I recently returned home from a holiday around Egypt and, seeing as I haven’t written on the blog for a while, I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about it. I covered a lot of ground in my 16 days there and I found it to be an incredibly diverse and rewarding country to visit. Below is a summary of my top 5 destinations:
Makes the list for the Pyramids of Giza alone. But, while visiting the pyramids will place a tick on anyone’s “places to visit in my lifetime” list, there is so much more to Cairo than the world’s only remaining Ancient Wonder of the World. The Islamic area is my undoubted highlight. Go back in time and get lost wondering the streets of this medieval city before heading in to the hustle and bustle of the Khan al-Khalili market. Need a rest? Hang out like the locals do – head to Fishawi’s Coffeehouse (but later at night when all the tourists are gone) and watch the world go by. Looking for a bit more tranquility? Take a rest in the Al-Azhar Mosque.
The White and Black Desert
From Cairo, head to the Bahariya Oasis where you pick up a 4WD tour into the White Desert. The White Desert is incredible: huge chalk formations that have been sculptured by the wind and sand into all kinds of crazy shapes, many of which resemble mushrooms. Lonely Planet describes it as a “dreamscape landscape” and that’s exactly what it is. With your tour you’ll camp under the most beautiful star-lit night sky before heading back through the Black Desert, where you’ll find mountains covered with sprinkles of black volcanic dust and rock.
Luxor surely has been blessed with more Ancient Egypt sites than anywhere else in the country. The East Bank’s two main attractions are Luxor Temple and the vast Karnak Temple. The West bank is home to the area’s biggest attraction: The Valley Of The Kings, and heading into these ancient tombs is something special. But for me, the star attraction is the Temple of Hatshepsut, which is built directly into the limestone cliffs to stunning effect. When you need a break, hire a felucca and float along the Nile or, if you want a little more Nile time, head down to Aswan and take a cruise back up to Luxor.
Dahab / the Red Sea
Most people head to Sharm El Sheikh when visiting the Red Sea, but if you like your holiday destinations free from McDonalds and Hard Rock Cafe then Dahab is the place to be. Often referred to as the Koh Samui of the Red Sea, it definitely has that Thai feel. It’s a great spot for snorkelling and diving trips, and the Ras Mohammed National Park is accessible via a live-aboard.
Quite possibly the most stunning place I visited in Egypt, a small settlement nestled deep into the Sinai mountains. The area has huge religious significance with the town sitting under the gaze of Mt Sinai, where God is believed to have delivered the Ten Commandments to Moses. It is also home to St. Katherine’s Monastery, where you can find the descendant of the Burning Bush. Make the hike up Mt Sinai at 3am to ensure you reach the summit for sunrise. It’s breathtaking. And if you can, travel to St. Katherine’s independently so you can spend the night there. Listening to the Islamic prayer echo off the mountains at night will make the hairs stand on the back of your neck.
Driving around Egypt is straightforward as the roads are very direct and generally pretty empty. I would not recommend driving in Cairo and if you drive down from Cairo to Luxor then you’ll need to plan to join one of the timed police convoys (in place for security reasons). If you do hire a car, you will need an International Drivers Permit.