Places We Go / Sinai Peninsula (Egypt)

The Empty Sinai

sinai beach

I previously introduced you to the Sinai Peninsula in this post. And in that post, I focused primarily on the Bedouin and on Islamic militants operating in the Sinai.

Among other topics, I described how violence, mostly in the north, has been increasing dramatically. There have been rampant shoot-outs and gas line bombings by Bedouins (or militants working under the cover of Bedouins). Even though most of the violence occurs far from tourist beaches, I discussed how vacation hotspots like Dahab and Nuweiba have had their economies decimated (I’ve never seen beaches so empty).

Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Morsi, has used this violence in the Sinai as an opportunity to clean house and tighten the reins in the capital. He has fired top generals and initiated the largest offensive in the Sinai Peninsula since 1973, called “Operation Eagle,” complete with missiles and helicopter gunships. However, despite frequent headlines in the state media about the assault, the operation showed almost no concrete results and the Sinai’s reputation continues to spiral.

In places like Nuweiba and Dahab, hotel operators and restaurant owners are understandably dejected. Foreigners will likely continue to stay away and the tourist economy in these idyllic seaside towns will continue to tank.

This post goes into more detail about the ruins of these former tourist hotspots…


We used this hotel, the Ciao Hotel, as a base for several days while we were in the northern part of the Sinai. This was near the town of Nuweiba:

ciao hotel

It looks nice, no? Not the type of place we normally stay in, but nice all the same… However, you’ll also notice that it is empty. As it turns out, this was one of the few hotels still open in the region and the room was practically free. We were their first guests in weeks and they had no one booked after us. No one. Not for days or weeks or months or even years. Not a single booking for ANY date in the future.

We had arrived late at night and so could tell the area was fairly empty, but it was not until daylight that we realized quite how empty the Sinai has become.

Tattered couches along the beach behind our hotel… One of the staff told me that the hotels used to become so full that people would pay to sleep on the beach furniture or in the hotel lobbies:

abandoned sinai

The deserted beach behind our hotel:

beach sinai

It wasn’t until we had walked for miles along the deserted beach and passed countless abandoned hotels and luxury homes that the full impact of the Sinai’s abandonment really hit me. We walked for hours that first day and never saw another living thing.

I’m not using any tricks to make it seem more empty than it was or taking this picture at an odd time. It really was this eerily deserted:

empty landscape sinai

My first thought was that this was just like Pripyat on the beach. That was an impression that did not change.

And this was no one-off event either… As I mentioned above, we were in the northern Sinai for days and never saw more than a handful of people for the duration of our visit. And most of them were the employees at our hotel.

Wandering through the ruins:

welcome to africa

umbrella sinai

empty beach sinai

Deteriorating tourist infrastructure is everywhere:

abandoned sinai

Visitors used to lounge on those cushions, protected from the sun by the woven grass roofs:

abandoned sinai

This used to be a bar, conveniently located right on the beach:

abandoned sinai

These were “huts” that one could rent to be close to the beach or just for a different feel than that of a hotel, I suppose. They were equipped with running water and electricity and used to rent for a hefty sum each night. Now they have been stripped of anything of value and are slowly decaying along with everything else in the region:

empty beach huts sinai

abandoned sinai

Abandoned boats are scattered along the shoreline:

sinai empty

abandoned sinai

abandoned boats sinai

abandoned boat sinai

Usually, the only living things we ever saw on our beach patrols were this trio of curious and fun-loving dogs that were always excited to join us for an adventure when we set out:

dogs sinai

Below is a particularly impressive luxury hotel we discovered (and that the dogs helped us to explore)… Well, at the least the shell of what would have been a particularly impressive luxury hotel:

empty sinai

Those are my footprints. No one else had been here in ages:

abandoned luxury hotel sinai

Between this particular hotel and the beach were elaborate terraces and pools, stretching for hundreds of meters in every direction, that I am sure would have housed spectacular gardens and landscaping:

empty pool sinai

At least the dogs were able to enjoy it:

abandoned sinai

Wandering through the abandoned hotel:

dog in abandoned hotel sinai

abandoned sinai

abandoned sinai

I became quite fond of our canine companions, particularly this enthusiastic lad pictured below. When we left, he ran after our taxi for miles to try and stay with us.

What can one do?

sinai dog

The state of decay and abandonment does not change when one gets away from the coastline.

This empty street was not an exception:

empty sinai

Abandoned houses and construction projects can be found everywhere:

abandoned construction sinai

abandoned sinai

abandoned sinai

Sunset on the Sinai? It’s not the fall of the Roman Empire, but it may be a while before the Sinai’s issues get sorted and it gets back on its feet:

sunset sinai

In other words, it is a great time to visit.


6 thoughts on “The Empty Sinai

  1. Justin

    This is indeed the history of the region. You should check out Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book titled “Jerusalem” that covers so thoroughly and evocatively the several thousand years of internecine strife of every kind that has rippled back and forth through the region here for the thousands of years and will likely do so for a few thousand more. It is beyond all understanding.

  2. Once again, you focus attention on a news story that the major media should be all over. But you brought it to light for us. Thank you for all your valuable information, and I hope your reports soon receive the attention they deserve.

    • It definitely has a “Day After” feel to it. Tough not to feel like Mad Max wandering around in that desolate landscape…

  3. Pingback: The Hungry Cats Of The Sinai | The Velvet Rocket

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