Either you are up for a longer trek or prefer a shorter hike, South Sinai welcomes visitors with open arms. Located hundreds of miles away from the trouble spots of North Sinai and mainland Egypt, the region is safe, and local operators still offer their programs for those few who still come. In the Sinai interior you have to be accompanied by a Bedouin guide by law, and it makes sense for other reasons too. You don’t need a 4-wheel-drive to reach these places, you can organise a guide and a taxi/microbus in most tourist locations. The best places to find a good operator are Dahab, Nuweiba and St Catherine, but at some attractions you can get a guide right on the spot. Following are ten of the best 1-day hikes, some easier and some more demanding.
Jebel Mileihis is a very easily recognisable mountain, with its flat top standing above a vast desert plain and smaller hills. As you are heading to St Catherine on the main road coming from the coast, from Nuweiba or Dahab, after a pass you get a wonderful view of the area – in fact, tourist buses often stop at the pass. Little further down the road there is a well-known stop called Ras Ghazala, famous for the rusty truck on the top of a hill with a smiley face. Often you can find guides right here, on the spot. The hike starts across the sandy plain to the top of Salama Canyon. A short scramble down the canyon will lead you to Wadi Disco, then you get to the plain where Jebel Mileihis stands. The path to the top of the mountain is not difficult or dangerous, although it is a tough climb with some 250 metres elevation gain. The views from the top, however, make the effort absolutely worth it. After descending back the same way, a shorter route leads back to Ras Ghazala.
Start: Ras Ghazala (St Catherine-Nuweiba-Dahab road)
This cute oasis and adventurous little canyon are some of the highlights of Sinai, but many people believe they are difficult to reach. In fact, these attractions are a short walk from the main St Catherine road where a now mostly abandoned cafeteria stands. The areas is known as Cafeteria Joma or Hajar Maktub, and in the past you could get a guide and camels here on the spot. Today the cafeteria is closed and so you have to have a guide in advance, or possibly find one at Ras Ghazala. You can visit the oasis and the canyon as a circuit, starting either way. The hike in the canyon involves little scrambling, but with little help virtually anyone can do it. In the oasis, explore the garden where you are seated, and the oasis itself. See the little cave with the spring, enjoy the view from the hill next to the gardens, or convince the guide to take you to the look-out point above the oasis – a steep but short climb taking about 15 minutes one way. The Ein Khudra oasis is a nice place to stay for a few days, all the gardens provide basic facilities, meals and drinks, and you can do other 1-day hikes from here. Attractions include the Closed Canyon, Wadi Rum, Jebel Rum and Jebel Khudra.
Start: Hajar Maktub area (St Catherine-Nuweiba-Dahab road)
The Nawamis Site and Jebel Matamir
The historic Nabataean site known as Nawamis is also very near the main St Catherine road, but the round stone buildings blend in the surroundings and are difficult to spot. The sandstone mountain range behind it, Jebel Matamir, however, is well visible from afar. There is a little settlement just off the main road, with the turn-off awkwardly at a sharp bend, but at least signposted. You can find here a guide, and camels if needed. The Nawamis site is a short distance away, but Jebel Matamir is about an hour’s walk one way. The mountain offers some stunning views from its peaks, and hides a maze of interconnected sandy basins, high sand dunes. It’s a fascinating area, very worth visiting.
Start: Nawamis settlement (St Catherine-Nuweiba-Dahab road)
The Arada Canyon, also known as Double Canyon, was one of the places some 4×4 tours used to visit in the past. The canyon, however, can be reached from the main St Catherine road on foot, too. A small settlement, known and signposted as Wadi Arada, is located right next to the road, and friendly Sheikh Freej can help sorting a guide. It’s about 5 kilometres to the canyon from the settlement through an amazing landscape, passing ancient inscriptions at one point. The canyon, or two canyons to be more precise, are tricky at some points, but the guide can help. Good walkers could add a little extra hike, up to a look-out point, known as Nosrat el Guna, standing some 200 metres above the area. Make sure you agreed on this before setting off, and organising a pick-up car in this case is also a good idea as it might get dark by the time you descend back to the base.
Start: Arada settlement (St Catherine-Nuweiba-Dahab road)
It is a stunning place after rains when the canyon fills up with water, forming probably the biggest pond in South Sinai. At the time of writing this is the case, but the beach camps along the Nuweiba-Taba coast can give you up-to-date advice. These camps are where you can also find a Bedouin guide. Wishwashi Canyon is not far from the popular beach area known as Ras Shaitan, branching off from Wadi Milha, but finding the spot can be confusing so do not attempt it alone! A possible finish of the hike could be, if you agreed about it with the guide before setting off and there is time, a little detour via the springs at Moyat el Milha, the cute secluded basin known as El Freya, then over a hill back to the beach via another wadi. These attractions are also along the way to the Coloured Canyon, if someone is after a longer trek.
