Best of Egypt: How to Explore 5,000 Years of Egyptian History in Just 7 Days

All of Egypt in just one week?

It seemed like an ambitious plan — maybe too ambitious. But, that’s essentially what Lady Egypt Tours promised us on our recent luxury tour of Egypt.

While our idea of vagabonding doesn’t usually involve organized tours, we knew that Egypt could prove difficult to explore on our own. The desert is vast, Cairo is notoriously chaotic, and frankly, with more than 5,000 years of history to explore, there’s just a lot of ground to cover. We read a lot of Egypt tour reviews — in particular regarding escorted tours in Egypt — and found that Lady Egypt came highly recommended as one of the best Egypt tours companies.

Best Egypt Tours

In total, our entire Egypt trip spanned 16 days. Because we were flying to Africa from Boston, it was important that we had two days on either end to settle in and a couple days of downtime where we would not be traveling, touring, or — doing much of anything really. We spent these last two days by the pool at the aptly named Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa sipping fruity cocktails and staring at the Pyramids of Giza directly across the street (yes, this job is tough work if you can get it …).

Assuming you have the time, I highly recommend you do the same. Our tour started in Cairo for a whirlwind trip around the city before flying to Aswan (a 90-minute flight south) and working our way back to Cairo for our flight home. Assuming you only have two weeks — including flying and travel days — here’s how you can explore 5,000 years of Egyptian history in just one week.

Day 1: Explore Downtown Cairo

Skyline of Cairo, Egypt (seen from The Citadel)

Skyline of Cairo, Egypt (seen from The Citadel)

Cairo is manic. The streets are chaotic, the traffic at any time of day is at a near standstill, and the air is heavy from the weight of its nearly 9.5 million people. But, it’s arguably Africa’s most vibrant and impressive city (rivaled only by Cape Town).

The Alabaster Mosque (Mosque of Muhammad Ali) in Cairo, Egypt

The Alabaster Mosque (Mosque of Muhammad Ali) in Cairo, Egypt

By day, hit the Egyptian Museum (a.k.a. Museum of Cairo) which boasts the largest and oldest collection of artifacts in the world. It’s an ideal place to get your bearings regarding the overwhelmingly long timeline of Egyptian history.

From there, head to the Citadel of Cairo and the stunning Alabaster Mosque (a.k.a. The Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha), in particular. It’s arguably the most historically and culturally significant mosque in all of Egypt.

Khan El-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo, Egypt

Khan El-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo, Egypt

After dark, check out the Khan El-Khalili bazaar — the largest and oldest souk on the continent. Bring plenty of cash and be prepared to haggle like a boss.

Day 2: Onward to Aswan and Abu Simbel

Aside from The Great Pyramids of Giza, Abu Simbel is arguably the most iconic landmark in Egypt. The temples are located some 300 kilometers (roughly 200 miles) outside of Aswan. So, a day trip there involves rising very, very early and a six-hour roundtrip drive into the desert. But, it is plenty worth it.

The temples were constructed in commemoration of Ramesses II tactical victory at the Battle of Kadesh that took place in 1274 BC. Interestingly, the ancient Egyptian architects built the Great Temple in such a way that twice a year (on October 22 and February 22), the sunbeams reach the inner sanctuary and lighten up three out of the four sculptures. The statue of the God of the Underworld Ptah always remains in darkness.

Kelsey standing outside Abu Simbel Temples

Kelsey standing outside Abu Simbel

The Small Temple dedicated to Goddess Hathor and Nefertari is also unique. It was the first time in Egyptian architecture the statues of the Pharaoh and his wife were equal in size. In the evening, you can take another optional tour and enjoy the spectacular Sound and Light Show at the Philae Temple.

Interestingly, the impending destruction of the original temples (before they were moved, piece-by-piece to their current location) due to substantial erosion from Lake Nasser is what sparked the launch and ultimate rise of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites program.

Day 3-4: Nile River Cruise

Sail the Nile River to Edfu and Esna Temples

Few experiences in Egypt are more iconic than cruising the Nile River. We boarded a three-day cruise with Lady Egypt that allowed us to explore the river leisurely. But, many of its best sites can be seen in a quick 2-day/1-night “trip.”

Be sure to stop at the dual Temples of Kom Ombo, constructed during Egypt’s Ptolemaic Dynasty and dedicated to the gods Horus and Sobek. Continue on afterward to Edfu and Esna — two remarkably well-preserved temples.

