The Sinai is a land of stark visual contrasts and few other environments would prepare a first-time traveler for the striking natural beauty of our desert and coastlines. From the majestic granite mountain ranges rendered in hues of pink, dark orange and black to the winding wadis of the Southern desert which twisting
and turning, form multiple pathways leading to the coast where the mountains touch the water and drop away into sheer coral reef walls; the Sinai desert is, quite simply, stunning.
The Sinai’s craggy granite and limestone mountains hide a geologic record that dates from more than 600 million years ago and the sandy wadis that cut through the rock and oftentimes surreal stone outcrops, carry unseen water, enough in fact to support a surprising amount of life. Geologists have concluded that owing to the depth of and the amount of wadis that there are, the Sinai would have once been a very fertile and richly green area.
Even today, where at first glance the desert seems deserted, larger wadis such as wadi Feiran are remarkably green in places and oasis such as Ain Hudra and Ain
Kid tap into the hidden water supplies and support towering date-palms and numerous desert plants and herbs. Seasonal rains (don’t worry it doesn’t happen too often!) and storms that hit suddenly cause sometimes heavy floods to flow down from the mountains and through the network of wadis, leaving behind an explosion of bright green plant life and desert flowers.
Much of this plant life is put to good use by the Bedouin inhabitants of the desert, for themselves as medicines, such as ‘Bytharan’, which is used to treat stomach upsets, or for their livestock – camels love to nibble on the thorny Acacia trees. Wild fig trees can also be found along with a local version of sage which is brewed with black tea leaves to make the ‘Bedouin tea’ we drink. The tea is a staple served with most meals in any Bedouin household and to guests. There are many more plants than travelers might expect or are listed here, in fact, the desert plays host to around 800 different species.
The native fauna, or animal life in the Sinai desert is of a hardy sort, able to withstand the harshness of the environment. Mammals such as desert foxes, Hyrax, Nubian Ibex along with Gazelles all live in the mountainous desert. Most of these can be very hard to spot, but the fox species are more common and we see them quite frequently when camping. Once there were also leopards but unfortunately, these are now presumed extinct. Dromedary camels are of course a common fixture in and around the desert and they perfom an important role in Bedouin culture, as pack animals and as transportation, but also as a source of milk.
Reptiles to be found include the Dubb lizard and its smaller relation, the Sinai Agama, which are easily seen in certain areas sunning themselves on the rock and readily identified owing to their blue-hued head and neck. Several species of snake, including the desert cobra, also inhabit the rocky and sandy areas further away from the coastline, though these are not frequently seen.
So while it is undoubtedly the stone and rock which dominate the landscape of the Sinai desert, within this landscape we find a rich and diverse ecosystem, one that warrants exploration and description. For further information on the plants, animals, and geology of our land please check out our blog posts here