Skirting the edge of northern Africa, Egypt is a portal to the Middle East. It is the root of Arab civilisation and a fascinating concoction of tribes, religions and cultures. Egypt’s diverse mix of ancient history wrapped in modern and progressive influences makes the land of the Pharaohs a mezze of activities and sights: from an insightful tour of ancient Luxor, to an opulent cruise along the snaking River Nile, an idyllic beach side holiday at Sharm El Sheikh, or an exuberant shopping spree in the capital of Cairo. Sandwiched between the Mediterranean and Red Sea and blessed with a year-round balmy climate, Egypt offers an adventurous edge to any holiday with myriad water sports, from wreck diving in deep open water, to snorkelling amidst a coral reef. Ablaze with life and colour, the vibrant metropolises of Egypt provide stark juxtaposition to the surrounding arid, desert landscape, where the ever-changing, undulating sand dunes shelter Nomads and explorers alike. Egyptians are connoisseurs of tourism and masters at luxurious tours and accommodations, making the country a contrast of ancient and modern, and a popular destination for indulgent escapes.
With its ancient roots and complex cultural composition shaped by millennia of passing civilisations, Egypt is a mystery to be unravelled. After the Pharaonic dynasties, Egypt fell to Hellenism, Islamism, Coptic Christianity and yet today is a modernising society, making it a melting pot of peoples, religions and traditions. It is a unique hybrid where illustrious new cities abuzz with vivacity still neighbour the eerie world of ancient Egypt.
Prepare your every sense for the cacophony the souk, where the tradition of haggling for wares is fully expected. It is a local custom and an exciting skill to master. At Cairo’s El-Sagha Souk, gold and silver drip like diamonds from vendors’ stalls, while Aswan’s Sharia el Souk houses aromatic spices spilling from sacks, and authentic African gifts of carpets and utensils.
A staple food in Egypt, Ful Medames consists of lava beans and is served with garlic, lemon juice and oil. It is enjoyed far and wide in the Middle East and is a popular local dish tried and tested by tourists. For a sumptuously sweet dessert, Konafah is a thin pastry pudding dried by hot plate and mixed with butter before being stuffed with nuts or whipped cream and served with a delicate drizzle of fruit syrup.
With a mix of cultures throughout Egypt, it is difficult to know which customs to abide by. When on holiday in Egypt, it is advisable to follow these common practices:
- Sometimes sexes are segregated, such as on a bus or in a queue.
- Dress appropriately when visiting a mosque. Remove your shoes, keep bare arms and legs covered, and women are advised to wear a hat or headscarf.
- When dealing with locals, it is customary to offer a polite refusal to the first invitation, but then to accept gracefully.
- Muslims do not drink alcohol or eat pork, so respect their practices.
World famous for its historical civilisations, Egypt is scattered with ancient ruins. Tucked away between the sprouting modern cities are the carefully preserved remains of the Old Kingdom. Illustrating a time now passed, the ruins themselves are windows into Egypt’s rich past, with chiselled graffiti dating as far as back as the 1800s flecking the ancient landmarks.
A visit to the Ancient City of Thebes and the Valley of the Kings combines luxurious and modern accommodations with historic outdoor attractions. The Great Sphinx and Temple of Karnak are a ‘must see’ while monuments, tombs and temples line the banks of the Nile as hot air balloons bob overhead.
Nowhere in Egypt is the contrast between ancient and modern so obvious as in Cairo. The pyramids of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, simply cannot be missed. Transported 900km from Aswan, their gargantuan stones and revolutionary design still leave visitors in awe to this day.
Cruise the Nile
Meandering through the Egyptian countryside, sit aboard a serene Nile cruise reflecting the drama and romance of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and idly watch the country pass you by from a unique and unobstructed vantage point. Returning to the comforts of a deluxe private cabin each evening, take in the country’s landmarks by day and dine on delectable local cuisine by night.
With nearly half of its borders framed by water, a beach holiday in Egypt is popular choice, and for good reason. With numerous waterfront resorts, where gentle waves lick the pristine beaches, you can recline in comfort. Replete with marine life and unkempt wrecks, the Red Sea is a haven for curious divers. PADI dive centres are plentiful, allowing visitors the opportunity to take to the brimming sea in no time. Further inland, the sweeping feral desserts make for adventurous treks into the unknown aboard a ponderous camel. Spend a few nights in a Nomad tent under an unobstructed night sky brimming with stars. Lawrence of Arabia has nothing on you.
Because of its coastal location and year round sun, beach holidays in Egypt are a main draw for tourists. Unsurprisingly, resorts fringe the coastline where crystal waters provide idyllic conditions for a spot of snorkelling and swimming among harlequin filefish and blue cheek butterfly fish as they dance between anemones.
Covering around two thirds of Egypt, desert tours are an invaluable insight into the country’s unique and remarkable landscape. With so much to explore, desert tours by 4×4 WD enable you to discover the desert’s varied environment at speed. Sheltered from the strong African sun, the cars also provide a welcome respite from the unrelenting heat with added air conditioning.
Adept at navigating the rippling terrain of deserts, camels are not only an amusing mode of transportation, but also a rite of passage for the adventurous. Big baby eyes and long eyelashes mask a tough and loyal animal; camel riding in Egypt is a novel way to explore the many attractions. These ‘ships of the desert’ are used to walking many miles, so sit back, relax, and take in the sights in style.