The Sinai Desert – Coast to Coast (Egypt)

Looking at a map of the world it is easy to miss the relatively small triangle of land that forms the Sinai Peninsula. Yet the region, lying symbolically at the rough centre of the world, is perhaps one of the most important land masses on earth. It forms a land bridge between the continents of Africa and Asia and separates the Indo-Pacific Oceans from the Mediterranean. Culturally too, the Sinai represents

a meeting of the world’s peoples. All three of the West’s great religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – know the Sinai as a holy land, traversed by prophets, saints, pilgrims, and warriors. This is the land of the biblical exodus of Moses and the Israelites, and also the land through which the Arabs brought Islam to Africa in the 7thCentury. Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and more recently Egyptian & Israeli armies marched across its stony surfaces leaving a landscape seeped in history with a story to tell.

Baobab’s Sinai Coast to Coast jeep safari reveals some of this story to the interested traveller. The trail begins in Dahab on the east coast, a town more commonly visited by the many divers, who come to explore the coral reefs of the Red Sea. However, Dahab is also just a short jeep ride from some of the finest wadis in the desert. The term wadi refers to an opening through the granite and sandstone mountains that form much of the South Sinai region. It is through these wadis that the traveller can follow in the footsteps of the historical figures that once traversed this land.

In the east of the region, rocky canyons provide short walks, and occasional scrambles, before emerging into the sands of the desert. At every turn the landscape changes, as white sands become bright red and rocks reveal yellow and purples hues. It is not long before the path leads to an oasis and the promise of refreshment from the local Bedouin people. Despite the heat of the desert, it is surprising how refreshing a glass of traditional tea can be, particularly the hibiscus tea karkadé, which is widely drunk at mealtimes.

Most of the Bedouin tribes of the Sinai are descended from migrants from the Arabian Peninsula, arriving between the 14th and 18th Centuries, making the Bedouin themselves relatively recent arrivals in an ancient land. On your trip, as well as providing refreshment and a place to rest, the Bedouin also provide the camels that provide the transport into the heart of the desert. The best way to experience the desert is to alternately travel by camel and on foot. The steady rocking pace of a camel ride can be very therapeutic as the landscape opens up around you. It is difficult to judge distances across the vast plateaus and the wadis that cross them. The softer sandstone rocks are worn into wavelike patterns by the constant battering of wind and sand. This produces unlikely shapes, which rise from the desert floor long before you reach them and change as you pass them by. None is as unusual as the rock formation in the Laurence of Arabia Desert, known by the locals as the Frozen Dinosaur. Here the wind has shaped a sandstone mound into an uncanny replica of a slumbering tyrannosaurus rex complete with claws and tail. The illusion remains complete as the traveller circles the rock formation and climbs the sand dunes which have piled up alongside the beast’s neck.

Once in the solitude of the deep desert the silence becomes intense. Sitting amongst the changing colours of the rocks of the desert as the sun sets, without a sound to be heard, it is easy to see why so many people have chosen the desert as a place for meditation. Camping underneath the stars in the clear desert skies can be an even more fulfilling experience. Star constellations and the Milky Way emerge as the sky darkens and the bright streaks of shooting stars can be glimpsed by the patient stargazer.

At the mid-point of the trail is the popular tourist destination of St Catherine’s Monastery. Set beneath Mount Sinai, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments and housing the biblical burning bush, the Monastery is one of the world’s great centres of religious pilgrimage. The first monastics came to the Sinai as early as 330 AD and were mostly Greek Christians escaping the Roman Empire. It is easy to understand why the Romans were unable to follow them into the desolate mountains of the region. This is the roof of the Sinai, where rocky peaks reach over 2,500 m in height and snow falls in the winter months. There are two easy though overused paths to the summit of Mount Sinai, where tourists huddle overnight in sleeping bags awaiting sunrise. For the more solitude seeking traveller, the neighbouring Gebel Katerine offers a more challenging trail with superior views across the Sinai.

As the trail moves to the west, the region of Serabit el-Khademis reached. Once again the local

Bedouin provide excellent hosts, before a three hour walk into the Grand Canyon-like sandstone mountains reveals evidence of the Sinai’s earliest inhabitants. For 2,000 years the Pharaohs sent miners to carve the turquoise from these hills. The beautiful blue green stone, which adorns so much of the jewellery and building work of the early Egyptian empire, can still be found in these hills. At the summit stand the ruins of a temple dedicated to the God Hathor. The walk is easy and probably the most rewarding of the whole Sinai experience.

Baobab Travel designed an itinerary that offers a cross section of the history and landscapes of this remarkable land. Desert ecology is fragile. It takes great perseverance to survive in this arid land and that goes for the people just as much as the wildlife. No desert trip would be complete unless you are accompanied by the Bedouin and their desert skills. Only those who live here know how to find the shade, firewood, and water needed to survive. You will learn how each of the hardy shrubs that survive here can be utilised for food or medicine. We pride themselves on our responsible approach to tourism and the close contact with the Bedouin people benefits their communities and enriches your travel experience, that contact with new cultures inevitably brings.


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