I reckon you know the story about Moses and God giving him THE RULES on the summit of this mountain – those 10 commandments that paved the way for the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Well, apparently it all happened here – more than 3000 years ago.
Around 330 AD a chapel was built around Moses’ burning bush. Roman emperor Justinian added the monastery fortifications in the 6th century and built the basilica and further additionals in across the ages forms Saint Katherine’s monastery today, sitting below Mount Sinai.
Mount Sinai – travel advice
GETTING THERE: Most people – tourists + pilgrims – rush to Mount Sinai on a group tour (from Dahab or Sharm el-Sheikh). Most popular is the late-night climb to watch sunrise. To my mind: Nasty. Noisy. Impersonal. Many 100s of people. They sleep a few hours on mattresses rented by Bedouin, watch the red glow, then scuttle down for Saint Katherine’s monastery morning-only opening (9 am – 12 noon; closed Sundays) and then bus madly elsewhere. Much fewer people will go up during the afternoon to watch sunset.
I went against the grain. I went up in the morning, in the heat, straight up the steep stone-hewn Steps of Repentance. Not easy. But there’s shade – rocky crags and caves – to stop, rest, get your breathe back and gape at the stupendous views. So, take it gently. Allow 3+ hours getting to the summit. Rest often. Enjoy the views and TOTAL TRANQUILITY. I was alone – all day.
If you want it easier – take the gentler, meandering Camel Trail up to the meeting point at Elijah’s Basin – a spring pond – where the steep direct path meets up. Then climb only the final 750 steps to the summit.
TRAVEL ESSENTIALS: TAKE WATER and snacks (but you can buy from Bedouin kiosks towards to the top, at inflated prices. Likewise they sell: coffee, tea, instant noodles, chocolate bars and other drinks). TAKE a sunhat. USE sunblock. Take warm clothes, flashlight. If staying overnight, take a sleeping bag (or rent a blanket from a Bedouin).
GUIDES are mandatory … But I didn’t use one. Before you enter the monastery, police will assign guides @ a cost of $20. (Groups have this priced into their tours – but travelers will face this fee, even if you’re just a single person). I was prepared for this hit. However, as it turned out a Bedouin I met the day before saw me in the street that morning in Al Milga / Katreen – 3.5 km from the monastery – and gave me lift there. Not only there. But right thru the checkpoint. So I avoided this nanny-ing aspect. I wanted to be alone. And I was. (Basically, this guide thing maybe for safety but mostly it’s to provide employment.)
RATHER THAN BACK-TRACK: I went up the direct Steps of Repentance and came back part-way down the camel trail, to then turn right and follow a path behind Mount Sinai to get to a route called Wadi 40. From there, it was a choice of left of right – both to the town of Katreen. Technically, you must also do this route with a guide (and at double the price).
STAYING IN AL MILGA / KATREEN: there’s a range of accomodation from desert camps to hotels. I stayed at Shiek Moussa’s Al Milga Bedouin Camp. Very decent rooms and facilities at low cost. Fox Camp is cheaper and more basic but closer to the monastery. And there are others. Take your pick.
TRANSPORT FROM AL MIGLA / KATREEN: the Bedouin Bus to Dahab on Tuesday + Friday @ 11 am; on Wednesday + Sunday to Nuweiba @ 8 am. ALSO there’s one daily East Delta bus to Cairo via Suez, departing at 6 am (But the police often stop travelers using this route due to insecurity; I recently talked my way thru the checkpoint).
I went in early April. It was a fine, clear, calm day (hot in the morning). At 2285 meters, usually the weather is not always this kind – so take all the necessary kit – like warm clothes, windbreaker, etc.
Travels in Egypt – 2013
(note: tourist numbers are really down since the Arab Spring. Sinai seems the busiest place.)