Taba, in the eastern Sinai peninsula of Egypt, marks the location of the southern border crossing between Egypt and Israel, servicing travellers coming into Egypt and the Sinai via Eilat. The town has grown up around the border crossing and offers basic amenities for travellers - greatly enhanced by the Taba Heights development about 20 minutes ride further south. Taba is a centre for Red Sea diving.
Most foreigners need an Egyptian visa to travel into Cairo. Unlike arriving in Cairo by air (where a visa can be purchased upon arrival), you need to arrange your visa in advance (at an Embassy or Consulate), before you get to Taba. If you don't have the proper visa, you'll be evicted from the bus at one of the checkpoints after you have paid your tourist tax at the first checkpoint. For entering Egypt, most nationalities can receive a free Sinai permit allowing 14 days within Sinai itself. You must have an advance visa if you wish to proceed out of the Sinai. Whether you have a visa or not, you'll be charged 75EGP (at Mar 2011) as "Sinai tax", collected at a checkpoint 1 km from the border.
The 2 Taba bus station is on the left hand side of the main road about one kilometre from the border. Look for the East Delta sign with a big gravel patch in front of it. There may be buses parked there to make finding it easier.
There are several daily buses from Cairo with prices from 60EGP, all leave from Turgomen bus station (metro stop Orabi). There are three buses a day, at 6AM, 9:30AM, and 10:15PM, costing 70LE (except the night bus - 80LE) as of 12/2008, run by the East Delta Travel company. You need to buy a ticket at least one day in advance. Once you get to the bus station, someone should know which bus you take - it's not a big bus station. The bus station is recently renovated and the buses leave from a concourse in the basement. The signs are all in English and Arabic. Take either the escalator or the elevators downstairs to find your bus. Do not plan for the bus to depart on time.
Journey time varies greatly depending on the security situation - expect several inspections at police checkpoints. The trip takes at least 7 hours. Once on board, the bus takes about an hour to even leave Cairo and stops at two other suburban bus stations. On leaving, it will be more full than when it left Turgomen, but may be quite empty depending upon the season and economic climate. Note, that there were almost no women, and the few that were there traveled with their husbands. Be warned: the buses are somewhat unreliable, and have been known to break down multiple times on a single trip.
Make sure you take food and plenty of water with you. The bus will make a stop about 3/4 of the way to Taba at a desert roadhouse, where there is a toilet and small cafe, but this is likely the only bathroom break. It also stops at various army bases, depending on the bus, to deliver water and newspapers to the soldiers.
If you are continuing on to Israel, do not discuss this aloud or with other travelers, as it may elicit unwanted attention.
On the approach to Taba, the bus will skirt the airport (which has very few flights) and then descend the mountain road for about 15 minutes. It will stop at the bottom and someone will check passports (can be time consuming when many Arab League citizens are on board), then turn left along the coast road. Finally, it will stop at the "Taba Bus Station", a gravel area with a bus office, with bus times in the window. Get off here, the bus continues on from Taba down the coast to Nuweiba.
When the bus arrives at Taba, the bus conductor will demand an extra 5 EGP to take you to the Israeli border from the bus station. Avoid the rip-off and walk those 600m by foot.
In the reverse direction, East Delta runs a bus to Cairo at 6:30AM or 4:30PM. (As of 2009, first bus to Cairo on a Sunday is at 10:30 not 06:30.) Buy a ticket from the cashier (around 80EGP, 30/12/11), and wait for the bus a while, since it's usually late. The bus will stop 20m after the bus station, and you will have to pay 75EGP "tourist tax". There are also 10-passenger minivans that make the run 'non-scheduled' and you can negotiate the fare, but be prepared for no 'rest' stops, only stops to drop off or pick up passengers along the way. Their destination in Cairo is not the central bus station, but you can get a taxi from there.
East Delta buses will arrive in Abbasiya terminal in Cairo. If you take a taxi, do not take it from any of the touts that bother you in the exit! You can hail one yourself very easily, it shouldn't be more than 10EGP to the city center. Alternatively, you can take a microbus to Tahrir square from across the street (1.5EGP).
From Eilat, local Egged bus #15 connects the city centre with the border crossing, from there you can cross the border by foot. (If you are coming from Israel and want to catch the 6:30AM bus to Cairo, take a taxi to the border crossing for around 30NIS, so you will arrive there at the latest at 5:45AM.)
