Jagged mountains ranged inland accompany the road 95km northwards from Na’ama Bay, providing a magnificent backdrop for Dahab’s tawny beaches, from which its name – Arabic for “gold” – derives. For travellers, Dahab divides into two main parts: a cluster of resorts set around the lagoon, close to Dahab City, and the settlement of Asilah (or Asalah), 2.5km up the coast, where younger and independent travellers hang out in a kind of “Goa by the Red Sea” – though as Asilah gets smarter, the distinction between the two areas is blurring.
Like Sharm and Taba before, Dahab’s relaxed ambience was shattered when three bombs went off in Asilah at 7.30pm on April 24, 2006, destroying several restaurants, shops and a supermarket, killing 23 people and injuring 60. Today there is a noticeable security presence, and whether you are on public or private transport, you’ll probably be asked to show your passport at checkpoints on leaving or entering Dahab.
Dahab City and the lagoon
Don’t be discouraged by DAHAB CITY’s unappealing sprawl of municipal housing and government offices – the only time you’re likely to come here is when you arrive or depart from the bus station. To the south of Dahab City is the far more attractive lagoon area, home to numerous holiday resorts and boasting a great stretch of sandy beach, while the lagoon itself is a great place to windsurf or kiteboard (see Watersports and activities around Dahab).
With its breathtaking views, quiet ambience and string of great beachside restaurants and hotels, the gentrified hippie colony of ASILAH is the Red Sea coast’s best backpacker hangout. Its reputation as the place for hippie travellers emerged in the 1960s, when Israeli troops started coming here for a bit of R&R. Nowadays, buildings stretch back behind scores of restaurants and hotels, while a section of the beach has been paved to create a pedestrianized corniche. There are two main areas: Mashraba, which is south of the bridge, and Masbat, which is north of the bridge.
Such is the lure of Asilah that visitors often stay longer than they’d expected, getting stuck in a daily routine of café life, or if they are more active, diving and snorkelling. Given Asilah’s reputation, it’s important to stress the hedonistic limits: women can generally sunbathe without any hassle, but going topless is illegal, and there are periodic crackdowns on drugs. Finally, stick to bottled water to avoid the risk of hepatitis from contaminated cisterns.