Permits to visit this area may be difficult to obtain – Please contact for the latest information.

Gebel Elba (meaning Mount Elba in Arabic) is the name of a mountain and a region in the remotest south eastern corner of Egypt.  The mountain, which rises to a peak of 1,435 metres, and the surrounding national park are situated in what is known as the Halaib Triangle.  It’s an area of territory disputed by Sudan and Egypt, but currently under Egyptian government control.

Mount Elba National Park - photo by Sherif Lofty
Photo of Mount Elba National Park Note how the mountain is shrouded in moisture laden cloud. ©Sherif Lotfy 2019 – reproduced with his kind permission.

The national park lies 250 km south of Marsa Alam and the main coastal road runs through the national park. However, getting permission to visit is difficult and even if it is given you may need to have a police officer with you on your expedition.  This is due to the close proximity of the Sudanese border and also to concerns about the impact of tourism on the delicate environment.  

As a result Gebel Elba is one of the least explored areas of the country, which is a great bonus for anyone who obtains the necessary papers as it has an ecosystem and range of species unparalleled anywhere else in Egypt.   For most who do manage to go, it is a magical memory that lives with them for ever.

A short documentary based on an expedition to Gebel Elba in 2000.
Apr 2011 – 14.05 mins – 37+ likes – 7,000+ views
Mount Elba National Park - Photograph ©Sherif Lofty 2019
Photograph of the national park taken on a late January afternoon.
©Sherif Lotfy 2019. Reproduced with his kind permission.

The national park was set up in 1985 and covers an area of 35,600 square kilometres.  That’s considerably larger than Belgium, Wales or Massachusetts.

The Gebel Elba National Park showing acacia trees and the mountains - ©Sherif Lofty 2020.
The Elba National Park at dusk – note the acacia trees in the foreground.
Photograph – ©Sherif Lotfy 2020 – reproduced with his kind permission.

The park includes a vast stretch of coral reef and mangrove coastline, 22 Red Sea islands, a 20 km wide stretch of desert coastal plain and a mountain range, whose main peaks include Gebel Elba, Gebel Shellal (waterfall mountain) at 1,409 metres, Gebel Shendodai at 1,526 metres and Gebel Shendib at 1,911 metres. Gebel Elba lies closest to the sea while the other peaks are located further south and inland near the Sudanese border. 

What makes this area unique is that, although it is well within the Saharan region, it has an unusually high rainfall.  This is caused by a combination of prevailing the north east rain bearing winds, a bend in the coastline which causes the coast to align itself across the path of these wind currents, and the mountain range which forces the moist clouds upwards.  This causes cooling, condensation and finally precipitation.

Notice how green some areas are in the National Park.
Dec 2018 – 5.16 mins – 7+ likes – 340+ views
The Gebel Elba National Park - surprisingly green - ©Sherif Lofty 2020.
Parts of the Elba National Park landscape are strikingly green – especially for Egypt’s normally arid Eastern Desert – due to the much higher than normal precipitation in the surrounding mountains. Photograph – ©Sherif Lotfy 2019 – reproduced with his kind permission.

Only a little of this precipitation comes in the form of heavy rain.   Mist clouds form what has been called a mist oasis around Mount Elba and to a lesser extent the other summits. As the humidity of these clouds approach 100 per cent, the tiny water droplets coalesce into large ones and precipitation occurs in the form of a light drizzle.

Also,  as the surface temperature of the rocks and other exposed surfaces cool overnight a lot of the remaining water vapour in the air condenses into droplets, in the form of dew.

The green valleys of the Elba National Park may surprise you.
Photograph – ©Sherif Lotfy 2018 – reproduced with his kind permission.

Mount Elba can get up to 400 mm of precipitation a year.    That’s higher than the annual average for Greece.  And it’s a much higher figure than the 15 mm average for the Eastern Desert region.

Gebel Elba National Park by jeep – Panoramic video views –
May 2018 – 2.22 mins – 11+ likes – 1,000+ views
The Gebel Elba National Park just before the dawn - Photogrpah ©Sherif Lotfy 2020
The hills and mountains of the park lit up against the dawn sky on a December morning. Photograph – ©Sherif Lotfy 2020 – reproduced with his kind permission.

