St Catherine National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site occupying 5,982 square kilometres of mountainous terrain. Encompassing most of the iconic south Sinai region of Egypt, St Catherine’s is home to five of Egypt’s highest peaks, including the historical and well-documented Mount Sinai. The massif houses ancient mountain ranges, with rocks over 600 million years old. The hardy environment provides the perfect habitat for a wealth of unusual reptiles, endemic to the area.
The remote hermitage of Saint Catherine Monastery is a place of exceptional beauty and religious significance. Based at the foot of Mount Sinai, the sacred building is one of the world’s oldest working monasteries. The national park is mainly a cultural and environmental point of interest. Devout religious visitors and those with a thirst for history make the trek to the monastery.
St Catherine’s National Park is not easily accessible and requires the use of a private driver or scheduled tour to get to the area. The closest major resort and the international town is the coastal area of Sharm El-Sheikh.
The best time of year to visit St Catherine National Park is during the warmer summer months. Just be aware that temperatures are higher during the day while going down considerably during the night.
Most visitors to St Catherine National Park choose to stay in the quaint settlement of Al-Milga where there are a few hotels, restaurants, budget hostels and self-catering establishments.
This arid and barren region supports an array of species, many which are endemic to the area, such as the Sinai banded snake. Hikers might be lucky enough to spot the curved horn ibex, wolf, wild cat, red fox, Sinai leopard, rock hyrax, Dorcas gazelle and striped hyena. In total there are 27 mammals and over 40 species of reptile. The nearly extinct Innes cobra occurs in this area.
Birdlife is equally as unusual. The mountains provide a perfect environment for the Sinai rosefinch, white-crowned black wheater and rare Tristam’s grackle.
The elevation of the high mountains on the interior means that the region suffers from extremes in temperatures. During the winter months, there is snow. As the season's shifts, the melting snow provides a fresh source of water that flows down onto the plains. The best time of year to visit is during the warmer summer months. It’s quite common for temperatures to escalate during the day and reach minus degrees during the night.
There is only one way of spotting wildlife and taking in all the sights of Mount Sinai. And that is hiking. Most visitors choose between two routes to the summit, one of which starts at the Monastery. These low impact hiking tours can include overnight camping if the weather permits. These treks are the best way of enjoying aerial views of the landscape and spotting rare wildlife.
Trekking also introduces eager birders to the avifauna of the area, which includes sightings of plenty of endemic birds. The looming Mount Catherine, Egypt’s tallest peak, is fondly referred to as the roof of Egypt. For visitors not interested in hiking, there is an option to visit the famous St Catherine’s Monastery, a major drawcard for those interested in religious history. Religious tourism and spiritual getaways are the main attraction in the area.
The closest area serving the tourist route of the region is the quaint settlement of Al-Milga. This tiny place has a few hotels, restaurants, budget hostels and self-catering establishments. There are also various hiking camps and Bedouin camps offering a more back-to-basics and authentic experience in the national park.
Most visitors sign up for a day tour of St Catherine National Park to visit the Monastery, which is do-able from the major area of Sharm el-Sheikh.