Egypt could be said to have six different super-sites to view while you tour Egypt. Each has its own flavor, and mostly each serves a different purpose. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, most of these tourist areas to visit while you tour Egypt do not depend on ancient monuments to sustain them. In fact, only Luxor is completely dependent on this trade. These super-sites to visit while you tour Egypt consist of:
Alexandria and the immediate area around the City. It could in fact be argued that this area extends to Marsa Matruh to the west on the coast. The area has a Mediterranean feel about it, and the attraction is the Mediterranean Sea, and to the people of Cairo, a somewhat cooler climate. The mighty Macedonian Alexander the Great came to Egypt in 331 BC, after conquering Greece and selected a small fishing village on the Mediterranean coast to establish his new capital, Alexandria. The city is oriented around Midan Ramla and Midan Saad Zaghoul, the large square that runs down to the waterfront. Alexandria once had a great library that contained more than 500,000 volumes, and at its peak the city was a great repository of science, philosophy and intellectual thought and learning.
The Graeco-Roman Museum is a must to see while on tour in Egypt. It contains relics that date back to the 3rd century BC. There's a magnificent black granite sculpture of Apis, the sacred bull worshipped by Egyptians, as well as an assortment of mummies, sarcophagi, pottery, jewellery and ancient tapestries. Another highlight is one of the few historical depictions of the Pharos of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The only Roman Amphitheatre in Egypt was rediscovered in 1964. Its 13 white marble terraces are in excellent condition and excavation work is still under way, although the dig has shifted a little to the north of the theatre.
Pompey's Pillar is a massive 25m (82ft) pink granite monument measuring 9m (30ft) around its girth. The pillar should rightfully called Diocletian's Pillar, as it was built for the emperor in AD 297, and was the only monument left standing following the violent arrival of the Crusaders around 1000 years later. The Catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa are the largest known Roman burial site in Egypt, and consist of three tiers of burial tombs, chambers and hallways. The catacombs were begun in the 2nd century AD and were later expanded to hold more than 300 corpses. There's a banquet hall where the grieving would pay their respects with a funeral feast. Experts are hoping to discover Cleopatra's Palace under the sea bed off Alexandria; platforms, pavements and columns have been found, and in 1998 a black granite statue of a priest of Isis and a diorite sphinx were raised from the sea. Cleopatra's Library was destroyed by the Crusaders.
Tour Egypt and visit Cairo and the immediate area around the City. Cairo has everything. Cairo has great hotels, entertainment, restaurants, all manner of monuments from throughout the history of Egypt and it is often the entry point for most people that tour Egypt. It even has bowling allies and several golf courses to chose from.
Cairo isn't a gentle city. Home to more than 16 million Egyptians, Arabs, Africans and sundry others, the 'Mother of the World' is an all-out assault on the senses. Chaotic, noisy, polluted, totally unpredictable and seething with people, the sheer intensity of the city will either seduce or appall.
Cairo has plenty of fine 19th-century buildings, modern art and sculpture, precious green spaces and ancient districts (Islamic Cairo is a Unesco World Heritage Site). Then there's the Pharaonic sites that stretch south of the city, not to mention Those Pyramids and That River.
Luxor, and the surrounding area. Luxor is a living museum with vast numbers of ancient Egyptian monuments including the famous Valley of the Kings where Tutankhamun’s tomb was discivered. It is also highly oriented to tourists, and might be thought of in the same regard as a theme park, where the attractions just happen to be real monuments. Built on the site of the ancient city of Thebes, Luxor is one of Egypt's prime tourist destinations. People have been visiting the magnificent monuments of Luxor, Karnak, Hatshepsut and Ramses III for thousands of years. Feluccas (local sail boats) and old barges shuffle along the Nile between the luxury hotel ships cruising to and from Cairo and Aswan.
