Situated between Asia and Africa, the Sinai Penisula is the triangle shaped piece of land dividing the two continents. From north to south the Sinai is almost 400km long and a little over 200km wide, from west to east. The total coastal length of the southern half is around 600km. To the west is the Gulf of Suez with a max depth of 80 meters. The Gulf of Aqaba, on the eastern side of the peninsula, has a max depth of around 1.800 meters.
Government and Population
The Sinai is part of Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula itself is divided in two governorates: North Sinai Governorate and South Sinai Governorate. These two governorates, and the 25 others west from the Suez Canal, make up the country of Egypt.
The Sinai is sparsely populated. A little over 430.000 inhabitants live in the North while around 165.000 people live in the southern half of the Peninsula. Most folk in the Northern Half live in El Arish, Nekhel, Sheikh Zuweid, Bir El Abd and Rafah.
South Sinai Governorate
The north border of this governorate runs from Taba in the east to Suez in the west with a total land area of 33,140 km2. See the map below:
Cities and Towns
The town of Taba is located near the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, next to Eilat in Israel. For travellers between Egypt and Israel Taba is the only, and very busy border crossing between the two countries for tourists. Before Egypt took over the Sinai Taba was a tourist destination for the Israeli’s. Now it’s one for Egyptians and other tourists. South from Taba is a 3,590 km2 nature reserve with geological features and many species of wildlife.
Nuweiba is a coastal town on the eastern side of the Sinai Peninsula, 75km south of Taba. It’s also the area where I spent a lot of time during my time with the MFO. Although back then Nuweiba was nothing more than a stunning beach and a few bedouin settlements. Nowadays Nuweiba is a town, with some 7,000 inhabitants, mostly living from tourism. Nuweiba is a stunning tourist destination with hotels and other types of accommodation. Diving, kiteboarding and other water-sports are possible here. Enjoying the beach, sunbathing and relaxing can be done on the many beaches. Nuweiba also has a port with a ferry connection to Jordan. Nuweiba also has a castle built on top of the remains of a still older castle in 1893.
Further south, 70km to be precise, along the Gulf of Aqaba is the town of Dahab, formerly a Bedouin fishing village. It has less than 3,000 inhabitants. Dahab still has an unspoilt character compared to the bigger tourist destinations in the Sinai such as Sharm el Sheikh. It is now considered to be one of Egypt’s most beautiful diving destinations. Dahab is also a popular destination for windsurfing due to the perfect wind and flat water conditions. Free diving, scuba diving and snorkelling are very popular activities too with many reefs immediately close to the waterfront. For those preferring land based activities there is camel riding, cycling, jeep trips and rock climbing to name a few. St Catherine’s monastery and Mount Sinai are a two hour drive further south.
Sharm El Sheikh
Sharm el Sheikh is by far the largest town in the Southern Sinai, also referred to as a city. Sharm El Sheikh city, with Naama Bay, Hay el Nour, Hadaba, Rowaysat, Montazah and Shark’s Bay form a metropolitan area which has a population of around 53,000. Sharm El Sheikh is the administrative hub of Egypt’s South Sinai Governorate, which includes the smaller coastal towns of Dahab and Nuweiba as well as the mountainous interior, St. Catherine and Mount Sinai. 50 years ago Sharm el Sheikh was nothing more than a port for fishermen.
When the Israeli’s occupied the Sinai Sharm el Sheikh and Naama Bay were becoming tourist destinations, although on a very small scale and nothing compared with the present times. Tourism really kicked off when large scale developments took place from the 80s onwards. in 1982 the Sinai Peninsula was handed over to Egypt after the Camp David Accords. That was the start of a complete transformation of the area. This resulted in Sharm el Sheikh being a tourism hot spot in Egypt welcoming thousands of tourists each year. With a sunny and warm climate, amazing coral reefs, a stunning underwater world and an incredible beautiful mountainous desert area and sweeping valleys it’s no wonder Sharm is a popular tourist destination.
Saint Catherine is a town situated in the middle of the mountainous region of the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Located at the foot of Mount Sinai it’s also home to the 3rd century monastery of St Catherine. It has a population of well over 4,600 people, mostly bedouins. Saint Catherine is one of the newer townships in Egypt and includes several schools, a hospital, post office, police and fire brigade, a range of hotels and other amenities.
The Saint Catherine region is holy to the world’s three major Abrahamic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. According to WikiPedia “It is a place where Moses is believed to have received the Ten Commandments; a place where early Christianity has flourished and the Orthodox monastic tradition still continues in present day; a place which the prophet Mohammed took under his protection in his Letter to the Monks and where people still live in respect to others. Many events recorded in the Bible took place in the area, and there are hundreds of places of religious importance in the city. There are two ancient churches, and the Monastery of St Katherine and the Rock of Moses.”
El Tor is the capital of the South Sinai Governorate of Egypt. The name of El Tor is derived from the Arabic term for the mountain where the prophet Moses received the Tablets of the Law from God. El Tor can be found at the Gulf of Suez, on roughly the same latitude as Dahab and Saint Catherine. Including the settlements near the town El Tor has almost 40,000 inhabitants. It’s not as touristic as Dahab, Nuweiba or Sharm el Sheikh but it has some resorts too. It also has a hospital and a university.
Other towns and settlements
Further north along the Gulf of Suez are a few smaller towns and settlements such as Ras abu Rudeis, Abu Zenima and Ras Sedr. Dotted along the northern coastal area are also various tourist resorts.
The Sinai mostly consist of mountains and sand where the sandy plains and hills can be found mostly in the north and the mountains mostly in the central and southern part of the Peninsula. The Tih Plateau forms the boundary between the northern area and the southern mountainous with towering peaks. The highest mountain is Mount Kātrīnā, also known as Mount Catherine, which reaches 2,642 metres. There is a weather station and chapel at the summit. Another well known mountain is Gebel Musa (Jabal Mousa), also referred to as Moses’ mountain or Mount Sinai. It’s 2,285 metres high. This is possibly the same location as the biblical Mount Sinai, the place where, according to the Bible and the Quran, Moses received the Ten Commandments.
The area stretching from Taba to Ras Muhammad has a great number of stunning coral reef sections, providing an incredible habitat for an abundant flora and fauna.