Hike the ancient Bedouin lands on the Sinai trail
The newly expanded, 550km trek preserves tradition as well as showing off the abundant wonders of
the Peninsula to those who walk it
September 15, 2018
Updated: September 15, 2018 06:13 PM
Sunrise over the Mount Katherine summit Yasmin El-Beih Sunrise over the Mount Katherine summit
Egypt's first long-distance hike, the Sinai Trail has really caught the world's attention. It was
dubbed one of the best new trails worldwide when it began as a 12-day hike spanning 220 kilometres
from Ras Shitan, on the northeast coastline of the South Sinai governorate, to the summit of Mount
Catherine further inland.
Earlier this year the team announced the hike was expanding and would extend from coast to coast,
exploring a wider scope of the Sinai's natural attractions on the rugged terrain, on a 550-kilometre
42-day journey. When I walked the 220km trail early in 2017 as part of the second cohort on the
trail, three Bedouin tribes – the Tarabin, Muzeina and Jabaleya – assisted as tour guides,
cameleers, cooks and other support crew, making the trip an unforgettable experience as we crossed
From coastal hills to highlands, fabled oases and wadis, to windswept deserts, the landscapes we
explored were wild, jaw-dropping, surreal and incredibly varied.
The new trail is even richer, almost rivalling the 650km Jordan Trail in length, making it the
second-longest trip of its kind in the great outdoors in the region. "We felt that the old trail
didn't go justice to everything that the Sinai has to offer, and we wanted to run a hike that would
further showcase as much of this beautiful place as possible," explains Ben Hoffler, an old-hand at
the Sinai Trail who has trekked in the peninsula for several years.
"There are so many landscapes in Sinai that weren't on the original trail that we wanted to show to
The expansion of the hike's length to the other side of the coastline now requires the involvement
of five more tribes – The Awlad Said, Garasha, Sowalha, Hamada and Alegat cover the new territorial
Tourists up for an adventure in the mountains usually, due to logistical reasons, get in contact
with a guide near the coastal cities of Dahab and Nuweiba in the southeast or a Jebeleya guide near
Saint Catherine, a small town that draws visitors from around the world to the local monastery and
Unesco World Heritage Site of the same name. The lands more southwest of the Peninsula, on the
terrain of the five new tribes, have mostly only witnessed minimal tourism previously; the only
exception is parts of Wadi Feiran on the Alegat lands, where temples and the turquoise mining site
of Serabit El Khadem lie.
Nasser Mansour, a seasoned Bedouin guide from the Jabaleya tribe and one of the founders of The
Sinai Trail, tells me that this collaboration is historically unprecedented, especially since cars
reached the Peninsula. Merchant caravans from all eight tribes inhabiting the Sinai had once worked
together to facilitate trade from mainland Egypt in the east and Arabia in the west, but this
collaboration dissolved as technology and infrastructure developments created the possibility for
It takes in almost every peak in the PeninsulaYasmin El-Bleih It takes in almost every peak in the
Trekking the Sinai, the typically hospitable Bedouins speak to visitors about their history and
legends, both mythical and true tales orally passed down from generation to generation, about loot,
women, tribal brawls and legendary creatures. Along the way, hikers will also be exposed to the
varying dialects, mannerisms, customs and the different origin stories each have. While the Hamada
trace their lineage back to the times of the Pharaohs, the Jabaleya believe their first indigenous
ancestors inhabited the Saint Catherine area 1,500 years ago, arriving as distant descendants from
the Roman Empire to protect the monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Local guides may offer fruits such as figs and apricots from orchards on the trail, the availability
of which varies as the scenery transforms on different territorial lands, as do the types of plants,
many of which have healing properties. While Bedouin law is fairly similar regionally, customs
differ from tribe to tribe. "It was a challenge to bring all eight tribes on board, but we wanted to
keep their endangered knowledge alive and show the world each of the different tribal cultures,"
says Hoffler, who has travelled different parts of the trail with the rest of the team extensively
to ensure the final route is as historical, interesting and safe as possible.
Hiking tourism, whether it is a short stroll of merely a few days or a series of more challenging
climbs, keeps tribal knowledge relevant; instead of young members of the tribe seeking jobs as beach
camp clerks or taxi drivers, it gives them a sustainable, legitimate income. The Sinai Trail has
arguably succeeded in incentivising young Bedouins to stay in the desert and mountains, creating
jobs and opportunities without removing them from their heritage.
The route takes hikers through wide sandstone desert plains, then further down to the immense
mountains of the Sinai before the terrain turns to deep gorges and valleys housing spectacular
flowing waterfalls and jungles of bamboo. The landscape later transforms to stunning high
tablelands. The extended trail breaks from the old path at Jebel Makhroum, a massive rock formation
with a big hole cut through, in the sandy, open desert plain, merely days after crossing fabled
oases such as Ein Hudera and Ein Furtaga, as well as ruins of prehistoric structures dubbed Nawamis.
Ein Hudera, one of the Sinai's most fabled oases. Yasmin El-Bleih Ein Hudera, one of the Sinai's
most fabled oases. Yasmin El-Bleih
From there, hikers begin lesser-trodden routes by visiting Wadi Hammam, a gorge of twists and turns
so dramatic that the sky narrows up ahead, before reaching Jebel Feyrani, elevated, isolated
mountains where tourists can look out to see much of the rest of the Sinai. The tour then stops
further south at the breathtaking oasis of Ein Kidd. After taking in the jaw-dropping scenery – a
deserted haven of flowing streams and chirping birds cradled between red, rocky gorges – hikers
ascend to reach Jebel Sabbah, a high peak where climbers can see the Gulf of Suez at one end and the
Gulf of Aqaba at the other, witnessing the Red Sea extending between Africa and Asia. Then there's
Jebel Um Shomer, a summit once believed to be the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments
before Mount Sinai was named the holy site. Legend has it that a fairy hid at the top of Jebel Um
Shomer where she was being hunted down, and she remains forever in hiding in a crack between the rocks.
Other attractions include Jebel Serbal, a mountainous route dotted with old monasteries and
Byzantine pathways, where an ancient Nabataean temple lies at the top near a labyrinth. The
peaceful, tree-lined path is also home to the only convent in the Sinai, known as a home to
anchorites as far back as the third, fourth and fifth centuries. Further north, on the southeast
side of the triangle forming the trail, there's Jebel Banat, which is the scene of an old Bedouin
tale of two sisters who committed suicide by braiding their locks together and jumping from the top
of the mountain to their deaths when their father sought to marry them to men they didn't love.
There's also Serabit El Khadem, where the only Pharaonic temple still in existence in the Sinai
lies, and which has been a long-standing site for turquoise mining since ancient times. Other
spectacular natural wonders are the canyons of El Raml, high tableland mountains that take three
days to cross and from where visitors can look out to almost all of the Sinai.
Almost every mountain and peak in the Peninsula is now part of the Sinai Trail, making every day on
the 42-day adventure as diverse as it is spectacular. The complete new hike won't be available to
those who want to walk it before 2019, though, however, the team is launching a 24-day version of
the hike, featuring a section of the new trail, in October this year. Travellers can opt to do part
of the challenging route or the entire length of it at once.
The Sinai Trail is making history by revolutionising the perception of hiking culture in Egypt and
the opportunities available to the Bedouin who dwell there.
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