Sunday, 22 June 2014

Top ten : Egypt

My absolute favourites in Egypt:

1.  The pyramids.  Of course.  Start with the biggies at Giza, and the sound and light show is a must see. Then go to the step pyramid of Sakkara, the first and still the best one to understand the minds that dreamed them up as tombs.  Don't miss the small but rather neat museum on-site.  If possible also take in Dahshour.  

Khafre's pyramid at Giza


2.  Take the night train to Luxor and spend a day or two at the Valleys of Kings and Queens.  Karnak Temple requires a couple visits, one by day to wrap your head around its humongousness and another at night for another riveting sound and light show.  

Sunrise through the window on train to Luxor

Luxor Temple

3.  Go into the White Desert and marvel at the limestone shapes sculpted by the winds and sands.  Camp for the night under the stars. Enjoy a vast and unimaginable peace.  Watch the sunrise wash over the desert.  Unforgettable!

Road to Bahariya

Sunset in the White Desert

Campsite at White Desert

4.  Enjoy the Nile's final resting place, go to Damietta where the eastern branch of the Nile meets the Med.  Tranquil and honest and untouristy. Watch the catch come in early morning. And take a felucca and sail the evening waters at Cairo, Luxor and/or Aswan.  Sit by the river and sip a coffee, or smoke shisha if that's your thing.  Enjoy the Nile. Period.

Felucca at Aswan

Fishing boat at Damietta

5.  Spend a day in Islamic Cairo - Sharia Khayameya, Sharia Muizz and the Khan el Khalili.  Several mosques and mausoleums to check out, old merchant residences - the best restored is Beit Suheimy.  Great shopping opportunities too, but be prepared to bargain hard.  Go on to Wikala al Ghuri on Saturdays and Wednesday evenings to watch the Tanoura being performed by whirling dervishes.  Programme starts at 8 pm, but seats fill up by 7-ish.  Mind altering, in the best way possible.

Feel the drums and cymbals 'talking" to each other in this jugalbandi

Colourful, mesmerising, devotional, rhythmic and riveting!

6.  Alexandria - a two thousand year old city with a completely different vibe, Egypt's ex-capital and now her second city and main port. Visit the Graeco-Roman monuments.  The real roots of the revolution have their home in Alex. Khaled Said's home city, also home to many independent bands and musicians and graffiti artists. Museum at Bibliotheca is certainly worth a visit, Fridays it shuts at 12 noon. Eastern harbour and the Corniche at Qaitbey's fort great for people watching.  Best seafood.

Boats in the Eastern Harbour Alex

Qaitbey's Fort stands at the site of the famous lighthouse, a boat in Egyptian colours is moored in the foreground

7.  The monasteries at Wadi Natrun, and Zafaraana.  St Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, where Moses' legends abound.  Each monastery is a reminder of a time when Egypt was profoundly Christian.  Sinai itself is forbidding and utterly fascinating and endlessly wonderful. Sadly, not such a safe place for travel any more.

St Catherine, Sinai

The bell tower inside St Catherine's Monasery

8.  When monument fatigue strikes, Pharonic, Islamic or Coptic, seek relief at Fayoum oasis for a spot of peace and culture-free quiet; or get to the Red Sea resorts.  Sharm al Sheikh is the most famous, the others are quieter.  My personal favourite is Ras Sudr.

Water wheels at Fayoum oasis

Ras Sudr at sunset

9. The Med resorts are not exactly terrible either, El Alamein has the WWII memorials, if you're into that period of history.  Or you can give those a miss and stick to the beach. Mersa Matruh is difficult to get to in terms of the driving distance, but the rewards are truly great.  Beautiful beaches and crystal waters.  

Ageeba beach Mersa Matruh

Father and children at Blue beach Mersa Matruh

10.  Can't get away from Cairo? Not even an hour's drive to Fayoum or Ain Sokhna? Never mind, get to the Azhar Park on Salah Salem Street, an oasis of greenery and peace in the heart of Cairo.  Open air performances by local artists every Friday evening.  Minaret view sunsets come for the price of the admission ticket. 

Azhar Park sunset

Those are my top ten.  What are yours?  In or out of Egypt, wherever you've travelled, and/or lived?


  1. Wow! Excellent list! I have heard some bad reviews about Egypt, but I'm still intrigued to visit it someday. It is mystical and enchanting!

    1. Egypt has faced some tough times in recent years and that has hit tourism badly, esp since last year. But hopefully it will be back on its feet soon. Indeed it is an enchanting country! all the best for your trip, whenever you make it.