Five-thousand years of history, culture and people compressed into 11 days is the best way to describe my recent trip to explore ancient Egypt. And that’s merely a superficial description of what adventure travelers to Egypt can expect to experience.
If Egypt is not on your bucket list, it should be! However, visiting this fascinating country involves lots of walking, many uneven steps and, depending upon the season, temperatures in the 90s or low 100s. So, do it while you still can tackle such a demanding journey.
Exploring the Great Pyramid and Sphinx in Giza
Of course, the “elephant in the room” when you think about traveling to Egypt, or anywhere else in the Middle East, is your personal safety. In fact, tourism from North America has declined more than 80 percent since the 2011 revolution and news reports of violence against foreigners have frightened away many leisure tourists. Yet, with only modest security accompanying our small group of eight people, we never felt threatened.
Traveling with a reputable tour company or Nile river cruise company with local ground support are the best ways to visit Egypt in comfort and safety. Both options offer a similar travel experience at various price points. Itineraries usually include a couple of days in Cairo and Giza, followed by a flight to Luxor or Aswan for a three or four-night cruise on the Nile. Your journey concludes with a day or two back in Cairo to visit the vast Egyptian Museum among other fascinating sites. I would not, however, recommend Egypt for independent travelers.
Plan to arrive Cairo at least a day before the tour begins to recover from your overnight international flight. You will tour numerous ancient sites in Giza and along the Nile, so keep a daily journal of the places you visit and the key facts about each. Your journal will serve as a handy reference when sorting through countless photos after you return home.
Thirty-one dynasties ruled ancient Egypt, if you include Cleopatra who ended the dynasty system. The early Pharaohs ruled from Lower Egypt beginning about 3100 BC. The Giza Pyramids entomb and memorialize many of these Pharaohs, including the Great Pyramid and Great Sphinx of Giza. Upper Egypt became the focal point for later Pharaohs and ruins of the graceful Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple, two miles north, are worthy destinations enhancing your understanding of the period. Some 300 Pharaohs ruled ancient Egypt before the Romans conquered the country in 30 BC.
Tut’s Death Mask
Our visit to the Valley of the Kings, once part of the ancient city of Thebes on the Nile’s west bank, was the trip’s highlight for me. There we descended into five tombs cut into mountains of rock, including the tomb of the “Boy King” – Tutankhamun – discovered in 1922. Cairo’s Egyptian Museum houses some 120,000 items, including King Tut’s death mask and many other artifacts found in his tomb. Excavation for yet undiscovered tombs in the Valley of the Kings continues at the site today.
Our cruise continued to Aswan where we explored the Aswan High Dam and visited the Nubian monuments reconstructed on a site above the water levels created by the new dam. Constructed in the 1960s to provide flood protection, irrigation and electricity for much of the country, the dam also serves a giant reservoir protecting Egypt’s share of Nile River water flow.
Our journey ended back to Cairo, where we lost ourselves in the Grand Bazaar on the eve of Ramadan as a million-or-more people filled the streets to celebrate the beginning of the Muslim holy holiday of fasting, family and self-reflection.
The best time to visit Egypt is November to March when daytime temperatures moderate. Given the current slump in tourism, you will never again find better value for your tourism dollars. For example, five-star Cairo hotels currently go for an average $179 per night and other travel-related expenses also are deeply discounted.
With proper planning and guidance every step of the way from a prominent tour operator, you will experience an adventure of a lifetime exploring Egypt.
This article first appeared on Travels with Bob, Vacations by Cruise and Travel Experts.