Welcome to Egypt
Perhaps no other people in the world say ‘Welcome’ so frequently – and mean it every time. Egypt’s ancient civilization still awes, but today’s Egyptians are pretty amazing, too.
Pyramids & More
With sand-covered tombs, austere pyramids and towering Pharaonic temples, Egypt brings out the explorer in all of us. Visit the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, where Tutankhamun’s tomb was unearthed, and see the glittering finds in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Hop off a Nile boat to visit a waterside temple, or trek into the desert to find the traces of Roman trading outposts. You never know – your donkey might stumble across yet another find, just as many previous discoveries were made.
Egypt once ruled an empire from al- Qahira – Cairo, the City Victorious. The metropolis is packed with soaring minarets, and medieval schools and mosques, some of the greatest architecture of medieval Islam. At the same time, Egypt’s native Christians, the Copts, have carried on their traditions that in many respects – such as the church’s liturgical language and the traditional calendar – link back to the time of the pharaohs. Tap into the history in remote monasteries and ancient churches.
Beaches & Beyond
That empty beach with nothing but a candlelit cabin, and a teeming coral reef offshore: they’re waiting for you in Egypt. The coast along the Red Sea has a rugged desert beauty above the waterline and a psychedelic vibrancy below – rewarding to explore on a multiday outing to one of the globe’s great wreck dives or on an afternoon’s snorkelling jaunt along a coral wall
Whether you’re watching the sun rise from the lofty heights of Mt Sinai (Gebel Musa) or the shimmering horizon from the comfort of a hot spring in Siwa Oasis, Egypt’s desert landscapes are endlessly fascinating – good thing, because they make up 95% of the country. In a land where time is measured by dynasties, and distance by the setting sun, there are plenty of opportunities to relax into the infinite expanse of sand and sea.
Egypt is the most traveller-friendly country in the Middle East. This means you’ll enjoy cheap buses, decent budget places to sleep, English spoken to some degree everywhere and even good cold beers. It also means that if you ever get into a jam, an Egyptian will likely be there to help you out. Then again, an Egyptian will also be there to sell you some papyrus or perfume – an undeniable reality of travel here. But the souvenir sales are a minor irritant when compared with the chance to connect with some of the world’s most generous people.
Pyramids of Giza
Towering over the urban sprawl of Cairo and the desert plains beyond, the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx are at the top of every traveller’s itinerary. Bring lots of water, an empty memory card and plenty of patience! You’ll have to fend off lots of people pushing horse rides and Bedouin headdresses in order to enjoy this ancient funerary complex, but no trip to Egypt is complete without a photo of you in front of the last surviving ancient wonder of the world.
With the greatest concentration of ancient Egyptian monuments anywhere in Egypt, Luxor rewards time spent here. You can spend days or weeks around this town, walking through the columned halls of the great temples on the east bank of the Nile, such as the Ramesseum, or climbing down into the tombs of pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank. Time spent watching the sun rise over the Nile or set behind the Theban hills are some of Egypt’s unforgettable moments.
Cruising the Nile
The Nile is Egypt’s lifeline, the artery that runs through the entire country, from south to north. Only by setting adrift on it can you appreciate its importance and its beauty, and more practically, only by boat can you see some archaeological sites as they were meant to be seen. Sailing is the slowest and most relaxing way to go, but even from the deck of a multistorey floating hotel you’re likely to glimpse the magic.
It may not be the highest of Sinai’s craggy peaks, but Mt Sinai is the peninsula’s most sacred. A place of pilgrimage for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, the summit affords the magnificent spectacle of light washing over the sea of surrounding mountaintops. Down below, tucked into the mountain’s base, is the St Katherine’s Monastery. Its sturdy Byzantine fortifications are built over the spot where Moses is believed to have witnessed the burning bush.
Laid-back Dahab, a midsized town near the southern tip of the Sinai, is Egypt’s version of a chill pill, the place for ruinfatigued travellers to cast off the history lessons and recuperate in one of the small-scale beachfront hotels. Once your batteries have recharged, dive into Dahab’s famous underwater world or organise some desert adventure fun. Though you may find you’re also seduced by the joy of doing nothing for a few more days.
Whether you travel by 4WD, camel or foot, for a couple of hours or a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to taste the simple beauty and isolation of wildest Egypt. The highlights of an excursion in Egypt’s Western Desert include camping among the surreal formations of the White Desert, crossing the mesmerising dunes of the Great Sand Sea and heading deep into the desert to live out English Patient fantasies at the remote Gilf Kebir
The incessant salesmanship of Egyptians makes more sense when you see it at work in Egypt’s historic heart, the souq. Here vendors are set up cheek by jowl, all hawking their wares in their set district, cajoling and haggling and sometimes just shouting louder than the competition. Visit a centuries-old souq such as Cairo’s famous Khan al-Khalili first, and you’ll see its pattern at work even in ad hoc modern markets such as the Souq al-Gomaa . Along the way, pick up dusty antiques, King Tut kitsch … or even a donkey.
It’s impossible not to relax in an oasis – here, with the endless desert shimmering on the horizon, you can float in hot springs or explore the remains of ancient Roman outposts and tribal villages. In Siwa ,the Dahab of the desert, cold springs and palm groves keep you cool during the day. In Dakhla, the restored mudbrick town of Al-Qasr gives a glimpse of centuries-old oasis living. It’s easy to spend enough time out here to make the long drive worth it.
Red Sea Diving
Egypt’s Sinai and Red Sea coastlines are the doorstep to a wonderland that hides below the surface. Whether you’re a seasoned diving pro or a first-timer, Egypt’s underwater world of coral cliffs, colourful fish and spookily beautiful wrecks is just as staggeringly impressive as the sights above. Bring out your inner Jacques Cousteau by exploring the enigmatic wreck of WWII cargo ship the Thistlegorm, a fascinating museum spread across the sea bed.
Ramses II built Abu Simbel a long way south of Aswan, along his furthest frontier and just beyond the Tropic of Cancer. But these two enormous temples are a marvel of modern engineering as well: in the 1960s they were relocated, block by block, to their current site to protect them from the flooding of Lake Nasser. To appreciate the isolation, spend the night at Abu Simbel, either on a boat on the lake or at Nubian cultural centre and ecolodge Eskaleh
Abydos & Dendara
Time is short and everyone wants to see the Pyramids, Tutankhamun’s gold and the Valley of the Kings. But some of the most rewarding moments are to be had away from the crowds in the less visited monuments, where you can contemplate the ancients’ legacy in peace. Nowhere is this truer than at Abydos, one of the most sacred spots along the Nile, and Dendara, one of the world’s best-preserved ancient temples. They’re north of Luxor – the opposite direction from the tour buses.