Egypt is among the most fascinating destinations on the world tourist map. This extra ordinary country is today the favourite vacation spot for many, just like it had been in the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The thoroughly cultured Greeks, in particular, were fascinated by this civilization that predated theirs by at least 2000 years. The biggest draw continues to be the amazing abundance of historical treasures- temples, pyramids and museums –included in this one country. But the destination offers more than just the wonders of antiquity. Your visit to Egypt can be rounded off with a cruise down the Nile and a beach vacation at the top notch Red Sea and Sinai hotels.
It’s a curious fact that the majority of monuments of the Pharaohs relate to departure. Though moderns may see this as an unhealthy preoccupation with death, some scholars see it as a sign of the early Egyptians great love for life and desire for continued existence. The pyramid was the maximum evolution in the tradition of preparing elaborate tombs for the deceased. Pyramids were the final resting place, from where the Pharaohs enjoyed the afterlife. The most famous of these edifices are the Pyramids of Giza, built in the 4th Dynasty (2575-2465 BC), once the power of those ancient kings was at its peak.
Religion was another reason for its wonderful monuments of ancient Egypt. The deities found deserving of worship were truly diverse. And many, many temples were constructed in honour of these gods. Temples for the most prestigious gods were very elaborate and were administered by high priests. Auxiliary buildings housed libraries, granaries, and what could today be regarded as research labs for astronomers, biologists and other scientists. Most gods were connected with specific animals and to whom special powers were attributed. Some gods came and went, but the sun god was among the most enduring. It’s been suggested that the design of the pyramids had some association with practices of the sun cult. The Pharaoh was regarded as a living god.
Egypt is now a modern vibrant nation that carries the burden of its 5,000-year history . Exactly like in ancient times, the Nile sustains the nation and upto 95% of the populace reside in close proximity of the river. The remainder of the country is desolate desert, mitigated only by a few isolated oases and the habitable narrow strips across the African Red Sea and the Mediterranean coastlines.
According to the tourism ministry, Egypt for the visitor is best seen as six tourist super-sites. This covers the most popular destinations and excludes off-the-beaten-track locations. The six super-sites are anchored on: Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada on the Red Sea and Sharm El Sheikh in Sinai. Except for Luxor, not one of those destinations relies entirely on historical monuments to attract visitors. Egypt tours and vacations are extremely competitively priced relative to other destinations.
Cairo is a huge, sprawling and chaotic metropolis. It has all of the amenities of a modern town and is the usual gateway for the visitor to Egypt. Cairo is a youthful city relative to nearby Heliopolis, Giza and Memphis which are associated with the Pharaohs. The city began as a Roman trading post named Babylon- in the region now called Coptic Cairo. The area was a settlement of a few of the world’s first Christian communities. This predominantly Christian locale houses a museum that’s a repository of spiritual artwork, manuscripts, paintings and pottery.
But it’s the Arab invaders who arrived in the 7th century who is said to have founded the city. They settled just north of the region known as Old Cairo. The medieval district of Islamic Cairo is densely packed with people and lots of mosques and temples. That is where many still go through the month of Ramadan to eat and spend the night after a days’ fast. Giza on the Niles’ west bank is where you find the Great Pyramids. These truly magnificent monuments were among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. You will appreciate the achievement of the builders of those edifices when you reflect on the fact that before the 19th century they were the world’s largest buildings.
The visitor to Cairo will easily tuck in excursions to find museums, mosques and monuments such as Pyramids and the Sphinx. To commemorate your visit to this unforgettable city, see the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. The wide variety of souvenirs available here includes jewellery, silver, brass and copperware, carpets, perfumes, alabaster and soapstone carvings. You’ll also find reproductions of antiquities, which you’re advised to buy instead of anything presented as first. Such”originals” are often counterfeit, and it is in any case illegal to export the actual article.
Alexandria, monument to Alexander the Great, is located 180 km to the northwest of Cairo. The city has a Mediterranean temper and compared to the hothouse of Cairo has a cooler and more pleasant climate. The Greco-Roman Museum is within central Alexandria and has on display artifacts from the period 300 BC to AD 300. You will see mummies, sarcophaguses, pottery, tapestries and the granite sculpture of the bull god Apis. Other sights in the Region include the Roman Amphitheater, the Royal Jewelry Museum and the Roman age catacombs of Kom el-Shukafa.