Luxor Temple was built by Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC) on the site of an older temple built by Hatshepsut and added to by Tutankhamun, Ramses II, Alexander the Great and various Romans. Excavation work has been under way since 1885. The Temples of Karnak are a spectacular series of monuments that were the main place of worship in Theban times. They can be divided into the Amun Temple Enclosure, which is the largest; the Mut Temple Enclosure on the south side; and the Montu Temple Enclosure. The lonely statues of the Colossi of Memnon are the first things most people see when they arrive on the West bank, though the Valley of the Kings, including the spectactular tombs of Nefertari (currently closed) and Tutankhamun, are the big attraction. Luxor is accessible from Cairo by buses, trains which run every day as well as daily flights.
Aswan and the surrounding area. Aswan is probably the least of the super-site areas you can visit while you tour Egypt, but has great hotels, along with the huge Lake Nasser just to the south. Aswan, Egypt's southernmost city, has long been the country's gateway to Africa. The prosperous market city straddles the crossroads of the ancient caravan routes, at the 'other' end of the Nile, not far above the Tropic of Cancer. In ancient times it was a garrison town known as Swenet (meaning trade), and it was also important to the early Coptic Christians. The main town and temple area of Swenet were located on Elephantine Island in the middle of Nile (the island was known then as Abu, and later renamed by the Greeks). The temples and ruins here are not nearly as well preserved and impressive as those elsewhere in the country, but there are other good reasons to visit. If you're not 'tombed out', a visit to the Tombs of the Nobles is worthwhile, and a highlight is the Nubian Museum, showcasing history, art and Nubian culture from the prehistoric to the present. The Nile is glorious here as it makes its way down from the massive High Dam and Lake Nasser - watching the feluccas glide by as the sun sets over the Nile is an experience you're unlikely to forget.
Hurghada and the surrounding area, particularly El Gouna. Not to far apart are El Gouna, Hurghada and Safaga, and these areas contain just about everything you would like to have while you tour Egypt, with the exception of ancient monuments. They make up for that with every variety of water sports, several golf courses, casinos and more. The Red Sea area has less of an Egyptian feel, but not as European as the Sinai.
Sharm El Sheikh, and the surrounding area including Sharks Bay. This is the Sinai super-site, again with most everything any tourist might wish. There are even some wonderful Christian monuments nearby, and the water sports, as at Hurghada, are all inclusive. Diving in this area is widely regarded as the best in the world.
This is not to say that there are many more tourist destinations, particularly on the Red Sea and in Sinai, and on Egypt's mainland interior, the oases. However, in much of the rest of the mainland interior, travel and destinations are limited. However, the tourist super-sites encompass perhaps ninety-five percent of the ancient monuments, and most else there is to do in Egypt.
Not only are the two temples at Abu Simbel among the most magnificent monuments in the world but their removal and reconstruction was an historic event in itself. When the temples (280 km from Aswan) were threatened by submersion in Lake Nasser, due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam the Egyptian Government secured the support of UNESCO and launched a world wide appeal. During the salvage operation which began in 1964 and continued until 1968, the two temples were dismantled and raised over 60 meters up the sandstone cliff where they had been built more than 3,000 years before. Here they were reassembled, in the exact same relationship to each other and the sun, and covered with an artificial mountain. Most of the joins in the stone have now been filled by antiquity experts, but inside the temples it is still possible to see where the blocks were cut. You can also go inside the man made dome and see an exhibition of photographs showing the different stages of the massive removal project.
Abu Simbel was first reported by J. L. Burckhardt in 1813, when he came over the mountain and only saw the facade of the great temple as he was preparing to leave that area via the Nile. The two temples, that of Ramesses II primarily dedicated to Re-Harakhte, and that of his wife, Nefertari dedicated to Hathor, became a must see for Victorians on tour in Egypt, even though it required a trip up the Nile, and often they were covered deeply in sand, as they were when Burckhardt found them.
