sights are on every list of see before you die...,
Cairo's pyramids, the fantastic temples, tombs and monuments of
Luxor and Abu Simbel and the endless desert bisected by the lush
length of the Egypt's Nile River.
Cairo is chaotic and grubby but offers magnificent buildings, a
thousand years of drama, the Egyptian Museum and the world's best
The people too are friendly and hospitable if you get a chance relax
with them, the sky is almost always azure, the scuba and snorkelling
in the Red Sea are world class and Egypt tours are inexpensive if you choose. This is North Africa at its very best.
are there so many marvellous things' Herodotus
- Hustlers/touts are a tiresome part of the Egypt tourist experience, along
with hideous buildings, garbage growing like weeds and flies.
- Taxi meters don't work so expect endless arguments if you don't
firmly negotiate beforehand.
- The big sights can get horrifically overcrowded in peak seasons
at peak times.
Weather in Egypt:
Best time to go:
October - May for main sights, and April-November for dive places.
Worst seasons: Christmas in Egypt and Easter school holidays are hugely overpriced and
overcrowded while June-September is massively hot, especially around Luxor and Aswan; expect 35C-45C+/ 95F-113F+.
In wintertime, December-February, nights will be chilly in Cairo but with T-shirt days. The further north the colder, so Alexandria might be unpleasantly chilly, according to personal acclimatisation
Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, is not a very good time as some services falter while people can be snippy as they don't/shouldn't eat at all during the day. Ramadan dates: 9 July-7 August 2013.
Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: 4 days (Cairo only) Recommended: 2 weeks - 4 weeks for an all-Egypt encounter.
***Cairo, the Sphinx and Pyramids. These are sensational
sights and shouldn't be hurried. Take a couple of days if possible,
climb inside a pyramid and have a camel ride, horse ride or walk
into the desert on the far side of the pyramids. Photos
There are no café facilities nearby so bring plenty of water.
The excellent Egyptian
Museum is more than worthwhile to see the incredible pharaonic
treasures such as King Tutankhamun's gold chair, ceremonial hat, burial
Khan-el-Khalili is a large, lively
and labyrinthine bazaar, arguably the best in North Africa, with a stupendous selection of excellent
souvenirs, but it's definitely a must haggle situation!
More Pyramids? There are plenty more smaller, earlier pyramids a
little south of Cairo at Saqqara,
including the famous Step Pyramid. These are easily accessible by
taxi. Or for more adventure drive out to the Fayum Oasis for rural
Egyptian life and more pyramids.
Cairo needs at least three days,and it's a long way north of Luxor.
***Luxor is Egypt's second do-not-miss with a variety of magnificent temples
and tombs, including the Valley of the Kings, Colossi of Memnon,
Hatshepsut, Karnak and Luxor Temples.
Stay on the calmer west bank if possible - there's now a bridge -
and/or trail around the temples before/ after the package tourist
rush to try to absorb the majesty of the structures outside the
tourist frenzy. Photos
Taking a sailing boat (felucca) onto the Nile (with an Egyptian
skipper) is a delightful way to escape the crowds, especially for
sunset, but - as with taxis - carefully negotiate a price beforehand
- and take your own drink if you want a sundowner.
Luxor needs at least three days and is a few hundred miles
south of Cairo so will require a flight or overnight train journey
**Aswan is a beautiful place for boating on the Nile and laid backism, though
it hardly deserves time if you're pressed Photos.
There are no monuments here but it's on the way to the Temple of
Ramases II at **Abu Simbel, a 180 mile
road trip or short flight, Photos.
Aswan suffers a similar problem to Luxor regarding Nile tourist
boat overload, though a boat trip down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan,
stopping off at a couple of wonderful, monumental temples on the
way - Edfu and Kom Ombo - is a great way to experience the Nile.
Sinai peninsula, east side:
Sharm el Sheikh is a classic
beach resort without much ethnic style but comfortable and with
a wide selection of water sports, superb snorkelling and diving
near the beach and plenty of long-haul dive options.
Neo-hippy ***Dahab, 85km (53 miles)
north into the Gulf of Aqaba is terrific for low-cost style, scuba,
snorkelling and chilling out but doesn't offer much in the way of
Further into the Gulf Nuweiba and Taba offer more formal beach resort
**Red Sea mainland,
Hurghada town, on the other side of
the Red Sea is brash, modern, fast food and package tour hell, distant
from public beaches, with no connection to Egypt at all, though
comfortable and sunny - naturally. i.e. not a place for
independent travellers. Photos.
However up and down the coast there are many fine beach resorts
if you don't require an ethnic experience.
A couple of hours north of Cairo via either the Nile delta road
or the desert road, Alex was once renowned for its 400 ft lighthouse
- an ancient world wonder, its massive library and its psychotic
and incestuous Ptolemy dynasty. Now Alexandria is little more than
one of Egypt's Mediterranean ports and with no decent beaches or
ancient sites is not superficially attractive.
