SHARM EL-SHEIKH: Its built-up resorts and package tourism may be seem like a world away from the rest of Egypt, but a majority of the foreign tourists who visit Sharm El-Sheikh are looking for the Egyptian experience.
The magnificence of the Red Sea, the romance of Sinai and the year-round climate are undoubtedly the main attractions here.
But apart from the call to prayer and the Egyptians staffing the hotels, bars and restaurants, there is little to distinguish Sharm from resorts lining the coasts of Spain, Portugal and Greece.
It is not surprising, given that Sharm was purpose built for tourism. No town as such existed here before its large-scale commercial development began in 1982, and since then only those with commercial interests have been allowed to build in Sharm, with the aim of keeping it a purely touristic location.
Subsequently Sharm has not become a hub of Egyptian culture, but according to Ihab Rady, division manager at the Holiday Inn Hotel, that is exactly what his guests are eager to get a taste of.
Most of our guests will go on desert safaris or cultural expeditions during their stay here, he says. They also go to places like Saint Catherine and Pharaoh s island. They like places with history.
John and Zoey Barrett from Durham, England, are taking their children to see the place steeped in the most history in Egypt – the Pyramids at Giza. In Sharm on a two week package tour, cheap internal flights allowed them, as they are allowing a growing number of tourists here, to see Egypt s many places of interest.
We can t wait to see them, says John. We couldn t come all the way to Egypt and not visit the Pyramids.
According to Rady, over 60% of guests who stay at the Holiday Inn make a day or overnight trip to Cairo.
An overnight trip costs about $200 per person, which sounds like a lot. But most people will plan for this before coming to Egypt, and factor it into their budget.
There are tour companies operating out of every hotel in Sharm offering trips to destinations like Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, generally ranging in length from one to three days.
Alexandria Astafyeva is the representative for Pegas Tours, a tour company catering specifically to Russian tourists, Sharm s biggest patrons after the British.
Demand for cultural expeditions among Russian tourists is considerable, she says, and growing.
Pegas is taking 800 Russians on expeditions this week alone, she explains, adding that the company now operates out of 60 hotels in order to keep up with demand.
Russians are fascinated by Egypt s history and want that to be a part of their holiday.
For many though Sharm El-Sheikh s sun, sea and sand is more than sufficient.
Dario, a 28 year-old barman from Rome, is visiting Sharm for the second time with his girlfriend Valentina. Cocktails on the beach and wild nights out in the many lively bars and clubs suffice for this young couple.
I love it here, says Dario. The sea is amazing, the weather is always warm and the nightlife is great. I could come here every year.
And it s far more economical than going to somewhere like Greece or Spain.