Sinai peninsula, a stunningly beautiful location, has long been a source of refuge, strife, and wonder.
It is an international crossroads par excellence, where prophets, nomads, exiles, and conquerors have all left their mark.
Sinai peninsula is bounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez.
The southern interior is dominated by bleak red-brown mountains.
As you go north, the desert plains take on a multi-hued appearance. Sinai captivates with its contrasts.
Most foreign visitors go to Sharm el-Sheikh‘s European style resorts, where hundreds vie for beach space.
Most are suitable for beach vacations, however independent travellers appreciate Dahab‘s permanently laid-back vibe.
Sinai peninsula is also a good starting place for seeing southern Jordan, home of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra.
Discover Sinai’s spectacular desert and marine ecosystems, including snorkelling or diving amidst thriving coral reefs, meeting traditional Bedouin culture, and pilgrimage routes to biblical places.
Whatever your interests, a trip to Sinai will be a highlight of your Egyptian vacation.
This movement created the Gulf of Suez (95m deep) and the Gulf of Aqaba (1800m deep).
In southern Africa, the Gulf of Aqaba is part of a 6000 km rift that runs from the Dead Sea, on the Israeli-Jordanian border, down to Mozambique.
Sinai peninsula’s quarries supplied Pharaonic Egypt with turquoise, gold, and copper. The prominence of this ‘Land of Turquoise’ led to empire building and battles.
It was strategically important as a connection between Asia and Africa, and several armed armies marched down its northern shore to or from what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Much of the world’s attention is focused on the famous Red Sea parting, which permitted the ‘Children of Israel’ to safely enter Sinai’s dry land.
God is supposed to have first spoken to Moses from a burning bush here, and Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mt Sinai.
Sinai peninsula was formerly a haven for Christian Egyptians fleeing Roman persecution. Monasticism began here in the 3rd century AD, with most hermits dwelling in Wadi Feiran’s caverns, believing adjacent Gebel Serbal was the ‘Mountain of God’.
By the 6th century, when Emperor Justinian built a monastery at the foot of Mt Sinai (Gebel Musa), it was settled that this was the mountain where God spoke.
The peninsula became a pilgrimage site for centuries. It eventually became a pilgrimage path for Muslims. Until recently, the peninsula’s population were mostly Bedouin, the only people capable of living in its severe climate.
As in the 1970s and 1980s, landless fellaheen (peasant farmers) from a congested Nile Valley were encouraged to settle to the oases, Sinai has recently been the centre of growth and ‘reconstruction’.
The government has developed the Al-Salam Canal to supply fresh water from the Suez Canal to resettling regions in North Sinai.
Agriculture will be greatly developed, roads paved, and desalination facilities built in coastal cities.
Tourism has also changed the Gulf of Aqaba. The population of Sharm el-Sheikh has tenfold increased in the last 15 years, while Dahab and Nuweiba have expanded into enormous beachside tourist cities. The Bedouin, the original residents of Sinai, are now a minority.
They are marginalised by Cairo-based travel providers and a suspicious and hostile police force.
Sinai’s temperature is extreme: on one one, it may be quite hot, therefore bring water, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing (a T-shirt when snorkelling is recommended).
While summer temperatures might reach 50°C, the nights are frigid and the mountains can be frozen.
Bring warm gear, particularly if you want to travel or climb Mt Sinai. Winter camping demands a thick sleeping bag and a warm jacket, since snow is common.
Some Sinai Sites
Moses and the Israelites camped here after crossing into Sinai, and when Moses discovered the water was too bitter to drink, he heeded God’s counsel and put a particular tree into the springs, magically sweetening the water.
Sadly, only one of the original 12 springs remains, now littered and surrounded by date palms.
Just south of the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel, the site is off the main road and exclusively in Arabic. It is guarded by an antiques officer and a crew of enthusiastic guides.
Camping is theoretically possible but unappealing due to litter, road proximity, and nearby settlement. The spring water is too brackish and lacks Moses’ unique tree.
It is better to visit by car or on a trip arranged by one of the Ras Sudr hotels. All southbound buses stop here, however connecting buses might be difficult to locate.
With its closeness to Cairo and its shoreline, Ras Sudr (or Sudr) was initially constructed as a base town for one of Egypt’s major oil refineries.
In the absence of offshore reefs, foreigners have mostly avoided Sudr, leaving affluent Cairene families to snap up beachfront time-share properties. Sudr, with its consistent winds of force five or six, is a favourite among windsurfers.
The town center has numerous modest eateries, a post office, a bank, and different stores.
To the south and north are a few elderly resorts with blocks of vacation homes.
Moon Beach is where the British magazine Boards tests equipment every year. Moon Beach, on the Gulf of Suez, features beachfront bungalows with all the amenities.
There’s also a fully staffed and supplied wind- and kitesurfing facility, as well as a certified surf school for all levels of beginners.
The hot springs complex at Hammam Fara’un, or Pharaoh’s Bath, is utilised by local Bedouin to treat diseases ranging from arthritis to rheumatism.
The springs are in a cave near the shore, but are too hot for most people.
Women who brave the sea should wear no more than leggings and a loose T-shirt. Nearby Hammam Fara’un is 50km south of Ras Sudr and solely in Arabic.
Al-Tor, also known as Tur Sinai, has long been an important harbour, but now it is the administrative headquarters of the South Sinai Governorate.
Al-Tor, with its strong and steady gusts, has been seeking to promote itself as a wind- and kite-surfing destination in recent years.
You may extend your visa at the Mogamma, the enormous administrative facility on the main road in town.
The Hammam Musa hot springs (entrance E£20) are around 5km from town and are said to be one of Moses’ and the Israelites’ probable stopover sites on their route through Sinai.
The springs include paved paths, a changing room, and a small café. The Moses Bay Hotel is the centre of wind- and kite-surfing in Al-Tor.
Moses Bay, 3km from town, features its own private beach, nice accommodation, a restaurant, and a wind- and kitesurfing facility.
Although not as posh as Moon Beach, it provides amazing value if you can live without the flash.