This was my second time in Sharm-el-Sheikh, and also the second visit to St. Katherine. In the first one, I wrote a tip in Egypt page, now I got a different impression.
In the first visit I went there expressly, using a taxi - this time it was a stop in the desert safari. Better idea! Paying the same (or less) we had moments of fun in the desert, the visit to the coloured canyons and snorkel in blue hole. A great full day.
St Katherine now looked smaller, but still impressive. Of course, its importance comes from what it means, more than from what it looks. There was less people, and that allowed more time for details.
A visit to Saint Catherine's is not for every one. Yes, it is a special place and visiting there is an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life but I can easily see how for someone else a visit there might just be another packaged excursion from a cheap holiday resort such as Sharm.
Saint Catherine's is one of the two oldest surviving Christian monasteries, built in the 6th century by order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, around a predating church and near the place that Moses was believed to have seen the burning bush. The monastery is considered a holy place for Jews, Christians and Muslims and this probably explains how a Greek Orthodox monastery survived in the midst of an Islamic country.
The monastery has a collection of religious artifacts and books that are simply stunning. Not all of them are displayed but what could be seen at the small museum left me breathless. Alongside Christian relics and icons, a copy (for the original is not on display) of a paper signed by Mohammed granting the monastery human right privilages such as freedom of worship, movement and property. The church itself is an absolute jewel in almost every respect.
The monastery is a living cell of religion and despite what some people do or think, its primary function is not to satisfy tourists or offer them a product. Most facilities are outside the monastery and prices are no bargain. The daily period that tourists can visit is limited and most visitors need to be out of the monastery by 12:00. Exception is only granted to Orthodox Christians who can attend a short service at 12:00. Attending such a service was for me something unique.
I visited Saint Catherine's monastery while vacationing in Sahrm el Sheik. I rented a car and the drive took me around three hours to get there. The road is very good and without much traffic. The scenery is beautiful and enjoyed it immensly. There are also buses leaving Sharm for two types of tours. One leaves at night so you can climb the hills and watch the sunrise before visiting the monastery in the morning. The other is just a drive to and from the monastery with a guide It is also possible to fly to the airport near Saint Catherine's from Cairo.
Last info dated December, 28 2010.
A "guide" is said to be necessary but I met several people on the road who climbed alone and no control was enforced. Anyhow to hire a guide only cost 80 Egyptian Pound (12 EUR) and offers some chance for better explanation has they all speak decently English and off course they show the way and shortcuts.
The climb, perse, is easy: 1.5 hours uphill climb on a rocky steps track. Just take the valley after the Monastery and stay on the right canyon (not the main valley) . The path is well marked up to the top. Elevation at start 1560 circa, at the top 2280 circa.
The descent can be done in 1 hour from the main track used uphill by who prefer to use the camels.
Outstanding view from he top. No need to carry water/food , there are 2-3 huts that sell everything including blankets/mattress if you want to sleep on the top.
An approximate 2 hour trip by car or bus gets you to St Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. Here you can see the famous "burning bush" and encounter the Mount Sinai climbers on their descent. There is also a small church here and a room full of skulls. Small entrance fee.
Sharm el Sheikh is a great jump-off point for excursions to St. Catherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai. Our tour operator said that the trip would last about 7 hours but with a stop in Dahab, it was more like 12 hours and a lot of that was spent on the bus! But the trip is well worth it if you are into history :)
The monastery closes at 12pm so you have to leave early in the morning from Sharm. I believe our bus left around 7am in order to get to the monastery in time for a short tour.
The monastery has some of the oldest icons in history and houses the famed Burning Bush. The story of St. Catherine is quite interesting and I won't spoil it by sharing and ruining your tour :)
The monaster sits at the bottom of Mount Sinai. Unfortunately most tours don't include time to hike up the Mount. It is famed with its sunrises but in order to do this, you need at least 3-4 hours to hike to the top and that means you must arrive late at night.
There are a ton of tour agencies in Sharm but I've included the link to one that has a website of tours and their prices.
