Egypt // Sinai //

The interior

The interior of the Sinai is a baking wilderness of jagged rocks, drifting sand and wind-scoured gravel pans, awesome in its desolation. Yet life flourishes around its isolated springs and water-holes, or whenever rain falls, renewing the vegetation across vast tracts of semi-desert. Hinterland settlements bestride medieval pilgrimage routes, which the Turks transformed from camel tracks into dirt roads, and the Egyptians and Israelis then improved and fought over. Both sides also built and bombed the airstrips which international peacekeepers now use to monitor the Sinai’s demilitarized zones.

The only readily accessible parts of the interior are St Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai and Feiran Oasis, although some other, smaller oases can be reached by jeep or camel from the coast or St Catherine’s. That said, most buses from Cairo to Nuweiba traverse the Wilderness of the Wanderings via Nekhl and the Mitla Pass, allowing you to see something of the peninsula’s interior. Because of the unexploded ordnance lying around, driving yourself is officially restricted outside the St Catherine’s and Feiran Oasis areas.

Inland safaris and treks

Inland safaris range from half-day excursions to two-week treks. Travelling by jeep is obviously faster and makes few or no physical demands, but tends to distance you from the landscape, unlike travel by camel, which feels totally in keeping with the terrain.

For those with more time and stamina, the most rewarding option is trekking. Treks can be arranged at the village of St Catherine’s (where you can also obtain maps for one-day walks in the area) or at certain points along the roads into the interior, and also with many of the Bedouin who run trips from the coastal resorts. The list of destinations below should give an idea of what’s on offer.

Practicalities depend on your destination and mode of travel. Day excursions from the coast can be made on a Sinai-only visa, but to travel for any longer or to explore the High Mountain Region beyond the immediate vicinity of St Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai you must have a full Egyptian visa. To climb mountains you must also have a permit from the police, which can be obtained by your Bedouin guide. It’s illegal – and highly risky because of unexploded ordnance and the likelihood of getting lost – to go trekking without a guide. To help you select destinations and plot routes, buy the 1:250,000 Sinai Map of Attractions. Other things to bring are listed in the “High Mountain Region and Feiran Oasis” section.