Egypt: A must SEE destination
Over the years we’ve traveled pretty much everywhere in the world, from North to South and East to West. While Egypt was always on our list, we always passed over it, prioritizing instead the immediate destination choices of our clients and the subsequent need for our inspections there. And then it happened: a university requesting a program to Egypt.
The time had finally come… we were off to Cairo!
From the moment of our arrival, we were immediately enchanted and sold on this country.
And why not? Egypt checks all the boxes for a perfect special interest destination:
Fabulous Program Content: Amazing experiences and learning opportunities. Culturally, no other destination delivers more content than Egypt with 4000 years of epic history (more on that later). And there’s much more: for contemporary studies, Egypt’s social, political and economic developments are rapidly transforming this relatively young (1953) and dynamic country and offering a compelling laboratory for studies of all kinds.
Excellent Security: Every place we went – cultural sites, restaurants, hotels, etc. – security was present, but the vibe is calm, friendly, no stress. Egyptians take this subject very seriously and they are happy to see their country returning to a thriving international destination.
Strong Hospitality Options: Outstanding 4* and 5* hotels, good restaurants, top of the line transport and excellent DP guides and ground support. All the ingredients are here.
We are fortunate to have an outstanding local travel management partner in Egypt who did an great job arranging our travel logistics and ensuring we had the very best overview of what Egypt has to offer. Our guide – who was with us over the course of the 14-day inspection – was just the right man to guide us: our Egyptologist Tarek Tawfik is one of the best professionals we have met in our years of site inspections and was a treasure trove of fascinating information.
We started in Alexandria, the Mediterranean port city founded by Alexander the Great in the third century BC, and learned how the Greeks – and then the Romans – first conquered but then were in fact absorbed by the Egyptians to build on their ancient kingdoms. Our stay at the waterfront Four Seasons was exceptional and we enjoyed visits to the (rebuilt) Alexandria Library, The Roman Catacombs, the Mameluke Castle and more.
Next came Cairo, a bustling and frenetic city of over 20 million just a 3 hour drive from Alexandria. Despite our concern about congestion and pollution we were in fact very pleasantly surprised by the gracious tree-lined streets, wide boulevards, squares and peaceful green islands along the Nile. Here again we stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel and learned about other 4* and 5* properties, including the Marriott, Sofitel and Hilton, all very suitable for groups. Highlights here included visits showcasing Egypt’s Arab and Islamic culture such as Cairo’s Great Mosque, the Citadel and the colorful Souk. Walking the intriguing Coptic area of Cairo gave more insights into this important part of Egypt’s Christian history. Not to forget the ancients, truly memorable was our visit to the fabled Egyptian Museum and the beautiful King Tutankhamen exhibit. Incredible to see, up close, the treasures found in his completely intact tomb.
The peak experience here of course is the Pyramids complex of Giza. It’s hard to overstate the sense of awe as one approaches them from nearby Cairo. And it’s also difficult to conceptualize the amount of knowledge this civilization had to build huge and complex structures 4500 years ago. These truly awesome structures of alabaster, sandstone and granite remain printed in the brain as one of the most fascinating sites we’ve seen.
We loved the flow of our site inspection as we continued on with a one-hour flight south to Aswan. We checked in for two nights at the Movenpick Hotel, super-well located on Elephantine Island on the Nile with a spectacular view across the river of Old Aswan at night. Experiences here ranged from the simplest activities like sailing the Nile by felucca at sunset (romantic!) to visiting a school in the Nubian Village (bringing us much joy and moments of connection with the Nubians). Adam also visited the modern Nubian museum and the Old Cataract Hotel (a famous Grand Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote “Death on the Nile” and Winston Churchill spent his winters). He was fascinated with Aswan’s charm and history.Together we visited the Aswan High Dam and the temple of Philae, dedicated to Isis. This temple (from the Greek/Roman era) has a sensational setting on an island in the Nile, with a lush green landscape of date palms. In this temple we started to learn about the mythology of the Egyptians and how Isis fought to raise her only son Horus to become a warrior (as a single mother) and defeat his evil uncle Seth. Horus lost one of his eyes during the battle with his uncle becoming a model for all Pharaohs who would always fight for good over evil.
A 30-minute flight south of Aswan delivers another jaw-dropping experience: Rameses II’s majestic Abu Simbel, relocated from its original site on the banks of the Nile to a new position 100 meters above to save the monument from the flooding of Lake Naser. Next, we boarded the Oberoi Nile Philae, an elegant 5* riverboat, and started our journey down the Upper Nile, from Aswan to Luxor. The exuberance of the Nile landscape was powerful and enchanting. The villagers working in the green fields with their cows, goats and donkeys… children waiving and whistling to us to wave back… fisherman with their boats colored the journey through the beautiful blue waters of the Nile. On the 4-night cruise we visited two major Greek/Roman era temples, Kom Ombo (dedicated to the river god, the crocodile Sobex) and Edfu, the best preserved of all ancient Egyptian sites. Arriving at each site along the river was exciting, but once we finally docked in Luxor we could feel the ancient energy of the Pharaohs and we were itching to explore this capital of Egypt when its civilization was at its zenith. We started our adventure here by taking an early morning sunrise Hot Air Balloon over the Western Bank. It was well worthwhile waking up before dawn, ferrying across the Nile by small boat and arriving at the bustling and exciting launch site, crowded with dozens of balloons preparing to fly. As we drifted skyward, overcoming our fear of heights, we were mesmerized by the huge golden sun “Ra” rising above the Eastern Nile Bank. We floated above the Valley of the Kings; the colors and shapes of the great balloons creating a painting of a magical scene, contrasting with the craggy mountains below filled with the royal burial grounds of the ancient Pharaohs and those of the workmen who built these wonders. Landing soon after dawn we went on to visit Valley of the Kings and were amazed by the beauty and power of the tombs of Ramses VI and of King Tut. A stop at Ramses III memorial temple was also a surprise, with massive columns, pylons and rich frescoes and hieroglyphics. Later we transferred from the boat to the delightful Hilton Hotel and Spa, boasting gracious grounds right on the shore of the Nile. Our last day we embarked on a morning visit to famous Karnak “mega temple” complex, the largest of all ancient Egyptian sites and an absolute mindblower Before we got there, however, we were surprised to come across a street celebration in honor of Mohamed’s birthday (what luck for us!). Hundreds of people - mostly male – thronged the streets, dancing and rocking on foot, on horseback, on camels and on flatbed trucks all to the pulsating drumming and sounds of African-influenced Egyptian music, celebrating the birth of their prophet. Children holding balloons and their mothers’ hands, boys riding their donkeys, what a scene: chaotic but so happy. Entering the huge capital city of Karnak, the entrance guarded by rows of sphinx, the center dominated by hundreds of gigantic columns and perfectly preserved obelisks was an amazing example of symmetrically planned architecture. We were at the center of where everything happened, the power of the kings, everything was centered on their Highest of Hollies, Amon-Ra, the Sun God. The source of life, death and their re-birth. We ended our deep immersion into Egyptian history with a visit to the Luxor temple at sunset. The night lights and the full moon transformed Luxor temple into a magnificent experience. We felt transported, almost as if we were part of this ancient civilization. As you can imagine, we can absolutely recommend Egypt for all of our clients, family members and friends. One can’t say that one has really seen the world if one has not seen Egypt, this country of wonders and enigmas. Egypt is a MUST SEE DESTINATION.