Kelsey exploring the inside of Edfu Temple

Kelsey exploring the inside of Edfu Temple

At day’s end, you can head to the ancient city of Luxor with its ancient monuments that span more than 4,000 years of Egyptian history. Take the time to visit the massive, 200-acre Karnak Temple Complex (making it the largest religious building ever constructed). Once darkness begins to fall, head to Luxor Temple which offers stunning views particularly once it’s illuminated at night.

Explore the West Bank (Valley of the Kings & Valley of the Workers), plus Karnak and Luxor Temples

Cruising the Nile River in Egypt

Cruising the Nile River in Egypt © Ad Meskens

Exploring the West Bank of the Nile is best done by arising early on your first day to avoid the oppressive midday heat. Early morning is also the best time to take a once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings.

Sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings

Sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings

Upon landing, head to the Valley of the Kings to explore 15 of the 63 tombs that are currently open to the public. These include Tutankhamun, Thutmose III, Ramesses I and Seti II. All are extremely well preserved and each was uniquely designed and architected for its respective pharaoh.

Valley of the Kings Near Luxor, Egypt

Valley of the Kings Near Luxor, Egypt © Francisco Anzola

Day 5: Hurghada by the Sea

Much of Egypt is “rough around the edges”. It’s rugged, vast, and impossibly old — all of the things that make it one of the most bucket list-worthy destinations in the world. By contrast, the sea side town of Hurghada is a demonstration of the best luxury that Egypt has to offer.

The Westin Soma Bay (near Hurghada, Egypt)

The Westin Soma Bay (near Hurghada, Egypt)

In short, it’s the resort town that well-heeled vacationing and honeymooning Egyptians head to when it’s time to relax. It’s modern, beautiful, and touristy — home, in fact to the country’s most exclusive resort, The Westin Soma Bay.

Desert hills near Hurghada, Egypt

Desert Hills Near Hurghada, Egypt

It also happens to be one of the best places in Egypt to experience Bedouin life. Lady Egypt can coordinate a desert tour — including ATV rides in the desert, hiking amid Egypt’s highest peaks, and a visit to a traditional Bedouin village including a traditional (and practically required) camel ride.

Happy Bedouin camel in the desert near Hurghada, Egypt

Happy Bedouin camel in the desert near Hurghada, Egypt

Day 6: Fayum and the Valley of the Whales

After visiting ancient temples, cruising the Nile River, escaping to Egypt’s most beautiful seaside resort town, what’s left? Two things actually.

Fishermen in Fayum, Egypt

Fishermen in Fayum, Egypt © Hussain92 (Wikimedia)

First, not far outside of Cairo lies the tiny fishing village of Fayum. For tourists, it’s an ideal opportunity to see how many non-urbanite Egyptians currently live. It’s rough around the edges, but it’s impossible to say you’ve really visited the country without seeing how much of its population actually lives.

Second is the Valley of the Whales (known locally as Wadi Al-Hitan). This relatively new historical park is one of Egypt’s best-kept secrets — we were surprised to learn many of the country’s well-informed tour guides have never even heard of it.

Egypt's Valley of the Whales (Wadi Al-Hitan)

Egypt’s Valley of the Whales (Wadi Al-Hitan)

Located amid a vast swath of open desert, the park is the site of a recent, but incredibly significant archeological find — fully intact whale skeletons. It’s proof that the Egyptian Desert was once an ocean. To find indisputable evidence of marine life embedded in the harsh, bone dry desert landscape is surreal to say the least.

Day 7: Return to Cairo to See the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx

You didn’t honestly expect to visit Egypt without seeing the Great Pyramids, did you? Think of it as “saving the best for last.”

Intricate stonework of Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza (low angle)

The intricate stonework of Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza

This goes without saying, but The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest and oldest of those in the Giza pyramid complex. It is officially the oldest of the World’s Seven Wonders and the most intact. (Hot tip: save your money and skip the interior tour. It’s claustrophobic, impossibly hot, and it’s essentially just an empty room)

The Giza Complex — Sphinx and the Pyramids

The Giza Complex — Sphinx and the Pyramids

You can experience everything above in roughly seven full days, plus a few days of travel in the middle. We went with Lady Egypt Tours — voted among the best Egypt tours particularly for luxury providers. From landing in Egypt to ground and intra-country flights to the moment we returned to Cairo to fly home, they provided us with every last thing we needed. While they offer a wide variety of amazing packaged tours, they’re 100% flexible and, in fact, encourage travelers to customized their trips to experience exactly what they want to experience.

