Barbara White Crockett
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Egypt – the land of Tutankhamon, Cleopatra, and crisp cotton sheets!
In ancient times, they once ruled the world and created a civilization of innovation, creativity, and written language that transcended history. If Egypt is on your bucket list, we have some great suggestions to help you plan your trip.
Upon arrival at Cairo Airport, it is highly recommended that you arrange a "Meet and Greet" professional to walk you through the visa process and deliver you safely to your transportation. Your hotel concierge can arrange a Transfer Agent and Private Car. However, if you are traveling with a tour group, airport transfers will likely be arranged. In either case, arriving in Cairo is relatively easy. The traffic…not so much. So sit back and relax, and be prepared for a long drive to your hotel.
There are many excellent hotels in Cairo, among which the Fairmont Nile City, the Sofitel Nile El Gezirah, or the Ritz-Carlton Cairo are top contenders. Each hotel offers 24-hour concierge service, excellent dining options, pools, spas, and luxurious amenities. In addition, if you are not traveling with a scheduled tour, the concierge can easily arrange an Egyptologist Guide and a private driver to help you navigate all that there is to see in this large, crowded city.
Arriving in Cairo after a long trip can be exhausting, but you don't want to waste a minute. Check in to your hotel, refresh and regroup, and head out to one of the great cruising restaurants on the Nile. The Nile Maxim has a beautiful buffet and menu with a broad array of Egyptian specialties. Many locals celebrate birthdays and special events here, and the entertainment includes an exotic Belly Dancer, followed by a Whirling Dervish. An evening on this floating restaurant will immediately put you into an Egyptian frame of mind.
Cairo requires several days to see everything. Whether you are on your own, or with a private guide, the Egyptian Museum should be the first stop. The oldest archaeological museum in the Middle East, it has the most extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities globally, most notably the gold, mask of King Tutankhamon, and many other incredible artifacts, statues, and mummies.
Pace yourself, and take your time, but touring this spectacular museum provides an excellent orientation to the history and culture of Egypt and prepares you for the rest of your trip. There is also a fantastic gift shop, so be sure to shop for souvenirs.
Before traveling south, the ideal next stop should be the Giza Plateau, with its three famed Pyramids, including the Great Pyramid (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops). We all have seen pictures and movies of these grand edifices, and believe me…. they do not disappoint!
Suddenly your car (or motorcoach) arrives, and voilà….there they are, rising out of the desert, in all their magnitude and mystery. To this day, no one really knows how the Pyramids were constructed. There are options to enter the tomb to view the empty sarcophagus by climbing inside through long, dark, low hallways. So if you are claustrophobic, it is best to remain outside and admire the structure from a distance. Just in front of these pyramids, you will find the imposing statue of the Sphinx, which was carved out of one single stone. This is an excellent place for a "selfie" or group photo, with the Pyramids in the background. Also worth visiting is the nearby Step Pyramid at Sakkara. This structure pre-dates the Giza pyramids and offers clues as to the funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians over 3000 years ago.
Finally, don't leave before you experience a camel ride. Many camels, accompanied by their Bedouin owners, are sprinkled around the area, so choose your favorite animal carefully, negotiate a price in advance, and enjoy the ride of a lifetime. Depending on the timing of your trip, there is the new Great Egyptian Museum set to open in late 2022, home to thousands of artifacts found in the tomb of King Tutankhamon, so be sure to check this out. Also, at Giza, you can stop for a delicious barbecue meal at Abou Shakra, which not only offers specialties of the region but amazing panoramic views of the Pyramids.
Back in Cairo, it's time to prepare for the next phase of your Egyptian tour. For a first-time visitor, an itinerary that includes the cities of Abu Simbel, Aswan, and Luxor will provide an excellent overview of the country. A short flight to Aswan, followed by a long ride, via motorcoach, through the Sahara desert to Abu Simbel, orients you to a different time and culture from Cairo. Surrounded by Nubian villages, the main attractions are the two temples carved initially on the side of a mountain in honor of Ramses II (Pharoah from the 19th Dynasty; c. 1303-1213 BC) his wife, Nefertari. Watching the sunrise over this massive complex is an experience of a lifetime.
The four iconic, colossal statues of Ramses II, placed at the entrance to the temple, are beyond imagination. The interior walls are equally impressive with their beautifully preserved murals depicting various scenes from the life of Ramses II and his favorite wife. Ramses II is considered one of Ancient Egypt's most influential and powerful leaders, and visitors will find evidence of his architecture throughout the region. Even more remarkable is that this entire property was moved, stone by heavy stone, from its original location to save it from the rising waters - the result of the Aswan Dam, built in the 1960s, and Lake Nasser. If you spend the night in Abu Simbel, attending a "Sound and Light" performance is worthwhile, which provides a brief history of this Pharoah's story and amplifies his importance.