The island of Pharos, near the harbour is the site of the Great Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Now, what remains on the website is a 15th century fortress. After immersing yourself in antiquity, it is possible to have a dip at some beach resorts within 20 kilometers to the west of town. In the resort of Marsa Matruh, 230 km further on, you’ll discover some excellent beaches and an opportunity for reef diving. This place right from Alexandria along the coast is part of Egypt’s Med. It’s still relatively undeveloped despite long stretches of white sand beaches and turquoise waters.
If your primary interest is ancient Egypt, remember that about 80 percent of Egyptian antiquities are in the area of Luxor. The town sits on the website of the ancient city of Thebes and together with the surrounding regions carries magnificent treasures of antiquity such as palaces, temples and royal tombs. The royals of these times whiled their afterlife at what is known today as the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Tombs of the Nobles. The tombs contained treasure that’s been plundered over the centuries. Some of the more famous tombs are those of the boy king Tutankhamen and the queen Nefertari.
On the east bank of the Nile you find the Temple of Luxor and the Temple of Karnak, packed with obelisks, wall murals and statues with heads of gods. If you overnight here, enjoy the day sound-and-light show at the Temple of Karnak. Temples on the west shore are Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple and The Ramesseum, a once massive edifice that is today mostly a ruin. You want to spend at least two days here for your trip to be worthwhile. You’re also advised to hire a guide who will explain the historical context of each artifact or monuments. Start out early each day before the day-trippers, airlifted from Cairo arrive to crowd you out.
Aswan, a scenic city by the Nile lies 680 kilometers to the south of Cairo, in the area which was so long ago called Lower Egypt. Though not as many as elsewhere, there are temples and tombs at those two islands in the Nile- Elephantine and Kitcheners islands. You can get to the islands by sailing in a felucca. The Nubian Museum celebrates the history and culture of the Nubian people. Aswan is also significant in the history of Coptic Christians and the ruins of this 7th-century Coptic monastery of St. Simeon laze in this region. In today’s Egypt, Aswan is important as the location of the High Dam that eventually put an end to the yearly bursting of the banks of the Nile.
The Red Sea is well known to readers of the Bible as the sea that God parted with his own hand so that Moses and his people could cross over to Sinai. So named because of its reddish tint mountain ranges, it’s home to several resorts, the largest of which is Hurghada. The underwater world of the Red Sea is alive with over 800 fish species and also the craggy fishing is exceptional. Snorkellers can explore the coral reef that is reputed to be among the greatest in the world. Hurghada aside, there are other hotels in the region that have good beaches, coral reefs and some golfing too. The modern day traveler escaping town will empathise with the early Christian hermits who built their monasteries here as they sought to break free from it all. Hurghada is located 380 km to the southeast of Cairo.
Sinai is where Africa meets Asia. Like the Red Sea coast, it’s top resorts and is very good for water sports. Sharm El Sheikh, towards the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula is the most developed resort town. Here you’ll find entertainment in the shape of casinos and nightclubs and also some great shopping malls. The marine life is abundant and the coral reefs are terrific. Sinai is also where the three great monotheistic religions meet. You can make an excursion to Mt. Horeb, said to be Mt. Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments. For Roman Catholics, emulate Pope John Paul II who visited nearby St. Catherine’s Monastery in 2000. The monastery is supposed to sit on the website of Moses’ burning bush.
The people of Egypt from antiquity to the present day have always built their lives around the Nile. It’s no coincidence therefore, that probably the best way to see the significant sites is by taking a Nile Cruise. There are lots of luxury cruise ships offering Nile Cruises. The more cruise goes all of the way from Cairo to Aswan in a couple of weeks. There is however not much to see between Cairo and Luxor and you’ll get far better value if you choose the cruise between Luxor and Aswan. This cruise, which normally takes six days, goes in both directions and you can embark at either Aswan or Luxor. You can get to Luxor or Aswan from Cairo by taking a flight or the overnight sleeper train. The adventurous and thrifty can also sail along the Nile by using traditional boats, feluccas.
The summer in Egypt, which falls between April and October, is hot and dry. The winters are mild with cold nights. The best time to visit is between November and March, outside the intolerable summer season. Light clothing is generally recommended though you may need a sweater and jacket for winter evenings.