As one of the oldest modern countries in existence, there are simply so many great places in Egypt it’s hard to make a top 10 list, but we did our best. With dreamy deserts, plentiful waterways, historical monuments, and tons of culture to boot, you just have to get there and see it for yourself.
Pyramids of Giza
You don’t go to Egypt without seeing the pyramids. In fact you will probably see them sooner than you think, poking above Cairo’s city skyline. The complex consists of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the smaller Pyramid of Khafre, the moderately-sized Pyramid of Menkaure and the Great Sphinx on the eastern side.
Unfortunately getting to Abu Simbel can be a bit of an effort, but most visitors agree it’s worth it. It is located in Nubia, southern Egypt on the west bank of the Nile. The temple complex was built under the reign of Ramesses II, who ruled in the 14th century B.C. Laborers carved the two structures directly into the cliffs, with a colossal façade of 20m tall statues of Ramesses II. Impressive as this is, the interiors are just as remarkable with rooms cut from rock lined with statues, bas-reliefs and sculptures. Incredibly the temples were moved to their current position in the 1960s when rising levels of the Nile River threatened them. This temple looks like something out of Indiana Jones. And in fact an idea from it was used in Raiders of the Lost Ark. While popular all year round, twice a year huge crowds flock to Abu Simbel to witness when sunlight penetrates the temple’s inner sanctuary and illuminates the four statues deep within. This happens on February 22 and October 22nd to commemorate Ramesses’ birthday and ascension to the throne.
The Sphinx is part of the complex containing the Great Pyramids but deserves a listing in its own right. The statue of a reclining lion with a human head must be one of the most recognized monuments in the world. There is still much debate about its origins, and the mystery surrounding its origins makes a visit here even more enjoyable.
Valley of the Kings and King Tutankhamen
The Kings of ancient Egypt constructed impressive tombs for a period of nearly 500 years in a valley opposite Thebes (modern Luxor). Some 63 tombs and 23 chambers have been excavated in this valley making it one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. No tomb is more famous than that of King Tutankhamen, whose intact remains and relics were discovered in 1922.
Luxor, now built on the ancient city of Thebes, has been described as the “world’s greatest open air museum.” If you go, you’ll soon find out why. There’s the Karnak and Luxor temple complexes to enjoy, you can cross the river to see the Valley of the Kings or the Valley of the Queens or visit museums such as the Luxor Museum and Mummification Museum.
Felucca Boat Ride
Few experiences in Egypt are more romantic than sailing down the Nile on a traditional wooden sailboat or felucca. And for a few dollars per day the experience can be yours too. Meals are included in the price. Common trips include those between Aswan and Luxor, and south of Aswan towards the 550km long Lake Nasser.
Red Sea Coast
The Red Sea coast is on most traveller’s itineraries to Egypt and for good reason. This is largely because its shallow shelves are brimming with marine life and corals. Some 1 000 invertebrate species and 200 soft and hard corals permeate these tropical waters and make snorkeling and scuba diving a delight. Those that want a more relaxed holiday will enjoy sunbathing by the seashores.
Khan-el-Khalili is possibly North Africa’s best market. While labyrinthine in proportion it’s pretty safe, except for the usual pickpockets, so don’t be afraid to explore deep into its depths and reaches. Prices can be a little on the high side but you can pick up good quality jewellery boxes, painted papyrus, backgammon boards or some special tobacco. There are good coffee houses in the market and the al-Hussein Mosque, one of the holiest in Islam.
Fabulously remote, the region around Mount Sinai is also one of Egypt’s most dramatic. Bleak, jagged mountains give way to green valleys and it can be very rewarding, if rather difficult, for hiking. But most people come here as it is believed the 2285m mountain of Sinai was where God gave Moses the 10 commandments. It’s possible to climb to the summit where there is a mosque and Greek Orthodox chapel.
Birqash Camel Market, Cairo
Birqash, 35km northwest of Cairo, boasts the nation’s largest camel market. It has to be seen to be believed. Hundreds of camels are sold here every day although it is most lively on Fridays between 7am and 10am. If you’re big on animal rights you might not enjoy it too much as many camels are hobbled and beaten if they get out of line.