A complete hiking guide to climbing Mount Sinai in Egypt. Also known as Jebel Musa, or the holy Moses Mountain, many believe this is the Biblical Mount Sinai where Moses received the ten commandments.
For many, climbing to the summit of Mount Sinai in Egypt is a bucket list item trumping all other notable landmarks in the country. That’s because Mount Sinai, or the holy Moses Mountain, is considered to be the most religiously significant peak in the Middle East, and even the entire world.
In this guide, I’ll detail everything you need to know about hiking to the top of this biblical mountain from various parts of Egypt. I’ll also include photos and a few highlights from my trek to inspire your visit.
Things to Know About the Mount Sinai Climb in Egypt
Where is Mount Sinai?
Mount Sinai is located in the southern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in the city of Saint Catherine.
This is an inland high mountain region in the South Sinai Desert, approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Red Sea. The closest tourist cities are Dahab and Sharm el-Sheikh.
Mount Sinai is one of the most prominent peaks in this range, sitting beside Mount Catherine (2,629 m), the highest mountain in Egypt.
How to Get to Mount Sinai
In order to climb Mount Sinai, it is compulsory to have a guide. This does not reflect the difficulty of the walk but is required by local authorities for security reasons.
Therefore, the easiest (and cheapest) way to get to Mount Sinai is to join in on a group tour from either Sharm el-Sheikh or Dahab.
The best trips are sunrise hikes, which is definitely the best way to hike up to Mount Sinai summit. While the view for sunrise is spectacular and infinitely better, the main reason is that it is usually much too hot to hike during the day.
These trips also always include a tour of the Saint Catherine Monastery, which is the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery in the world (built between 548 and 565 A.D) and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Alternative: Getting to Saint Catherine Independently
While South Sinai is generally safe, the truth is that the entire Sinai Peninsula is still on most countries’ Do Not Travel lists, due to the ongoing terrorism activity in the north. As a result, it’s probably not a good idea to rent a car and drive through the remote mountain regions to Saint Catherine independently.
However, if you’re in a large group and don’t want to join in on the group tour above, then it is possible to pay a taxi driver for a private tour. I can’t comment on the cost, since I haven’t taken this option.
Note that you will also need to pay a professional Bedouin guide to take you up the mountain. I can’t see this option being worth the extra effort or money.
Tip: If you stay at the very popular and epic backpacker hostel My Hostel in Dahab, my friend Medhat can arrange this transport for you very cheaply!
Is Mount Sinai Really the Mountain Moses Climbed?
Mount Sinai, the 2,285-meter (7,497-foot) granite peak between Egypt and Israel is the most famous and the most agreed upon location for the biblical Mount Sinai (Mount Horeb).
The majority of followers from the Abrahamic religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam accept this Egyptian mountain as the Mountain of Moses (Mount Moussa), where according to the Bible and Quran, Moses received the ten commandments from God.
In fact, this has been the case for thousands of years. The mountain became a significant pilgrimage site for Hermits quite early on, with the earliest recorded pilgrimage taking place around 381 AD.
Other significant sites include the burning bush in the Saint Catherine Monastery, the supposed cave of Prophet Elijah, and the rock that devouts consider to be the source for the biblical Tablets of Stone.
Religious people also call the plateau beneath Mount Sinai Elijah’s Basin, where they say he traveled 40 days and 40 nights to speak with god.
Note: I am not a religious person but trying to summarize the information from various sources across the web.
Planning a trip to the Red Sea? Don’t miss my comprehensive travel guide covering the top things to do in Dahab, Egypt.
How High is Mount Sinai in Egypt?
Mount Sinai is the second-highest mountain in Egypt, with a height of 2,285 meters (7,497 feet) above sea level.
How Long Does it Take to Climb Mt Sinai?
For most active travelers, climbing Mount Sinai is quite easy, only taking around 1.5-2 hours to reach the summit. That’s because the track is very well-graded, wide, and with a gentle incline for most of the climb.
What to Pack for the Mount Sinai Hike?
Due to the elevation, the weather in the mountain region of Saint Catherine gets much cooler during the night than in coastal areas like Dahab and Sharm el-Sheikh.
So, if you’re hiking up for sunrise (highly recommend), then it’s a good idea to prepare accordingly. Here are a few things you’ll want to bring on your ascent to the Mount Sinai summit in Egypt.
- Sturdy shoes – runners or hiking boots.
- Warm clothes – this is a must.
- Water – you can purchase water at the tea houses but it’s always a good idea to bring your own.
- Snacks – as above.
- Sleeping bag – useful while waiting for the sunrise (optional).
- Camera – trust me, you’ll want to bring it. Read my guide to the best camera gear for travel here.
- Sunscreen – for the harsh morning rays on the descent.
- Head torch – you’ll likely be hiking up in the dark.
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Climbing Mount Sinai in Egypt – Complete Guide
The climb up Mount Sinai in Egypt is one of the best easy hikes in the country, if not in the Middle East! While difficulty is a hard metric gauge objectively, this hike is accessible to anybody with a general level of fitness.
Let me tell you, the amazing views over the South Sinai mountains are incredible for sunrise.
Most trips depart from Dahab or Sharm el-Sheikh at around 10:00 pm, arriving at Saint Catherine in the middle of the night. This means you will have more than enough time to make it to the summit by sunrise.
Below I’ll give you a rough recap of my Mount Sinai hike to help you better prepare for this incredible experience.