First of all, it is very nice to unpack and once and have your hotel travel with you, rather then the hectic routine that accompanies the stop and go itineraries of air and land tours. But besides the more relaxed mode of travel, there are other significant advantages. Nile cruises often visit a wider variety of antiquities along the banks of the river. But equally important, they also allow the tourist to gain a prospective of the rural Egypt, where people live much the same way they did even thousands of years ago, in mudbrick homes, tending their fields with wooden plows and moving produce via donkey. It is a wonderful experience to sit on a shaded deck of a floating hotel, sipping an iced beverage while watching 5,000 years of culture slowly drift by.
St Catherine’s Monastery
St Catherines is best included in you itinerary as a day excursions from Sharm el Sheik while you tour Egypt.
Fayoum Oasis: "The bud of the stem of the Nile"
Only two hours for its year-round warm climate, numerous water wheels (introduced by the Ptolemies in the 3rd century BC) and lush agricultural land. Opposite the local marketplace in Fayoum City is the Hanging Mosque, built above five arches, and nearby is the 15th century Mosque of Khunda Asla-Bey built by Sultan Qaitbey for his wife.
Fayoun has been a traditional hunting ground since pharaonic times when Crocodiopolis, centre of the cult of Sobek, was the capital of the region. There are many Pharaonic sites in the area, for example: the red granite obelisk of Senusert I and the pyramid of Senusert II at Al-Lahun, the pyramid of Amenemhat III at Hawara, and the remains of the ancient city of Karais, where you can camp and visit the site musuem, in addition to safari trips.
Wadi Al-Hitan, or the Valley of the Whales, is an expanse of desert littered with fossils, and located behind a mountain known as Gabal Gar Gohannam (The Mountain Next to Hell). It is true that, in the light of the setting sun, the mountain seems ablaze with an eerie red light.
Wadi Al-Hitan is also near the Al-Qatrani mountain range, well known for its value as a geological site: "Of all the important sites in Egypt, Al-Qatrani is the object of the most studies because it used to be a jungle, populated by all kinds of mammals. The whole area, about 150km of desert today, is an open-air geological museum," notes Mohammadein Hassan, a geologist and a ranger in the Wadi Al-Rayan protectorate. Hassan adds that this area is famous worldwide for its rare vertebrate fossils and mega-fossils.
Studies of Gabal Gar Gohannam have shown that most of the fossils in the area are of marine creatures. Complete skeletons of sharks, dogfish and whales have been located. According to Mustafa Mahmoud, the Egyptian-Italian project co-director in the Wadi Rayan protectorate, this area was under water 40 to 50 million years ago. To date, 34 whale skeletons have been discovered, with tails reaching up to 18m in length.
El Heez area is famous for its ancient churches, palaces and Roman tombs. Binantiew tomb dates back to 26th dynasty and represents unique pharaonic paintings. "Valey of the Golden Mummies" has been recently discovered in a Roman necropolis, 6 km from Bawiti.
On tour in Egypt, visitors can arrange safari trips to the oases while enjoying Bedouin folklore in the evenings. Baharia oases are connected with Siwa and Farafra oases through a motorway.
Al Kharga Oasis:
The thermal springs of Bulaq and Nasser to the south, are famous for water temperatures up to 43oC and reputed to be suitable for the treatment of rheumatism and allergies. Camping facilities are available. Further south in Baris Oasis, the second largest settlement in Al Kharga. It houses Roman Temple of Dush, dedicated to Isis and Serapis.
Al Dakhla Oasis:
Islamic Village of Al-Qasr, about 35km from Mut, houses ruins of an Ayubid mosque and is an interesting place to visit while you tour Egypt. The Pharaonic Balat tombs date from the 6th dynasty and Qalamon village dates back to the Turkish era. On the way back to Mut, located Bir Al Gabal, a palm-fringed salt lake where you can camp and picnic.
