Mount Sinai Egypt – A complete hiking guide to climbing this majestic mountain- in the dark!
Climbing this epic mountain is a bucket list item. Not only is it considered to be one of the most religiously significant Middle East Peaks, but it’s also a jaw-dropping place to watch the sunrise. Also known as Jabal Musa or the Holy Moses Mountain, it is believed that this is where Moses received the Ten Commandments.
Where is Mount Sinai?
The Sinai Mountains are in South Sinai about 31 miles from the Red Sea. You can take organised trips from Red Sea resorts such as Sharm El Sheikh or Dahab to reach the mountain base in time for an overnight climb. Mount Sinai is the second-highest mountain in Egypt at 2285 meters.
Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine’s Monastery Facts
Mount Sinai, Egypt - Elevation 2285m (7497 ft)
Epic hike - Sunrise and Sunset view points
Climb Mt Sinai 7 days a week - with an official guide only
Total elevation gain on the hike 700m (2296 ft)
St Catherine's Monastery - Open Saturdays & Mon-Thursdays 9am - 11.30am
Monastery is closed on Egyptian Holidays and Feastdays
Reaching the mountain – things you need to know!
Firstly, your home country’s Foreign Office advice for travel to South Sinai may change. When we travelled in April 23, The UK Foreign Office considered it safe to travel in South Sinai but not to North Sinai. Also, check if you need an Egyptian Visa for the trek. If you are staying within South Sinai then your South Sinai Stamp will be fine, but travelling from other Egyptian locations will require a Visa. It’s essential to have a local guide to climb Mount Sinai, so an organised trek is advisable. Travel to the mountain base will also usually require a police escort (they didn’t tell me that when I booked!). The escort travels at set time slots, so again travelling with an official group makes this stress free – albeit not your usual way to start an excursion!
An overnight hike
It’s a little strange arriving for a mountain trek at 2am. The thorough military screening of us and our hiking kit was also a little unique for a trek. However, the initial path from our drop off point past St Catherine’s Monastery was well lit and paved….until it wasn’t! Make sure you have a head torch (although our guide did give out small torches between us). Also consider that although you are in the desert, the mountain night time temperatures can get very cold.
How long is the trek and what is it like ?
The 7km ‘Camel Route’ climb up can take 2- 4 hours depending on your fitness and also the speed of the group you are travelling with. Slow and steady wins the race on this trek. Following a guide makes it easy to stick to the path, however it’s rocky terrain and you need very solid footwear. There are several Bedouin cafes on the way up that offer hot drinks, water and snacks. Surprisingly you can also find a few ‘toilets’ – but I use that term loosely!
In previous years – 2 routes to the summit were offered. However, due to frequent trekker accidents, the steeper, Steps of Repentance route is now closed and you have to take the Camel path instead. (A few of our fellow trekkers were disappointed to find this out as some guide books and websites tell you otherwise).
Make the most of the darkness
One of the amazing experiences on this overnight hike was the opportunity to appreciate the vast and dark desert sky. The stars and Milky Way seemed unbelievably huge, bright and like nothing I’d experienced before. At one point it even felt that we were looking down on a large crescent orange moon.
From the base at the Monastery, we were passed by camels and their owners offering us an ‘easy ride’ up the mountain. I tried not to take offence that maybe they didn’t think I looked the ‘Trek a Mountain’ type! Two of our party did choose the camel option. Be warned, the camel can’t take you the last 750 steps so you do need to be fit enough for the final ascent. And have you ever ridden a camel? Let’s just say that I wouldn’t use the word comfort and camel in the same sentence!
As the camel route came to an end, a final staircase of 750 steps appeared to take us to the summit. It’s steep and relentless – but it was already getting a little lighter which motivated us to keep our legs pumping.
We arrived at the mountain top just before 5am, and after buying some coffee and snacks, we found our perfect sunrise spot and settled in. There were mattresses and warm blankets for hire, although we were lucky to have a cool but not cold night. Sunrise was unbelievably moving. The jolt of light bathed the rock formations in warm colours and sunlight moved the shadows at a visible pace. For me, the westerly view was equally stunning, as the warm Sinai mountain range faded layer by layer into the distance. Time flew too quickly that morning, and with photos taken and hearts filled with gratitude for a magical family adventure, it was time to descend.
Down isn’t always easy
The route back down felt like an entirely separate trip – the ability to see both the path and the views being the main change! It also only took about half the time to descend, and there was less pressure to keep together as a group. But don’t be fooled, as down isn’t always easy! The more graveled sections can give way under foot and I was grateful for my trekking poles to stop me from slipping.
St Catherine’s and home…
Wandering into St Catherine’s Monastery at the end of a trek was like walking into a desert oasis. A shady, calm courtyard and a small cafe/shop were a welcome pit stop! On some days you can take a guided tour of this UNESCO world Heritage site. From here we strolled back to our minibus, ready for a sleep on the 3 hour return trip to our hotel. Tired but totally elated by a magical mountain sunrise experience.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery Facts
This monastery was built by Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th-century and is said to house the Biblical Burning Bush. It is also the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A few highlights are the Church of the Transfiguration, The Sacred Sacristy museum, and the 11th-century Monastery Mosque. There is a shady courtyard, somewhere to buy snacks and some much nicer toilets. Here’s a link to the Monastery website where you can check opening days and times – St Catherine’s Monastery
It is possible to climb Mount Sinai to watch sunset instead of sunrise. High daytime temperatures would make the trek up less pleasant but it’s possible to arrange if you don’t want to miss a night of sleep.
I’ve put together a small kit list to make the adventure a bit more comfortable!
Packing list for an overnight hike:
- Walking boots or shoes
- Warm clothes – especially in the Winter months
- Phone / Camera
- Sunscreen & Sunglasses for the descent
- Water (bring your own but you can buy water and hot drinks en route)
- Snacks (some are on offer en route)
- Toilet paper (there is a toilet hole but no paper)
- Trekking poles (optional)
- Small change if you would like to tip your guide and the local Bedouin children (you can only buy Egyptian currency once you arrive in Egypt).
This was the first overnight or mountain trek I’d undertaken with my family – and I am so glad we gave up a night of our holiday for this adventure. From start to finish, the whole trek was really unique and watching the sunrise from the top of this majestic and significant mountain top was truly unforgettable.