I assume you know the story? The one where God gives Moses THE RULES on a mountain. And those 10 commandments paved the way for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Well, apparently, it all happened here – more than 3000 years ago. And, the local Arabic name for Mount Sinai is Gebel Musa, which means “Mount of Moses”.
Around 330 AD, a chapel was built around Moses’ burning bush below Mount Sinai. Later Roman emperor Justinian, added the monastery fortifications in the 6th century and built the basilica and further additions across the ages forms today’s Monastery of Saint Katherine.
Travel Advice for the Mount Sinai Hike
GETTING THERE: Most people – tourists and pilgrims – rush to Mount Sinai on a group tour (from Dahab or Sharm el-Sheikh). And the late-night hike to watch sunrise is very popular. But to my mind it’s nasty. Noisy. Impersonal. Hundreds 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 from 9 am – 12 noon; closed Sundays) and then bus madly elsewhere.
Much fewer people go up during the afternoon – you can watch sunset, alone.
I went against the grain. I climbed Mount Sinai in the morning – in the heat, straight up the steep rock-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 about 3 hours to climb Mount Sinai.
Rest often. Enjoy the views and TOTAL TRANQUILITY.
I was alone – all day.
If you want to reach the summit of Mount Sinai 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 the climb is only the final 750 steps to the summit.
TRAVEL ESSENTIALS for the Mount Sinai hike
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 that morning walking in Al Milga / Katreen – a walk of 3.5 km from the monastery – and gave me a lift all the way there. Not only, there. But right thru the checkpoint, so I avoided – gratefully – this aspect of the Mount Sinai hike. Simply, 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. BUT came back, just 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 accommodation 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.