Camel Trekking Across the Sinai Desert

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Sinai Desert, Egypt
By Kate Cypcar

Expeditions into the Sinai Desert, which range from an afternoon or late night meander up Mount Sinai to a multi-day or week trek, are increasingly popular in Egypt. All treks through this relentlessly dry desert east of the Nile must be done with a Bedouin guide. Many Bedouin are excluded from the tourist industry, which is dominated by migrants from the Nile Valley; although as natives of the desert, Bedouin know the terrain and how to safely navigate it better than anyone. If you are having difficult locating a Bedouin guide, try contacting the following organizations for leads: Centre for Sinai is one outfit that seeks to promote knowledge of the local culture and is a good place to look for a guide; and Man and the Environment (MATE) Dahab is an environmental education center that helps arrange treks with Bedouin guides.

Whoever you choose to be your guide, register with the police before beginning the trek, and don’t pay the camel driver until you return. Make sure you bring water purification tablets, comfortable walking shoes, a hat and sunglasses, sun block, a warm jacket, a good sleeping bag, and toilet paper. It can get very cold at night – frost, and even snow, are common in winter. When planning a budget for your trip, keep in mind that camels are slower and a more expensive way to travel (they also tend to be a bit more temperamental than your average mode of transportation – duck for spitting camels!). On the flip side, they will allow you to reach places that are inaccessible to vehicles and are the best way to see the area. Expect to pay around E£300 per person per day for a three-day trek (including all food and water).

St. Katherine sits in the center of South Sinai’s high mountain region and is the ideal place to begin a mountain trek on camel. One of the most common circuits goes to the Galt al-Azraq (Blue Pools) and takes three or four days. The trail leaves Al-Milga via the man-made Abu Giffa Pass and heads towards Wadi Tubug, taking a detour around Wadi Shagg, where there are springs, water holes and lush, walled gardens. The track then travels through Wadi Zuweitin (Valley of the Olives), where there are ancient olive trees said by local Bedouin to have been planted by the founder of the Jebaliyya tribe. Prepare to spend the first night here, making yourself comfortable in the small stone hut in which hikers can sometimes sleep. The next day continues to Wadi Gibal, through high passes and along the valleys of Farsh Asara and Farsh Arnab. Many hikers then climb either Ras Abu Alda or Gebel Abu Gasba, before heading to the spring of Ein Nagila and the ruins of the Byzantine monastery at Bab ad-Dunya (Gate of the World). The stretch of trail designated for the third day leads to the crystal clear, icy waters of the Galt al-Azraq, a deep pool in the rock. On the fourth day, you will reach a camel pass on Gebel Abbas Basha. The one-hour hike up is steep, but fairly easy, and leads to the ruined palace that the 19th-century viceroy Abbas Hilmi I built there. The panoramic views at the summit (7559 feet) are incredible. The trail then retraces its way to Wadi Zuweitin and Al-Milga.

If you can’t get enough of St. Katherine, are feeling mighty adventurous, or just have some time to kill, you might also check out Sheikh Awad, where there is a Sheikh’s tomb and Bedouin settlement; The Nugra Waterfall, a difficult to reach, rain-fed cascade approximately 66-feet high, which is reached through a winding canyon called Wadi Nugra; and Naqb al-Faria, a camel path with rock inscriptions. Shorter trips of interest include hiking to the top of Gebel Katarina, Egypt’s highest peak at 8668 feet. Allow about five hours to reach the summit along a moderate, but tiring, trail. The views from the top are unmatched, and the panorama can even include the mountains of Saudi Arabia on a clear day.

After St. Katherine, Nuweiba is the next best place in Sinai to arrange camel trips into the mountains lining the coast. The trip to Colored Canyon usually tops every visitor’s itinerary. Colored Canyon is located between St. Katherine and Nuweiba, and derives its name from the bright, multicolored stones that resemble paintings on its walls. The canyon is about 3 miles from the main road. Ain al-Furtega is about 10 miles north of Nuweiba, and is another popular destination due to its palm-filled oasis. Mayat el-Wishwashi is a large cistern hidden between two boulders in a canyon. Today it is virtually dried up, except for during the winter months. Close by is Mayat Malkha, a palm grove that is watered by Mayat el-Wishwashi and is surrounded by colorful sandstone. Wadi Huweiyit is another colorful sandstone canyon with lookouts giving panoramic views of Saudi Arabia. Ain Hudra (also called Ain Khudra of ‘Green Spring’) is famously beautiful, although be prepared for a long trip by camel. Ain Umm Ahmed is the largest oasis in eastern Sinai, sporting palm trees galore, Bedouin houses and a famous stream that becomes an icy river in winter. Gebel Barga is a difficult mountain to climb but affords stunning views over the peaks of eastern Sinai. For the adventure sport climber and mountaineer, Gebel Barga is definitely an obstacle to tackle.

If you have journeyed this far into the Sinai Desert, attempt a climb up Mount Sinai’s 7497 feet, where, according to Christian tradition, Moses received the tablets of Law known as the Ten Commandments. The view is most stunning at sunset and sunrise (the temperature is more favorable at these times as well). The camel track is easy, but indirect, and the ride up the steep camel track is rough at times. Plan about 2.5 hours for the assent and be sure to wear solid shoes and warm clothing. Camels can be hired from behind the monastery for E£35. One way takes you three parts of the way up in 1.5 hours. The last part, which you must walk up, takes 30 minutes or so. There are expensive refreshment stalls on the way up, but it is always a good idea to take at least a half-gallon (just under 70 ounces) of water per person if making the ascent during the day. On top of Mount Sinai is a chapel where services are performed on some Sundays by the monks, and a mosque where a sheep is sacrificed once a year. Camping is possible and blankets and mattresses are available to rent (E£5, E£10) around the summit. The altitude makes for sub-zero night-time temperatures for much of the year – a torch, sleeping bag and warm clothing are essential.





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