Other day-trips from Mut could include the 1st century Al-Mozawaka tombs and Deir Al-Hagar, a temple which was originally dedicated to the Theban Triad. After exploring the temple, bathe in the hot sulphur spring nearby. Visit Bashendi to see Roman tombs and a factory where carpets are still woven with scenes of Al Dakhla life. Nearby lies the Islamic Balaat village, a trading post with ancient Nubia. The oasis abounds in springs and wells of which the most famous are those of Mut 3. Their temperature reaches 43oC and you can stay in equipped chalets. Ain Al-Qasr springs are located about 12 km in the mountain so that you can camp, enjoy one-day trip and Safari.
The White Desert
A trip to the White Desert is something that no visitor to the New Valley should miss. Travellers coming from Bahariya will cross through the Black Desert, passing the tiny oasis of El Heez on the way. Nearby, there are some Roman ruins, including a church with Coptic graffiti. Bahariya and Farafra are separeted by huge golden sand dunes which make a stunning photograph during the journey. Once you enter the White Desert through Al-Sillim passage, you meet a unique landscape of surreal wind-eroded rock formations which is particularly fascinating at sunrise or sunset. Camel and jeep trips, including a hot meal and fresh bread, made in the sand Bedouin style, can be arranged from Farafra.
Siwa is one of the most fascinating oases on the edge of the Great Sand Sea. Its rich history includes that visit of Alexander the Great to Amun Prophecy Temple in order to predict the phrophecy of Amun in 331 BC. Siwans have their own culture and customs, and they speak a Berber language, Siwi, rather than Arabic. Many women still wear traditional costumes and silver jewellery like those displayed in the Traditional Siwan House Museum at the town centre. Siwa remains one of the best places to buy jewellery, rugs, baskets, traditional robes and head-dresses, decorated with antique coins.
The original settlement, Aghurmi, was superseded by Shali, founded in 1203. Set among thick palm groves, walled gardens and olive orchards, with numerous fresh-water springs and salt lakes, modern Siwa was established over the ruins of ancient Shali. Climb through the ruins of the old city for the magnificient views of the whole oasis. Wlak, rent a bicycle or ride in a caretta (donkey cart) to outlying sights and places where you can relax.
These include 26th Dynasty tombs with murals and inscriptions at Jebel Al-Mawta (The Hill of the Dead) and the temple of Amun, an acropolis temple dating from around 550 BC. Near the Oracle is the ruined temple of Amun and the famous Cleopatra Bath, a deep pool of bubbling water where you can bathe. Another favourite bathing spot is Fatnis Island, on the salt lake of Briket Siwa, surrounded by palm trees and beautiful scenery.
Deciding when to come to Egypt depends a lot on where you want to go. Everywhere south of Cairo is uncomfortably hot in the summer months (June-August), especially Luxor and Aswan, so winter (December-February) is definitely the best time to visit these areas. Summer is also the time when the Mediterranean coast is at its most crowded, but winter in Cairo can get pretty cool. March to May or September to November is the best time to enjoy the warm days without the crush of bodies on the beaches and the midday heat of high summer.
Most of Egypt is subtropical area, but the southern part of Upper Egypt is tropical. Northern winds temper the climate along the Mediterranean, but the interior areas are very hot. Egypt's climate is hot and dry most of the year. During the winter months - December, January and February - average daily temperatures stay up around 20°C (68°F) on the Mediterranean coast and a pleasant 26°C (80°F) in Aswan. Maximum temperatures get to 31°C (88°F) and 50°C (122°F) respectively. Winter nights only get down to 8°C (45°F), a very Egyptian version of chilly. The temperature sinks quickly after sunset because of the high radiation rate under cloudless skies. Alexandria receives the most rain with 19cm (7.5in) each year, while Aswan is almost bone-dry with just 2mm annually. Rainfall averages about 2 inches a year, but sudden storms sometimes cause devastating flash floods. Between March and April the Khamsin blows in from the Western Desert at up to 150kph (93mph). Relative humidity varies from 68% in February to over 70% in August to 77% in December.
