Welcome to Egypt

Greeks and Romans were amongst the first ‘tourists’ to this country. Even Jesus came to this land as an infant with his parents, Mary and Joseph. Egypt, “Misr” in Arabic, is most visited for the Nile River, Mount Sinai (of the 10 Commandments in the Bible), the Giza pyramids outside Cairo (Egypt’s capital) and many other sites and treasures of the Pharaohs along the Nile in and near Luxor and Aswan.

She has far more to offer than just history and sites: she has a tapestry of people, both Muslim and Christian, who are some of the nicest in the world: very hospitable, kind and fun loving. Although most visitors travel to Egypt to see the monuments and the Nile, the most enduring and endearing memory will certainly be her people and their way of life.

Situated at a cross-roads of trade and culture, Egypt continues to be a focal point of change in North Africa and the Middle East and has key links with her neighbours, Sudan and Ethiopia, further up the Nile.

The map alongside highlights the most popular destinations in Egypt. Why not take some time before connecting with us, and scroll down to each location and find some helpful information…

Understand and Experience:

* your Egyptian guide explaining more than 5,000 years of history while standing beneath the Great Pyramid of Giza.

* ancient Egyptian culture in Luxor, by cycling from the Valley of the Kings, past the Tombs of the Nobles to the Workmen’s village.

* Nubian culture in Aswan by crossing the Nile from east to west, riding camels through the desert to an ancient monastery and ending the day by sharing a meal with a family in one of their homes.

* life in the Nile Delta in the riverside market towns of Rushid (Rosetta) and Fowa, with their restored 18th century homes and mosques, and life outside the towns where you can share a meal with a farming family.

Alexandria – ancient city on the Mediterranean Sea

Alexandria was named after Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. His generals, starting with Ptolomey, began to build the city and it soon became as important as Athens. As the Roman Empire conquered the remaining Greek Empire, Alexandria rivaled Rome in its beauty and influence, being the stage for Egypt’s last Pharoah, Cleopatra, famous for her relations with the Roman General (Anthony) and even its Caesar (Julius). Alexandria is also famous for its ancient lighthouse, now the position of Qaitbey Fort, and its ancient library, now replaced by a modern library built as a sun disc rising out of the land of Egypt.

Alexandria has an excellent museum and Egypt’s only example of a Roman Amphitheater and interesting underground tombs (could they be Cleopatra’s?). And if that is not enough, there are Turkish palaces, beautifully sculptured mosques such as Abu Abbas, and the oldest church in Africa; started by Mark, a disciple of Jesus, whose first convert was a cobbler.

Understand and Experience:

* quiz your proud Alexandrian guide about local habits in one of the famous cafes or ahwas (coffee houses) then take a ride on horse and carriage along the Corniche and imagine days gone by.

* explore the narrow alleys of Manchea market in the afternoon and later enjoy a delicious seafood meal with many other Egyptians in one of the popular local seafood restaurants.

Nile River Delta

In Fowa, you will be hosted by Ayman and his family and friends; all of whom are local guides (he is fluent in French) who will introduce you to a unique experience of Delta life. Carpet weavers, fishermen and farmers can be met in the town, on the river and in their farms, with a chance to share a meal with some of their families. We suggest spending at least a night in the Delta, ideally in Fowa, and make time to visit Rushid, and other parts of the Delta.

Rushid, or Rosetta, about 1 hour to the east of Alexandria, sits alongside the Nile River, and about half an hour north of Fowa, and only a few kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea. There are some well restored Ottoman buildings and this is the town where the French, while rebuilding their fort, found a stone tablet, the Rosetta Stone, with 3 translated scripts (Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs, demotic script and Ancient Greek) which later enabled archeologists to begin to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Damietta, about 3 hours drive east of Alexandria is the last town on the eastern branch of the Nile River. Damietta has Egypt’s largest boat building and repair yard and especially mid-year one can see hundreds of new boats being built and older boats being repaired. Damietta is also famous for furniture factories and sweet shops; so a visit into the center of town is a delight for the senses.

Understand and Experience:

* why Rosetta and Fowa were key towns during the Ottoman period and as you visit the houses and mosques imagine yourself a merchant having recently arrived by boat from Turkey.

