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Visitors to the far reaches of the Sinai desert these days are often more in search of resorts and reefs than they are for fasting and enlightenment. However that doesn’t mean others aren’t interested in pilgrimages or that may don’t have curiosity about long held holy sights in Sinai. One of the most famous mountains in the traditions of the three main Monotheistic religions is Mount Sinai.
The mountain has been occupied since ancient times by monks, bedouins and a story speaks of Mohammed even seeking refuge here from the monks in a persecution as he spread his message. There are many stories and religious testimonies surrounding the place from these popular faiths which contributes to the constant appeal the site has.
The main entry points of Egypt are the first places one must consider for a trip to Sinai. These would be Cairo, Taba and Sharm El Sheikh. From Cairo the distance is 430km across the desert. Some travelers take taxi’s which are around a 6 hour journey, while other elect to take bus that leaves from the Sinai International Bus Terminal in Abbasiya, a suburb of Cairo. This is an 8 hour journey. Sharm el Sheikh and Taba are closer since they sit on the Red Sea, but they are still few hours from the mountain. Travelers can arrange for taxis and private shuttle services, but if staying at a resort hotel on the Red Sea contact the concierge as these hotels have several excursions a week departing from the hotel for a good price.
What to explore:
There are really two ways one can take advantage of the experience at Mount Sinai. Most hotel excursions offer either a sunrise hike or camelback ride up the mountain, or a daytime visit to the Monastery of St. Catherine’s itself at the foot of the mountain. One could conceivably hike the mountain and explore the monastery, and some excursions may allow for this if there is space with multiple trips. The mountain hike is beautiful but it is a challenge and the trips often begin around 2am.
The Monastery visit will give one a chance to interact with the monks, see the famous icons, inscriptions, documents and sanctuary spaces for revered objects like doors from Byzantium, a mosque inside the compound, a gift shop, the famed burning bush and many other objects of reverence. Most fascinating of all is to see how the monks and the bedouins have formed a relationship over centuries for the gardens which flourish around the monastery and the exchange of animal products and skills for desert survival.
For guests looking to spend an overnight or more in the vicinity, there is a Guest House just below the monastery that offers single or double occupancy rooms, with a few rooms for even higher occupancy. In the price of the room is included dinner and breakfast, there is also a snack bar on site serving food for sale during the day. All rooms have basic amenities and private facilities. Summer time is very hot but chances are occupancy will be less.
Just outside the Monastery valley lies the establishment of St. Catherine City. This is a small town which has grown up around the tourism of the Monastery and mountain. Here there are schools, a post office, basic facilities, homes and hotels with full amenities for travelers wishing to stay in the area.