Attractions in the desert

The desert in the Sinai is very diverse, consisting of big open sandy plains, dunes and rock formations, flat mountain ranges and a maze of wadis, canyons and oases. Several Bedouin tribes live in the area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArada Canyon: Arada Canyon, also known as the Double Canyon, is located below the Guna Plateau, little in from the road-side settlement of Wadi Arada. It is indeed two canyons, connected in the middle by a path over a small rocky plateau. If you have time and are up for it a steep climb to the edge of the Guna range can take you to a look-out point, known as Nosrat el Guna, with great views on the desert and the High Mountains in the distance. Count at least half a day extra if you plan to climb.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAClosed Canyon: Located just off Wadi Khudra in a secluded sandy basin, the Closed Canyon is usually approached by 4×4 via Ein Khudra, Ras Ghazala, Jebel Mileihis or Ein Furtaga. On foot you could also come via Wadi Rum, or from the Tarabin areas in the north. The Closed Canyon is not the most famous sight, but it is impressive as it runs extremely narrowly between very high walls. The beginning of the canyon is still relatively wide, but later it gets so narrow people can just about pass through. The canyon then widens up a bit, but as the name suggests is closed at the very end by unscalable vertical walls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAColoured Canyon: Although it is probably the most visited sight in the Sinai interior after St. Katherine, you can still find peace and quiet at this beautiful spot. Most groups arrive mid-morning, so you could visit the canyon early morning or late afternoon without others. A lodge is at the rim of the plateau above the canyon and a cafeteria at another point where the hike usually finishes. The 4×4 track to the Coloured Canyon starts at the little oasis of Ein Furtaga, located next to the asphalt road in Wadi Watir.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEin Khudra and White Canyon: Ein Khudra is a beautiful oasis in a hidden basin, connected to a sandy plateau above – and the St. Katherine road – by the White Canyon. Cars can only reach the oasis via Wadi Khudra, either coming from Ein Furtaga or Ras Ghazala. You can visit the White Canyon and carry on to other sights or make a loop and descend back via the pass of Ein Khudra. It is an easy pass, the direct route connecting Ein Khudra to the plateau. There are some eight gardens in the oasis, all catering for visitors and providing basic facilities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEin Umm Ahmed: Ein Umm Ahmed is an oasis at the end of Wadi Zalaqa, a natural bottleneck where water from a large area is collected. In Wadi Zalaqa there are many lone Nawamis buildings on the banks of the wadi, but shortly before Ein Umm Ahmed there is a cluster of well-preserved buildings on a hill. The first garden is of Sheikh Ashish – it is one of the few gardens which grow more traditional crops. People are genuinely friendly in Ein Umm Ahmed, despite first appearances. A 4×4 track leads next to Jebel Qalb over a rocky pass, connecting Ein Umm Ahmed to an area called Swana and Wadi Watir.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAForest of Pillars (Jebel Fuqa): Often the whole area is called Jebel Fuqa, which is a smaller range below Jebel Raqaba, a massive head of the Tih Plateau. The Forest of Pillars is an unusual geological rock formation at the foot of Jebel Raqaba, it is unfortunately badly affected by tourism. If you want to climb Jebel Raqaba for some stunning views, you can do so from the small Bedouin encampment known as Warsa. It takes 4-5 hours return – with rest you might count an extra day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJebel Barqa and Haduda sand dune: Jebel Makharum, the “mountain with the hole”, is one of the sandstone hills of a range known as Jebel Barqa. It is a spectacular area, popular with 4x4s as well as trekkers. Haduda sand dune, the biggest dune in South Sinai, is at the edge of the big open sandy plain, across from the Barqa ranges. The area is also connected to Wadi Arada via Bier Safra and another sand dune known as Dune at Safra.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJebel Berqa and El Breqa: Seen from far distances across the region towering above lower ranges, Jebel Berqa is a tough mountain to climb. You can see the sea at Nuweiba and a big part of the desert and mountain ranges of South Sinai from the top, but the last ten metres or so to the summit is potentially dangerous. If you are not up for this climb, you could only go as far as the top of the small canyon from where the path starts up to get a nice view. You find other attractions around the mountain that are easier to reach, including a maze of little canyons, ancient inscriptions and simple stone structures, and across a little pass the region’s highest sand dune, El Breqa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJebel Dalal: The southernmost head of the Tih Plateau, standing above Wadi Zaranik. (Note: the Bedouin don’t consider it to be part of the Tih, they only call the western part of the plateau Jebel Tih.) To the west is a big desert plain stretching to Serabit el Khadim; to the east is Wadi Zalaqa running between the Tih and Guna plateaus to Ein Umm Ahmed; to the south the plain of Elu el Ajramiya lies, and beyond the village of Tarfa, St. Katherine and the High Mountains. It is an important cross-road between the different regions. A drivable dirt road even ascends the range, and there are several more options on foot, depending where you are coming from.