Started at 6am return after 7pm so a long day. Lunch was included but we didn't eat it until gone 4pm so if going (like us) with children - be prepared!
A fairly long drive on deserted roads; amazing desert & mountain scenery. When we got to St. Katherine's Monastery it appeared the rest of Sinai was also visiting! St. K's Monastery is UNESCO, steeped in history (The Burning Bush & Moses etc...), has an amazing setting and is visiting. However, the crowds did spoil it a bit fo me.
Another drive to the Coloured Canyon, the last 1/2 hr being a desert jeep safari to get to the canyon. Was good fun and the kids LOVED it! There's a small path (of sorts) that leads down into the canyon which is fairly easy. Then there's the way through the canyon which, in places and especially with children, isn't so easy (boulders to slide under, drops to fall down etc...). The climb back up is probably the hardest part. It's a long way up in the heat, relatively slippery and a rather sheer drop in many places. Those not good with heights struggled and I have to say I didn't feel completely confident getting myself and my children to the top... but obviously we got up safe and sound. WELL WORTH the efforts. The canyon is quiet and beautiful and definitely one of my Sinai highlights.
A stop in Nuweiba to dine - views across the water to Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Was a nice pit stop on a beach - quiet and chilled. Maybe not every tour stops here to dine or perhaps every other tour ate their lunch at a more sensible hour!
A stop in Dahab. I was a bit disappointed with Dahab. It was certainly a lot more modern than I had anticipated and one stretch we nicnamed the Dahab Vegas! By the time we were there it was dark and everybody was gearing up for the night throng of dinner and drinks so perhaps it is more serene in the day?
If you're going to do the monastery & the canyon do them on the same day as a grand tour.
In the Book of Exodus, the burning bush is a miracle that God uses to inform Moses of his divine calling. Burning bush is also a common name applied to several different, unrelated plants.
In the Book of Exodus, Moses is forced to flee Egypt and comes to live with Jethro. Moses, while tending his flock near a mountain, comes across a burning bush on the mountain. Moses approaches the bush, and discovers that the bush is burning, yet flames do not consume it.
In Byzantine times, Saint Katherine's monastery was built on a traditional site of the biblical event. What was thought to be the original burning bush is now dead, but a bush claimed to be its descendant is on view today.
It's a World Heritage Site and well worth the visit although there are lots of cons:
It's in the middle of the peninsula so it's a long way from most of the resorts.
It's only open for two hours a day.
It gets very, very crowded.
You will feel like a tourist.
You will be hassled for bakeesh.
It'll be hot and dusty.
It is a wonderful place and the history is monumental. Swot up first so you know what you're seeing - including Moses' burning bush and the atmospheric charnel house, the monks garden and a mosque within a monastery.
This very famous Monastery is situated on the Sinai Peninsula about three hours drive through the desert from Sharm El Sheikh. It is a long and tiring drive in the searing desert heat, but so very well worth the effort. Indeed the scenery along the route is fascinating and most tours make stops at interesting spots - we stopped at Dahab, at a country market, a small town to buy souvenirs etc.
When you arrive the coaches all stop a long walk from the Monastery itself and you are indeed expected to walk the rest of the way. If you are in any way unfit or elderly I would advise you to accept the opportunity of a camel ride the rest of the way as nobody will assist you and there is no possibility of a camel once you set off on foot. I was with my elderly Mother and she found it hard going. Our pleas for a camel were judiciously ignored by our guide for the day.
The Monastery itself houses many interesting and historical things, to include the famous sacred well, the second largest library in the world, and an amazing (if creepy) ossuary (place where they store skeletons/bones). I had never seen an ossuary before and it sent the shivers through me.
The Monastery adjoins Moses Mountain and some day trips allow the opportunity of climbing the mountain. Although it's scorching at ground level, there's snow on top of Moses mountain.
Dress for the heat, but bring warm clothing if you are going to venture up the mountain. Remember to cover your shoulders and dress respectably in the religious parts of the monastery. You will also need to bring your passport on this trip as you will pass various border checkpoints and they can spot check passports.
