Trekking the Sinai Trail: The new hardcore hiking route trying to save Egypt’s Bedouin heritage

The 220km-long Sinai Trail, or Darb Sina, is part of a Middle East-wide hiking network voted the number one new trail in the world by National Geographic. It’s neither the longest nor the hardest of the world’s long-distance routes, but hiking a landscape steeped in history, guided by Bedouin whose lives are intertwined with the same land, is definitely one of the most rewarding.

These days life is hard for the Bedouin of Sinai. Generations past had led pilgrims through the mountains to the ancient monastery of St Katherine, or beyond to the holy city of Mecca. More recently desert knowledge translated to guiding tourists. But the Arab Spring, revolution, coup d’état, insurgency and airliner bombing has curtailed tourism in Sinai. “This trail creates work in a difficult time,” says trail guide Mussalem. “But not just any work…”

“We are worried a little bit about our culture. The young Bedouin, they don’t know much,” said another guide, Nassr. “We want to keep travelling, living the simple life. We want to keep our tribes, our families together. Training new guides means there will be others to carry on.” The Egyptian government has had no hand in supporting the project; the trail is a collective endeavour of three Bedouin tribes, and has been championed by local volunteers and an NGO.

The route usually takes 12 days, ending on the summit of Egypt’s highest mountain, Jebel Katarina.

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