Start: Ras Shaitan (Nuweiba-Taba coast)
In the High Mountains around the town of St Catherine you can do many great walks. This easy 1-day hike is described in detail in a little brochure published by the National Park in several languages – possibly you find a copy in town. The hike starts from the El Milgah area of St Catherine, climbing up to a pass known as Naqb el Raheb. This 20 minutes ascent is the only climb of the hike, and another easy one at the end – the rest is all downhill, first in Wadi Tala then Wadi Itlah. Along the way you pass an ancient monastery in an olive grove, a little chapel, and many beautiful gardens. The best known of them is Dr. Ahmed’s herbal garden, a great place for a rest and to get a bit of an insight into Bedouin traditions. From Wadi Itlah a little canyon known as Ubugiya leads to higher ground and the settlement of Abu Seila. If you arranged a car it could wait you here to take you back to St Catherine, or you can find one locally.
Start: St Catherine town
Located at the beginning of the high mountain wadis, many treks pass this area, but hikers rarely slow down to explore. The area offers, however, many beautiful little secrets. Discover the water pools and the little canyon of El Kharaza, ancient ruins, a hidden basin with possibly a pond, and many beautiful Bedouin gardens. The hike starts from town via the Abu Jeefa pass, and this is the only tough climb taking about 30 minutes. The hike continues in Wadi Tubuq, Wadi Shaq, Wadi Mathar, and the Wadi Zawatin area including Farsh Zaq, then returns to town via Wadi Tubuq and Abu Jeefa. If it is not that important for you to climb the high peaks, this is a lovely easy-moderate walk.
Start: St Catherine town
The Blue Desert, often called Blue Mountain, is one of the favourite picnic spots of locals, and it is usually approached by car. While indeed it is a great place for a Bedouin dinner party, you could get there from town on foot, visiting other beautiful attractions as well. You can walk to Wadi Sdud from the Wadi Isbaiya area of town, there are actually a few accommodation choices around here, or a car can drop visitors off at the beginning of the hike. Wadi Sdud is a narrow canyon-like wadi, with some obstacles to overcome along the way. The hike then takes you to an open area known as El Frush, with Jebel Umm Alawi dominating the view. Next to the mountain a steep pass starts: called Naqb Dirwa, it descends right to the Blue Desert. The view is fantastic from the top of the pass. The path down is easy, and there isn’t much climbing along the whole of this trek. At the Blue Desert a car can wait to take you back to town, or a meal almost ready to eat – depending on your arrangements.
Start: Wadi Isbaiya, St Catherine town
Wadi Arbain, also known as Wadi Leja, is along the alternative route to Mt Sinai and the main route to Mt Katherina. However, we skip these high peaks, aiming instead for the hidden secrets of the Safsafa range. Ras Safsafa, the peak visible from town, and Mt Sinai are at the opposing ends of the same massif, and between the two peaks many little basins are found. There are little gardens in them, ruined and intact churches, and from the gullies you have amazing birds-eye view on different parts of St Catherine town and the Monastery of St Catherine. The best route, after Wadi Arbain, is via Kinist el Hmar, Farsh Safsafa, Farsh Loza, Farsh Arimziya and Farsh Eliyas (Elijah’s Basin). The last basin stands at the base of Mt Sinai proper, but unless you want to stay up there for the night, it is time to return. The shortest route is via the Stairs of Repentance to the Monastery, where you can get a taxi back to town. This is a fairly demanding hike: although the basins are not as high up as Mt Sinai, there is a lot of walking up and down over small passes is involved.
Start: St Catherine town
The toughest of our suggested 1-day hikes, it is a wonderful but rarely trodden route. It is actually the start of an alternative route to Mt Katherine, if someone is doing a multiple-day trek. However, we skip Egypt’s highest peak, only observing it from a fair distance. But you get a great view of it, along with Mt Sinai and a good bit of St Catherine town. The hike starts in Wadi Arbain, but shortly turns off to the right. The steep gully called Naqb Abu Heyman leads to a little, secret world: while towering Jebel Raba looks from town as there was no life on its top, in fact there is a lush basin up there with trees and shrubs. The path from here leads up to the next mountain, Jebel Ahmar, a big round granite dome. Our route then descends via steep Wadi Ahmar to the upper end of Wadi Arbain, from where a good and gently descending path leads back to town.
Start: St Catherine town
If you want to visit these places, you find here a list of local operators who offer programs to the desert and mountains. This list is not complete and we welcome suggestions.