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJebel Guna: Jebel Guna is a long, flat mountain range separating two main wadis from which gullies descend to all directions. From the rim of the plateau there are stunning views of the sand desert around dotted with sandstone outcrops and distant rugged ranges, including Mt. Katherina. The mountain top consists of a confusing system of shallow basins, and dramatic looking, steep gullies connect higher ground to the plains below. You also find ruined old stone circles known as Nosra, water sources and a hill littered with crystals. Several canyons are located at its base, including Arada Canyon (Double Canyon).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJebel Hmeyer: Ramlat Hmeyer, the “Red Sand”, is a vast desert plain between the dark Serabit ranges and the Tih Plateau. It comes to an end at Jebel Hmeyer which looks like a hill from one side, but there is a dramatic drop on the other side. A 4×4 vehicle can easily drive up to the flat top, there is a good track. Below another plain lies, with curious patterns of red and black sand washed together by rains.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJebel Matamir: Located near the Nawamis site – actually, as a beautiful background to it – Jebel Matamir is a magical place. It is a group of elongated sandstone hills, rising from a sandy plain and separated by wadis. There are secluded sandy basins atop and steep sand dunes ascending in narrow gullies. Jebel Matamir has a couple of peaks that you can climb, but the path is tricky at places. From the top you have far reaching views on the sand desert and distant high mountain ranges.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJebel Mileihis: An impressive flat-topped mountain just off Wadi Ghazala, close to Ras Ghazala on the St. Katherine road, it offers stunning views on the desert and even a bit of the sea. The climb is not difficult, although the terrain is not the best as it is loose rocks. At the base of the mountain, the springs of Moyat Mileihis are a magical spot. Keep in mind that if you visit the springs, you will have to climb back the steep pass (unless you continue on to the Ein Furtaga). The area is connected to Ein Furtaga, Ein Khudra, Ras Ghazala or, via Wadi Samqi, to Nuweiba or the Abu Galum Protectorate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANawamis Site: The biggest site of the mysterious Nabataean buildings known as Nawamis, it is located a short distance from the St. Katherine road, although not really visible from it. Little is known about these buildings, found all over South Sinai and nowhere else but South Sinai. Often claimed they are burial places, but no bones were found to prove this theory. They are always located at elevated points with the doors always facing west. The name actually comes from the Arabic word for mosquitoes. A bit awkward to approach by car as the turn-off point is at a sharp curve, there is a small Bedouin settlement nearby with an inspiring community building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARainbow Canyon: Colourful canyon, with its entrance starting in a secluded sandy basin encircled by jagged rock faces. You can only reach the area on foot, either coming from Bier Biriya, a well with date palms, or from Wadi Watir via Hlel el Waar. It’s a pretty place, worth a visit if you are walking from the Coloured Canyon to Jebel Berqa, but just to see it alone probably not.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASerabit el Khadim: Serabit el Khadim is the most important Pharaonic ruin in the Sinai featuring the only temple outside of mainland Egypt, on the flat top of a small range. The easy climb starts at the end of the asphalt road in the settlement of the same name. You find several mines on the plateau as well as the Temple of Hathor, and get spectacular views on the desert belt and the Tih Plateau. You could descend on the other side at Umm Ajraf, convenient if you carry on to El Ramla or Wadi Mukattab.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWadi Gharandal: Seil Gharandal, the mouth of the long wadi running below the Tih Plateau on the way to Serabit el Khadim, is very pretty. Water runs along the surface and there are ponds, gardens, date palms and lush vegetation. Little into the wadi there is a Bedouin settlement. Going to Serabit el Khadim, this route is more spectacular than the one from Abu Zenima – the two actually join at one point – but it is also a major industrial road with many trucks and several open mines along the way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWadi Mukattab and Wadi Maghara: Wadi Mukattab is also known as the Valley of the Inscriptions since it is covered with ancient scripts on the rock faces for about two kilometres. Wadi Maghara, further north at Sheikh Suliman’s tomb, is where turquoise was mined from Pharaonic times. The area is connected to Serabit el Khadim and the Forest of Pillars via Wadi Sieh. From Abu Rudes, the old British mining route known as Tariq Hamsa Arbain (Rd. 45) is a direct route to the site.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWadi Zalaqa: Long and wide Wadi Zalaqa, running between the Tih and Guna plateaus, is along the main route connecting the peninsula coast to coast. It starts at Wadi Zaranik under Jebel Dalal, and ends at the oasis of Ein Umm Ahmed. Jebel Berqa, the most impressive mountain of this region, is just off Wadi Zalaqa shortly before Ein Umm Ahmed. You find many Nawamis buildings along the way.

wishwashi-canyon1Wishwashi Canyon: Located a couple of hours walk from the laid-back beaches of Ras Shaitan, between Nuweiba and Taba, the Wishwashi Canyon is a pretty little place. It is just off Wadi Milha, the route to the Coloured Canyon. Wishwashi Canyon is usually visited as part of that trek, but could be done alone. A little scrambling is involved to reach the point where the canyon is cut off, and water might be present at places in little pools.