The reality of most camping trips is, it doesn’t matter what time you end up falling asleep. The sun will seep through the thin walls of your tent shortly after sunrise, tickling you into consciousness. So you sit up, slither out of your sleeping bag and, in my case, grab the gas stove and the coffee maker.
Earlier this month, a 36-hour stop at Ras Mohammed National Park—the narrow peninsula that marks the southernmost part of Sinai—turned into a weeklong stay at arguably one of Egypt’s most precious protectorates.
Where to stay and what to eat
We pitched our tents in a quiet bay unexplored by most visitors, overlooking a small stretch of water along Marsa Bareika --the only authorized camping ground inside the park.
Between food and drink, we had brought supplies to last us two days, so on day three we hop scotched to Sharm El Sheikh, about 18 kilometres north, for a restock. The city’s Old Market, a predecessor of the overly-commercial Neama Bay had everything we needed: fresh bread, nuts, fruits, vegetables, pasta, ful, tuna, ice and beer.
Although many regard Ras Mohammed as a daytrip destination, there are several sites that will welcome you overnight.
Camps along Marsa Bareika run a slightly different operation than those along the Taba-Nuweiba coastline, however. Meals need to be ordered a day in advance. All visitors to the park share one main bathroom: a composite of three toilets and a sink, situated at the tip of Marsa Bareika. The toilet stalls sub for showers. The bathroom is supplied with toilet paper and in some instances an old bottle of soap, both signs of upkeep, albeit minimal.
Past the bathroom, the first campsite appears to your right, operated by ‘Am Gemei. More a meeting point than a camp, the beating heart of this spot is its restaurant: a shaded area with tables and chairs. At 70EGP per person, you get rice, grilled chicken, potatoes cooked in tomato sauce, tehina, green salad, soda, mineral water and a cup of Sinai’s signature tea spiced with habaq (a culinary herb similar to basil). The food is delicious and the portions generous.
Ras Mohammed was declared a national park in 1982. It presumably gets its name from the cliff on its southernmost tip, a weathered mountaintop that resembles the face of a man.
The area harbors dozens of types of coral and attracts travelers hoping to spot sharks, which are said to appear around May and June. Diving is only allowed in designated areas along the park’s coastline.
On our first day, we headed to Shark Observatory, a secluded, cove-like beach that houses two gorgeous viewpoints, revealing the entire east side of the park. It is also home to the liveliest reef on this small peninsula and is famed for its caves; one moment you’re snorkeling in shallow water, and the next you are at the edge of a reef wall that drops to what feels like 100 metres.
Close by is Yolanda Beach, a wide stretch of sand suitable for shore divers and snorkelers alike. To maneuver between the sites, you need to have a car.
The Mangrove Channel is also worth checking out, although the lush tree blossoming in the salty water of El Qulaan in Marsa Alam puts these ones in second place.
While the reef of Marsa Bareika may not be one of the park’s prized diving spots, it is not unusual to come across a menagerie of fish while snorkeling casually. This spot is a haven for those not interested in swimming in the deep end. You have to bring your snorkeling gear, however. Water shoes also make for a more comfortable swim.
We had planned to dive around Tiran, a rich diving site some six kilometres offshore, but unluckily for us the African and Arab Parliamentary Unions were holding meetings in Sharm El Sheikh at the time of our visit, so the island was closed to visitors.
Although on most weeks the military’s operations against militants in northern Sinai are of no concern to vacationers in the south, we got to see three apache planes fly a few metres off the ground (to mark the occasion of the meetings, we presumed). Politics aside, it was an odd sight flashing across a quiet sky that ordinarily bears seagulls and stars.