Egypt is the birthplace of one of the greatest civilisations known to man. A history dating back over 5 millennia has left an indelible mark on the country, as evidenced by the one of the richest public displays of ancient artifacts the world has ever seen.
It started with the Pharaohs and the unification of upper and lower Egypt over 5,000 years ago. In the many centuries that followed, the Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Turks, Arabs and more recently, the Europeans have played their part in creating the unique and fascinating spectacle that we see today. Egypt is one of the most extraordinary and perplexing destinations that you could ever wish to visit. Inextricably linked to the umbilical cord that is the River Nile, Egypt is seemingly chaotic and disorderly beyond reason. Don’t be fooled. The Egyptian experience will exert and retain a beguiling pull on you, long after your visit is over.
Without doubt, Egypt is a beautiful and alluring place, offering deep blue skies, clear-white sands and sparkling-blue water in abundance. It’s many archaeological treasures are arguably incomparable, it’s people, as friendly and hospitable as any you are ever likely to meet. Think of Egypt and the chances are you will think of Cairo or the Great Pyramids. In reality there is so much more to it than that. Egypt is a large and diverse country and its many sites and sounds are widely dispersed. Getting around in a sensible and logical manner involves careful planning and the establishment of a set itinerary encompassing all of the places that you wish to visit. The following is a short guide, we can help you put it all together.
Most journeys to Egypt commence in Cairo, the largest city in Africa and the heart of the nation. A stay in Cairo would not be complete without a visit to the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. You should also consider the Egyptian Museum, a walk around the bazaars of Khan El-Khalili and Islamic Cairo. The next stop is Luxor, home to the richest concentration of ancient Egyptian artefacts. Visits to the temples of Luxor and Karnak are a must along with the Pharaonic Tombs of the West Bank in the Valleys of the Kings and the Queens. Luxor is also the main centre for Nile Cruising with many vessels starting from and terminating here, including our partners, Sonesta and Oberoi. Cruise itineraries starting from Luxor visit a number of sites enroute to the southern city of Aswan, made famous by Agatha Christie and also a point of turnaround or an embarkation point for Nile cruise vessels travelling through to Luxor. The temple complex of Abu Simbel is a popular excursion for visitors to Aswan as is the High Dam and Lake Nasser.
What better way to conclude a visit to Classical Egypt than to spend a few days relaxing on the Red Sea. Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh are two of the best known resorts, both offering access to Red Sea Diving and the timeless, natural beauty of the Sinai.
The largest city in Africa, the symbolic capital of the Arab world and the focal point of an entire nation. Cairo is home to over 16 million Egyptians and the starting point for most visitors to the country.
Contrary to most peoples expectations, Cairo is not as old as its auspicious surroundings might suggest. Overlooked by 5,000 year old monuments, Cairo is a relative newcomer, founded in the 10th century. Much of the city that we see today owes its heritage to 19th century town planners from Europe, commissioned to build a modern city to rival London, Paris and Rome.
In the 1950′s population pressures left the town planners behind and what we are left with is a teaming melting pot of humanity, interspersed with a mixture of the old and the new. A seemingly chaotic, disorganised combination of people, places, noise fumes and traffic, with a charm and resonance quite unlike anything you have ever experienced before, except perhaps in an Indiana Jones movie.
Cairo is a huge and sprawling city and finding your way around its many sights and attractions may appear, at first, to be a daunting task. In actual fact this is not as difficult as it seems with most of Cairo’s main sites lying within reach of the city centre. For ease of orientation, the centre of Cairo is defined as the area immediately adjacent to the Egyptian Museum, known as Midan Tahrir. Close by, to the immediate south of here are located four of the five hotels which we feature in Cairo, the fifth being located at the Pyramids.
East from Midan Tahrir lies the medieval heart of the city known as Islamic Cairo, home to the famous street markets of Khan El-Khalili, the University and Al-Azhar Mosque. To the south-east of Islamic Cairo, the impressive Citadel can be found, dominating the skyline from its prominent position on the eastern edge of the city. The Citadel’s focal point is the Mosque of Mohammed Ali, one of the many historical sites and structures with which the fortress is blessed. To the south-west of the Citadel you will find the area known as Coptic Cairo or Old Cairo. Increasingly popular with visitors the area is famous for its Coptic or early Christian relics, such as the Hanging Church and the Coptic Museum. Some 6 kilometres to the south-west of Midan Tahrir, Cairo’s most famous landmarks can be found. The Pyramids of Giza and the enigmatic Sphinx. Definitely not to be missed!
After the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor is Egypt’s greatest and most popular attraction. Described as the world’s largest open-air museum, Luxor and its surroundings are home to the largest concentration of ancient archaeological sites in the country.
From the moment that you arrive in Luxor you are aware of its overwhelming presence, beauty and history. The location alone leaves you breathless and save for the odd modern day intrusion and the effects of time on the surroundings, nothing much has changed in over 4,000 years. You can’t help but gaze in awe across the Nile at the orange-red escarpment facing you and wonder at the grandeur that once lay before it. We can be grateful, however, for the treasures that remain for us to witness today and for the remarkable state in which they have been preserved.
The Luxor that we find today is made up of three distinct areas. The West Bank of the Nile is home to the ancient capital of Thebes with its profusion of ancient monuments and burial grounds. Luxor itself lies is on the East Bank with Karnak to the north-east. Together they provide a setting for two of the most stunning ancient temple complexes on the Nile.
