THE SINAI peninsula has been the gateway between Africa and Asia since time immemorial and a battleground for millennia. Prized for its strategic position and mineral wealth, Sinai is also revered by disparate cultures as the site of God's revelation to Moses, the wanderings of Exodus and the flight of the Holy Family. As Burton Bernstein wrote: "it has been touched, in one way or another by most of Western and Near Eastern history, both actual and mythic".
Though mostly wilderness, Sinai looks far too dramatic - and too beautiful - to be dismissed as "24 000 square miles of nothing". The interior of South Sinai is an arid moonscape of jagged ranges harbouring Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine's Monastery, where pilgrims climb the Steps of Repentance from the site of the Burning Bush to the summit where God delivered the Ten Commandments. Further north, the vast Wilderness of the Wanderings resembles a Jackson Pollock canvas streaked with colour and and imprinted with tank tracks. Remote springs and lush oases can be reached by camel trekking or jeep safaris, providing some insights into Bedouin culture.
Above all, however, the south has the lure of exquisite coral reefs and tropical fish in the Gulf of Aqaba, one of the finest diving and snorkelling grounds in the world. The beach resorts at Sharm El Sheikh, Na'ama bay, Dahab and Nuweiba cater to every taste and budget. From Sharm El Sheikh to Na'ama Bay you can also make expeditions to Egypt's deepest reefs and greatest concentration of aquatic life at Ras Mohamed, a mini peninsula at the southern tip of Sinai. Northwest of here, The Gulf of Suez pales by comparison with its eastern counterpart - there are no reefs and only few sites to interest the visitor.
Northern Sinai is visited by almost no Western tourists. A barren coastline, which you scarcely glimpse from the road, it has a single town and focus in El Arish, a laid back if conservative place with a palm-fringed beach and a Bedouin market..