The post Best of Egypt: How to Explore 5,000 Years of Egyptian History in Just 7 Days appeared first on Vagabondish.

daily-dispatch-statue-cairo

Uplifting news from around the world

A massive and ancient statue was just discovered in a Cairo slum.
The 26-feet high, 8,000-pound statue was found submerged in groundwater and most likely depicts Pharaoh Ramses II, an Egyptian ruler who reigned more than 3,000 years ago. [Reuters]

A post shared by Agenzia ANSA (@agenzia_ansa) on

They’re playing elephant polo in Thailand.
And it’s in the name of elephant conservation. Thirty players and elephants just competed in Bangkok’s King’s Cup which is now in its 15th year. [Reuters]

A 5-year-old girl just spelled a Sanskrit word correctly, becoming the youngest National Spelling Bee champion in the U.S.
Edith Fuller spelled the Sanskrit word for knowledge, “jnana”, correctly after asking for the definition. [Slate]

Travel in the year 2017

Several U.S. states have already begun to challenge Trump’s new Travel Ban.
President Trump revealed his revised ban on Monday after legal efforts led by Washington and Minnesota defeated his original order in the courts. Lawyers are claiming their arguments still stand for the revised ban and Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts and Hawaii have all begun to challenge it. Hawaii, specifically, is taking a unique approach, claiming that the Travel Ban would drastically hurt its tourism industry and foreign student population. [BBC]

At least six nations have posted travel warnings against the U.S. on their websites.
The UAE, Bahrain, the Bahamas, France, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are all warning travelers — especially travelers of color — about gun violence in the United States. [New York Daily News]

Finding Your Oasis While Exploring Egypt

Egypt can be a rough place to visit. There’s pollution, crazy traffic, lots of hassle, and much much more that can turn your trip of a lifetime into a week full of stress and aggregation if you don’t plan well. Comfortable accommodations can especially be a real challenge for visitors, since what we would consider a two or three-star hotel in the United States and Europe is very often called a four or five-star hotel in the developing world.

However, a trip to Egypt for most is truly the trip of a lifetime. It’s at or near the top of virtually everyone’s bucket list. And as someone who has stayed in many hotels in Egypt and traveled all over the country many times, my first recommendation for travelers to Egypt is always to start your planning by investing in a top quality hotel for your stay there.

Believe me – it’s totally worth it in time, convenience, and reduced stress. After long rough days exploring the Pyramids, museums, markets, and tons of other sites and experiences to be had in Cairo and beyond, you’ll thoroughly appreciate coming back to your luxurious oasis to unwind and recharge.

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In my more than two dozen trips to Egypt over the past 13 years, I’ve stayed in all of Cairo’s major name-brand international hotels, and by far my favorite place to stay when I’m taking guests to Egypt for the first time is the Four Seasons. There are actually two Four Seasons properties in Greater Cairo, and each has its own character and advantages for different types of travelers.

After three years away from Egypt, I recently returned with a friend to show him around this amazing country I’ve come to love so much. And knowing how aggressive our touring itinerary was going to be, I made sure to book our first few nights in Cairo at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza and our last few nights, after we returned from a quick overnight trip down to Luxor, at the Four Seasons First Residence.

At only 12 years old, the Four Seasons Nile Plaza is still Cairo’s newest and most luxurious hotel property. Unlike many other hotels in this ancient city that are renovated and remodeled versions of older buildings and properties, the Four Seasons Nile Plaza was built from the ground up specifically to be a fabulously luxurious and modern hotel.

Situated along the Nile in the heart of downtown Cairo, on clear days you can actually catch a glimpse of the Pyramids of Giza out in the distance from the rooms on the river-view side of the hotel. Many of Cairo’s main downtown attractions are easily walkable, including the Egyptian Museum, home to most of the unbelievable treasures that were excavated from King Tut’s tomb in 1922. Tahrir Square, the site of the famous protests that brought about the Egyptian Revolution, and Abdeen Palace, a beautiful but decaying former residence of Egypt’s last king, are also within walking distance.

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But aside from what’s outside and nearby the hotel, it’s really what’s inside that makes the Four Seasons Nile Plaza such a special place to stay when visiting Egypt. Immediately upon walking in and being greeted by their famously oversized floral arrangements, you really feel like you’ve stepped into a true seven-star hotel. If you’ve ever been to the world’s only “allegedly” seven-star hotel in Dubai, you’ll recall that it actually resembles a tacky movie set at Universal Studios or MGM. But inside the Four Seasons, you get a sense of true, genuine class and sophistication that automatically relaxes you, puts your mind at ease, and melts away the stresses of the day and the rigors of touring around a country like Egypt.

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When you’re ready to strike out and start exploring what you came to Egypt to see and explore, take my advice and hire a guide and driver before you leave the hotel. You’ll be hassled relentlessly if you just try to taxi out to the Pyramids and you are guaranteed to get ripped off in multiple ways if you’re on your own. Even with as many times as I’ve taken friends and guests out to Giza to visit the Pyramids, I still get an Egyptian guide and driver to avoid the hassle and to enrich the experience.