* how the land is farmed and then eat a typical farm breakfast. Some of the food will have come from families who have farmed the land for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

* the process of making woolen carpets, from sheep to factory to Fowa’s many hand-looms; often found behind very old doors and in very old buildings, with not so old workers.

* 3 to 6 days exploring the whole Delta. You will not meet many tourists, but you will meet many kind and hospitable Egyptians, living in this green and fertile part of Egypt.

Cairo – “mother of the world”

This is the capital city of Egypt, known by locals as the ‘mother of the world’ (Um al Dunia), and its foundations date back to the 4th Century A.D. Cairo grew in importance especially during the Muslim era (after 7th Century), becoming a center of influence for the expanding Muslim world with Al Azhar as their flagship. This university is the world’s oldest and still teaches and influences most of the Muslim world today as its teachings follow Sunni thought rather than Shia (which is found mainly in Iran today). However, most visitors come to Cairo to see the 3 pyramids in Giza which date back prior to 3,000 B.C.

Egypt cannot be fully appreciated without being guided through its history at the world famous Egyptian Museum, near the now famous Tahrir (Liberation) Square. The Citadel, built by Mohammed Ali, is perched over the older Islamic part of the city and walking through the bazaars of Khan Al Khalili is an experience for the senses and may even help you to imagine this city several hundreds years ago as a key trade and learning center. Another highlight is the old Christian area of the city, containing an old Coptic church, dating back to its beginning in the 4th Century in ‘Babylon’, the early name for Cairo. Today, the Coptic Patriach (Pope) Tawadros II, is based in Cairo.

Cairo is where most visits to Egypt begin and end. To help you navigate its people and history and ensure the rest of your travels are worthwhile, we have experienced local guides who will make you feel more like a guest than a customer. And believe us, once you begin to hear the history of this great country and look at the local food available and even try to cross the road, you will be very grateful to have an Egyptian host close to your side.

Understand and Experience:

* the history of pyramid development from the Step Pyramid of Saqqara to the Red Pyramid of Dahshur, ending with the Great Pyramid of Giza, not forgetting the mysterious Sphinx nearby.

* the revolution of January 2011, by questioning your guide as you walk from the Egyptian Museum via Tahrir Square to Abu Tarek restaurant. Try their famous kushari dish, then cross the road for a delicious ice-cream.

* Ibn Tulun mosque (879 A.D.) and climb its cylindrical tower for a great view of the city. Go next door and explore the rooms of Gayer-Anderson Museum. After that, walk 3 hours through the alley ways and markets of Khan Al Khalili to the world’s oldest university of Al Azhar.

* a driving tour of Cairo on Friday morning. The streets are not busy at this time and the tour will open your eyes to a deeper look at the character of this city. End your driving tour at Al-Azhar park as the faithful are called to pray around midday and realise you are visiting one of the most important cities in the Muslim world.

Luxor – Egypt’s grand and ancient capital

Luxor was once the center of ancient Egypt; known as Thebes. It was from here that the ancient world was ruled, with its influence extending up and down the Nile and along Africa’s northern and eastern coastline.

On the western banks of the Nile are high desert mountains and deep valleys, where Kings and Queens of ancient Egypt are buried. On cliffs nearby are tombs of Noblemen who once served those Rulers and not far away is a village of Workers who built and painted the tombs. Don’t miss several well preserved temple sites, especially that of the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut and the Ramesseum of Ramses II. You will hear a lot about him while you travel between Luxor to Aswan.

On the eastern side of the river are the Temples of Luxor and Karnak, connected by a 3 kilometer processional road (currently being unearthed). Karnak is the world’s second largest temple complex. Pillars and walls tower over you and remind you of the power of ancient Egypt.

You should take a day trip to Abydos and Dendera from Luxor. At Abydos the beautifully preserved and ancient temple from Seti I has a list of Pharoahs found nowhere else in Egypt and at Dendara is a beautifully preserved Graeco-Roman temple site where this mixing of cultural and religious beliefs can be seen in the design and art. En route you can get to see some of the Nile people at work and sample the delicious Nile fish and home-made bread.

Nile Cruises currently run between Luxor and Aswan usually for 2 nights and 3 days. Along the way you can visit important religious sites such as Edfu and Esna and also find time to rest and swim on the pool deck. A more luxurious way to enjoy this part of the Nile is on a dahabiyya twin-sail boat.

