Tips for Hiking Mount Sinai in Egypt
Did you know you can hike to the top of Mount Sinai, the actual place in the Bible where Moses received the Ten Commandments? It’s a fairly easy 4 hour hike you can do on a day trip. But if you want to have the best experience, you really need to read this first.
What happened at Mount Sinai in the Bible?
According to Exodus 34, Mount Sinai is the location where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain.
Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant–the Ten Commandments.
Where is Mount Sinai located today?
Mount Sinai is in Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula, near Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Qesm Sharm Ash Sheikh, Egypt.
Where does the Mount Sinai Hike Start?
The hike to the top of Mount Sinai starts at Saint Catherine’s Monastery. The monastery is about 3 hours north of Sharm El-Sheikh, a popular resort town on the Red Sea. You can hike Mount Sinai as a day trip from Sharm El-Sheikh.
How long does it take to Hike Mount Sinai?
It took us about 4 hours total to hike Mount Sinai — 2 hours to go up, 1 hour at the top, and 1 hour to come back down.
Two Hiking Trails at Mount Sinai
The hike to the top of Mount Sinai is 3 miles one way. Starting from the monastery, you will hike 2.5 miles up the “Camel Trail” — a steady, but not-too-steep incline. The trail is wide and well-worn. There are many places to stop for views and rest along the way. The last 1/2 mile is 750 stone steps up to the top of the mountain.
You will come down a different path than you took up. The path down is 3750 stone steps known as the Steps of Repentance. The steps were made by a single monk in repentance for a sin he committed.
Don’t worry, it’s not too bad. Remember Moses was 80 when he hiked to the top of Mount Sinai. ;)
Group Tours to Hike Mount Sinai
Most people hike Mount Sinai with a tour group. The tours all start at NIGHT. They pick you up from your hotel at about 9 PM. You drive 3 hours to the monastery, then start the hike in the middle of the night so you can be at the top for sunrise, just like Moses. The trail is crowded with hundreds of tourists and camels carrying those who don’t want to hike.
Since some people hike slower than others, the tours start super early to give everyone plenty of time to reach the top before sunrise. So you could be waiting at the top for an hour or more in pitch darkness waiting for sunrise. And since you’re in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the night, it’s going to be cold!
This did not sound appealing to us in any way.
I didn’t want to give up a night’s sleep, I didn’t want to hike on a crowded trail in the middle of the night, and I didn’t want to wait in the freezing dark for sunrise.
Hike Mount Sinai During The Day With A Private Tour!
We wanted to find a way to hike Mount Sinai during the day. But since all the group tours left at night, our only choice was to look for a private tour. At first we heard a lot of conflicting information about hiring a private tour and hiking Mount Sinai during the day.
Many places would not take us — they only did group tours at night. Some said you couldn’t do the hike during the day at all. Some said we could only leave super early in the morning, like 7 AM. I wanted to leave closer to 9-10 AM, after breakfast.
Best Way to Hike Mount Sinai
Finally we found a private tour company that would take us during the day, and I’m SO glad we did.
We had the entire trail and top of the mountain completely to ourselves in beautiful, sunny weather with amazing views.
The views on this hike are SO incredible, I can’t imagine missing them by hiking in darkness at night!
You Need Permission from the Government
I would say it’s probably better to go with a reputable tour company instead of trying to go on your own (renting a car or hiring a taxi for example). If you’re driving outside of the main tourist areas in Egypt, you need permission from the government.
There are many checkpoints where they are stopping cars and checking passports. The tour company will handle all of this and get all the permissions for you. It would be a shame to get all the way to a checkpoint and be turned back.
Private Tours to Hike Mount Sinai
We went to Mount Sinai with Gazef. They picked us up from our hotel and on the way our guide gave us a refresher on all the Bible stories about Moses, the Ten Commandments, and everything we would see at the monastery like the Burning Bush and the Well where Moses met his wife. They gave us a tour of the monastery, waited for us while we did the hike, and then took us back to our hotel.
Another private tour company we considered was Scorpion Diving & Water-sports. They had a kiosk by the pool at our hotel, the Mövenpick Resort Sharm El-Sheikh. Scorpion offered to take us during the day, leaving whenever we wanted, wait for us while we do the hike, and bring us back to the hotel. They also included lunch and all drinks.
Which Tour Companies Will Take You During the Day
If you’re planning a trip to Egypt and want to hike Mount Sinai, I highly recommend checking with both of these companies to compare details and prices on a private tour.
I recommend contacting them at least 2 days before you want to do the hike so they have time to get all the permissions from the government.
Tips for Hiking Mount Sinai
Visit the monastery first, because it is only open in the morning. It will be closed after you come back from the hike.
Each group is required to hire a local guide to hike with them up the mountain. You don’t really need a guide, the path is very well marked, but this is required to keep the local Bedouin community employed. When we went in April 2019, the price for a local guide was around 300 EGP ($20 USD). Be sure to have cash for the guide.
Bring water and snacks for the hike. On the way to Mount Sinai you will stop at a gas station for a bathroom break, and you can buy them here. There are also a few Bedouin tents along the hike where you can buy snacks and Bedouin tea, but they will be more expensive. We also brought extra snacks to share with our guide, who was very appreciative.
You may also want to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the top of the mountain. Our guide did not go all the way to the top of the mountain with us, so we had the top completely to ourselves. It’s the perfect spot to sit and relax with a picnic lunch and take in the incredible views and reflect on the significance of this sacred place.
Bring plenty of sunscreen — if you’re hiking during the day there are not many places to escape the sun!
Wear good walking or hiking shoes.
Check the weather before your hike — you may want to bring a jacket or sweatshirt. We hiked to the top of Mount Sinai in late April and even though it was warm enough to go swimming in the Red Sea, up in the mountains it was cold! I was super glad I had a sweatshirt, especially at the top.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery
Before the hike you will have the opportunity to visit Saint Catherine’s Monastery, located at the base of Mount Sinai. Inside the church you can see the Burning Bush where God appeared to Moses and the well where Moses met his wife.
The Burning Bush
Remember the story of Moses and the Burning Bush? God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. God called to him from within the bush, and Moses said “Here I am”. When Moses approached the bush, God said “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
The Lord had seen the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt, and told Moses to deliver his people from Egypt. The Lord told Moses He would bring them to the Promised Land, “a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey“.
“Burning Bush” Rocks at Mount Sinai
There are unique rocks in the Sinai Mountains that when you break them open, the burning bush appears on the stone.
The Well Where Moses Met His Wife
According to Exodus 2:15-21, Moses sat down by a well and seven sisters “came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.” The girls’ father invited Moses to eat and stay in his home. He “gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.”