The Sinai Peninsula: A Brief History
If this Sinai peninsula sounds familiar to you, that’s because it has an ancient, biblical history. People have lived in Sinai since at least 3000 BCE, and Biblical stories describe the ancient Israelites passing through the vast desert, and Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Ancient Sinai was once considered part of the Roman Empire and then the Ottoman Empire, until it was turned back over to Egypt at the end of World War I. After the Six-Day War, Israel held control of Sinai from 1967 until a peace agreement was reached in 1979.
Since then, the peninsula has once again been part of Egypt, and southern Sinai has proved to be a world-class tourist destination, particularly for the Sinai beaches.
Places to Visit in Sinai
When you cross into Sinai from Israel, you pass from the Israeli city of Eilat through the Taba Border Crossing, which is a land border crossing into Egypt. From Taba, there are plenty of different places you can travel to in Sinai. Here are some of the best places to visit in the Sinai Peninsula.
Dahab: Dahab might be small, but it’s been called the “perfect Red Sea resort town.” There is a bright boardwalk with many shops and restaurants, and it is home to The Blue Hole, a deep trench that is one of the most famous dive sites in the world. Also in the Dahab area is The Blue Lagoon, a beloved kite-surfing lagoon, and the protected reefs of Abu Galum, which are perfect for snorkeling and diving. It is about 2 hours by car from the Taba border crossing.
Sharm el-Sheikh: Located at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, Sharm el-Sheikh is the most developed city in Sinai. It is home to plenty of resorts, hotels, shopping, and excellent dive sites. Sharm el-Sheikh is also near Ras Mohammed Nature Reserve, where the beautiful corals and clear waters of the Red Sea are protected and pristine. It is about 3.5 hours by car from the Taba border crossing. Sharm el-Sheikh also has an airport, and it is the only airport accessible for tourists visiting South Sinai.
Nuweiba: Nuweiba is a small and quiet town, often visited by divers. There are several hotels and resorts, as well as plenty of beach camps to stay at. It is about one hour from the Taba border crossing by car.
St Catherine’s Monastery: The Orthodox Monastery of St Catherine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a Greek Orthodox monastery, but the entire area is sacred to three religions. Muslims hold the mountain sacred and know it as Jebel Musa, and Jewish tradition believes that the mountain is the site of the biblical Mt. Sinai. The monastery itself dates back to the 6th century. It is about 3 hours from the Taba border crossing by car.
Sinai beaches: While you can decide to visit a specific town or resort on your trip to Sinai, there are essentially endless amounts of Sinai beaches to visit, many of which are home to Bedouin camps where you can stay, along with other types of accommodation. Some of our favorite Sinai beaches include Aqua Sun, Na’ama Bay, Ras Um Sid, Shark’s Bay Beach, El Fanar, and Terrazzina Beach. There are also plenty of beach camps to choose from, and some of our favorites include Big Dune, Moon Island, and Crazy Horse (these are all in the Nuweiba area).
Must-Know Sinai Travel Information
We here at Abraham love not only traveling in Israel, but we also love traveling just about everywhere. We’ve also become basically experts at traveling in the Sinai Peninsula. Here is some important travel information you should definitely keep in mind when heading to the beautiful Sinai beaches and towns:
The Bedouin are part of the Sinai culture: The Bedouin are nomadic people who have been present in the Arabian Peninsula for hundreds of years. Bedouin today can be found in Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan, and many of them have adopted a semi-modern lifestyle, while keeping many Bedouin traditions. Many cities in Sinai are home to the Bedouin, and the Bedouin also run many of the beach camps where you can stay. The Bedouin are famous for their hospitality towards guests, which is an important part of their culture.
Accommodations vary: Whether you’re looking for a high-end resort or a rustic beach experience, Sinai has it all. But you should be sure that the accommodation you select has everything you’re looking for. For example, many of the simple beach camps do not have air conditioning or WiFi. Also, while the food in Sinai is delicious, you likely find that there are limited options. In the bigger cities and resorts you’ll find restaurants, mostly with the local Egyptian and Bedouin cuisine. Bedouin hosts at the beach camps also operate tasty restaurants, and you can buy meals during your stay. Be sure to try Maglouba, a traditional Bedouin rice dish (meaning “upside down”).
