There are many places for safari lovers on the road of Wadi Attir that are very close to Beer Sweir such as the Coloured Canyon, Wadi Malha, Ain Khodra and Wadi Ghazala. There is also Beer Al-Beeriah or (the coloured valley) famous for its breathtaking colours. Consult your camp or hotel for these trips. Also, many locals organise them, so ask around!
THE BEACH AT NIGHT: If you gravitate towards action you might be a little disappointed. But you'd be mistaken to assume that boredom is all that's in store. All camps do a sort of Bedouin beachside bash, where there is a bonfire. You can enjoy the lively traditional beat of the tabla (drum) and the sound of the lute. Also if you are looking for relaxation you can just lay there on one of the scattered sun beds, or enjoy the cold sand on your warm body and star-gaze.
TRANSPORTATION: In Beer Sweir transport is definitely one thing you will scarcely need. You can walk from one camp to the other, as they all lie next to each other along the coast. However, if you want to go to Nuweiba, which is 20 minutes away by car, or to any other place you can check at your camp if they offer a drop-off service -- which you pay extra for of course. Otherwise you can have a five-minute walk up to the main road and you will find plenty of means to take you where you want.
There are several ways to reach Beer Sweir: by plane, by car, or by bus as I did. If you decide to go by bus, make your way to the station at Almaza or Torgman for the East Delta or the Super Jet buses. I took the night bus which leaves at 11pm from Almaza for LE65 -- add LE10 if you are a foreigner. For women travelling alone it is advisable to take the morning bus. The trip usually takes six to seven hours. Make sure you tell the bus driver that you want to stop at Beer Sweir.
If you are not a budget traveller you can take the plane to Naqab Airport, then take a taxi and drive 40 minutes to Beer Sweir for LE100. As for travel by car, it is a great option that tends to be disregarded. At a reasonable speed of 100 kilometres per hour, you can get there in almost five hours. The advantage of taking the bus or the car is that you get to enjoy the staggering views of the Sinai Mountains.
ACCOMODATION: Tranquilla beach: A camp whose huts are directly on the beach. The camp is composed of 37 huts. Rates are LE30 per person in the high season, LE10 in the low. Breakfast starts from LE10.
Antiqa Beach: This 50-hut camp also lies directly on the beach. A hut costs LE20 per person in the high season, LE10 for the low. Add LE10 for breakfast.
Alexandria Camp: 55 metres away from the beach. Composed of 30 huts and costs LE25 per person. Breakfast starts from LE25. The camp offers free yoga classes for its guests.
Love Beach: 55 metres away from the beach and composed of 28 huts. The hut costs LE20 per person in the high season, LE10 in the low. Add LE15 for breakfast.