Egyptian Pound (LE)=100 piastres (pt)
Most foreign currencies, cash or travellers cheque can easily be changed in Egypt. There are many exchange bureaus in the larger cities but they mainly only deal in cash. Visa and Mastercard are good for cash advances and together with American Express and JCb cards and Eurocard can be used in a wide range of shops and hotels. If you are travelling to lesser tourist areas while touring Egypt, the best currencies to have are US dollars, Pounds Sterling and Egyptian Pounds.
Banking are usually open Sunday to Thursday : 0830 to 1400 hours
For the tours on our itineraries the cost of entrances to the various historical sites are included. Here are a few exceptions to be noted.
Entrance to the Mummy Room at the Cairo Museum – LE 40
Kenya Airways and Egypt Air have regular flights from Johannesburg to Cairo. Kenya Airways flies via Nairobi which affords the opportunity of combining the Masai Mara, Mombasa, Serengeti and Zanzibar.
There is a variety of good options for getting to Egypt,
with good connections between Cairo and many European
cities. Super-cheap holiday packages including hotel
vouchers can work out cheaper than
booking a flight independently, and you can just chuck
the vouchers away if resorts aren't your style. Flights
from elsewhere can be expensive
and it's worth looking into flying to Europe first
and then making your way to Egypt from there, as this is often a cheaper
option than flying
Other connections from elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East include the bus from Israel via the Gulf of Aqaba or the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, and ferries from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Do not drink water from taps in Egypt. Bottled water
is readily available and is cheap, approx LE1.5 per 1.5 litres.
Egypt is probably the world's oldest civilization having emerged from the Nile Valley around 3,100 years ago, historically. Egypt is probably one of the oldest vacation spots. Early Greeks, Romans and others went there just for fun, and to see the wonders of some of mankind's earliest triumphs. But Egypt is much more than Pyramids and monuments. It is also Red Sea scuba diving, hot night spots, luxury hotels and five star restaurants. It is romantic cruises down the Nile on festive river boats, a night at the grand opera and it is a cultural experience like none you have ever experienced. Egypt is a land bustling with life, sound, visual beauty and excitement. More than anything else, we want you to think of Egypt as fun. For thousands of years, it has been the playground of emperors and kings, and we hope you will take the time to find out why.
The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world's great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose circa 3200 B.C. and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 B.C., who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century and who ruled for the next six centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks took control about 1250 and continued to govern after the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation hub, but also fell heavily into debt. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of Egypt's government in 1882, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Partially independent from the UK in 1922, Egypt acquired full sovereignty following World War II. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honored place of the Nile River in the agriculture and ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress society. The government has struggled to ready the economy for the new millennium through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure.
Modern Egypt is an amalgam of these legacies and more, juxtaposed with modern influences. Mud-brick villages stand beside millennia-old ruins surrounded by buildings of steel and glass. Some townsfolk dress in long flowing robes, others in Levis and Reeboks, and city traffic competes with donkey-drawn carts and wandering goats. Nowhere are these contrasts played out so colourfully as in Cairo, a massive city thronged with people and ringing to the sound of car horns, ghetto-blasters and muezzins summoning the faithful to prayer. While you tour Egypt, you can see that Egypt isn't all chaos and clatter, however. It's also a diver's dream dip, a trek across the sands on a camel or a long lazy punt down the Nile.
Population: 76,117,421 (July 2004 est.)
Tipping is a way of life in Egypt and bus drivers and tour guides expect it at restaurants. Having said this, you still retain the right to tip and it is highly dependant on your satisfaction of the services received.
Here is a rough guide to tipping:
Nile Cruise: LE 20 per night for the whole crew.
Restaurants/Bars – 10-12% of the bill.
Telephone main lines: 7.43 million (2002)
Egypt has a very good system of public and private transport. Domestic air travel is clearly the quickest way to get around while you tour Egypt, although it's probably only worth considering if you have lots of money and little time. Otherwise the transport options include buses, trains and boats, and even camels, donkeys and horses.
