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Cairo

8 Jan


Building silhouettes in Old Cairo, Egypt(This photo and caption were submitted to My Shot.) Cairo

What You Should Know About Visiting Egypt Now

24 Mar

Mosque of Sultan Hassan, Cairo.

Mosque of Sultan Hassan, Cairo.

More than two years have passed since Egypt’s 2011 Revolution, and the country is still feeling the effects.  Images shown around the world of the violence in Cairo’s Tahrir Square both during the uprising and after have had a profoundly negative impact on the country’s reputation, causing people worldwide to believe that the entire country is dangerous now. This is not true. Egypt is approximately 385,000 square miles in size.  The majority of the violence which still sporadically occurs is in an approximately one-square-mile area in downtown Cairo.   The rest of Cairo remains perfectly safe as does the rest of the country, from the Mediterranean city of Alexandria to the tombs and temples of Luxor and Aswan, from the Red Sea beaches of the Sinai to the pyramids which give the country its signature skyline.

Should You Travel to Egypt Now?

Travel to Egypt now and you will be one of the few people who do.   Egypt is one of the most inexpensive countries in the world even in the best of times and now, with the Egyptian Pound weakened as an aftermath of the Revolution, you can save even more.  Hotels, tours and food are not only less expensive than ever, it is more possible now than in the past to negotiate a good price for yourself on accommodations and tours. Former tourism hotspots are standing nearly barren.  Travel to Egypt, and you’ll have the pyramids, tombs and temples almost entirely to yourself, allowing you to experience their mystical presence without loud crowds bustling around you.   The beaches of Egypt are likewise sparse of tourists these days, leaving the region full of light blue water beaches for you alone to stretch out on.

Red Sea, Egypt

Red Sea, Egypt

As one of the few travelers in Egypt, however, you’ll likely encounter more than the usual amount of shopkeepers urging you to step inside their shop as well as taxi drivers and tour operators inviting you to come with them on a trip.  Their sales tactics are more aggressive than we are used to in the Western world and can be a real annoyance.   When they approach you, say “la shukran” –  “no thank you” –  and most of the time they will stop.

What Should You Visit in Egypt?

The Pyramids

Giza Pyramids.

The Pyramids.

Visiting the pyramids of Giza in Egypt is the dream of a lifetime for many people and so possible to make come true.   Your first glimpse of the towering triangles reaching out of the sand towards the sun is a moment you’ll carry with you forever.   Wandering around the Giza pyramids is an all-day experience, whether you walk or explore via camel or horse-drawn carriage.  While these are the most famous sights in Egypt, there are other pyramids which need to be seen as well.  The necropoles of Dashur with its Bent and Red Pyramids and the Step Pyramid of Saqqara are just short drives away from the Giza pyramids and must-see’s for pyramid buffs.

Cairo

Cairo

Cairo

Just minutes northeast of Giza is Cairo, where you may want to stay both in order to visit the pyramids and just to get to know the city itself.   Cairo is an electrifying city, its streets a boggling tangle of careening cars and occasional donkey carts, weaving around local people winding their ways expertly through the traffic.  Amongst its buildings colored classic Middle Eastern brown, you’ll find eateries and shops, fruit and vegetable stands and outdoor cafes where you can sit and drink tea and try a very important staple of Egyptian life – shisha, tobacco flavored with ingredients like grapes or apples, smoked in a colorful water pipe.

Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum

In Cairo, see the thousands of relics, including King Tutankhamen’s mask in the Egyptian Museum, located in the now-famous Tahrir Square, and browse in the hundreds of shops in the lively Khan el-Khali souq.   Visit the Al-Hussein mosque for a glimpse into religious Islamic life, and head to the churches of the quiet Coptic area for a close-up view of Christianity in Egypt.  Downtown Cairo, home to Tahrir Square, has changed quite a bit since the Revolution, and it is advisable to stay away from this area at night.

Alexandria

King Farouk Palace in Alexandria. Photo courtesy of The _ Riddler via Flickr.

King Farouk Palace in Alexandria. Photo courtesy of The _ Riddler via Flickr.

The Mediterranean port city of Alexandria is dynamic yet friendly, a quite easy city to get to know.   A good introduction is a stroll along its Corniche, a paved waterfront walkway, with a backdrop of small, colorfully painted boats and local families relaxing on the banks of the water. Located nearby on the Mediterranean Sea is the Citadel of Qaitbey, a huge 15th Century fort recognized as one of the Mediterranean’s strongest military defenses of its day. For another look into the past, visit the eerie Roman-period catacombs of Kom el-Shoqafa. A more modern look into the city can be seen by taking a look at the sprawling King Farouk Palace, former summer home to the 20th Century king. 

