Skip past the photos to the Egypt, reasons to go and highlights here.
Egypt – Should You Go?
Yep, no doubt about it. Unless you have been living in an isolated bubble, you already know why you should go. Egypt does not disappoint at all – as a travel destination it’s almost perfect! I went for 8 days taking in a Nile cruise and all the major sites, plus some minor ones. On top of the phenomenal amount of fascinating history I found a strong liking for the Egyptian style of Mediterranean cuisine.
Must do and see
The Pyramids of Giza
Just outside Cairo, this is what most people will think of when they think of Egypt. The Great Pyramid is one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world – and you can see why when you get up close and go inside. We started off at the photo-taking spots about 1 km away and gradually got closer – which is a good way to do it. At a distance you get to see the 3 pyramids that supposedly align with the belt of Orion.
I hadn’t realised how enormous The Great Pyramid actually is until I got right up to it. I spent a lot of time just gawping at it, trying to imagine what it looked like in its true former glory, and trying to fathom what the minds behind it were thinking of when they decided to build it. Take a stroll around the base to get a feel for the size – the individual blocks are huge. I found myself wondering about the construction and the humans that cut, dragged and put the massive stones in place – phenomenal.
Once inside the big one, you will need to do some crawling through some pretty narrow tunnels if you want to get to the main burial chamber inside. If you’re not claustrophobic (I had to talk a fellow tourist down from a panic attack) it is well worth it. The stone sarcophagus is all that remains in there but the feeling inside is an experience you won’t forget. You are standing in a chamber surrounded by millions of tons of rock, built several thousand years ago for the most important pharaoh of the time. I found it mind-blowing.
This icon of Egyptian history is just behind the main pyramids at Giza, so you won’t miss it. Where the pyramids were bigger than I expected, The Sphinx was smaller. Not disappointing in the slightest though – it was awesome. If you have ever been to the British Museum in London you may have even seen the Sphinx’s beard, because the British stole it along with a bunch of other stuff back in old days of the empire.
If you are up for a 4 am flight to catch the sunrise at the temples then you won’t be sorry about how tired you are later. We had to do this as we were based in Aswan at the time. Alternatively, you can book into a hotel at Abu Simbel village itself if you get that far south. If you get chance before going, watch “Death on the Nile” – the movie based on the Agatha Christie book. It features the Abu Simbel Temples along with other sights in the country.
Cruise on the Nile
A few days on the Nile is great to relax and watch the countryside go by. The river has been fundamental to the Egyptian peoples for millennia. It’s a really smooth trip and the boat we were on moored every night, so we got a good night’s sleep.
Valley of the Kings
Loads to look at here, even though all the tombs are not open at once. I must admit I started to get information overload at this point. So many names and dates of ancient pharaohs and nobles to remember. I found myself more interested in the process of mummification, and why they thought it so important. The Egyptians had an amazingly elaborate belief system about death and the afterlife – they were utterly obsessed.
Near Luxor, this huge complex has loads to see. Everything here (and most other places too) is covered in the iconic hieroglyphics. Literally every surface of every wall and column is used up.
Another big, impressive site (The Temple of Horus) packed full of wall carvings, hieroglyphics and history.
Maybe do and also see
The Egyptian Museum is the highlight here. It houses the famous gold mask of the boy-king Tutankhamun, along with a fabulous array of mummies, statues, carvings and ancient artefacts. The capital has various markets and bazaars selling the usual touristy stuff. The mosque was interesting.
Set on an island near Aswan, you get a boat to it. This is one of the last (or last) temples to be built and is surprisingly recent. The last hieroglyphics were also written here. It was in use by the Cult of Isis up until about AD 500.
Aswan High Dam
Interesting feat of engineering. Good to stop at and look around for a bit. The construction of the dam meant that several of Egypt’s historical sites had to be relocated.
- Egypt felt safe in 2010. Security at hotels, museums and the main tourist attractions was airport-like. Terrorist activity declined dramatically in the country after the 1997 attacks.
- If you have never been to a North African country, be prepared for hassles of various types. Compared to Tunisia, they’re more intense in Egypt. They are mostly benign in nature and revolve around people trying to sell you things and/or rip you off. It can seem very “in your face” to begin with but after a while it just becomes tedious. I just remember that I am a visitor to the country and compared to the locals I am fabulously wealthy.
- If you take a guided tour, be prepared for unexpected stop offs at perfume shops and the like.
- Egypt’s main religion is Islam, so you might want to observe the rules. It’s not too strict, you can buy alcohol in restaurants and you can get away with modest, conservative western clothing that covers legs and shoulders.
- I went early December – sunny, dry and mostly cool temperatures.