Here’s Why Egypt Needs to Be Number One on Your To-Travel List
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Pyramid-gazing in Giza, floating down the Nile, hot air balloon rides in Luxor, wandering over the cobblestones of Old Cairo: Those are just a few of the highlights of my 10-day excursion through Egypt.
Egypt isn’t a particularly popular travel destination for Americans—and yes, it is very far away, so it's understandable that not too many of us have the funds or PTO days to jet over to Cairo for a long weekend. But! If you *do* have the savings and enough PTO banked to spend at least a week in the country, allow me to encourage you to move Egypt up to the tippy-top of your dream vacation list.
As for how I traveled there: A group tour, baby. I was invited on a press trip with EF Ultimate Break, which specializes in group travel for 18-to-35-year-olds (and also offers EF Go Ahead Tours for all ages). While my costs were covered (shukran, EF!), the ten-day “Egypt: Cruise the Nile” trip will set you back roughly $3,700 to $4,500 (depending on when you go), including flights, hotels, admission to attractions, most meals, and a cruise on the Nile. And while that's certainly not chump change, it's probably a lot less than you thought it would be, amirite? Also, you’ll be joined by a pro Egyptologist who will teach you so much about Ancient Egypt along the way. (Seriously, our tour director, Haytham, made amateur Egyptologists of us all. He even taught us how to read hieroglyphs.)
One more thing to mention before I get into my favorite parts of the trip: So! many! people! asked me questions along the lines of, “Will you be safe?” but while there, I never felt otherwise. Part of that was due to the fact that I was traveling with a group, so I didn’t have to worry about getting lost (my sense of direction is, uh, lacking). But another large part of that is that a lot of stereotypes about traveling in Egypt simply aren't true—I'd heard a lot of horror stories about street harassment. While I did get some comments from passersby while wandering around, all of the commentary was along the lines of "Hello, beautiful!" or "Where are you from?" or "Welcome to Egypt!" Everyone I met was welcoming and beyond friendly. If you're unsure of what to wear, there’s no need to dress modestly unless you’re visiting a church or mosque, or to cover your hair if you don’t already do so in your day-to-day life. That said, I was glad that I packed longer skirts and pants purely from a sun protection POV, because it is exceptionally BRIGHT in Egypt.
Whether you’re booking a group tour or going solo, here are my recommendations for your trip.
Full disclosure: The writer received comped travel, hotel accommodations, meals, and experiences in order to write this story.
Steigenberger Pyramids, Cairo: Located a short drive from the Giza pyramid complex and the Sphinx, your hotel balcony will have a STUNNING view of the pyramids.
Basma Hotel, Aswan: Find time to read by the outdoor pool or look at the views from the roof in bustling Aswan.
Steigenberger Regency Nile Cruise: Your Nile cruise awaits! Make sure to spend plenty of time on the roof deck.
Hilton Hotel Pyramids Golf: Located on the outskirts of Cairo, this hotel is next to a golf range with even more pyramid views.
See the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx: Yes, it sounds silly to say it, but the Great Pyramid of Giza is GIANT. Like, at least twice as big as you'd expect. Also, it's still a mystery as to how the Ancient Egyptians made the pyramids so precisely (and quickly!) in the first place. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that centuries-old conundrum, tbh.
Ride a felucca on the Nile: A felucca is a traditional kind of Egyptian sailboat, and a ride on one is so smooth and lovely. Sip coffee or tea and have a sweet pastry (or three) as you watch the sun set.
Stroll down the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor: Luxor is home to two giant temples, Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple. They’re connected by a two-ish-mile-long Avenue of the Sphinxes, which is lined with, you guest it, sphinxes (they’re much smaller than *the* aforementioned Sphinx but still very impressive). Listen to the sounds of the city as you walk from one ancient temple to another, and set aside the time to explore both in full.
Get your fix of mummies and antiquities at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo: See the famous golden mask of Tutankhamun, be amazed by the hyper-realistic eyes of the Ka-aper statue, and view the giant head of the statue of woman-pharaoh Hatshepsut among other mind-blowing artifacts.
Enjoy fresh bread baked on-site and all the dips at Sakkara Restaurant in Giza: Have a snack or a meal between pyramid visits at this open-air restaurant, located a short drive from the Step Pyramid of Djoser.
Sample traditional Egyptian fare at Al Masry in Aswan: I tried pigeon here (and liked it!) but if you’re feeling less adventurous, you can stick to chicken, lamb, or eggplant. The service here was amazing, with our waiter bringing us so many extra dishes to try. PS: Order the mango juice—in general, Egyptian juices are top-notch.
Have an island dinner at Solaih Nubian Restaurant in Aswan: This is not a The Menu-type of island restaurant, but if it was, I’d risk it all for the solaih fish and view of Philae Temple.
Try every kind of tajine at Marsam in Luxor: If you’re traveling with other people, split a few different tajines family-style because trust me, you are going to want to eat every single one.
Eat koshary anywhere you can: Egypt’s national dish consists of rice, pasta, and lentils covered in tomato sauce and fried onions, and it's as delicious as it sounds. I tried it at a spot called El Tahrir, but our tour director says the best is at the Old Cairo Restaurant & Cafe—one more reason for me to go back to Egypt ASAP.
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