If you're claustrophobic or have a weak stomach you might be uncomfortable travelling on the buses and trains, but they are a great way to meet local people and get a feel for the culture. Buses service virtually every town in Egypt and the 5000km (3100mi) of rail also connects just about every town in the country from Aswan to Alexandria.
You can also hire service taxis that shunt car loads of passengers between towns and cities. These vehicles are traditionally Peugeot 504s, however Toyota minibuses are becoming popular as service taxis or microbuses, and they usually congregate at the train and bus stations. The drivers wait until they're full (very full!) before they budge.
Flying is a good way to get around the country. EgyptAir offers daily flights between Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Hurghada, Sharm el-Sheikh, Oasis. Air Sinai has flights from Cairo to Sharm el Shiekh, Taba, Luxor, Ras El Nakab and Eilat.
Egypt has a regular efficient train service travelling between every major town within the country and offering a range of services from plush air-conditioned sleepers to 3rd class. Discounts are available for holders of Student cards and children under 9 years old.
An efficient bus services is available
from to and from all the major cities in the country
including the Sinai.
Situated at the northeastern corner of Africa, Egypt is bordered on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, in the east by Israel and the Red Sea, in the South by Sudan, and to the west by Libya. Hacking a whopping square chunk out of Africa's northeast corner, Egypt stretches over more than a million square km. More than 94% of the land area is barren desert though, which has induced 90% of the population to squish into just 3% of the total land area, the fertile Nile Valley and Delta.
The altitude of Egypt ranges from 132 m (436 ft) below sea level in the Libyan Desert to about 2,629 m (8,600ft) at Mount Catherine in the Sinai Pennisula. The Nile delta is a broad alluvial land, sloping to the sea for 100 miles, with a 155 mile maritime front between Alexandria and Port Sa'id. South of Cairo. Most of the country (known as Upper Egypt) is a tableland rising to some 457m (1,500 ft), and the narrow valley of the Nile is enclosed by cliffs as high as 548m (1,800 ft). A series of cascades and rapids at Aswan, known as the First Cataract, forms a barrier to movement upstream.
The bulk of the country is covered by the Sahara (translated as “desert”), which north of Aswan is usually called the Libyan Desert, East of the Nile, the Arabian Desert extends to the Red Sea. The Western Desert consists of low-lying sand dunes and many depressions. The outstanding geographical feature is the Nile River, on which human existence depends, for its annual floods provide the water necessary for agriculture.
Egypt borders Libya in the west, Sudan in the south, the Mediterranean Sea in the north, and the Red Sea and Israel in the east. The eastern region, across the Suez Canal, is Sinai. This region slopes up to the high mountains of Mt Katherine (Gebel Katarina at 2642m/8666ft is Egypt's highest point) and Mt Sinai. Along Egypt's Mediterranean coast there are countless white-sand beaches, some developed as tourist resorts but many still pristine and isolated. North of Cairo the Nile splits into a series of tributaries that flow into the Mediterranean.
Visas are required by all nationals except those of Malta and Arab countries. These can either be obtained from your home country at the the port and airport of arrival except for South Africans where it must be obtained in South Africa. If travelling overland visas can be obtained from neighbouring countries without much of a problem. You can apply for either a single entry visa which entitles the holder to a stay of up to one month, tour Egypt and is valid for presentation for up to three months, or you can apply for a multiple entry visa which is limited for up to three visits. You cannot get a visa at the Israeli border.
There is normally a two week grace period beyond the expiry date of your visa. Visas can be extended for up to a period of six months but you will normally be required to show you have sufficient to support your stay and show bank receipts proving you have changed sufficient money. Credit card receipts for purchases or cash advances are generally not accepted.
You can visit the Sinai area between the Israeli border crossing of Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh without a visa, but you will only be issued with a entry stamp enabling you to stay 14 days.
It is no longer a requirement for nationals entering Egypt to register with the police within one week of arrival - this was abolished early 1997.