Holyland Trip Report – Egypt – Red Sea, Sinai - Day 6

Sinai is around 440 km from Jerusalem with the Taba border crossing (Eilat) in between. The desert country-side along the way is dotted with Bedouin (native semi-nomadic Arab tribes) dwellings. The major attractions on this route are:

  • Qumran Caves:  A series of natural and artificial caves discovered by the archaeological team of Qumran (around 45 minutes from Jerusalem). The famous Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered from a number of these caves.
  • Masada National Park: A UNESCO World Heritage Site (2001), this is the place of mass suicide by the Sicarii rebels following a siege of the fortress by troops of the Roman Empire, directly after the First Jewish-Roman War (66AD to 73AD timeframe). The hike up the mountain is strenuous (Snake Path) – as an alternative, a cable car is in operation as well. Masada is located around 100 km from Jerusalem, about 20 km east of Arad.
  • Cliff of Lot’s Wife: This is a cliff alongside on the way – by stretching one’s imagination, the rock from certain angles can resemble a woman of Amazonian proportions.

The border crossing to Egypt took almost two hours (baggage checks at both ends, 500 m walk between the two facilities, and visa formalities). The Egyptian tour bus, manned by four, was ready at the parking area – a main guide, two helpers, and the bus driver. The main guide was almost fluent in English while the others not so - but that didn’t prevent them from expressing relief at Mubarak’s exit. Every problem in Egypt was a cause for the ‘revolution’. In the parking area were people looking for a small tip in exchange for loading the bus with the baggage.


Egypt is 80% desert and the rest is the fertile Nile River Valley. The way to Sinai is through the barren desert landscape along the Red Sea coast. Lunch was at Helnan Taba, a seaside restaurant – beautiful setting and good buffet and opportunity for toe-dipping in the Red Sea. The restaurant is part of a three-star hotel located twenty kilometers from Eilat Airport, across from Pharaoh’s Island with views of Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia across the Gulf of Aqaba. Around 3PM we arrived in Sinai and checked into the hotel, Morganland. Accommodation options are limited in the Sinai area and we found this place to be just average though it had a giant swimming pool – rooms below par, mosquitoes etc. Lack of people in its vicinity further contributed to the lonely feel.

In the hour we had before the visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery, we explored some of the stores in the hotel lobby. Shops in the lobby were selling various wares including Egyptian artworks and perfumes (papyrus and athar). The smug feeling we enjoyed on having procured beautiful pieces from the Papyrus store for small change was fleeting for we learnt soon, what we got were cheaper imitations prepared of banana leaf ($5 - medium and 2 for $1 -small). The COA in the back does not mention anything about the material used – authentic stores in Cairo carry the the real stuff.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai (officially The Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. Legend has it that the remains of Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian martyr, was taken by angels to Mount Sinai after her beheading and the monks from the monastery found her remains there around 800 AD. According to the Hebrew Bible, it was in Mount Sinai that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. The monastery encloses the Chapel (St. Helen’s Chapel) of the Burning Bush, the site where Moses is believed to have seen the burning bush (Book of Exodus 3:1-21) – while some sources cite the bush currently on the location as the original, the general consensus is that the bush belongs to the genus of the original burning bush. For over 15 centuries, the site has been a pilgrimage center. There is a huge garden in front with olive trees and such. The place is also well known for having an ancient manuscript library and irreplaceable works of ancient art – it has the second largest collection of codices and manuscripts in the world, after Vatican Library.

The monastery is at walking distance (around 300 m) from the end of a paved road through sandy desert terrain. For $1 each way, there is also the option of a ride in the 4-wheel taxis the Bedouins operate. The place where Moses received the Ten Commandments is atop the mountain and can be seen from the monastery grounds, identified by a cross over an arch. That location is accessible by foot – catch is that the journey starts around mid-night and gets back by around 6AM. As proper hiking trails are absent, Bedouin guides are required for this.

Waiting was our order for that day. We waited quite a while outside the monastery as mass was in progress. Conclusion of the mass did not signal an end to our waiting. We took on another waiting spell until special visitation permission was granted to our group, as the site was closed to visitors by the time the mass finished. The Burning Bush is inside the monastery at a far corner.

The next day was another long road-trip to Cairo and so the wake-up call was even earlier (4:00AM).  Throughout the trip, our kids held up fine but it is best to be aware that seniors and/or folks with very young children or health problems may find the tour schedule tough.


 Related Posts:

  1. Holyland Trip Report - Jordan - Mount Nebo, Madaba - Day 1.
  2. Holyland Trip Report – Israel - Yardenit, Tiberias, Tabgha, Cappernaum, Ginosar, Sea of Galilee (Day 2).
  3. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Nazareth, Cana, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (Day 3).
  4. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Jerusalem (Day 4).
  5. Holyland Trip Report – Israel – Jerusalem, Jericho, Dead Sea (Day 5).
  6. Holyland Trip Report – Egypt – Red Sea, Sinai (Day 6).
  7. Holyland Trip Report – Suez Canal, Cairo - Day 7.
  8. Holyland Trip Report - Old Cairo - Day 8.
  9. Holyland Trip - Gotchas to avoid.  
  10. Holyland Trip - Jordan - Other Sites
Last Updated: 12/2012.

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