However! Fort Qaitbey,
possibly the bottom part of the lighthouse, lurks there at the harbour
entrance, the Great Library of Alexandria has been rebuilt with some help from
UNESCO, a couple of new museums are loaded with weird and wonderful
jewellery, statues, furniture and other recently released artifactsand there's a real live underwater museum out in the harbour where Greek
wrecks dissolve but Cleopatra's Palace and its stone sphinxes and
statues are permanent homes to a thousand fish - that you will be
served for dinner later...
Furthermore, if you head west towards Libya from Alex sensational
long white beaches soon appear, especially around Mersa Matruh,
though facilities may be extremely limited, so bring everything
you need... and remember, it's still the Mediterranean so the water
will not be warm November - May. Air temperatures will be in the mid 40C's (over 110F) for the three summer months.
Riding: camels and horses, especially near the Giza pyramids
or around Sinai Red Sea resorts. Overnight trips are possible for
the more adventurous.
Sailing: laze for an afternoon or voyage
a few days down the Nile in a felucca (open old sail boat); a local captain is necessary.
Biking: not much generally, though
tooling around Luxor - especially the rural west bank - on two wheels
is a terrific way to see the sights.
Scuba and snorkeling: In the Red Sea/Gulf
of Aqaba around Sharm
el Sheikh or Dahab, the former an upmarket resort town, the
latter a more laid back village. Both of them have first-class dive
shops and equipment available and excellent coral right near the
shore, with some superb dives a little further out.
Also dive from Hurghada and other new resorts on the mainland Red
Alternatively for something different dive into 'Cleopatra's Palace',
an underwater treasure in Alexandia's harbour, courtesy of Alexandria
Walking: other than around towns, not
much fun - except maybe a walk to St Catherine's monastery in the
22 Feb, Abu Simbel Festival one of the two days when the rising
sun hits the three key statues inside the temple, courtesy of Ramases
II. See the light and party!
22 Oct, Abu Simbel Festival, as above.
220v, 2 round pin plugs.
A few traditional African don'ts:
Don't drink juices or iced drinks outside good hotels, though ice-cream
from a smart shop should be OK.
Don't swim or paddle in slow moving parts of the Nile River, it
harbours a tiny, aggressive worm, that triggers a disease known
Mosquitoes are not usually malarial in these tourist areas
but they are a nuisance, so read Mosquitoes.
the sun is extremely hot in south Egypt so don't
overexpose yourself or you will endanger your holiday.
This is a low cost destination. ATMs are in short supply but credit
cards can be used in many places and banks will supply necessary
cash. Traveller's Cheques are widely accepted too.
Haggling is a part of market and transport (taxis, camels, horses)
life and should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. With care you could
get half or two-thirds off the first asking price.
Do NOT make an offer if you are not willing to back it up with cash!
Most Egyptians are cheerful, friendly, deeply religious Muslims
who will welcome you to their country and prefer to give than take.
However a small number will be happy to relieve you of your wallet
if you are dumb enough to leave it in your back pocket in a crowded
Tourist areas including Red Sea resorts these days are ringed by
police and army to prevent fundamentalists disturbing (again) Egypt's
key revenue source, tourism.
These guys can be a total pain and you need to learn to
handle them to really enjoy your Egyptian experience.
Don't ignore them or swear at them!
Look briefly at them and firmly say 'La!' (No) or 'La, shookrun'
(no, thank you).
If it's boys try 'Emshi ya walid!' (go away, boy!')
Then there's 'Mish owse hagga' (I don't want anything') for the
If you're getting on well with an Egyptian say 'Al hamdou lillah'
(praise God) when you/he mention something positive, or 'Inshallah'
(God willing) when you discuss the future e.g. See you tomorrow,
Hamed. Inshallah.' He will be delighted!
The souvenir possibilities are massive. This is probably the best
African destination, and perhaps ANY destination for colour, variety,
utility and price (if you haggle), though there's plenty of neo-Nefertiti
rubbish around too for the undiscerning.
Some great buys are gold and silver jewelry, camel leather bags,
rugs, brass flower pots, weird glassware and ceramics.
Don't even think buses in Egyptian towns, they're dirty, packed,
incomprehensible and may result in a pocket picking.
Taxis and horse carts are fine, but it is vital to negotiate
the price before you depart or you may end with a truly horrific
Local staples such as beans, rice, tomatoes, stringy chicken and
bread won't take a hungry traveller very far though falafel (mashed, fried, beans with garlic)with tomatoes in pitta bread kept me going for years. There's plenty
of international food choice available at reasonable prices.
Alcohol is not a problem.
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Map | Egypt
Pyramids | Red Sea | Luxor | Aswan