The Sinai Peninsula, often shortened to Sinai (Arabic: سيناء sīnā' ; Hebrew סיני) is the easternmost part of Egypt between the Mediterranean and the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba, both forks of the Red Sea. The western and northern coasts are practically uninhabited, but several Bedouin settlements and tourist attractions dot the eastern coast.
Above ground is a harsh, forbidding and (in summer) brutally hot desert of parched rock. The reason most tourists come here are the vistas underwater: the Sinai coast offers some of the best diving in the world. The region is also important because of its places of importance in the Abrahamic religions.
In 1967, Israel invaded and took control over the entire peninsula. The Suez Canal, the east bank of which was controlled by Israel, was closed. In 1979 Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty. Israel pulled out of Sinai in several stages, including the removal of its settlements which ended in 1982.
The tourist cities are built around previous Israeli settlements. While the original population are bedouin, most of the staff and workers in this area come from Lower Egypt and especially the canal cities.
Al Tor is the regional center of Southern Sinai, which includes Dahab, Nuweiba and Sharm. Al-Arish is the regional center of less visited Northern Sinai, close to Rafah and the border to the Gaza strip.
As is the case throughout Egypt, the language of the Sinai is the Egyptian dialect of the Arabic language and local bedouin Arabic dialects. But in tourist areas you also get by with English, and on the east coast also with Hebrew, because here many Israelis come for holidays. On Mount Sinai and in other heavy tourist zones, you are likely to encounter multi-lingual bedouin capable of conversing (and negotiating prices) in a repertoire that includes (but is in no way limited to!) French, Spanish, Italian, Russian and German.
No Egyptian visa is required, as special 14-day Sinai permits are granted on arrival at the Taba border, Taba Airport and Sharm el-Sheikh's airport. Note that this permit allows travel only on the eastern Sinai coast and the Mount Sinai with St. Catherine's Monastery.
Ferries run regularly between Aqaba in Jordan and Nuweiba, bypassing Israel and the sometimes complicated border arrangements. Generally there is no visa fee for entering Jordan through Aqaba since it is a part of the free trade zone. The line to Nuweiba is operated by ABMaritime, see their website for the 'official' timetable and current prices.
There is more information about the boat crossing in the itinerary Ferries in The Red Sea.
Whether you're going from the airport to your hotel, traveling from beach resort to beach resort, trekking up to St. Catherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai, or heading to Nuweiba to catch the ferry to Aqaba, Jordan, the trick to getting around in Sinai is to coordinate all ground transport through your hotel.
If you're on any kind of reasonable budget, avoid at all costs the local taxis, whose prices are higher than Cairo taxis by a factor of around 10. However, it is possible to use the local taxis if you know the price in advance, and haggle a bit before going inside the car. 10 EGP should be considered the maximum payment for any taxi inside the cities (15 for Sharem).
St. Catherine to Dahab: Bedouin Bus runs a twice weekly bus service from St. Catherine to Dahab and back on Tuesday and Friday. Buses leave at 11am from the parking next to the bakery (opposite the mosque) in St. Catherine and cost 50LE one way. The bus stops in Dahab at Hotel Jowhara (Mashraba street) and Marine Garden Camp (Lighthouse area) and returns to St. Catherine at 5pm from above mentioned stops.
By minibus to Nuweiba: Bedouin Bus runs a twice weekly bus service from ST. Catherine to Nuweiba and back on Wednesday and Sunday. Buses leave at 8am from the parking next to the bakery (opposite the mosque) in St. Catherine and cost 50LE one way. The bus stops at Nuweiba port and at Tarabin beach and returns to St. Catherine at 2pm from Tarabin and 2.30pm from Nuweiba port.
There are minibuses traveling to and from Cairo, which leave all day, as soon as they are full of passengers, from Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab. In Sharm el-Sheikh, you can find these minibuses at the west end of the taxi parking lot in front of the strip mall in the center of town.
East Delta bus company: Regular cheap full-sized coaches depart daily for points throughout the peninsula from bus stations in Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab. Be sure to check schedules at the bus station, however, because the times are always changing and even hotels can get them wrong. In Sharm el-Sheikh, the East Delta bus station lies about 2km outside of town on the road toward the airport and Dahab. Call the appropriate East Delta office ahead to check the timings & rates that concern you:
Taba: 069 - 3530250 Nuweiba: 069 - 3520371 Dahab: 069 - 3641808 Cairo: 02 - 23428589
If you love hiking, this is the place to be, so many hiking trails, i.e Tarboush Mountain, El Galt el Azrak, Gabal El Banat, Bab El Donia mountain (gate to life) Nabateya village, Wadi Etlah, Kharazet El-Shhagg, Gebel Abbas Pasha, Ain Najila, St. Katherine mountain and Moses mountain. Arranging a hike and guides are fairly easy. You can base at El Karm Echolodge in El-sheikh Awwad, or the Bedouin Camp in Katerina village.
The custom in Sinai is that tourists asking for a guide are sent to Sheikh Moussa who is the official person responsible for allocating guides on a rotating basis. The Sheikh, in return, gets a cut (a third of the price paid) for acting as the middle-man.
On the other hand, Sheikh Mousa, Mob: +2 0106880820, the official figure for arranging treks, can help you hire a Bedouin guide and camels to carry luggage to your destination. You can also check Sheikh Sina website for Bedouin treks arrangements. Bedouins will also arrange dinner for the group. Several local organizations offer trekking and excursions into the Sinai desert. The Bedouin tribe of the mountains organizes treks in St Katherine's national park. Saint Katherine website also offers information on the region, and you can download useful trekking and hiking resources free from the Discover Sinai website.
Others offer yoga trips to the St Katherine's area and the desert itself (http://www.yogatravel.co.uk) where the silence and tranquility is ideal for relaxation and meditation.