Mt Sinai | Sinai, Egypt | Attractions - Lonely Planet (2024)

Known locally as Gebel Musa, Mt Sinai is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, all of whom believe that God delivered his Ten Commandments to Moses at its summit. The mountain is easy and beautiful to climb, and offers a taste of the magnificence of southern Sinai’s high mountain region. For pilgrims, it also offers a moving glimpse into biblical times. All hikers must be accompanied by a local Bedouin guide (hired from the monastery car park).

Nearly all visitors take one of the two well-defined routes up to the summit that have their trailhead at the monastery car park – the camel trail and the Steps of Repentance. Both meet about 300m below the summit at a plateau known as Elijah’s Basin. Here, everyone must take a steep series of 750 rocky and uneven steps to the top, where there is a small chapel and mosque (these are kept locked).

Both the climb and the summit offer spectacular views of nearby plunging valleys and of jagged mountain chains rolling off into the distance, and it’s usually possible to see the even-higher summit of Gebel Katarina in the distance. Most people on tours from Sharm El Sheikh make the climb in the pre-dawn hours to see the magnificence of the sun rising over the surrounding peaks, and then arrive back at the base before 9am, when St Catherine's Monastery opens for visitors.

An alternative is to walk up for sunset, when there are rarely more than a handful of other hikers on the summit. For this option, travellers must be comfortable making the descent down the camel trail in the dark and make sure they have sturdy shoes and a good torch (flashlight).

Because of the sanctity of the area, the Egyptian National Parks Office has instituted various regulations. Those wanting to spend the night on the mountain are asked to sleep below the summit at the small Elijah’s Basin plateau. Here there are several composting toilets and a 500-year-old cypress tree, marking the spot where the prophet Elijah is said to have heard the voice of God. Bring sufficient food and water, warm clothes and a sleeping bag. It gets cold and windy, even in summer; in winter light snow is common.

Camel Trail

The start of the camel trail is reached by walking along the northern wall of St Catherine's Monastery past the end of the compound. This is the easier route, and takes about two hours to ascend, moving at a steady pace. The trail is wide, clear and slopes gently as it moves up a series of switchbacks. The only potential difficulty – apart from sometimes fierce winds – are gravelly patches that can be slippery on the descent.

Most people walk up, but it’s also possible to hire a camel at the base, just behind the monastery, which travellers can ride to where the camel trail ends at Elijah’s Basin. Those who decide to try this should note that it’s easier on the anatomy (especially for men) to ride up the mountain, rather than down.

En route are several kiosks selling tea and soft drinks, and near the summit vendors rent out blankets (LE5) to help ward off the chill. For those ascending in the pre-dawn hours to wait for sunrise at the summit, these are a worthy investment to protect against the howling winds (though the blankets do smell like camels).

Steps of Repentance

The other path to the summit from the monastery car park is the taxing 3750 Steps of Repentance, which begin outside the southeastern corner of the monastery compound. They were laid by one monk as a form of penance. The steps – 3000 up to Elijah’s Basin and then the final 750 to the summit – are made of roughly hewn rock, and are steep and uneven in many places, requiring strong knees and concentration in placing your feet. The stunning mountain scenery along the way, though, makes this path well worth the extra effort, and the lower reaches of the trail afford impressive views of the monastery.

For those who want to try both routes to Mt Sinai's summit, it’s easier to take the camel trail on the way up and the steps on the way back down. The steps shouldn’t be attempted in the dark, so those heading to the summit for sunset and not staying overnight should go up via the steps and come down the easier camel trail.

Wadi Al Arbain Trail

This alternative route to the summit threads up the neighbouring mountain of Gebel Safsafa and takes in more historic sites. It starts from Wadi Al Arbain behind Al Milga village and passes by the 6th-century Monastery of Forty Martyrs and the Rock of Moses – believed to be the rock which miraculously produced drinking water after Moses struck it with his staff – as well as some hermit cells. This trail connects to the main Mt Sinai trail near Elijah's Basin. To walk this route, you'll need to organise a guide before (LE250) with one of the tour operators in Al Milga.

Mt Sinai | Sinai, Egypt | Attractions - Lonely Planet (2024)
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