The area’s relatively high precipitation levels, combined with the cooler temperatures of the higher altitudes, sustain a surprising variety of wildlife. An astonishing 458 species of plant, forty species of birds,  thirty species of reptiles, and twenty three species of mammal have been recorded in the Park.

The area supports an incredibly diverse range of vegetation. Mangrove swamps and salt marshes fringe much of the coastline which is otherwise fairly arid although the occasional acacia tree and Balanites Aegyptiaca can be spotted.

An acacia tree in the Gebel Elba National Park - Photograph - ©Sherif Lofty 2018
Acacia trees are plentiful in the Gebel Elba National Park. You can also find a few along the coast. Photograph – ©Sherif Lotfy 2018 – reproduced with his kind permission.

You can read a little about mangrove and acacia trees in our Wadi El Gemal section, but the balanites aegyptiaca is an equally fascinating species and highly adept at desert survival.

Faces of Gebel Elba National Park & surrounding area –
Dec 2018 – 2.40 mins – 6+ likes – 130+ views
The Gebel Elba National Park landscape - photograph - ©Sherif Lofty 2018
The landscape of the national park is one of the most spectacular in Egypt.
Photograph – ©Sherif Lotfy 2018 – reproduced with his kind permission.

They are surprisingly tall, growing up to height of 10 metres, with long dark green spines portruding from which leaves emerge at the base.  The tree is highly resistant to camel grazing, livestock activity, drought and floods and its bitter but edible fruit usually appears even in periods of little or no rainfall. Parts of the tree have also sometimes been used for medicinal purposes and animal fodder although it’s not known whether it is used in a similar way locally.

Every view is unforgettable. The diversity of vegetation gradually increases with altitude.
Photograph – ©Sherif Lotfy 2018 – reproduced with his kind permission.

As the altitude increases inland, the diversity of vegetation increases to a maximum in the mid-altitude areas between 500 and 1000 metres, especially in the northern and north eastern regions of Gebel Elba which face the sea. The northern slopes in particular are marked by two wadis (or valleys) – Wadi Yahameib and Wadi Adeib, where the vegatation is so dense that a study of Google Earth satellite images (shown at the bottom of this page) reveal that there may be ten thousand or more trees in Wadi Adeib alone.  It is a virtual forest – something which you will not find anywhere else in Egypt’s Eastern Desert.   

Trip to the Gebel Elba National Park – Arabic commentary –
Mar 2019 – 14,29 mins – 450+ likes – 9,000+ views
A valley floor – note the well in the distance and what for Egypt is significant cloud cover. Photograph – ©Sherif Lotfy 2018 – reproduced with his kind permission.

At this altitude you will still see many acacias but they are also joined by the large 5 metre high delonix flowering trees, usually with a dense canopy of colourful fern like leaves.  In fact in some parts of the world it is grown for ornamental purposes and its’ (usually) red blooms have earned it the nickname of the flame tree.

Vehicle tracks leading in to the Gebel Elba National Park.
Photograph – ©Sherif Lotfy 2017 – reproduced with his kind permission.

Higher up, nearer the summit, you should be able to spot the strange looking maringa (or ben) tree.  Much of it is edible and the leaves are rich in protein as well as vitamins A, B and C and various minerals and protein too.

100 grams of fresh maringa leaves have twice the protein of 100 grams of Yoghurt, four times the calcium of 100 grams of milk, more potassium than 100 grams of banana, more vitamin A than 100 grams of carrots and more than 3 times the vitamin C as 100 grams of orange. There is probably no other “superfood” on earth which can compete with that.  Come on Tesco, Aldi and Wallmart – can we have fresh maringa leaves please !

A Bearded Vulture – Photo Richard Bartz – CC BY-SA 2.5 – via Wikimedia Commons.
A local Bedouin guide. Photograph ©Sherif Lotfy 2018 – reproduced with his kind permission.

However please note that the results of such nutrition analysis depends highly on the variety of maringa and also the soil and climate conditions. Nevertheless, it certainly could be the world’s next wonder crop.

The tree is fast growing and drought resistant.  And the multitude of tiny leaves it produces can help fight malnutrition and have also been used in traditional medicines worldwide to fight diseases.  And more besides.  