There is much to do and see in the Luxor area. It is certainly deserving of additional time within your schedule to allow you to fully appreciate the many antiquities on offer. The sights of the East Bank alone could keep you occupied for an eternity but the following should be included in every itinerary, wherever possible. The town of Luxor is built around the temple of the same name. Luxor Temple dates from the 13th century BC. Its pylons, courtyards, avenues and sanctuaries are all dedicated to the Theban Gods. Further up the Nile lies the Temple of Karnak, a complex of kiosks, halls, sanctuaries, pylons and obelisks, again dedicated to the Theban Gods. The layout here is on a grand scale and should not be rushed. The Luxor Museum and the small Mummification Museum are also worthy of a visit.
The main attractions for visitors to the West Bank are the tombs and temples of the Necropolis of Ancient Thebes, the burial grounds of the pharaohs and their queens. The first monuments that most people encounter are the Colossi of Memnon, located by the roadside enroute to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. Also notable are the Tombs of the Nobles and the Deir Al-Medina (Monastery of the Town). The most popular temples to visit are Deir Al-Bahri (Hatshepsut) and Medinat Habu (Ramses III).
Standing sedately on the East Bank of the Nile at the First Cataract, Aswan is Egypt’s southernmost city and gateway to the Sudan, Nubia and the rest of Africa.
Once a garrison town, located at the crossroads of the ancient trading routes, Aswan is now a popular resort destination and an embarkation and disembarkation point for the many cruise ships that sail the Nile between here and Luxor.
Aswan is one of the driest inhabited places in the world with rainfall occurring only once or twice in a decade. The dry, warm climate made Aswan popular with Winter holiday makers, particularly in Victorian times. The Summer heat at that time being too much to handle.
Lying just above the original Aswan Dam, with the newer and larger High Dam behind it, Aswan stands almost at the point where the Nile enters Egypt. The river here is wide and majestic, strewn with boulders and islands, bordered by golden rock tombs to the West and populated by hundreds of feluccas as they ply their trade on the gently flowing Nile waters.
RED SEA AND SINAI
Egypt’s Red Sea is one of the world’s best known and most popular diving areas. Its shores, in particular the Egyptian coastline on which Hurghada is located and the coastal areas of southern and eastern Sinai, are also home to some of Egypt’s finest hotels and resorts.
The Red Sea was formed over 40 million years ago. Its relative enclosure on three sides by arid desert and mountain scenery, high temperatures and a relatively small inflow of water from the Indian Ocean serve to make the Red Sea one the saltiest in the world. Diving is popular everywhere in the Red Sea region but the favourite with those in the know are the waters that make up the Ras Al-Mohammed National Park, situated at the foot of the Sinai peninsular, close to Sharm El-Sheikh.
Sinai itself is one of the most awe-inspiring and beautiful arid landscapes in the world. Bordered by the Mediterranean to the north and the Red Sea to the south, east and west, the Sinai peninsula is steeped in history, conflict, religion and refuge. Range after range of red-coloured mountain ranges give way to dry, dusty valleys and plains, populated by the local bedouin people and a surprisingly varied amount of wildlife.
Diving apart, their are a number of terrestrial attractions available to the visitor to Egypt’s Red Sea coastline. All are accessible from Hurghada, our featured resort on the Egyptian mainland, as well as from Sharm El-Sheikh at the foot of the Sinai Peninsula.
Visitor attractions close to the Egyptian Red Sea coastline include the Monasteries of St. Paul and St. Anthony, located just south of Zaafarana.
These are two of the oldest monasteries in Egypt, dating back to the 4th century. Further afield is the Roman settlement of Mons Claudius, located in the Eastern desert, between Hurghada and Luxor.
Southern Sinai provides access to some of the areas most famous historical sites and experiences. St. Catherine’s Monastery lies on a spot reputed to be close to the site of Moses Burning Bush and dates from the 4th century. Just south of here is Mt. Sinai, which is of great religious importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
GENERAL INFORMATION EGYPT
PASSPORTS AND VISAS
British passport holders require a visa, obtainable on arrival. British tourists visiting Sharm El-Sheikh and the east coast of Sinai do not need a visa for visits of 2 weeks or less. For other parts of the Sinai and the rest of Egypt a visa is required. Other nationalities should contact the Egyptian Consulate, 2 Lowndes Street, London, SW1X 9ET – Tel: 020 7235 9719 or 9777 ext 30/37. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www. egyptianconsulate.co.uk. At least 6-months validity is required on your passport.
VACCINATIONS AND HEALTH
Yellow fever immunisation essential if arriving from an infected area. Precautions against hepatitis A, typhoid and polio recommended plus malaria depending on area visited and time of year. Please consult your GP for up to date information.
Egyptian Pound (LE) = 100 Piastres. Major credit cards accepted. ATM facilities available in major urban areas.
Hot and sunny throughout the year with an average of 11 hours of sunshine a day in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan during the Summer and 8 hours in the Winter. Summer temperatures range from 31? C in Alexandria to 50? C in Aswan. Mediterranean coastal regions are cooler November to March with the possibility of short outbursts of rain. Night time, particularly further south and in Sinai can be markedly cool, often dropping below zero degrees.
TIPPING AND BARGAINING
Bargaining is common place in Egypt, with some rare exceptions. Tipping, known as baksheesh, is also common. Carry plenty of small change for this when visiting popular tourist areas.
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