The question travel bloggers hate is “what is your favorite country?” When pressed, the country I am most likely to name is Egypt. The first Amateur Traveler tour was a photo tour of Egypt. Egypt is a complex, chaotic, colorful, And culturally rich country.
Is Egypt Safe?
Before I talk about places to visit in Egypt let’s address the elephant in the room. Is Egypt safe? That can change with the political situation so consult the U.S. State Department website, but in general, there is a lot of effort that goes into trying to make the tourist experience safe. It is a key part of the Egyptian economy and when trouble does happen the tourism to Egypt drops off a cliff. That being said, when we landed in Cairo we knew we were someplace different.
There were definitely moments that Egypt took us out of our comfort zone. My wife and I arrived alone at the Cairo airport at nearly midnight. The process of getting our entry visas was not straightforward. As we walked into the night a jovial stranger greeted us and offered to procure a cab for us. We soon found ourselves heading into the darkness following a man we didn’t know who was carrying both our suitcases. My wife asked me if I thought this was a particularly good idea but my gut said it was OK. True to his word he led us to a cab driver and after a brief conversation that we didn’t understand we were launched into Cairo traffic.
Our cab driver darted and weaved past other cars, past foolhardy pedestrians and slow-moving donkey carts. I closed my eyes more than once. Even at nearly 1 AM the city was very much alive. It only took stopping twice to ask another stranger for directions before our cab driver crossed the busy city and delivered us to our hotel.
The Great Pyramid
As a lover of history, trying to understand how old the Great Pyramid challenges me. Our guide, an egyptologist, told us the pyramid was built during the Old Kingdom. It was built so long ago that the name of the invaders who toppled the old Kingdom have been lost to the mists of time. The invaders had a technological edge over the Egyptians of that time. They had the wheel and chariots.
Standing at the only remain remaining wonder of the seven wonders of the ancient world took my breath away. The Great Pyramid was already over 2000 years old when that list was created in the 1st century.
We took an early morning (middle of the night really) flight south to Upper Egypt. We arrived just as the sun was coming up. We took a boat out to the temple to Isis and Philae. I had to wonder if the designers of the Disneyland jungle cruise ride had seen these boats as they looked eerily familiar. As we got off the bus to get on the boats a crowd of vendors descended on our guide who had the omnipotent power to choose a few of them to accompany us on the boat ride and have exclusive access to our attention.
Our guide deciphered the hieroglyphics on the temple for us. But the hieroglyphics don’t change that much from one temple to another. Here is our good pharaoh (fill in the blank with Pharaoh’s name). See how the gods smile on him. See how they gave him life. You should listen to this guy. The pharaoh might be one of the 11 named Rameses from the New Kingdom or one of 14 named Ptolemy but the message was basically the same. I got to the point where I could pick out the cartouche for Ramesses or Ptolemy on the temples from sheer repetition.
A cartouche is a proper name in hieroglyphics and it is surrounded by an oval as in the above photo. Ramesses starts with ‘Ra’ or sun so the cartouche on the left that has a sun at the top is his.
Again in the early light of dawn, we boarded a boat and sailed up the Nile to where boys and men on camels greeted us at the beach. Now I know a camel ride sounds like the ultimate tourist service thing to do, but I swear to you my wife will still get giddy if you mention her camel from Egypt. Each of the camels seemed to have their own personality as Joan’s camel nuzzled with the person in front of her in our caravan. I swear my camel smiled and mugged for the camera when I went to take his picture.
This the fine sand along the shores of the Nile made advantage of a camel ride obvious even for a quarter of a mile. Walking up the hill of sand was a chore for us but our faithful ships of the desert handled the task with ease.
The Nubian people are a beautiful people and with their dark skin, I was reminded of my trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Spices and dyes added to the color palette of the scene.
With as much history to see in Egypt, it is amazing to think about how much history has been lost. You cannot visit Memphis which was the capital of the Old Kingdom in Egypt.
One of the artifacts that you can see from Memphis is the Colossus of Memphis which is a statue of Rameses II lying down inside a museum built for it in Cairo. The colossus is about 36 feet long (without its feet) – it is so large that you can only get a good shot from the balcony above.
Valley of the Kings
Most of the tombs of the pharaohs from the New Kingdom were hidden in the Valley of the Kings. Most were discovered and looted centuries ago.
Tutankhamun’s tomb is notable not for size, its grandeur, or the uniqueness of its treasure but for being undiscovered for so long and therefore intact when discovered in the 1800s. The tomb itself was claustrophobic. It is surprisingly small in size when you consider how many of the riches in the Cairo Museum came from this one tomb. Photographs from the opening of the tomb show a ramshackle pile of treasure that would rival the worst garage of your pack-rat neighbor.
With amazing timing, we just happened to be in the tomb of Tutankhamun when egyptologists opened the outer sarcophagus to check on its contents. You could come back for decades and not have so rare an encounter with history. Some of the other tombs for the more major pharaohs were stunning. The art on the walls was still colorful millennia after the tomb was built. Arrive as early in the day as you can to avoid the crowds.
These are just some of the highlights of our trip. Our pictures only capture part of the trip. World War II battlefields, quiet beaches, noisy marketplaces, horse-drawn carriage rides, temples, churches, mosques, monasteries, desert landscapes, and the life-giving Nile all await you in this amazing land.
Listen to more about our Egypt trip at Photo Tour of Egypt – Amateur Traveler Episode 255.
For tours to Egypt check out our sponsor Monarch budget holidays.