Two local Bedouin – ©Sherif Lotfy 2020 – reproduced with his kind permission

The ancient Egyptians and today’s Bedouin extracted oil from the seeds and have used it for perfumes, cooking and skin lotion.  In the autumn Bedouin men work, often in pairs, to harvest the seeds which hang in long pods from the tree and sell it on to middlemen who transport it to Cairo’s souks.

Portrait of a local Bedouin woman – ©Sherif Lotfy 2018 – reproduced with his kind permission
Egyptian vultures – Photo Rod Waddington – CC BY-SA 2.0 – via Flickr

However prices may soon increase. Although the marinda tree  remains relatively common in the Gebel Elba National Park,  in the Sinai this tree has been used extensively for firewood and has become endangered.

Birds of Prey in the Gebel Elba National Park

The Gebel Elba National Park is home to four species that are now rare in other parts of Egypt. These include –

1. The gypaetus barbatus or bearded vulture. They have a feathered head which differentiates them from bald old world vultures and a diamond shaped tail which is unusual for a bird of prey. Unlike most vultures, they have often been known to occasionally attack large live animals such as wounded goats, but seem to prefer to eat bone marrow rather than meat. 

Two vultures in the Gebel Elba National Park = but are they bearded or Egyptian vultures ? Les us know what you think by emailing Photograph – ©Sherif Lotfy 2020 – reproduced with his kind permission

Seen in the Gebel Elba National Park but is it the bearded or Egyptian vulture ? Please let us know what you think by emailing Photo – ©Sherif Lotfy 2020 – reproduced with his kind permission
Vultures – interesting facts 
May 2017 – 3.10 mins – 30K+ likes – 1.3 million+ views

2. The Egyptian vulture, sometimes known as pharaoh’s chicken.  They feed on carrion, small animals, birds, reptiles and eggs.  They are known sometimes to use tools – dropping a pebble for instance on a large egg in order to break it or twigs to roll up wool for their nests. However power lines and hunting elsewhere in Egypt have thought to have reduced their numbers, leaving the Gebel Ebel National Park as the bird’s last remaining “safe area” within Egypt.

3. Verreaux’s eagle, sometimes known as the black eagle.  It is a huge bird of prey with a wing span of up to 2.2 metres (same as the height of the world’s tallest man) and preys on small mammals such as the hyrax as well as large rodents.  Males and females pair off for life and sometimes even hunt together.   

Learn more about Egyptian vultures. Sept 2012 – 2.05 mins – 243+ likes – 32,000+ views


4. Bonelli’s eagle, a medium sized eagle, some 55 to 65vcm in length with a wingspan of up to 1.8 metres. It always hunts live prey, usually small mammals or birds. It has been occasionally known to foster chicks of the same species under the right conditions.  They are also extremely aggressive in the defence of their nests, sometimes fatally injuring other larger birds.

Mammals common to the Gebel Elba National Park

1. The Barbary sheep, a species of caprid (goat-antelope), originally from North Africa but which can now also be found in Spain, Texas and California. They are sandy brown in colour with distinctive horns curving backwards, and stand around 80 cm to a metre tall at the shoulder and vary greatly in weight, weighing anything from 40 kg to 140 kg.

The Desert Hyrax – This BBC video was shot in Oman – not Egypt.
Apr 2014 – 2.34 mins – 726+ likes – 59,000+views.

They like to have a siesta in the early afternoon but when active can be very agile – being able to achieve a standing jump of up to 2 metres. They are well suited to the difficult terrain of high mountains which helps them avoid predators at lower altitudes.

2. The aardwolf is a member of the hyena family and looks like a small hyena with pointy ears and a bushy tail, but without the sharp teeth and strong jaws.  Unlike other hyenas, the aardwolf doesn’t prey on other animals except occasionally carrion.  Its main interest is insects and its favourite food is termites – the aardwolf can eat up to 200,000 in a single night using its’ long sticky tongue.  They also enjoy maggots and grubs. Yum.  By day, it likes to sleep in a well hidden underground burrow. However, unlike the Barbary sheep, it prefers the lower coastal plain and is seldom found on the higher slopes of Gebel Elba.  Nor can it be found anywhere else in Egypt outside the Gebel Elba National Park.  

