If Egypt is on your travel bucket list and you have time and some money, now might be the right moment in years to visit the country which is a treasure trove of historical sites and natural vistas. From the beauty of Red Sea, the oases of the desert and the wonders along the Nile, you can never get enough of Egypt but you must always try. In this blog, we barely scratch the surface exploring one of the greatest African countries.
Many travellers to Egypt believe that the sights offered by the ancient city of Luxor are probably the best in the entire country. While equal number of visitors would disagree with this statement, Luxor indeed has the charm and history to take you back to the days when Pharaohs ruled the deserts of Egypt and everything in between them.
Located on the east bank of the Nile is the magnificent Luxor Temple – a complex from 1400 BC dedicated for crowning the kings of Egypt (both in person and in absence). While the site is definitely captivating in broad daylight, the light show after sunset adds more mystery to the temple, leaving visitors enthralled. Equally jaw dropping is the Karnak Temple which is believed to be second most visited site in Egypt. The vast complex comprises many temples, chapels and pylons, built incrementally over a period of several years.
On the west bank is the Temple of Hatshepsut, believed to be the only temple dedicated to a woman pharaoh. A mortuary in essence, this temple is part of the Theban Necropolis and includes Mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II and Temple of Thutmose III. Speaking of the necropolis, at the heart of it is the Valley of the Kings – a valley with tombs cut out in rocks for the pharaohs and their many noble. With its 63 tombs and chambers, the valley was the main burial site for the Egyptian New Kingdom which lasted from 16 BC to 11 BC.
Travelling in Egypt can be quite hectic; the bustling crowd, traffic on the roads and dense built environment. Hurghada provides you the perfect escape from all of this. Located on the serene Red Sea coast, Hurghada is everything a relaxing dream is made of – crystal clear waters, friendly people and peace of mind which comes with a small town.
Start your exploration by going to the El Dahar Square and take a walk through its traditional souks; buy something or not or just enjoy the atmosphere. As a city centre, this is also the right place to explore different packages for the many sports activities Hurghada offers and is famous for. From scuba diving to ‘submarine’ trips into the Red Sea, you will find plenty of options to enjoy the sandy beaches and the colourful coral reefs.
If – unfortunately – Hurghada is the only city you will visit in Egypt, take some time out to visit Mini Egypt, an outdoor educational park which takes you through miniature models of Egypt’s most famous landmarks. For some indoor fun, head to Hurghada Grand Aquarium to be spellbound by hundreds of sea animals from various species.
Known for its Nubian lifestyle, Aswan is the southernmost tourist city of Egypt along the Nile. In ancient times, Nubia was a region spreading from Aswan in Egypt to Khartoum in Sudan and was host of an empire separate from the Egyptian one. The modern city has many sites to visit and several wonders to enjoy; Nubian Museum to get heads up on the history of this great region, Elephantine island for its archaeological attractions and El Nabatat Island for its exotic trees and plants from all over the world.
But no visitor to Aswan should leave the place without going to the Abu Simbel temples. These larger than life rock temples are dedicated to Ramesses II and his queen Nefertari and are located close to the border of Sudan. The larger temple dedicated to the king is known for its alignment with the sun in such a way that every year on October 22 and February 22, the rays enter the sanctuary and light up the sculptures on the back wall of the temple. A visit to the temple requires some planning because cheap, government-supported trips take place only twice a day and private visits could be very expensive. However, it is not difficult.
A brilliant contrast to Cairo in terms of its size and views, Alexandria takes your breath away with its pristine Mediterranean waters and unique history. Believed to be founded by Alexander the Great, the city was home to one of the ancient wonders of the world – the Lighthouse of Alexandria. No sign of this great naval marvel remains today and the site now hosts the Citadel of Qaitbay, a 15th-century defensive fortress of the Mamluk dynasty which ruled Egypt until the arrival of the Ottomans. With its vast grounds and views of the sea, the citadel is a nice stop for some peaceful time among the crowds.
Another brilliant attraction not to be missed is the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. To rekindle its ancient status as the capital of knowledge and learning, the city built the library in remembrance of the ancient Great Library of Alexandria. Visited with equal enthusiasm by both locals and tourists, the library is a cultural centre and training school.
Cairo, the ever-expanding capital of Egypt, is the country’s biggest city with its 20-million strong population. The layers of history that make Cairo are so many that even a lifetime is not enough to uncover everything – something true for the entire Egypt but most notable with Cairo.
If Cairo is your final stop in your Egypt tour, then head to the Egyptian Museum where all that you have seen so far in the country will start to make sense. With over 100,000 pieces of antiquity from all over Egypt, the museum is overflowing with history spanning over 5,000 years. If too overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of its collection, walk to the Tahrir Square and find a peaceful spot in the midst of the crazy roundabout – a magic only Cairo can offer.
Despite being notorious among locals for its high prices, one must visit Khan El Khalili bazaar for its winding streets and all that a heart desires in Egypt. The bazaar is also a great option for trying famous Egyptian food and the Al-Hussain Mosque nearby can give a nice peek into the everyday life of practicing Muslims. Another such wonderful street experience is offered by Muizz Street, which is one of the oldest streets in Cairo and has the highest number of medieval architectural treasures in the Islamic world.
Things to keep in mind
The places and experiences mentioned above are by no means exhaustive and every visitor should do their own research to make sure they see sites of their interest. No blog can ever compress a country as diverse as Egypt in just few hundred words, neither can a visitor see all of it. But as we make these humble attempts, here are few things visitors to Egypt keep in mind:
- Students get 50% discount on almost all the historical sites across Egypt. The country is already cheap and further discounts add cherry on the top.
- The trains between major cities are usually always booked; so if you are on a spontaneous plan across Egypt, either book a day or two ahead or be open to last minute changes in your plan. The train tickets can also be booked online and foreigners are usually advised to do so as there’s reportedly a limit to the number of tickets foreigners can book at the station.
- If train is not an option, there are private bus services running between cities which are cheap and of good quality. The most reliable one is GoBus, with professional service and affordable prices. If using other services, be very careful because some buses go through every small village along the route and take double the time as compared to trains.
- Most importantly, tip – often called bakhshish – is very common all over Egypt. The interesting thing is that you might not even realise when and why you end up paying it. Locals often offer help and in the end, ask for tip for their unsolicited assistance.
- And, as all visitors are told, Egypt likes to haggle. The chances of a huge discount may be lower for foreigners but no item is worth the price mentioned the first time – usually. So try your best and get what you want, at a price which will make both you and the shopkeeper happy.