When crossing the border, there are 150 meters between the Egyptian terminal and Israeli checkpoint. Touts may offer you the use of carts to carry your bags, but will charge (approx. 2EGP) for this service. There is no charge on the Israeli side for carts.
You should get an Egyptian visa in advance, from the Egyptian consulate in Eilat or the embassy in Tel Aviv. Not having an Egyptian visa in advance is expensive! The stamp for the passport cost $15, but you will be required to provide a "guarantee" from an official travel agent. These "travel agents" wait around and charge $50 per person for an handwritten paper that they give to the immigration officer. Without the guarantee letter, the passport will not be stamped and you will be sent back to Eilat.
After you finished crossing (and paying the Israelis 96NIS exit tax), ignore all the taxi drivers and walk on the sidewalk on the left side of the road for 300m, till the bus station.
On the Egyptian side, long-distance taxis await at the traffic circle. These are usually shared taxis, and they have the reputation of ripping off tourists. Expect the usual haggling; pretending to go take the bus (from the bus station, further down the road on the left side) usually gets them to agree to a sensible price (30EGP to Dahab and 20EGP to Nuweiba). On the 1km walk to the bus station, you'll be offered taxi services many times.
The border crossing facilities are nicely landscaped on the Egyptian side. The crossing doesn't see a lot of traffic—seemingly more staff than travelers—so if all your paperwork is in order you'll probably wisk right through. The first thing you'll see in Egypt is the ritzy Hilton casino-hotel.
The border zone at Taba is an artificial bubble extending for one kilometer and consisting of little more than two giant resort hotels, the Hilton and the Movenpick, and a small village supporting them. Beyond one kilometer, there is a checkpoint where foreigners are required to pay a travel tax of about 70 EGP, so if you are waiting for the bus, you are effectively trapped in the border zone until the bus comes. (The tax will be collected from you on the bus.)
Across the street from the bus station is a building marked "Taba Museum", but there is no indication on the outside if and when it is ever open.
About two blocks behind the bus station is a rocky beach on the Red Sea, where you can look through the fence at the somewhat nicer beach at the Movenpick resort. Crystal clear water, but any sand is probably trucked in by the resorts.
- 1 Salah El-Din castle. A tentative UNESCO World Heritage site, the castle located on Pharaoh's Island, just off the coast, was first constructed by Baldwin I of Jerusalem, one of the leaders of the First Crusade in 1116 AD. Later, after Saladins successful reconquest, a new castle was built in 1170. There are tours of the castles, and the surrounding area is popular for diving.
- Castle Zaman, 25km Taba-Nuweiba Rd, Taba (10 minutes from Taba Heights), ☎ . open 12PM. East of the Sinai Peninsula, overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba, this impressive monument commands a dramatic mountainous view of four countries. The exact site signifies a landmark on the ancient road connecting St. Catherine's Monastery with Jerusalem. Castle Zaman offers an exquisite and generous cuisine. Meat and seafood are roasted to perfection with an assortment of fresh vegetables, spices, dates and figs slowly prepared in earth pots. Preparation takes 1-3.5 hours, time gladly spent by the pool, exploring the underground treasure room, or sipping fresh cocktails by the bar. (Not child friendly, WiFi available)
In the vicinity of the bus station and the Museum, there are a couple of tiny grocery stores. If you are smart about haggling, you'll get cheaper prices than in Israel.
While Taba itself is the domain of luxury resorts, Bir Sweir, located just some 30 km south of Taba on the way to Nuweiba, offers lots of small beach camps. All have a restaurant section, and bamboo straw huts, where the Stars shine though at night. The camps are directly on the beach, with possibility to simply sleep on the beach, beside the sea. Figure on US$20/day including food and drinks.
- Aquarium camp
- The Good Life
- Al Tarek
- Diana Beach Camp
- Sabah Camp
- 1 Hiltan Taba Resort, ☎ . Completely unmissable at 11 storey's height, a stark contrast from the rest of the desert Taba landscape. Includes a diving centre and a very popular casino. From $90.
Both the Banque du Caire and Banque Misr have currency exchange booths within the Egyptian checkpoint (sometimes irregular opening hours, go along ASAP if you need to change money). Money and cheques can also be exchanged at the Taba Hilton Hotel.
- Dahab, Sinai's backpacker mecca
- Eilat, across the Israeli border to the north
- Ras Abu Galum, nature reserve north of Dahab