Red Sea Mountain Trail
The Red Sea Mountain Trail is a 170km, 14 day hiking circuit in the northern parts of Egypt’s Eastern Desert. Traversing the vast, sweeping wilderness between the River Nile and the Red Sea it stands outside the modern town of Hurghada and takes hikers on a challenging journey over the highest peaks in mainland Egypt. It was developed over five years by Bedouin of the Khushmaan – one clan of a bigger tribe known as the Maaza – and opened to the world in 2019. Tourism was not new in this part of Egypt; it had existed before the Red Sea Mountain Trail was created but mostly a mass market, package kind of tourism focusing on hotels and beaches on the Red Sea. The majestic mountain wilderness further inland was little more than a backdrop and the Bedouin remained sidelined in the industry; they took mostly low paid service roles in purpose-built tourism camps framed as traditional Bedouin villages to which quad bike tours would be run by outside tour operators. The Red Sea Mountain Trail was created to go beyond this kind of tourism, in the belief things could be better. It sets out to give a way into one of the great wildernesses of the world; one that still remains almost entirely off the adventure tourism map and virtually unseen by outsiders. It seeks to create a kind of tourism in which the Bedouin are legitimate industry leaders and a space in which the great depth and beauty of their age old Arab culture can be better communicated and understood. The Red Sea Mountain Trail has been hiked by people from all around the world and is one of Egypt’s leading community tourism initiatives today. It works towards the same goals as the Sinai Trail and a tribal organisation headed by the Bedouin Sheikh of the Khushmaan oversees its operations today.
The Bedouin deserts of Africa
The Red Sea Mountains are one of the great ranges of Africa and the Middle East; a chain of high, jagged peaks that rise in the northern parts of Egypt’s Eastern Desert running almost the full length of its Red Sea coast towards its southern borders with Sudan. Peoples practising a mobile pastoralist way of life have moved in these deserts for many millennia and the region is the homeland of a Bedouin tribe called the Maaza today. The Maaza trace their roots to the Arabian Peninsula, where they are known as the Bani Atiya; large branches of the tribe, with a common heritage and identity, still live in the northern parts of Saudi Arabia and Wadi Rum, in southern Jordan, today. Holding the deserts to the south of the Maaza in Egypt are a tribe known as the Ababda. In the southernmost parts of Egypt with a territory extending deep into Sudan are the Bisharin; a Bedouin tribe who have cultural traditions and an indigenous language of African rather than Arab origin.
The RSMT today
Bedouin Trail: a family of three
Since opening in 2019, the Red Sea Mountain Trail has grown into one of Egypt’s leading community tourism projects. It has opened an entirely new part of Egypt’s wilderness for hiking tourism, creating a small, grassroots economy in which many members of the Bedouin community have found legitimate, leadership-level jobs. Younger Bedouin are active in working on the trail under the mentorship of older ones, preparing a new generation for the future. Over 600km of new routes have been created around the trail’s main circuit – representing one of the biggest networks of hiking trails in the Middle East – and alternative forms of tourism including mountain biking are being introduced alongside hiking. Along with the Sinai Trail and Wadi Rum Trail, the Red Sea Mountain Trail is an integral part of the newly launched, intercontinental Bedouin Trail, which runs 1200km between Africa and Asia.
As with the Wadi Rum Trail, the Red Sea Mountain Trail is a sister project of the Sinai Trail, with the three existing in a connected family of trails. Each one has a different tourism model, designed for its own home region, and all function independently, but remain united through common values, working principles and the broad goal of showing the great depth and beauty and wisdom of their common Bedouin heritage to the wider world. The Red Sea Mountain Trail, Sinai Trail and Wadi Rum Trail came together more formally in spring 2023 to form a new, intercontinental hiking passage that runs more than 1200km between Africa and Asia, connecting the ancient capitals of Petra and Luxor and traversing the lands of seven Bedouin tribes along the way. The Red Sea Mountain Trail stands on the African side of the route, between the coasts of the Red Sea and Egypt’s Nile Valley.