I would recommend booking both through the hotel concierge. If you try to find one online, chances are it’s going to to be hit or miss. And you never want to pick one up off of the street, no matter how relentless they are or how honest they may come across. Even the other major hotels in Cairo will stick you you with one of the large but still shoddy local mass-tourism companies. But the Four Season is the only hotel I’ve seen there that uses truly first-rate service providers.

Egypt is too important of a destination and too valuable a journey to have it soured by tourism predators. This, like with your accommodations, is 100 percent worth the investment of a little extra money to ensure that your trip of a lifetime is truly magical and worthwhile.

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On my most recent visit, my traveling companion and I broke up our stay in Cairo with a two-day, one-night trip down to Luxor to visit the temples to the gods and tombs of the pharaohs that dot the landscape around this ancient capital further south. There is an overnight train to Luxor from Cairo, but again take my advice and avoid it if you can. Even though they have sleeper cars on the train, they’re uncomfortable and slow and you won’t arrive refreshed.

Luxor has a lot of sites to visit, and you want to be well rested and energetic during your limited time there. So it’s smart to just pay a little extra money for the 50-minute flight between Luxor and Cairo (as opposed to the 10-hour bumpy train ride). EgyptAir has quite decent domestic jet service within the country. I’ve flown it satisfactorily dozens of times, and I’m often accused of being an airline snob , so trust me that it’s perfectly fine and pleasant for short hops around the country.

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Once we were finished taking in the ancient sites in Luxor, we flew back to Cairo and checked into the Four Seasons First Residence for the last leg of our stay. This Four Seasons, located diagonally just across the Nile from the other Four Seasons, is technically in the city and governate of Giza just across the river from central Cairo, but it’s still right in the heart of what most people think of as downtown Cairo. All of the same downtown sites are still just a very short and cheap taxi ride away, but local transportation in Egypt is so inexpensive that you could honestly hire a nice black sedan and a professional driver from the hotel for about the same rate that you’d pay for a 20-minute taxi ride in a major city back home in the U.S. and Europe.

If you do decide to hail a taxi, know that there are two types of taxis you’ll find roaming the streets. Cairo is one of the few places where taxis are perhaps more ubiquitous than in New York City, but check out this quick primer on the differences between the two types of Cairo taxis over at EgyptTravelBlog.com (Taking the Right Type of Taxi in Cairo).

Whereas the Four Seasons Nile Plaza is more glitzy and busy, the Four Season First Residence across the Nile has a more calm and subdued elegance about it. It’s a smaller property, which gives it more of a boutique hotel feel. And it also has a 24-hour casino, which only foreigners are allowed to patronize. You’ll want to make sure you have or can withdraw U.S. dollars if you’re going to play here, though, as they don’t accept or use local currency in the few casinos in Egypt.

Whether you only have a few days in Cairo or you’re in Egypt for extended adventures and explorations, trust me when I tell you that investing in a nice, comfortable hotel is an essential ingredient to getting the most out of your experience there. Save the budget hotel thing for Europe and North America. The developing world is not where you want to take a chance on a Bates Motel experience.

You deserve to thoroughly enjoy and soak up every thrilling moment of your trip to a wonderful and fascinating place like Egypt. So live it up, and enjoy exploring 7,000 years of remarkably preserved history while indulging in modern luxurious comfort that would make even the Pharaohs proud and envious.

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For more stories and photos from my extensive adventures around Egypt , check out AIRistocrat.com and EgyptTravelBlog.com

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AT#255 – Photo Tour of Egypt

Chris, the Amateur Traveler himself, talks about the recent Ralph Velasco / Amateur Traveler Photo Tour of Egypt which was a guided tour of Egypt run by Cosmos. The tour started in Cairo with the Pyramids and the Sphinx, the Egyptian museum, old mosques, churches and synagogues before moving on to the port city of Alexandria. After seeing the historic sites in Alexandria like Pompey’s Column and the Catacombs we continued on to the site of the battle of El Alamein and then to Marsa Matruh in the Northwest corner of Egypt on the Mediterranean. We continued back to Cairo with a stop at a Coptic Monastery and then flew to Aswan to tour Upper Egypt. We saw temples from the Greek period and the New Kingdom from Aswan to Luxor including the Temple to Ramses at Abu Symbel, the temple to Isis, the temple of Etfu, the Luxor temple and the great temple of Karnak. We also visited the Valley of the Kings and a Nubian village. Along the way we shopped and photographed.