Even before I wanted to make a life of and a living from travel, I daydreamed about someday visiting Egypt. What traveler doesn’t want to experience the majesty of the Pyramids, the mystery of the Valley of the Dead, or the history and beauty of the life-giving Nile?
I was raised on stories of cruel pharaohs and their nation spanning thirst for immortality. I studied New Kingdom Egypt during my senior years of high school and find myself magnetically drawn to any schlocky documentary looking to unearth the mysteries of the pyramids, the Sphinx, and what may or may not lie beneath them.
And while any trip I do eventually take to Egypt will include the standard sights, I am also a firm believer in stepping just a little bit off the beaten track when visiting a place. Sure, you can visit Sydney and climb the Harbour Bridge, see the Opera House, and visit Bondi – but you get a totally different Sydney experience if you eat at trendy Newtown cafes, kayak in the national parks, and go on ghost tours.
So, in the spirit of my recent ‘Different Things to do…’ articles, here’s one about Egypt. It’s more than just ruins and sand.
#5 – Interact with the locals
Maybe it’s the serial expat in me, but I feel like you can’t really experience a place if you haven’t experienced it with a local. Some of my most memorable moments on my recent trip to Xinjiang were when I was chatting with a local about his dreams to travel to Australia or sharing a taxi with a cheerful Uighur family.
Whether you’re opting to smoke shesha with some local men or you’re people watching over coffee, you’re going to see an entirely different side to Egypt if you step away from the tourist hot-spots for a moment and soak in the place’s native vibe.
A particularly popular spot to do all of the above would be Al-Fishawi Coffee Shop in Islamic Cairo. While it’s said to be crowded with tourists by day, at night (the cafe claims to have been open 24/7 for hundreds of years now) it fills up with a motley collection of local businessmen, trinket peddlers, and tourists. Just bear in mind that it does close during Ramadan.
#4 – Hot Air Balloon the Valley of the Kings
It may be cheating to include the Valley of the Kings on a list of ‘different’ things to do in Egypt, but taking it in from above is an entirely different experience to visiting it by tour bus and walking around. Sure, you don’t get the same up close and personal experience as you would on foot, but you can take in a damned breath-taking panorama from on high.
Since it’s an item on my bucket list, I’d leap at the chance to soar over it all and soak it in – and prices aren’t as prohibitive as you might think. Some companies offer hot air balloon rides for only $99 US. Not exactly going to break the bank. A quick Google turned up this package with Memphis Tours, and I’m certain there are other options if you’re looking to shop around.
#3 – Sail the Nile in a felucca
I recently wrote about how taking a cruise down the Nile was one of my five river cruises I’d love to take before I die, so I was fascinated to learn that you can sail down the Nile in traditional feluccas and get an entirely different experience. With tours typically lasting more than a single day, you get the thrill of sleeping on deck with the starry sky overhead and the powerful Nile surging underneath you.
More than that, smaller tour groups mean you actually get to stop at various spots along the way and even get to swim in the Nile. Like hot air ballooning, there are a number of tour companies running these more intimate tours of the Nile. Shop around to get the best price and package for you.
#2 – Visit Ras Mohammed National Park
As I said, Egypt isn’t just the muddy banks of the Nile and the vast deserts that sprawl out on either side. The country is much bigger than just Cairo and the areas that surround Egypt’s many temples and tombs.
At the country’s very southern tip is the stunning Ras Mohammed National Park – a tiny peninsula that juts out into an ocean teaming with brightly colored fish existing in a multi-colored forest of coral. It’s a sight to rival Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and it’s all the more remarkable for existing so close to the mountainous sand dunes that dominate the region.
It’s a scuba diver’s wonderland and the snorkeling isn’t too bad either. All inclusive holidays to Sharm El Sheikh (a nearby tourist town) make this a really accessible region – and with a number of resorts and a burgeoning night life, it’s quickly developing into the kind of place that can’t remain a secret for much longer. Hell, European and American tourists don’t even need a visa to visit the region.
You may come to Egypt for its history, but it’s easy to forget that there is plenty of beauty to be found of the non man-made variety.
#1 – Take a Western Desert Safari
My one regret from my recent trip to Xinjiang was not spending more time exploring the desert. Maybe it’s because I lived in Australia’s red center when I was younger, but there is something both beautiful and terrifying about the vastness of the desert.
Littered with ruins, temples, tombs, and villages – the Western Desert offers up more than just sand dunes and harsh heat. Whether you tour it by camel or 4WD, you’re able get a real feel for the harshness of early life in Egypt’s deserts as you explore its many sights. Visiting oases and interacting with the hardy Bedouin people who still call the harsh region west of the Nile home.
The history is not just ancient, either. The Western Desert (sometimes called the Libyan Desert) was a key campaign in World War II and there are museums and cemeteries dedicated to the fallen in the area as well. Like so much of Egyptian tourism, there is no shortage of options when it comes to putting together your tour.
I haven’t been lucky enough to live out my dream by visiting Egypt, but I know a lot of my readers have made the journey themselves. The lovely Mica of Kaypacha Travels and Travel This Earth fame was there earlier this year and I’m sure she’s got some stories to share.
What are your off-the-beaten-track recommendations for a trip to Egypt?