This monastry was build around the year 530, and on the place where God has spoken to Moses. (burning bush) and gave him the 10 commendements. On the left side of the monastery there is the montain Moses. This mountain can be climbed but be aware there are 3750 steps to reach the top (2285 meters)
This monastery is Greek Orthoxe and there are stil about 20 monks of different nationalities living in the monastery. Inside you can find different art treasures and a collection of manuscripts who is the 2nd large after the vatican in Rome.
Notice that this place is about a 3 hours drive from Sharm and that the place is very crowdy.
You have to wear long trousers and covered shoulders to enter the monastery.
A nice one day trip from Sharm el Sheikh. A pituresque Sinai desert landscapes.
Don't forget to visit the Sacred Sacristy of the Monastery. Entrance 25 LE (If not included in your operators package). You will see some amazing icons ( trough the whole monastery history) and old books some of them over 1000 years old. (Codex, you can see also a part of Ciodex Syriacus).
When booking the trip check the prices and what is included. They shuld show you the photo of the bus. You can bid also. (I payed 60$ for two persons- Monastery, desert Sinai and Dahab. Entrance, meal and soft drink included, another couple on the same bus payed 110$ for the same trip.)
At the foot of the mountain where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments, lies the monastery. Early Christian hermits, searching seclusion from worldly affairs, were living in the are of the holy mountain since the early times of Christendom.
After her visit to the impressive site of the Burning Bush Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, decided in 330 AD to let a chapel be build at the site. She dedicated it to the Virgin Mary.
Many early pilgrims reported about massacres among the monks. Finally in 527 AD Emperor Justinian ordered the construction of a fortress to protect the hermits of the High Mountains. Above the heavy wooden entrance wooden frames carry the names of Justinian, his wife Theodora and the architect’s Stephanos.
St. Catherine is among the oldest Christian monasteries, and the smallest diocese in the world. The Monks today are Greek Orthodox and of different nationalities. The wealthy monastery has branches in Cairo, Cyprus and Crete.
Located at the foot of Mount Moses, St. Catherine's Monastery, was constructed by order of the Emperor Justinian between 527 and 565 AD. It is built around Moses' Burning Bush, which has a chapel built atop it.
It is a spectacular natural setting for priceless works of art, including a wonderful Byzantine mosaic dating back to the 6th century, Arab mosaics, Greek and Russian icons, Western oil paintings, paintings on wax, fine sacerdotal ornaments, marbles, enamels, chalices, reliquaries, including one donated by Czar Alexander II in the 19th century, and another by Empress Catherine of Russia in the 17th century. The Monastery even has a small 10th or 11th century Fatimid mosque.
It takes 3 or 4 hours to get to the Monastery from Sharm el Sheik. It was nice to take a guided tour however they did rush us round too quickly. It is really a must see and pretty amazing.... a lovely building with an oasis of greenery in the middle of a desert and sandy mountains.
A beautiful (if somewhat smaller than i was expecting) place. Here you can see the burning bush and the well. There is also a really weird room at the beginning where we went into not knowing what it was and it FULL of all the bones and skulls of all the monks that have ever lived there! spooky! Also inside there is a peice of St Catherines finger bone on display!
All that aside its very beautiful and moving. Its a bit of a walk up and down the hill so we had to stick Grandma in a taxi!
The beautiful Byzantine church inside the Monastery has never been damaged since it´s construction in 542 A.D. When Moses fled from Egypt, he came upon the seven daughters of Jethro tending their flocks at a well. This "Moses Well", as it is called today, can still be seen near the Monastery church. Moses married one of the daughters, then spent 40 years in the desert until the miracle of the burning bush occured, when God was revealed to him, and he was ordered to bring the children of Israel to Horeb (Mount Moses) where he recieved the Tablets of the Law.
In 330 A.D a small church and a tower at thesite of the Burning Bush were erected by st. Helena (Constantine the Greats mother)
Link to S:t Catherines Monastery travelouge