Understand and Experience:

* the grandeur of Egypt’s ancient kings by cycling between the sites on the west bank and walking between the pillars of the many temples you may visit. Don’t forget to listen to your guide along the way, there is so much to take in and enjoy.

* some tea and bread in the home of local farmers as you take a break from ancient history and culture. Also take a stroll through the brightly lit souq (market), and remember, it is good to bargain if you are serious about buying.

* the freedom not to try and visit every site in a short amount of time and be quite exhausted at the end of every day!

Aswan – gateway between Africa and the Middle East

Ancient Egyptians believed that this was the place where the gods gave birth to the Nile. Today it is a town reflecting both modern Egyptian and distinctive Nubian cultures. As you spend time with Nubian people, looking into their faces and at their culture, you will see that there are both Middle Eastern and African influences.

In a quarry in town, you will find a huge broken obelisk and hear that many obelisks were cut from Aswan quarries. The motor boat ride to Philae Island’s perfectly preserved ancient Egyptian temple complex, gives you an idea of one of the many UNESCO projects to rescue ancient Egyptian structures from the rising waters of the Nile, due to the construction of dams. And don’t miss the Aswan High Dam, one of the world’s largest dams (Lake Nasser), which since its completion in 1970 has stopped the annual flooding of the Nile and enabled many thousands of acres of land to be farmed, especially in the Nile River Delta north of Cairo.

You must take time to meet and even stay the night with the wonderfully kind and hospitable Nubian people on the islands in the River (especially Elephantine and Sahel Islands). Or, take a camel ride with them in west Aswan, to see tombs of nobles and well preserved monastery ruins, the point from which Christianity was taken further up the Nile, to Old Dongola in northern Sudan. About 3 hours south from Aswan is Abu Simbel, with its 20m high statues of Ramses II, also rescued by UNESCO and overlooking Lake Nasser. Imagine these statues overlooking the narrower Nile River, warning invaders from the south but reassuring those from the north, that Egyptians ruled. There is a very comfortable Nubian home nearby where you can sleep, enabling you to see the statues as the sun sets or head out early the following morning.

Understand and Experience:

* Nubian life: riding their camels, who have exotic names such as Bob Marley and Ferrari; enjoying a meal with Nubians and their friends and family; staying the night in one of their unique houses. The Nubian Museum in town is a worthwhile experience and an excellent introduction to their history and culture.

* the Nile as the sun sets and you head toward the cataracts, either by motor boat or felucca, navigating around the granite boulders of the many islands in the river. The water is cool and clear here and worth a swim, especially after a long, hot day.

Western Desert Oases – out in the open

The gem of the western desert oases is Siwa, situated 300km south of Marsa Matrouh. Matrouh is on the Mediterranean coast some 300 kilometers west of Alexandria and is famous for its beautiful blue sea and white coves. Siwa Oasis was once famous for its oracle, visited by Alexander the Great (331 B.C.) before heading off on his conquering campaigns towards India. Siwa today boasts sites from that time, very hospitable people, many hot and cold springs (in which you can soak any time of the day) and very high sand dunes, marking the beginning of the great Sand Sea of the Sahara desert.

To fully enjoy the sea and the sand, we would recommend that you aim to stay for at least 3 nights.

Understand and Experience:

* the high sand dunes and wide open spaces of the desert with your bedouin 4×4 driver choosing his own way up and over the dunes. Perch on top of a high sand dune and test out your sand boarding skills for a few hours (best done when the sun is setting). After several walks back up the dune after exhilarating down runs, you will be very grateful to rest your aching muscles by soaking them in a hot spring…aaahhhh!

* camping out in the open, your bedouin guide making coffee for you over his fire, and then taking time to lie back and gaze up into the night sky.

* a day out in a beautiful blue cove near Marsa Matrouh.

Eastern Desert Mountains – isolated beauty

At the end of the 3rd Century A.D. St Paul met St Anthony. Today they are remembered for their contribution to early Christianity: St. Paul as an example of a religious recluse and St. Anthony as the so called “father of monasticism”. He was possibly the first to institutionalise monastic thought which later found its way into Europe, influencing European monks who in turn influenced others who ventured as far as Ireland (St. Patrick). Today, 2 well preserved monasteries which accommodate several hundred monks, are just 3 hours from Cairo. If you are fit enough, there is a fairly tough overnight hike between the 2 monasteries through mountainous desert terrain, under the careful and necessary direction of a local bedouin guide.

