For most travellers, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula means one thing: the coast. Package tourists flock to the bold and brash resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and neighbouring Na'ama Bay, while backpackers and independent travellers favour the more laid-back charms of Dahab and Nuweiba. The inviting Red Sea, sandy beaches and seemingly endless diving and snorkelling opportunities mean that relatively few people take the time to explore the interior of the Sinai Peninsula. Those who do rarely venture beyond a handful of well-worn and over-crowded camel, jeep and quad-biking 'safari' routes.
This is a real shame, as this vast expanse boasts some of Egypt's most dramatic scenery. The Sinai Peninsula is a stark, unforgiving place of parched mountains, waves of pale sandy dunes and rocky outcrops, all beneath an almost unnaturally blue sky. The barren landscape is interspersed with water holes, patches of vegetation, remote oases and lonely settlements.
One of the most intriguing places to visit is the site of the ruins of Serabit el-Khadim, the only pharaonic temple in the Sinai Peninsula, located between Sharm el-Sheikh and the city of Suez. The ruins, which date back to the Middle Kingdom period (around 2000 BC) lie at the summit of a craggy 755m peak and are surrounded by (now largely exhausted) turquoise mines. Although the hike up to the top can be something of a slog, en route you pass engravings, tunnels and the remains of ancient homes, before being greeted by expansive views of the region. If you head 15km north, there's the unique - and somewhat eerie - Forest of Pillars, a collection of petrified tree stumps strung along the cliffs of Jebel el-Tih.