Courtesy of Red Sea Mountain Trail
Courtesy of Red Sea Mountain Trail
A Bedouin guide on Jebel Gattar, a mountain in Egypt’s Red Sea range
Run by a local Bedouin tribe, the first long-distance hiking trail in mainland Egypt aims to support and preserve the culture of those who have been traveling these ancient routes for centuries.
With a new St. Regis Cairo set to open this summer, a 5.2-million-square-foot Grand Egyptian Museum under construction, and international arrivals up 55 percent year over year, Egypt is in the middle of a tourism revival. You can also add a hike on mainland Egypt’s first long-distance trail to the list of reasons to go, now that the 105-mile route is open in the remote Red Sea Mountains.
Located west of the beach resort town of Hurghada, the Red Sea Mountain Trail is created from a network of ancient routes used by local Bedouin tribes over the years. Owned and operated by the Khushmaan clan of the Maaza, Egypt’s largest Bedouin tribe, the trail aims to bring travelers away from Egypt’s main tourist path and to the clan’s traditional territory. The trail benefits the Bedouin community by creating jobs and helping preserve the culture.
“We want the Red Sea Mountain Trail to diversify Hurghada’s tourism and create a space for slow, immersive travel in which the Bedouin can . . . communicate their rich knowledge of their homeland to outsiders,” Ben Hoffler, one of the founders of the trail, told AFAR.
Hoffler, a U.K.-born trail developer who has lived in Egypt for the past decade, assisted the Bedouins in designing the trail following the success of the Sinai Trail, which he helped open in 2015. Since then, 850 Egyptians and foreigners have hiked the Sinai Trail, which has won tourism awards and led to the creation of 50 jobs, including guides, drivers, cooks, and cameleers. Hoffler and the Bedouins expect this new sister trail to be even more popular because of its proximity to areas already known to tourists.
As more Bedouin leave behind their nomadic existence to live in villages and towns, many of the skills that were once essential to their survival are becoming irrelevant and forgotten.
“Young Bedouin will work on the Red Sea Mountain Trail alongside older ones which is also important because it ensures the traditional channels through which Bedouin culture has always been transmitted remain open between generations,” Hoffler says.
How to hike the Red Sea Mountain Trail
The entire 105-mile route takes about 10 days to hike through and must be done with a local Bedouin guide because it is controlled by the Maaza tribe. Even with the help of guides, the Red Sea Mountains can be strenuous to hike with steep up and down sections and parts that require rock scrambling (the range includes Jebel Shayib el Banat, the highest peak in mainland Egypt at 7,175 feet). Food and bottled water will be provided throughout the trip but must be carried by hikers who want to attempt the main route.
If you don’t have that amount of time or the desire to tackle the more difficult elevation gains, guides can lead you on a shorter, mostly flat circuit within the trail. These easier routes can also include a support crew who will carry tents and sleeping bags to an evening rendezvous point.
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Private treks can be organized by sending an email through the Red Sea Mountain Trail’s website (the company communicates in both Arabic and English). The first guided group hike on the trail is scheduled to take place this spring, according to its Facebook page. However, the first through hike scheduled for a group departure isn’t until 2020.
To get to the Red Sea Mountains, travelers can fly into Hurghada’s international airport, which is located within the area of Egypt deemed safe for international travelers by both the U.S. and U.K. governments. Although the U.S. Department of State has a Level 2 warning issued for Egypt (exercise increased caution due to terrorism), the main areas of concern are located on the Sinai Peninsula and in the Western Desert. Because the Red Sea Mountains are a wilderness area controlled by Bedouin tribes, the area has seen no terrorist activity. On the Red Sea Mountain Trail Association’s website, it mentions that the tribal organization that hires the guides only selects the most trusted people for the job to make sure the hikes are safe for solo female travelers.
Eventually, the trail’s creators hope to expand the trail to a total of 621 miles along the length of the Red Sea in Egypt. To do so, they plan to include the Ababda and Bisharin tribes, whose territory goes to the border of Sudan and include not only Arab traditions but also African ones.
>> Next: Plan Your Trip with AFAR’s Guide to Egypt
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