By Sand or By Sea: Sinai Safaris Take It All In
A mecca for pilgrims as well as sun worshippers, Egypt’s Sinai desert is a lesson in duality –simultaneously holy and profane, barren and bountiful. Some travelers come as pilgrims; others prefer to sun themselves senseless on the beaches of Basata or Tarabin. But, for an alternative way to tour the region, try a Sinai safari.
Although camels are still abundant (and a fun way to go), the Land Rover is the new ship of the desert. Many local outfitters offer a variety of safaris–by camel or jeep, which can often be tailored according to the wishes of the group or the individual traveler.
A four- or five-day tour often starts with a visit to the Colored Canyon, a colorful, winding sandstone canyon cut and shaped by wind. Sleeping under the stars in the desert is a near-religious experience, and nothing can compare with sitting around a campfire, smoking a narghile (water pipe), making bedouin bread, and swapping stories about scorpions in sleeping bags.
Hike up Mount Sinai a few hours before dawn to see the spot where Moses–or at least Charlton Heston–received the Ten Commandments. Watching the mountains change color from rose to pink to fiery orange is awe-inspiring. Bring a jacket: the summit can be very cold, even in summer. Pass by St. Catherine’s Monastery on the way down.
If you feel a bit spent from the exertion, unwind for a couple of days at a desert oasis. What could be better than sitting in an icy spring in the middle of the desert, surrounded by palm trees? Better yet, try a dip in the Red Sea, where you can swim with some of the most unique fish and corals in the world.
Whether by sand or by sea, the Sinai has much to offer. In many places, it is easy to independently combine diving and driving (by camel or jeep) for the ultimate, alternative tour of the Sinai.
If your time or budget is limited, a camel trip from the eastern shore village of Dahab to Ras Abu Galum provides a brief taste of Sinai’s splendor. The trip takes about an hour and a half one way, more than long enough for those not used to riding camels. Fifty meters to the left of the path, the craggy mountains of Sinai rise above the red desert sands; to the right is the Gulf of Aqaba, a finger of the Red Sea that extends up to Israel. In some places, the mountains run directly into the water, and the path seems to disappear. If the tide is running high, your sure-footed steed may have to tread over wet reef.
At last the coast gives way to a clear blue bay fringed by a golden crescent of sand with a bedouin tent set back near the foot of the mountains. If arrangements are made in advance, the bedouins will make you lunch, a typical meal consisting of grilled chicken, rice, tehina, and salad.
Other camel safaris can range from a few hours to a few days. Combine the best of both land and sea with dive centers that use camels to transport divers to remote shore dive sites!
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