My first visit to Egypt enthralled me. So much so, that I knew I’d go back one day… I just didn’t think it would take me 20 years! Nevertheless, my expectations for a return visit were high to begin with, but this trip 2 decades later exceeded them all!
Egypt is a destination that any serious Globetrotter worth their salt will visit, at least once in their life. Don’t delay. There are so many reasons to travel to Egypt – 5000 years of history for starters – but there is a limited window of opportunity to see Egypt in all her glory, without the crowds. Here are ten compelling reasons to visit the land of the Pharaohs now.
Look Ma, no people!
What do the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings, Luxor Temple, Karnak, Abu Simbel and Hatshepsut’s Temple have in common? They are all iconic sites that owe their creation to the great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. They also currently can be viewed in all their glory with no crowds. It is awe-inspiring to view these antiquities that have survived millennia. These incredible feats of engineering and architecture that modern man, with all our technology, would be hard-pressed to recreate today. It is a privilege to view these sites with very few tourists around. Just you and your extremely knowledgeable guide – a qualified Egyptologist, who brings the history to life.
Cruise the Nile
In Egypt’s heyday, or even as recently as 2010, there were more than 300 cruiseships sailing the Nile. (The Nile River is one of a few in the world that flows from south to north.) Today that number is as low as 25. While Upper Egypt is slightly busier than the rest of the country, it’s still far from crowded. Service is personal, sites are open for business, and it is truly a pleasure to watch the scenes of everyday life on the banks of the Nile. It’s easy to see why the Nile is considered the “lifeblood” of Egypt. We watched Feluccas plying their trade, fishermen – fishing either from their boats or from the bank, farmers plowing their crops the traditional way, and even a father teaching his son to swim. Even with so few, comparatively, boats on the Nile, you are spoilt for choice. Whether your preference is an all-suite deluxe cruiser with your own personal balcony or a Dahabiya – an upscale luxurious boutique sailing boat, you’ll find the vessel for you, all at an exceptional price.
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is world-renowned for housing the world’s most extensive collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities, too many in fact, to display. It’s well worth paying the additional amount to visit the Treasures of Tutankhamun and the Mummies room. The grand old building that it’s housed in is looking a little tired, but it in no way detracts from the riches housed therein. Currently a new ‘Grand Egyptian Museum’ is being built near the pyramids. This will be significantly larger than the current museum, and it’s expected to be completed in 2017. The Egyptian Museum is just one of many museums in Egypt. Don’t pass up on some of the smaller, but extremely well curated ones, such as the Alexandria National Museum in Alexandria. This museum chronicles the city’s history from antiquity until the modern period.
When I first travelled to Egypt, I attended the wedding of a good friend. It was the first time I encountered the incredible energy and joie de vivre of the average Egyptian – not to mention, their stamina and proclivity for late nights (the wedding started at 11pm and when I dragged myself to bed at 4am, the party was still in full swing!). Egyptians are extremely family focused. They are optimistic, have great humour, and are thrilled to showcase their country. Since so many Egyptians rely on tourism for their livelihood, the last four years have been very difficult. I say again, it’s time to visit!
Sharm el Sheikh
Regarded as one of the premier scuba diving destinations in the world, Sharm El Sheikh has a lot more to offer than just the attractions of the Red Sea. It’s a great beach resort with warm clear water, making it a great stand alone vacation, or the perfect way to relax at the end of a cultural tour of Egypt. What makes Sharm so special is the proximity of mountains, sea, and desert. Experience the desert from the back of a camel, or take a quad bike excursion. Eat dinner under the stars and enjoy a traditional meal whilst being entertained by belly dancers and whirling dervishes. (The stars are truly spectacular because of the lack of light pollution). Consider a side trip to Mount Sinai (and St. Catherine’s Monastery) and follow in the footsteps of Moses. Of course, a snorkel or dive excursion is mandatory!
4-Day Sharm El Sheikh
Imagine staying in a hotel that has entertained presidents and movie stars, prime ministers and kings. A hotel where the course of World War ll was irrevocably changed. The Mena House is just such a hotel. If nothing else, its impressive location at the foot of the Pyramids, would make it a “Stay of Distinction.” Egypt has a number of these historic properties – the Old Cataract in Aswan – where Agatha Christie wrote “Death on the Nile”; the Cairo Marriott, originally built as a palace to house Princess Eugenie for the opening of the Suez Canal*, and the Winter Palace in Luxor, where Howard Carter, who located King Tutankhamen’s tomb, was a regular visitor. All these properties perfectly encapsulate the spirit of Egypt.
*The new Suez Canal is opening on August 6, 2015
Markets and Shopping
One of the best markets I’ve been to is the Khan el Khalili market located in Old Cairo. Egyptians have plied their trades here since the 14th century and you feel like you’ve stepped into an old time Arab souk. This ancient maze of streets, lanes, and stores is great to explore. Definitely a place to practice your haggling skills, you can find everything from jewelry, glass, copper, glassware, sandals, leather ware, as well as carpets, spices, and gold. While the Khan el Khalili is the best-known market in Egypt, there are many other touristic and local markets throughout Egypt which are well worth the visit.
Shopping though is not limited to markets. Throughout Cairo you will see international brands from Tommy Hilfiger to Ikea. There are also many artisan shops where you can buy directly from the artist. You will almost certainly be taken to one of the many tourist shops selling papyrus, jewelry (particularly the Cartouche – your name in hieroglyphics in either gold, silver, or a combination of the two), and perfumes. Here you will always be offered a refreshment (hibiscus or mint tea) and also have the opportunity to use their spotless washrooms, however, you will need to listen to a demonstration of their wares.
This was my first visit to Alexandria, and in my opinion, it should be included in any visit to Egypt. Founded by Alexander the Great and once the seat of Cleopatra, this gem on the Mediterranean offers so much. Alexandria’s ancient library was one of the wonders of the ancient world. The new Bibliotheca which opened in 2002 has become one of Egypt’s major cultural venues – it is truly in a class of its own. There are many other exceptional sites to see including the Catacombs, Pompey’s Pillar, Montazah Palace Gardens, and the aforementioned Alexandria National Museum. If you happen to be a diver, there is a whole ancient city to discover underwater.
Alexandria is a cosmopolitan city with excellent restaurants, particularly if you love fresh seafood. Spend one or two nights and then drive back to Cairo via the battle site of El Alamein, one of the decisive victories of World War II.
Having just returned from Egypt in their summer, I will say it is not for the faint-hearted. That being said, the hottest period of June, July, and August is also considered the lowest season, thus the already low prices are even lower, letting you truly have Egypt to yourself. For the rest of the year, Egypt offers a warm and dry climate. Their winter months, November to March, are mild and the perfect time to escape the colder North American climates.
Value for money
I’ve hardly touched on Egypt’s incredible history, the beautiful weather, and the spectacular scenery. All compelling reasons to visit in their own right. Perhaps one of the most important reasons to travel now is that these prices will not be seen again. The value that you get when booking an Egypt holiday is unsurpassed. Featuring deluxe properties at moderate prices, added value, and exceptional service – the time to go is NOW.
10-Day Classic Egypt Summer Special
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