More info: My Strava
The Two Routes to The Summit
It’s important to know that there are two main routes to the summit. These are the Steps of Repentance and the Camel Path. Most tours will take the camel path, which is a gentle, winding track leading up to the summit.
The Steps of Repentance is a steeper route of 3750 steps carved out by monks.
Both of these routes meet at a small site with the name Elijah’s Hollow, or the Seven Elders of Israel. From here, it’s a steep 750 steps to the summit of Mount Sinai.
We took the Camel Path (which yes, you will share with camels), so this is what I will cover in this guide.
Don’t miss my comprehensive guide to the Dahab Blue Hole for information on how to get here and what to expect.
1. Arriving at Saint Catherine
Tours from Dahab and Sharm will usually carry passengers to the base of the mountain in a shuttle van. The trip from Dahab takes roughly two hours and roughly 2.5-3 hours from Sharm.
However, there are several military checkpoints along the high mountain region. As a result, this trip can take longer.
We arrived at roughly midnight, where we were greeted by lots of enthusiastic Bedouin kids who were eager to sell us their wares.
If you want a torch or warm clothes and don’t yet have any, it’s a good idea to buy them once you arrive, since these kids really appreciate the money.
Shortly after arriving and taking a quick toilet break, our driver introduced us to our local Bedouin guide. Next, he escorted us through a very thorough military screening area, where a soldier turned our bags inside out.
After a rather lengthy process, we were finally off on the path of Moses to the summit of Mount Sinai!
2. Saint Catherine’s Monastery
The first section of the dark trail follows a wide road to the base of Saint Catherine’s Monastery. This is a 6th-century monastery built by Roman Emperor Justinian (Justinian the Great) and is said to house the biblical burning bush.
If you’re hiking Mount Sinai for sunrise, then you’ll likely visit the monastery after the summit.
Tip: Saint Catherine’s Monastery operates at limited hours on Fridays and Sundays. It’s best to check with your guide if you want to see this Orthodox monastery as part of the tour.
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3. Hiking the Camel Path to Mount Sinai Summit
Soon after passing the monastery, you’ll arrive at the start of the camel trail to the summit. This track is wide with a gentle incline and features a series of switchbacks as you make your way up the mountain.
Also, once you start gaining altitude, you’ll notice large stacked rocks on the edge of the track, forming a safety barrier.
Furthermore, you’ll likely pass local Bedouins offering to take you on a camel ride to Elijah’s Hollow. This is the easier option but you will have to still hike the final 750 steps to the summit by yourself.
Along the way, hikers will pass several Bedouin tents where they can sit and rest. All of these tents offer hot drinks like warm tea, coffee, and hot chocolate, as well as snacks. However, we chose to push on so that we could enjoy a longer rest while waiting for the sunrise at the peak.
4. 750 Steps to the Top of Mount Sinai
After passing a large cut-out section of the mountain, you’ll arrive at the final ascent point. This is marked by a very dated sign indicating the 750 steps to the top of Sinai Mountain.
Similarly to the other sections of this hike, the final ascent covers easy, leveled steps but is much steeper than the Camel Path.
We arrived at the top of the mountain approximately 1.5 hours after departing from the base of Mount Sinai. As a result, it was still very early (around 2:30 am). So, our local guide pointed us towards one of four small teahouses near the peak.
Since we had a while to wait, we bought a delicious hot chocolate and a couple of snacks, as well as an old pillowed mattress to sit on. This was a little expensive but we were happy to pay a little more considering the remote location.
4. Sunrise at the Summit of Mount Sinai
At the first sign of light, we quickly climbed up the last few steps to the very peak of Mount Sinai. Here at the Holy Summit, there are a couple of significant landmarks, including a Greek Orthodox Chapel (beside a large rock they call Rock of Moses), the ruins of the Justinian basilica (16th-century church), and a small mosque still used by Muslims.
We climbed one of the large, slippery rocks beside the small chapel and watched the sun rise to the east.
While I’m not religious, it was still a very powerful moment, and one of the best sunrises I experienced in Egypt.
5. The Descent
After spending roughly an hour and a half at the summit, we started making our way back down. The track down is much easier, due to the fact that a number of rather obvious shortcuts start to appear on the camel trail.
6. Exploring Saint Catherines Monastery
Unfortunately, we decided to visit on a Friday and therefore a guided tour of the old monastery was not available. However, after convincing our guide, we could still explore this significant site on our own.
If you’re forced to do the same, here are a few highlights from the monastery at Mount Sinai in Egypt.
- Church of the Transfiguration – the dominant church tower and main focal point of the monastery.
- The Sacred Sacristy – an open museum containing many treasures and collections including the Ladder of Divine Ascent and pages from the Codex Sinaiticus, said to be the oldest bible in the world.
- Monastery Mosque – 11th-century mosque built during the Fatimid period.
- The Burning Bush – legend says this is a descendent of the Old Testament’s burning bush.
7. Returning Back to Sharm El Sheikh or Dahab
After exploring the monastery, it was finally time to return back to our hostel in Dahab for a well-earned and hearty Egyptian breakfast. We met our driver (who was still sleeping in the van) in the large parking lot where he dropped us earlier that morning.
More Photos from the Mount Sinai Hike
More Egypt Travel Guides
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this comprehensive hiking guide to climbing Mount Sinai in Egypt!
While you’re here, make sure to check out some of my other articles below.