St Katherine – or Katreen – nestles at the heart of the High Mountain Region and is the highest town in Egypt. The area has an ancient history of spiritual settlement, focused on the nearby Monastery of St Katherine, but the town itself is a creation dating mostly from the 1970s. St Katherine has a strong Bedouin feel and an important service hub for the interior of South Sinai, with a bank, shops, internet cafes and most other things you’ll need. There are plenty of Bedouin camps here that and the whole town makes a brilliant base for trekking. Most trails actually start from the town itself, with the only exception being the JEBEL UMM SHOMER trek, for which you’ll need to get a jeep about 20km south.
ORIENTATION The town of St Katherine stands on a big plain below high mountains. The main part of town, where the bank, shops, mosque etc are is called EL MILGA. Outside El Milga are two other areas: one is SHAMAYA, which has a more shops and cafes, plus a hospital. The other is called EL RASEES; a more residential area. From the main part of the town a long road runs out a few kilometres to the Monastery of St Katherine, which stands right below Mount Sinai. There are a few outlying villages in the St Katherine. KHRARAZEEN is a small hamlet outside town, where the NORTHERN PEAKS CIRCUIT begins. The GALT EL AZRAQ trek starts from the village of ABU SEILA, about 4km outside the town.
GETTING THERE & AWAY There’s a daily EAST DELTA bus between Cairo and St Katherine (LE55,7-8hrs): it leaves the TURGOMAN GARAGE in Cairo at 11am. Going the other way, it leaves St Katherine at 6am. The BEDOUIN BUS connects St Katherine and Dahab on Tuesdays and Fridays (LE50). It leaves the mosque outside St Katherine at 11am; the other way, it goes from the Jowhara Hotel in Mashraba at 5pm. It also runs between St Katherine and Nuweiba on Wednesdays and Sundays, leaving St Katherine’s main mosque about 8.30am, returning from Nuweiba port about 2.30pm (try to call the driver in advance on +20100-310-6228). There are two minibuses between St Katherine and El Tur daily: ask locally for schedules as they vary.
GETTING AROUND St Katherine is small and you can walk pretty much anywhere within an hour. Taxis can be useful for getting to the outlying villages like Abu Seila or the Monastery of St Katherine. From the main town to Abu Seila or the Monastery of St Katherine, it’ll be about LE20-30.
STAYING IN ST KATHERINE St Katherine has big, expensive hotels, but they’re not good for trekking. BEDOUIN CAMPS are best as they keep you close to the local Bedouin, who know more about the area than anybody. DESERT FOX CAMP is a hub for the Bedouin community and the cheapest, friendliest camp in town, directly below Mount Sinai. Other good camps include ABU SALEM, in the middle of town, near the mosque. There’s also a new camp called EL MASAOUDI LODGE, in the quiet suburb of El Rasees. The Monastery of St Katherine has an old GUESTHOUSE and there are also BEDOUIN GARDENS about 45 minutes from town that you can stay in too. DESERT FOX CAMP will be able to organise stays here for you.
FINDING GUIDES Most treks here are in the territory of a tribe called the JEBELEYA and you need a Jebeleya guide. For a long time, St Katheirne had a special guide rotation scheme called EL DOR which assigned guides rather than letting trekkers choose. It was unpopular with many guides – limiting the work they could do – and trekkers, who wanted to be able to choose. Today you DO NOT have to take a guide assigned through this system. You can organise guides yourself or go through a local camp. The Jebel Umm Shomer trek is in the territory of the Aulad Said tribe: you CAN use Jebeleya guides here but it’s better to use Aulad Said tribesmen. It’s tough to find them independently, so go through an agency like SINAI DESERT FOX.