Leaving Abu Simbel, you can fly or take a cruise on Lake Nasser to return to Aswan. On the cruise, you will have the opportunity to visit smaller archaeological sites along the way, many of which were also built by Ramses II to establish his "brand" in this Nubian region. The boat will pass by the last known Nubian settlement of Kasr Ibrim on its way to the Temple of Amada. Later in the day, the boat will deliver you to Wadi el-Seboua, where you will want to visit the Valley of the Lions and its extraordinary Avenue of Sphinxes. There are many Lake Nasser luxury boat cruises resembling riverboats from an earlier time, offering delicious Egyptian food, excellent service, and an opportunity to relax and visit some of Egypt's most important smaller areas. The Mövenpick MS Prince Abbas is a superb boat complete with top-tier amenities. However, if time is an issue, it is just as easy to take a quick flight to Aswan from Abu Simbel.
Aswan, located on the Nile, has been an essential southern location for Egypt since ancient times. Known for its beautiful scenery and important archaeological sites, the day trips to various ruins continue to impress, such as the Temple of Isis, at the Philae complex. It is also worth noting that the old Aswan Souk is considered one of the best shopping bazaars in Egypt and has a broad range of Egyptian and African products and souvenirs. So definitely spend some shopping time in Aswan, and enjoy a late-afternoon sail on a traditional felucca at sunset – with a glass of wine.
Finally, don't leave town without visiting the 5-Star Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan Hotel, a 19th-century Victorian palace. Not only is it famous for hosting VIPs, royals, and dignitaries, but Agatha Christie also stayed here and mentioned it in her book, Death on the Nile. At this gorgeous hotel, you can enjoy a meal, a cocktail, or high tea and prepare to be overwhelmed by the beautiful interior and lush grounds surrounding the complex.
From Aswan, many people enjoy traveling along the river up to Luxor on one of the many Nile cruise ships. Differing from the river cruise boats, The Movenpick MS Sun Ray is one of the newer boats on the Nile and offers beautifully appointed cabins and excellent gourmet cuisine. It is not a cruise on the Nile without a traditional Galabeya party. Guests and staff dress in local attire and enjoy an evening of music and a local show with Belly Dancers and Whirling Dervishes. There is also excellent, reliable shopping onboard for gold, souvenirs, and Egyptian attire, and you can purchase an 18k gold Cartouche, personalized with your name in hieroglyphics.
Cruising the Nile offers time to regroup, as well as an opportunity to get to know the other passengers. This is a pleasant interlude as the boat heads toward Luxor, another southern port on the Nile, formerly known as ancient Thebes. Here, you will spend long days visiting the Nile Valley's largest concentration of archaeological sites. There is so much to see and do, centering around the great Luxor Temple and the Temple of Karnak, connected by a 1.5-mile avenue of Sphinxes.
The Temple of Ramses III, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and the Temple of Hatshepsut, are just a shortlist of the ruins and tombs available to visit.
In the valley of the Kings, you can tour the actual tomb of Tutankhamon, although his remains are in Cairo. In the Valley of the Queens, the tomb of Nefertari is one of the most spectacular examples of wall painting to be seen in Egypt. With its vibrant walls of colorful, detailed inscriptions, it's hard to believe they were painted 3000 years ago.
For early risers, there is no better way to experience the magnitude of Luxor than from a hot air balloon. Weather permitting, balloon trips are generally available to most visitors and are definitely worth the price.
Luxor has many lovely hotels, including The Steigenberger Nile Palace, which overlooks the Nile and offers patios with each room. However, the 5-Star Sofitel Winter Palace, built-in 1886, is worth a visit, for sure. Having also hosted many dignitaries and celebrities throughout the years, this hotel exudes elegance and style from another era. Each hotel has reputable boutiques selling anything from gold jewelry, leather goods, and upscale souvenirs, and they both provide superior amenities and service. In Luxor, you will have the opportunity to buy beautiful alabaster vases, as well as original paintings on Papyrus, at Isis 2 Papyrus Museum and Egyptian cotton products at Bayoni Cotton & Linen.
On a short flight back to Cairo, you will want to spend your last days visiting other sites, especially Old Cairo, where many Christian churches are dating as far back as the 5th c. A.D.
And, of course, there's a lot more shopping! A well-known local Egyptologist guide in Cairo, Andrew Nabil, is one of the many professionals available to personally take you to some of the best shops in town. More gold cartouches can be found at Mamlouk Jewelry, and you can mix your own scent at the Royal Perfume Shop next door. As an Egyptologist, he also offers private tours of any museum or site in and around Cairo.
But the Khan el-Khalili bazaar, which is right in the center of Islamic Cairo, is where you will find all the action…on steroids! With its rows and rows of exotic items, souvenirs, perfumes, t-shirts, jewelry, and scarves, there is no way you can leave empty-handed. But be prepared to bargain…a lot! The vendors start with very high prices but will end up negotiating at one-third the original price.
As you prepare to depart, you will no doubt think about returning to Egypt to continue your exploration of this mysterious, magical country. There are so many more places to visit. Scuba diving or snorkeling on the Red Sea or a weekend in Alexandria are side trips worth considering. There is always more to learn in Egypt because they excavate new sites and discover more artifacts, tombs, and hieroglyphics, providing new insight into their ancient civilization. In Egypt, history is ever-changing.
P.S. For the traveler who prefers a group tour, Tauck Tours, Abercrombie & Kent, and Odysseys Tours are just a few of the many organizations that arrange excellent itineraries. However, it is straightforward and safe to travel independently and connect with local guides – as needed. In general, it's a good practice to check out your local government travel advisories for up-to-date information and advice about your visit.
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