The best way to travel is by taxi: Few travelers arrive in Sinai with a car, so the most common way to get around is by taxi and other car transports. Taxis in Sinai are affordable when compared to the cost of taxis in western countries and in Israel, and are especially affordable when shared with several people. There are typically plenty of taxis waiting at the Taba border, and once in Sinai, you can ask your Bedouin hosts or resort to help you arrange taxis. You can also arrange water taxis to certain places along the beaches. There are also some buses in Sinai, between Taba to the cities such as Dahab and Sharm el-Sheikh, but they run on limited schedules and don’t have easily accessible company phone numbers. If you visit Sharm el-Sheikh, there is a network of buses in the city.
Southern Sinai is considered safe: It’s important to recognize that parts of Sinai are generally considered unsafe for travel – but these are the northern parts of the peninsula, far from the tourist destinations in Southern Sinai. The Egyptian government takes precautions to keep Southern Sinai safe, and Egyptians are typically very welcoming to travelers, especially the Bedouin. Before visiting any country, read the recommendations from your own government.
Sinai visas: Visas for visiting Sinai are typically quite easy to navigate. Citizens of many places including European Union countries, the United States, and Israel (only when traveling through Taba) do not need a visa if they are staying in the Sinai, specifically the areas of Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba, and are leaving within 14 days. Instead, at the border you’ll receive something similar to a visa, which is called the Sinai resort permission stamp. If you do not fall into this category, Egypt also uses an electronic visa program, meaning you can get a visa online in advance. At Taba, visas can also be granted upon arrival at the border. Keep in mind that if you plan on visiting other parts of Egypt outside of Sinai (such as Cairo), you’ll need to obtain a visa. Make sure you understand your specific visa requirements before arriving at the border. You can find some information about reaching the Taba Border Crossing in Eilat here.
Coronavirus considerations: As of January 3, 2022, there are certain coronavirus vaccination and testing requirements before entering Egypt. You will need to show proof of certain vaccinations or a negative PCR test before being permitted to cross through the Taba Border. Please check the latest requirements before heading to Sinai. If you plan to come back to Israel after, you will also need to check the latest coronavirus testing requirements to enter Israel. All information regarding entry to Israel under Covid-19 restrictions can be found here.
Currency: The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian Pound, which you can easily obtain at the Taba Border Crossing. Many places will also accept the US Dollar and Israeli Shekel, but using the Egyptian Pound will get you the best value.
Weather: While the weather in the Middle East is known for being beautifully sunny and dry, please keep in mind that desert landscapes can offer interesting and sometimes challenging weather. In Sinai, the months between June and August can see extreme heat, and it would be wise to bring mosquito repellent spray. This is important to note if you plan on doing outdoor activities such as hiking, and if you plan to stay in a place without air conditioning. The best months to visit Sinai are September-October and March-June. Also, because of the desert environment, there can be significant temperature differences between the daytime and nighttime – the nights can get cool, even during the hottest summer days, and the winters can be chilly.
We here at Abraham truly love showing you around, which is why we’re pleased to soon be offering Sinai tours from Israel! Please check back to this page regularly – we’ll update you as soon as these tours are up and running. In the meantime, you can head over to our Abraham Tours website to see what tours we’re currently running, and to find the latest updates.
Abraham Hostels & Tours
Don’t forget that we have hostels located around Israel, including in Eilat, not far from the Taba Border Crossing. If you’re visiting Israel after Sinai, we definitely recommend you stay at the Abraham Hostel Eilat before heading to another part of the country.
Of course, you probably know by now that Abraham Tours runs some absolutely fantastic tours both inside and outside of Israel. We have Jordan tours from Israel which go to Petra and Wadi Rum, as well as tours to Jerusalem, Masada & the Dead Sea, the West Bank, and northern Israel. We can’t wait to show you around on your next trip to Israel.