Understand and Experience:

* a monk guiding you through each of the monasteries. Take note of the other monks living the monastic life, like their predecessors have for hundreds of years, and ask your guide about the daily schedule of a monk.

* the harsh, barren, yet ruggedly beautiful terrain as you walk between the monasteries. Look into the face of your local bedouin guide as he lights up the camp fire and ask him about his culture.

Sinai – a holy mountain wilderness

Sinai is famous for its mountain and desert wilderness, where Moses and some 2 million Israelite people wandered after leaving their masters in Egypt. Here, beneath Mount Sinai, they met with God and received the 10 commandments, guidelines that would influence humanity up until today.

To climb Mt Sinai there is a 3-4 hour steep walk guided by a local bedouin. You can do this for sunset, or sunrise, or get the best of both by sleeping and eating near the top behind the guideʼs brotherʼs coffee shop! Another option is to sleep at the base of the mountain in a guest house, which is part of the ancient monastery of St.Catherine.

But there is more to the Sinai than Mount Sinai; there are many more mountains and wonderful desert terrain to explore on foot or by camel with local bedouin guides. You will be hosted by Ramadan and his fellow bedouin guides; all of whom live in the area and who will introduce you to a unique experience of bedouin life in the mountains and desserts of Sinai. Sinai is also famous for its Red Sea coastal towns of Dahab and Sharm El Sheik. Dahab is more laid back with traces of its ‘hippy’ influence still present. ‘Sharm’ on the other hand has many multiple-star hotels with their own beach fronts. You can get out of bed each morning, head to the beach for breakfast, sun-tan, swim, lunch, sun-tan, swim, dinner, sleep. For the more active, near these towns are many dive sites, beautiful coral gardens and beaches that are well worth exploring. We think Sinai is best enjoyed by taking 3 or more days at the end of your time in Egypt, and this will help you recharge before heading home.

Understand and Experience:

* the hospitality of a local bedouin guide who will feed you and help you to reach the top of Sinai. It is a pleasure to take the quiet route up Sinai, and avoid the early morning crowds, by sleeping behind his family’s coffee ‘tent’. You will meet his male relatives who are permanently manning this rest and recharge point, just 50 meters beneath the summit of Mt Sinai.

* the attractions near Dahab, such as snorkeling the enticingly deep Blue Hole, and later in the afternoon either ride a camel along the beach, or hire a bicycle and ride along Dahab’s beach front, or jump on a quad bike and venture up into the canyons.

Red Sea – soft sands and coral gardens

Surrounding the Sinai peninsula, and also heading south along Egypt’s east coast you will find many towns and resorts. In Sinai you can base yourself in laid back Dahab or lively Sharm el Sheik, and on the Egyptian east coast there is ancient Qusier, which has some interesting sites to see. For the scuba diving enthusiast there is Hurghada and Marsa Alam. Many say the dive sites here are the best Egypt has to offer, and we can suggest places for you to stay in Hurghada and Marsa Alam.

You can take diving courses, snorkel near to the shore or take a boat and scuba dive an off-shore reef. You will begin to appreciate all the Red Sea has to offer, and at the same time soak in the sun. Close to many Red Sea resorts are the inland wadis (valleys) which you can explore on camel or by car.

Coming to the Red Sea is a great way to prepare you for the sites and people along the Nile or, as we would recommend, to re-charge after your Nile River tours, away from the bustle of big cities and many people.

There is excellent scuba diving in Sudan, though at this time the best options are on-board diving trips (from Port Said), which can be arranged with our contacts near Marsa Alam who have links with Sudan.

Understand and Experience:

* snorkeling or diving into the house reefs of the resorts we know. Just a few meters from the dive center you can encounter beautifully preserved coral reefs with many varieties of fish. In a few days you could see a black tip shark, a turtle, a morey eel out of its hole, and the resident barracuda… to mention just a few.

* the many offshore reefs with your Egyptain dive instructors. If you haven’t dived before, consider taking a course or if you just want to lie in the sun and watch others come and go, the beach facilities are excellent.