Luxor

Valley of the Sphinxes, Luxor.

Valley of the Sphinxes, Luxor.

Luxor is perhaps the most historically important town in Egypt and filled with more tombs and temples that any other area in the country.  On the East Bank of the Nile River stand Luxor and Karnak Temples, their looming columns leading the way to dark interiors with surprising large patches of red, blue and gold scattered about, carefully preserved from the temples’ original days.   Running between the two temples is the Avenue of the Sphinxes, a recently unburied row of the enigmatic creatures dating back to Egypt’s 18th Dynasty.  On the West Bank of the Nile River lie the mountainside tombs of the Valley of the Kings, holding many of Egypt’s former rulers including King Tutankhamen, and the Valley of the Queens, a burial ground for wives of the pharaohs, including Queen Nefertari.

Aswan

Abu Simbel. Photo  courtesy of k.capson via Flickr.

Abu Simbel. Photo courtesy of k.capson via Flickr.

The laid-back Nile River town of Aswan is the spot to position yourself when visiting the temples in its area.  A brief boat trip will take you to Philae Island, home to several ancient monuments, including the Temple of the Goddess Isis, possibly Egypt’s oldest diety.   While on the river, you’ll spot a little mass of land called Elephantine Island.   Sparsely populated and not often visited by tourists, this is where you’ll want to head if you have a desire to go off the beaten path.  Also lightly touched by tourists are the Nubian villages in the area, where you can experience the simple way of life led by these natives of southern Egypt and Sudan.   For more temple sighting, you’ll visit the 13th Century BCE Temples of Abu Simbel, located a few hours south of Aswan.  Here you can watch the desert awaken at night with a sound and light show that brings the temple to life.

The Lesser-Traveled Spots – Sinai and the Western Desert

Sharm

Sharm el-Sheikh

Sinai

The Sinai is an approximately 23,500-square-mile triangle of land for the most part separated from the rest of Egypt by the Gulf of Suez.  Rimmed by the Red Sea and alive with the magnetic energies that many people feel emitting from the soft contours of its abundant mountains, the Sinai is home to the towns of Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab and Nuweiba.   Most tourists head to Sharm, with its large hotels and Western comforts, while others prefer the more personal, peaceful vibe of Dahab and still others reach even deeper for relaxation into the rural desert life found in Nuweiba.

St. Catherine's Monestary

St. Catherine’s Monastery

Reachable from any starting point in this region is Mount Sinai, on top of which it is believed Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.  Here you will see phenomenal views of the sunrise or sunset after a climb to the top and at its base you’ll be able to tour St. Catherine’s, the world’s oldest working monastery.   The Blue Hole, one of the most popular diving spots in the world and also home to spectacular snorkeling, is a 15-minute drive from the town of Dahab.  At Ras Mohamed, near Sharm el Sheikh, you’ll find a national park that also has world-class diving.  Not far from Nuweiba stands the Colored Canyon, one of the world’s most impressive and colorful rock formations.

Western Egypt

White Desert. Photo courtesy of alfieianni via Flickr.

White Desert. Photo courtesy of alfieianni via Flickr.

Travel to an oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt, and you will not be visiting a mirage.   The remote village of Siwa, located near the country’s western border, is a sedate and magnetic respite from the barren desert with its pools of mineral and salt waters, miles of palm and olive groves and conservative Berber culture.    The 1,200-mile span of Bahariya Oasis holds not only relief from its arid surroundings  but ruins as well, such as the Temple of Alexander the Great.  From Bahariya take a safari into the Black Desert, so named by ebony mountains which seep into the sand as they erode.  From there safari on into the White Desert where you’ll weave through its curious, towering rock formations formed by the powerful desert winds.

Tour Groups

Group tours to Egypt are possible with international tour companies as well as a large number of tour operators within Egypt.  A group tour offers the comfort and convenience of having someone else there to arrange transport and worry about logistics. Having a local guide, who will also serve as translator when needed, ensures that you have someone with you who knows any potential dangers and can help you avoid them. For those who don’t want to join a group tour, a private tour is another option. You get the same benefits of a tour guide – a local who knows the area and the language – without the other tourists. A private guide can also take you to places you might not venture otherwise, particularly if you don’t want to try driving in Egypt.

What You Should Know About Visiting Egypt Now alexandria , Cairo , Egypt , travel tips