An Aardwolf – Photo: Ltshears – CC BY-SA 3.0 – via Wikimedia Commons

3. The striped polecat or zorilla,  a member of the weasel family and looking similar to the North American Skunk.  Within Egypt, the species is only found in the Gebel Elba National Park. The striped polecat is usually 50 to 60 cm in length (including its tail), but surprisingly light in weight – even the larger males rarely weigh more than 1.4 kg – that’s considerably less than your average chihuahua ! But don’t let its’ small size fool you.  It is a ferocious carnivore with extremely sharp teeth and its’ diet includes rodents, birds and even snakes. Its rear end is equally dangerous and it can spray any animal that dares come near (normally inquisitive dogs) with a noxious fluid that will temporarily blinds it.  

A striped polecat displayed at the Natural History Museum at Genoa.
Photo – Mariomassone – CC BY-SA 3.0 – via Wikimedia Commons.

4. The genet, which is related to the mongoose and more distantly to cats. They are very agile with amazing climbing skills, aided by their very long tails which acts as a counterweight when they are perched on a high branch or rock.   They are nocturnal animals but can sometimes be spotted around dusk and just after sunrise.   

5. The Egyptian leopard ( nimr in Arabic ), last heard and tracked in the Gebel Elba National Park in 1994, but not seen. A Bashari tribesman also reported one at a waterhole in 1991. Unfortunately, there have been no recent sightings and it might now be extinct within Egypt.  However it’s hard to be sure as they are very wary and evasive nocturnal animals. Bedouin in the Sinai have also claimed to have seen the local sub-species recently but if they have survived in Egypt, Gebel Elba is the most likely location to still find them. They feed on mammals of any size as well as birds and reptiles although in the Gebel Elba region the Ibex and the rabbit like rock hyrax would probably be their favourite prey.   

Amazing video of the Genet – but this one not in Egypt.
Oct 2018 – 3.13 mins – 240+ likes – 19,900+views.


6. The rock hyrax ( wabar in Arabic ) is definitely the cutest looking of all the Parks’ animals – a little rabbit like in appearance with long whiskers, a short neck but no tail.  It lives in large highly socialized groups and usually close to rocky cliff areas.  They are active in the day, especially early morning and just before sunrise you have a good chance of spotting them but they will quickly disappear. Always on the alert to danger, one member of the colony usually keeps a look out for predators, especially verreaux’s eagle. The hyrax’s diet is mostly vegetarian, especially acacia leaves and seeds, although occasionally they may eat insects and even small reptiles.   

Some huge boulders in the national park. One possible habitat to spot the evasive rock hyrax.  ©Sherif Lotfy 2018 – reproduced with his kind permission

You might also be able to see the feral donkey or wild ass, Ruppel’s sand fox, the Ethiopian hedgehog, the ibex and the timid but still numerous dorcas gazelle, for which some basic information is given on our Wadi El Gemal page.

The Rock Hyrax – Photo – Yaef & Amihay -CC BY 2.0 – via Wikimedia Commons
The amazing greenery of the park provides a welcome habitat for a diverse range of species.  ©Sherif Lotfy 2018 – reproduced with his kind permission

Geology: The mountains in the park were formed approximately 550 million years ago from hot magma which forced its’ way up through the earth’s surface.

Environmental threats: The region has been suffering from a prolonged drought with the water table edging lower year by year, and the usual mist cloud that surrounds Mount Elba often absent.  

As the population has increased, overgrazing has become an increasing problem as well as the increased felling of Acacia and other trees for firewood.  There has also been an increase in the feral dog population which has posed a threat to some of the Parks’ mammals including the Ibex and the Polecat.

The endangered hyrax. Fascinating BBC video but not filmed in Egypt.
Jul 2009 – 1.38 mins – 157+ likes- 33,000+ views.


Below is a map of the Mount Elba sector of the Gebel Elba National Park.
Source – Library of Texas – Map in the public domain. Please note this map was last updated in the 1930s and 1940s. Neither it nor any other map on this website should be relied upon for navigation. Entrance into the Gebel Elba National Park requires a permit and a guide.


Source: Library of Texas – in the public domain. Map last updated in the 1920s and 1930s. No maps on this website should be used for navigation. Entrance to the Gebel Elba National Park requires a permit and a guide.


Showing how green the northern slopes and particularly Wadi Adeib were in 2004