Endlessly scrolling through Instagram trying to find the new travel hot spot? The new ‘off-the-beaten-path’ site? Yeah, same. It’s a tough life but I think I’ve finally found a place that isn’t rammed with tourists all hours of the day yet is still insta-worthy. So, where am I talking about? The place in question lies in the heart of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
Sandwiched in-between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea is a sparse desert region, home to a 6th century monastery named St. Catherine’s. However, whilst the monastery may be the main attraction, what lies at the top of the mountain is even more impressive.
I get it, you’re thinking, the pyramids, that’s what Egypt is known for, why have I never heard of this place before? Whilst the pyramids have been Egypt’s main attraction for centuries, St. Catherine’s has remained a hidden gem after being somewhat overlooked for years.
It’s been considered a pilgrimage site for years but it was only in 1980 when modern roads were created to make the monastery and surrounding mountains accessible by car from the neighboring towns of Dahab and Sharm el Sheikh.
You will be greeted with impressive landscapes before you even reach Mount Sinai, otherwise known as Gebel Musa (Mountain of Moses). According to the Old Testament, Mount Sinai is where Moses received the Ten Commandments after spending 40 days and 40 nights roaming the desert; hence why the ascent is popular for the religious.
So, you’ve managed to get on a tour bus to the monastery or hired a car what do you do next? Get climbing that mountain gal. The tour companies who operate from the hotels in the surrounding areas will advise you to start your ascent at night due to scorching daytime temperatures and so that you can see the sunrise at the top but if you don’t want crowds, don’t want to stay up all night and don’t want a hefty price tag find a way there in the early morning and get a mountain guide when you get there. They’ll charge you in Egyptian pounds and will be considerably cheaper than anything a hotel will charge.
Sorry but for the adventurous, lone travelers among you, it is necessary to take a guide up the mountain with you due to safety reasons. There are two ways to reach the summit, the ‘camel path’ and the ‘steps of penitence’. The former is longer and shallower taking around 2-3 hours to reach the top but the latter is more direct taking around 1.5 hours to get to the top. Go in the off-peak season (Nov/Dec) to avoid ridiculous heat during the day and take the steps up to avoid both people and camel feces.
Taking the ‘steps of penitence’ during the day will give you an almost uninterrupted route up. Don’t worry; it’s only 3,750 steps…
Pass by the Bedouin who live in the mountains. Yes, people actually live there. Interact with the camels, goats and donkeys all whilst on your way to breathtaking views. Once you reach the top, you’ll see a Greek Orthodox chapel and a mosque. The chapel was built in 1934 on the ruins of a 16th century church.
Unfortunately, access to the inside of the chapel is closed off to the public as it supposedly holds the rock considered to be the source of stone for the commandments.
As you take in the views of the surrounding desert and the Red Sea you’ll be standing in the spot believed to be where Moses, according to Jewish tradition, received not only the Ten Commandments from God but also the entire body of the biblical text.
Trek back down the mountain and at the foot you will be able to enter Saint Catherine’s Monastery. It is open from 9am-12pm each day except Fridays and Sundays when it is open for only 1 hour.
Built between 548 and 565, it is one of the oldest monasteries in the world and is in fact home to the world’s oldest operating library. Before the British Library acquired it, it was home to one of four of the great manuscripts, which contained the earliest version of the entire text of the Bible. What’s more is that inside the monastery grows the bush, reportedly believed to be the Burning Bush Moses saw when God came to him.
Now, if you’re not into all the religious stuff, it’s still worthwhile going. You’ll be immersed in surroundings that simply can’t be matched anywhere else in the world.
There’s something peaceful about being in a ‘holy-land’ and who knows what else you might find in the mountains…