With Egypt being a regular feature in the media these past few years, we were unsure of what lay before us during our two-week adventure. Alice, who had never set foot on Egyptian soil, was to some extent apprehensive about the trip, while Clare, who had spent just shy of two years living in the country before joining Scott Dunn, did not know to what extent Egypt may have changed. Would the people still be as friendly? Would the country have the same buzz? Were the Pyramids still standing?! We were about to find out…
The first stop on our route, a four-hour drive from Cairo, was Alexandria, Egypt’s main port and second-largest city located on the north coast. Alexandria is notorious for being the most historical city in the world with the least to show for it, and with four main points of interest all within easy reach of one another (the Catacombs of Kom el-Shuqafa, Pompey’s Pillar, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and the Citadel), you can be sure to get round all of the sites in an afternoon. It’s definitely off the well-beaten tourist track and not for everyone, but worth a visit for classics buffs, seafood addicts and those in search of a more authentic Egyptian experience.
From the cool breeze of the north coast, we set off down south to the rugged banks of the River Nile in Aswan where a warm Nubian welcome was awaiting us. Aswan is home to a small but varied collection of places to stay, from the sumptuous Sofitel Old Cataract which is steeped in history, to the extraordinary-looking Movenpick Resort on Elephantine Island boasting some of Aswan’s best views of the Nile.
The view of the River Nile from the Old Cataract Hotel.
The city can also be the beginning or end of a Nile cruise, and whether you are looking for a boat such as the sleek Oberoi Zahra, the relaxed Nile Adventurer, or one of the dahabiyas which makes for a more peaceful sailing experience, there is a vessel for everyone.
The River Nile in Aswan
Not forgetting the main reason for a trip to Aswan, this part of the Nile is peppered with places of interest, such as the High Dam, an incredible feat of modern engineering, the remarkable Philae Temple, and the Botanical Garden.
The Philae Temple in Aswan
Our next stop was Luxor which is Egypt’s next main attraction after the pyramids. Rich in ancient sites yet still providing visitors a feel for a modern Egyptian town, there is plenty to see from the intricate tombs in the Valley of the Kings, the lesser visited but no less interesting – Nobles tombs, the mighty Karnak temple, and finally set in the heart of the town, the famous Luxor temple.
Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple on Luxor’s West Bank
With plenty of stories and history behind each and every attraction we would advise spreading the sites across two days, giving you the chance to rest your legs at either the Hilton, a comfortable and modern hotel contrasting with Al Moudira, on the West Bank which is a beautiful and unique desert retreat. Each room is individually decorated and the food is something to write home about!
The Courtyard at Al Moudira – on the West Bank in Luxor
For those looking for a bit more nostalgia the Winter Palace is reminiscent of a bygone era. Other than Pharaonic treasures, visitors can also enjoy a Felucca ride at sunset to capture the beauty of the river.
From the Nile valley we headed to the coast of the Red Sea, a popular relaxation spot with three of the best hotels providing something for everyone. The Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh offers a peaceful atmosphere, spacious suites and nearly a kilometer of private beach ideal for those after an intimate retreat.
The Oberoi, Sahl Hasheesh
Just down the coast stands Kempinski Soma Bay, excellent for families and kite surfing fanatics. The Red Sea is one of the best places in the world for a spot of diving and snorkeling, most notably in the waters surrounding Sharm el Sheikh, the location of the Ras Mohamed National Park. Here we recommend the Four Seasons, fantastic for all guests of all ages seeking a relaxing and enjoyable vacation with perfect rooms to suit everyone’s needs.
The main Swimming Pool at the Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh
Our last port of call was Cairo, the city of a thousand minarets. The fast-paced capital has for the most part been avoided by many tourists since the Revolution in January 2011, but there is certainly a steady stream of visitors putting Cairo back on the map. The marks of the Revolution are evident throughout the city, from the graffiti which was never present before, to the permanent political discussion on all Egyptians’ lips. Nevertheless, the people remain optimistic and are as proud as ever to show off their fascinating country to visitors, and we definitely felt this as we explored the capital.
We spent a night at Mena House Hotel, an old hunting lodge which was converted into a hotel during the latter half of the 19th century, and oozes history and charm. The hotel has an unbeatable location; just a stone’s throw away majestically stands the Pyramids of Giza, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘a room with a view’.
The view of the Pyramids from Mena House
We set off for the Pyramids early in order to avoid the heat and the crowds, accompanied by a fantastic Egyptologist called Manal who shared her wealth of knowledge with us, not only here but at the Egyptian Museum in the famous Tahrir Square (with not a demonstrator in sight!). Nonetheless there is more to Egypt than the Pharaohs, and after a delicious lunch of falafel and bessara, we headed off to Islamic Cairo and the Khan el Khalili. Here we meandered through the streets, marvelling at the intricate architecture of the mosques and bazaar within the old city walls, and treated ourselves to a hot and strong Turkish coffee at Fishawi’s coffee shop which is over 200 years old. If you want to stay nearby, Le Riad is a fantastic boutique hotel with beautiful suites and a rooftop restaurant in the heart of Islamic Cairo.
Fishawi Coffee Shop in Khan el Khalili Bazaar
Khan el Khalili Bazaar
With our trip to the land of the lotus flower and papyrus behind us, our questions have now been answered. The Egyptian people are as friendly as ever; the buzz, while a bit more subdued is certainly still there; and you’ll be pleased to hear that the Pyramids are still standing!
Alice and Clare at the Pyramids of Giza, near Cairo