Egypt is one of those places that are on most travel bucket lists especially because pop culture is littered with references to Egyptian history and mythology. For a location so hyped, one might have suspicions that it can be underwhelming once you get there. However, I can assure you that it is not. Egypt has far more to offer than its common impression. It would almost be a crime to not spend at least 10 days there. Travelers should keep in mind that it is a desert country so choose your season wisely.
Words & Photographs
By Saadat Chowdhury
The capital city is divided into Islamic Cairo and New Cairo, the latter being built to alleviate congestion in downtown Cairo. You can drive around the city for half a day to see the mosques and monuments in Islamic Cairo, and then spend the remaining half at the Museum of Cairo to see the treasure trove they have on display such as artifacts from the tombs of Tutankhamun, Akhenaten, and Hatshepsut, among others. Close to the museum, one can also visit the Tahrir Square (meaning Liberation Square), where the Arab Spring movement took place. The locals often jest that if you come to the square, you instantly become national news.
HOW TO GET THERE
All major Middle-Eastern airlines like Etihad, Qatar, and Emirates fly from Dhaka to Cairo, so you have your set of options. One thing to consider is the total duration of the flight, which can range from 10 to 13 hours (with the layover at the airline’s hub included).
THE PYRAMID COMPLEX IN GIZA
An hour away from Cairo is Giza, famed for its monumental pyramids. Upon reaching the pyramids and seeing them up close, you cannot help but feel dwarfed by their magnitude and magnificence. Standing in from of the last survivor of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World is a truly surreal experience; witnessing their grandeur first-hand will definitely leave you speechless.
The best way to see the pyramids is to take a camel ride. The camel, guided by its owner, will take you around the desert that will give you a brilliant view of the pyramids – perfect for a photo op.
The Pyramid Complex comprises:
• 3 large pyramids – one for Pharaoh Khufu; one for Khufu’s son and successor, Khafre; and one for Khafre’s son and successor, Menkaure. Khufu’s Pyramid is the largest of all and is known as the Great Pyramid of Giza.
• 3 smaller pyramids are for Khufu’s wives.
• The Great Sphinx of Giza – with the body of a lion and the head of a human. This mythical being is believed to have been the “Guardian of the Pyramids”.
The excitement and awe from your observations will stick with you throughout the entire day and well into the night when there is a light show with narrations. However, like myself, if you stay for the narration, you might be thoroughly underwhelmed. Since it’s just a guy with an American accent reading off an encyclopaedia entry, no one will blame you for skipping it.
Word of advice at this point: In Egypt, particularly in Giza, you will have people approach you – regardless of your gender – and be all over you (quite literally), offering their assistance. No reason to be alarmed, though. In most cases, they are just vendors pushing their products and the best way to deal with the situation is to not react. Just smile and walk away.
A tour of Egypt is incomplete without the Nile Cruise, since Egypt is, after all, the “Gift of the Nile”. The cruise business is highly competitive and as such, you will find 5-star cruises with luxurious cabins to be quite affordable. Take the 3-day cruise because it covers a lot of ground with the added benefit of trying out Egyptian cuisine while enjoying the gala nights with belly and Tanura dances.
The vendors will even find you in the middle of the Nile and row towards you on small boats, selling mostly bedcovers. They will throw their goods on the deck of the ship. You can either throw them back or keep them and throw some money back.
The cruise is simultaneously intriguing and relaxing; you get to sit back in the comfort of the cruise and enjoy the beautiful sceneries as the ship sails to Aswan and Luxor in South Egypt.
THE TEMPLES IN SOUTH EGYPT
If the size of the Pyramids of Giza leaves you awestruck, the brilliance of the temples in South Egypt will leave you overwhelmed.
At Aswan, there are two major temples – Temple of Kom Ombo (dedicated to the Crocodile God, Sebek, and the Falcon God, Horus) and Philae Temple (dedicated to the Goddess Isis). The Philae Temple was originally on Philae Island, but the island was flooded and the temple started to erode. Thankfully, UNESCO stepped in and restored the entire temple piece-by-piece on Agilkia Island.
Luxor City is separated by the Nile. On the East Bank are the two major temples – Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple, both among the largest and the grandest religious buildings ever made, and dedicated to the triad – Amun Ra (Sun God), his wife Mut, and their son Khonsu. An avenue of sphinxes connects the two temples because it was believed that during an annual religious festival called Opet, the cult statues of the triad would travel from Karnak to Luxor Temple.
On the West Bank, is the Valley of the Kings, where 63 Pharaohs including Tutankhamun, were buried. Although it is definitely among the most popular tourist destinations, it would be advisable to be wary of the heat as my excursion in October almost left me with a heat stroke.
This beautiful city founded by Alexander the Great was the capital of Greco-Roman Egypt. Back in the day, Alexandria was a melting pot for different cultures and a giant storehouse of knowledge. The city has evolved over the years but what’s admirable about its evolution is that it has done so while adhering its ancient ideals. The newly built Library of Alexandria, also known as Bibliotheca Alexandrina, is spectacular and should not be missed.
You can cover all the tourist destinations in one day, but most people choose to extend their stay in this city by the Mediterranean Sea with a laidback attitude.
Start at the Corniche – a waterfront promenade running along the Mediterranean Sea. At one end of the Corniche is the serene Montaza Palace and royal gardens, built by King Fuad I as his summer palace, and at the other end is the Citadel of Qaitbay, a 15th century defensive fortress built on the exact site of another one of the ancient Seven Wonders – the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
If time permits, you can also visit the Pompey’s Pillar and the Roman Amphitheatre of Alexandria; both are important architectural feats of the Roman Empire.
• In the Islamic district of Cairo, there is Khan el-Khalili Bazar – recommended for shopping. Fair warning: You will feel like buying every souvenir that you come across – sarcophagi, scarabs, obelisks, sphinxes, and pyramids. Might be hard to resist but try not to spend all your cash on souvenirs.
• Things you should look out for are high-quality rugs/carpets, semi-precious stones, and silver trinkets.
Food and Beverage
• Avoid the food at Giza at all costs. It is expensive and nothing to write home about.
• The fresh seafood at the restaurants on the Corniche in Alexandria is marvelous.
• Karkadé, tea or punch made with hibiscus, is just phenomenal and should not be missed. I lived and breathed this wonderful drink during my trip. I even brought some back home.
• Mezze is a platter of small dishes served with drinks. They range from a variety of ingredients like seafood, salads, tahini, eggs, grilled octopus, hummus, fava beans and fried vegetables among a score of other things.
Hotels in both Cairo and Alexandria can be pricey. Getting around Cairo can be problematic due to the traffic and reckless driving which might remind you of Dhaka. The best solution is to stay in the city center, that way everything is kind of close to you.
• Egypt is a country where you need to have a well-planned itinerary. There is so much to see and so much to take in; chances are that you might miss some key areas without proper planning. I would recommend using EmoToursEgypt.com. They offer great plans at affordable prices.
• Whether you book through Emo Tours or not, try to at least have a guided tour. Egypt is not ideal for backpacking.
• Tips are expected and will make things easier.
• Stay vigilant regarding your belongings.
• Stay hydrated and carry sunscreen if you are planning on going during summer.
• Photography is not allowed everywhere, particularly at Cairo Museum and Valley of the Kings.
• Do not over-tip; 5 Egyptian pounds ($0.5) should be enough in most cases.
Saadat Chowdhury is an explorer, entrepreneur, and educator. He is the CEO of Saadat C. Ventures, Chairperson of Zurhem Limited, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.