Planning our Egypt itinerary started innocently enough — a great deal on a flash sale website for Laura’s mom’s 60th birthday. In four short weeks, everything had changed and the country was plunged into the turmoil of the Arab Spring and the January 25th Revolution. Fortunately, the situation calmed a bit so we could take this life-changing trip.
A rarity for us, we took two full work weeks to visit the sites of Egypt and to relax a bit on the Red Sea. We covered points in the north and south of the country as well as a few places in between. We ask, in advance, for your forgiveness of the ongoing use of words like “amazing,” “spectacular,” and “unbelievable” — words failed us in this country.
Day 1: Arriving in Cairo
Our Egypt itinerary began when we arrived in Cairo in the late afternoon. After dinner near our hotel, we walked along the Nile River and visited the now famous Tahrir Square, which only a few months earlier was the site of numerous protests during the country’s revolution.
Day 2: The wonders of Giza
Oh my goodness, we stood in front of the pyramids. I mean, if you’re looking for a “welcome to Egypt” moment, this is it. In the Giza complex, we walked around the Great Pyramid, went into the Pyramid of Menkaure, and visited the Sphinx. We also made a brief stop at the Solar Boat Museum to see a wooden boat that had been buried in the desert for over 4000 years. We spent the night in Cairo.
Days 3: Alexandria is OK
On day 3 we headed out from Cairo on a three-hour drive north to the Mediterranean and Alexandria. We visited the catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa and the Bibliotheca Alexandria, built near the site of the Ancient Library of Alexandria. We also drove around the Montazah Palace Gardens and saw the palace itself, empty at the time due to the revolution.
Day 4: Travel Day
After a few hours relaxing at our beautiful hotel on the Mediterranean Sea in Alexandria, we returned to Cairo to catch the train to Aswan. Our 14-hour journey to the southern part of the country was restful enough and featured a rubbery, monochromatic dinner. The best part? In the morning, we woke up in Aswan!
Day 5: The Sights of Southern Egypt
We arrived in Aswan early in the morning and headed straight for Philae Temple before it got too hot. It was a magical experience to visit our first temple and see the ornate carvings and reliefs. After a brief afternoon break in the pool (it was 115F degrees, after all), we boarded a felucca, a traditional sailboat, for a trip down the Nile. We spent the eating dinner with a Nubian family and getting a small sense for how people in this part of the country live.
Day 6: Loving every second at Abu Simbel
At the crack of dawn, we hopped a short flight (less than 45 minutes) to the magnificent temples of Abu Simbel. One of the highlights of our trip, this 3200-year-old site near the Sudan border was built by Ramses II. It includes both the main site of Abu Simbel, which pays tribute to the pharaoh, as well as an adjacent temple that honors his wife Queen Nefertari. In the evening, we returned to Aswan for our first night on our boat in the Nile River.
Day 7: Cruising the Nile and a visit to Kom Ombo
Our cruise boat set sail along the Nile River for our trip north. After a day of relaxing by the pool and watching the scenery of the Nile pass by, we arrived at Kom Ombo temple. Built on a dune overlooking the Nile, the complex was built from the early second century BC. We had a chance to explore the detailed carvings of the temple, some of which still have their original color.
Day 8: Morning at Edfu Temple
Further north, we visited Edfu temple en route to Luxor. This temple is dedicated to Horus, the falcon headed god and is the best preserved ancient temple in Egypt because its roof is still in tact. After our temple visit, we continued on our Nile River cruise. We took a break from the intense heat at the boat’s pool and watched with interest as we passed through the Locks of Esna. The day ended with entertainment from a belly dancer and a whirling dervish.
Day 9: Hot air ballooning and the temples of Karnak and Luxor
We awoke before the sun to leave the (now docked) boat for our balloon ride. “Fantastic” doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of floating above the sites of the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens. After an afternoon nap, we visited the stunning temples of Karnak and Luxor.
Day 10: Valley of the Kings
To visit the local sites, we got up early to beat some of the crowds and the amazing heat. We started with the Colossi of Memnon, two enormous statues on the West Bank of Luxor. The next stop was the unique Temple of Hatshepsut, built to commemorate the accomplishments of the great Queen Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty). Built out of cliff, the site is spectacular, and some of its carvings maintain their original color. Later in the day, we visited several tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Sadly, no photos are allowed inside these beautiful resting places for the pharaohs.
Day 11: The many and varied religious sites of Cairo
In the morning, we left Luxor on a flight to Cairo for our final day in the capital city. After the short flight, we headed to the Coptic (Christian) area of the city. We visited historic churches and a synagogue, along with the huge mosque of Al-Azhar. In the afternoon, headed to the famous and enormous Khan al-Khalili market, where we made a few purchases and got some awesome henna tattoos just for fun.
Days 12-14: Relaxation in Sharm el-Sheikh
Day 12 of our Egypt itinerary brought an end to our time in Cairo. We flew southeast to the resort area of Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea for a couple of days of complete relaxation after our great time touring all the historical sites. On our 13th day in Egypt, we fulfilled a long-held dream of scuba diving in Sharm el Sheikh, followed by one more day of beach time.
Day 15: Heading home
Sadly, day 15 marked the end of our time in Egypt. We left Sharm el-Sheikh bound for Cairo and then boarded our international flights, changed by our experience in this great country.
Tour Operator: While we normally plan all of our trips independently, this time we selected a small group trip with Intrepid Travel. We booked our own trip to Sharm el-Sheikh and found our own hotel there.
Travel Insurance: Visiting Egypt was a trip of a lifetime. However, given the timing to the Egyptian Revolution, we were very worried about trip cancellation and also medical evacuation, so we bought travel insurance from Travel Guard.
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