Monastery of St. Catherine and a snooty camel
Mount Sinai (Arabic Gebel Musa) is in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt and rises 2642 metres above sea level.
Mount Sinai is said to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God; indeed, the Arabic name Gebel Musa means "Mount of Moses". While there is very little archaeological evidence to support this assertion, the mountain is still a popular pilgrimage site and home to the Monastery of St. Catherine, a Greek Orthodox monastery founded in the 6th century, one of the longest-running monasteries in the world and itself at the supposed location of the Burning Bush. The small town of al-Minya, outside the entrance to the valley, has sprung up to cater to tourists.
Your only choice of transport is by road. Dahab is 2 hours and 150 kilometers away, while the trip from Sharm el-Sheikh or Nuweiba is closer to 3 hours. Most visitors arrive on tours that arrive at approximately 1am at the foot of the mountain in order for travelers to climb the mountain overnight and watch the sunrise. Any guesthouse in Sinai can arrange for you to join a tour. There are also several very small Bedouin camps in St. Catherine that serve as accommodations for small groups of pilgrims.
You have two choices for getting around and climbing the mountain: on foot, or by camel. See Do for the full scoop.
The Monastery of St. Catherine,  at the foot of the mountain, is the easier of the two destinations here. Looking more like a fortress than a church, access is through a massive iron gate shut for the night and opened in the morning from 9 AM to 12 AM only (daily except Friday and Sunday). Note that the monastery observes the Greek Orthodox rites and is thus also closed for Christmas and Easter as calculated by the Greek Orthodox calendar.
- Church of St. Catherine. The main church of the complex, completed in 551.
- Basilica. Famous for a mosaic of the Transfiguration (as of 2008/07/Feb 2011 in restoration and not in public).
- Moses' Well. A spring that supplies water to the monastery and, according to legend, the location where Moses met his wife for the first time.
- Library. One of the greatest repositories of ancient manuscripts in the world (second only to the Vatican), housing over 4500 rare volumes. No access without special permission (granted only to VIPs and bona fide scholars).
- Ossuary. This morbid charnel house contains the skulls of 1400 years' worth of monks who have lived and died here.
On Feb 2011, there is only a few parts of the monastery which are accessible to tourists.
There is also a small museum mainly about bizantines icons / tempera on wood. You need to make a 25egp donation as entrance fee but it is worth it.
A guide for the monastery could started at 100egp but you could/must bargain.
Climbing Mount Sinai is the main objective for most visitors.
A local guide is required despite the fact the trails are well signposted once you get onto them (starting price at the entrance 85egp, feb 2011 but bargain it).
There are two routes to choose from, entrances to which are rather poorly signposted, so choose carefully especially if climbing at night. Both paths lead to natural amphitheater known as Elijah's Hollow or the Seven Elders of Israel, where you'll find a teahouse for a break. From there, it's a final 750 steps (30 minutes) to reach the summit.
- Steps of Penitence. This aptly named steep path has been quite literally carved out of the rock by monks, and with 3750 steps to climb is the shorter but more challenging of the two. No mountain-climbing equipment required though, just strong thighs, and the views back down into the valley are superb even in the middle of the night. If the sky is clear the stars above can also be a spellbinding sight, as there are no major cities for miles and miles around. The route can be climbed in as little as 45 minutes, or as long as three hours, depending on your pace.
- Camel Path (Siket El Bashait). A gentler, winding, wide path that snakes its way up to the summit that can be completed by the average traveler in 2.5 hours. As you can guess from the name, you can also climb up this way on the back of camel, and the "sawdust" that appears to coat much of the length of the path is in fact dried camel byproducts from the many trips before you. Be warned that the camel will bite you if it doesn't like you, so be nice, and a 3-hour ride up a mountain — going on foot is actually faster for most people — may not be the easiest introduction to the notoriously swaying gait of these camels. You'll also have to dismount about a kilometer before you reach the top and cover the last 700 steps on foot. Take care at the top also, as the surface is uneven.
At the top you will find a small chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity, constructed in 1934 on the ruins of an older 16th-century church. Better yet, if you timed your ascent right, you can see the sunrise over the parched, rocky expanse of the Sinai.
Note that it will be much cooler at the summit than on the coast, and in the winter at night subzero temperatures and even snow are not unknown. Dress warmly in layers, a flashlight is also a must. Blankets and mattresses can be rented at the top for circa 10 Egyptian pounds per piece, however, their state of cleanliness may be objectionable.
The intense silence of the mountain as well as its spiritual history makes it a popular spot for yoga and meditation groups. The local 'Gebeliya' Bedouin also run silent retreats for visitors, as well as trekking trips  or  (also offering individual trips in cooperation with Sheik Mousa, German website).
- Selema Galaby, a local Bedouin woman, has set up an exquisite craft shop in the village of St Catherine. Fansinaemploys more then 350 local tribeswomen to make traditional hand-woven handicrafts.
- Bedouin Craft is another, small-scale, local entrepreneur in the traditional handicraft business.
- Awad Hussein uses traditional designs with a modern approach to produce unique tin and bead jewellery.
Eat & Drink
The monastery's hostel serves breakfast, but charges 10 LE (approximately $1.75) for an egg, a slice of bread with fig jam and a tea bag if you're not spending the night.
St. Catherine has quite a few camps, guesthouses and hotels.
- Sheik Mousa Bedouin Camp & guesthouse (1500 mtr), El Milga, ☎ (002) 69 3470 457 ([email protected]), . Traditional Bedouin-style guesthouse, owned and run by Bedouins. Bedouin Camp has room for 64 people; 9 double en-suite rooms, 12 doubles with shared facilities and 3 dorm rooms. There is even space for camping. There is a laundry service, luggage storage, international telephone & fax facilities and the camp has free wifi. from 15 to 150 LE.
- Fox Camp, ☎ (+2) 06 9347 0344 ([email protected]), .
- Moonland Camp & Hotel, ☎ (+2) 069 3470085 ([email protected]).
- St. Catherine's Monastery Guest House, ☎ (+2) 069 3470353 (fax: (+2) 069 3470543), . Price includes breakfast and dinner From US$35/person.
- Wadi Raha Hotel, (entrance opposite the monastery turn-off), ☎ (+2) 069 3470353 (fax: (+2) 069 3470543).
- Hotel Plaza, ☎ (+2) 069 3470295 ([email protected], fax: (+2) 069 3470292), .
- Hotel Al-Wadi Al-Mouquddus, ☎ (+2) 0693 470 225.
- Hotel Daniella Village, ☎ (+2) 02 7486712 (fax: (+2) 02 7607750), .
- Hotel Morgenland Village, (5 kilometres before the town), ☎ +2 069 34 70 700 ([email protected], fax: +2 069 34 70 700), .
The only way out from Mt. Sinai is back to the coast.