Six Things I Loved About Egypt

When my sister and I told family and friends that we were planning to spend nine days touring through Egypt, we were often greeted with warnings — it was dangerous, they said, we should stay away. But that didn’t stop us.

Egypt was a phenomenal place to explore. Although there were annoyances (as there always are when traveling), both my sister and I felt safe during our nine days in Egypt. The food was (for the most part) great — often kebabs or chicken with rice, salad (a mix of cucumber and tomatoes), tahini sauce, and pita bread for dinner and falafels for breakfast in the mornings. We also tried and rather enjoyed koshari, a dish with rice, pasta, lentils, and fried onions with a red sauce.

My sister and I packed as much as two people could humanly pack into our nine days, visiting dozens of pyramids and tombs and temples while we were in Cairo and Luxor, as well as managing a trip to Dahab on the Red Sea and a day trip into Jordan to visit Petra (which I’ll talk about in a separate post). With the heat — which varied between oven and hell most days — and out packed itinerary, we were exhausted by the end but it was all worth every second. Here are a few of the moments I loved.

Gazing at the Giza Pyramids

This one is obvious. The pyramids are after all the first thing anyone thinks about when they imagine Egypt. I’m not sure what I expected as the taxi weaved us through the crowded streets of Cairo — but what I experiences was a sudden breathtaking sense of awe as we turned a corner and saw the peak for the first time, all the stony weight of that history suddenly before us.

My sister and I took a tour of the Giza pyramids and saw the sphinx standing guard, visited Dashur where the red pyramid, sloped pyramid, and black pyramid are, and Sakura to visit a temple and a stepped pyramid. (Something I didn’t know before arriving is that there are around 120 pyramids in Egypt.) At the red pyramid, we climbed down a narrow, 65 m shaft into a king’s tomb.

It was all amazing, but one of my favorite bits was hanging out in a sofa chair at the top of our hostel, drinking a beer, and watching the sun set over the great pyramids.  The sight of them filled me with a fresh wave of awe every time I looked at them. That experience alone would have made the trip worth the journey.

Giza pyramids
View of the Giza pyramids from the roof of Pyramids Loft.

Haggling at the Khan el-Khalili Souk

We only had a short time to wander through the network of shops and stalls a the Khan el-Khalili souk. Haggling is an innate aspect of shopping in a souk, something I’m not particularly good at, since I’m a bit too shy about it. But watching Akmed, our guide, do pro-haggling in Arabic was a delightful experience — he was taking no shit from the sellers and I got a first hand lesson in how to properly haggle.

An interesting aspect was that as tourists, we had to sign in with the security guards and were assigned an escort to follow us as we shopped even though Akmed was already leading us. At one point as Akmed was haggling, my sister and turned to each other in amusement because we had no way of following the conversation in Arabic. The security guard gave a nod to indicate that Akmed was doing right by us.

Swimming in the Nile

On our second night in Luxor, my sister took a sunset felucca ride on the Nile with a couple of travel friends we met in Cairo (a felucca being a kind of sailboat). It was quite on the water, peaceful. Our captain brought us to a shallow section, where we slipped into the water for a swim. We couldn’t go out far, because the current even a little deeper in was intense. But just being the water of the Nile at all with the reeds and little fishes was lovely.

Our travel friends are Laura and Ian, who were driving south into Sudan in the next couple of days. Laura is making a complete road trip from Scotland to  South Africa in a a 1958 Morris Minor called  “Charlie” in honor of her father. The Mori to Africa trip is a fundraise, with all of the donations going toward cancer research. She’s sharing the trip on Instagram and through her website.

 felucca ride
A sunset felucca ride on the Nile river.

Karnak and Luxor Temples

There are an abundance of temples in Egypt — to the point that it’s easy to get overwhelmed in trying to see them all. The Valley of the Kings is a place to see hieroglyphics. However, even though they had been sun bleached of paint, the temple of Karnak and Luxor temples were two of my favorite sites.

Karnak is actually a group of temples and other structures, built several pharaohs over several generations, including Ramses II,  the badass queen Hatshepsut, and others. The site includes grand statues, obelisks, hieroglyphic covered columns, and more. There’s plenty to explore and discover.

Karnak Temple
Karnak Temple – A statue of Ramses II with his wife Nefertari.
Karnak Temple
Karnak Temple – The columns are lined top to bottom with hieroglyphic writing. The tops are meant to resemble a closed lotus blossom.
Karnak Temple
Karnak Temple – A scarab sits on a pedestal with the temple’s two obelisks in the background.

Luxor Temple was originally connected to Karnak by a sphinx lined road. According to our guide, during a certain ceremony every year, the pharaoh would walk the miles between the temples to where his queen waited in order for worship and celebration. Luxor is opens with the grand statues of kings. The interior is also impressive with a particularly interesting representation of cultural overlap. For a time, the temple was occupied by Romans for a period of time, who plastered over the walls and painted the images of saints, effectively converting the site into a church. Overtime, the plaster has fallen off, so the images of saints can be seen alongside the hieroglyphics they once covered.

Luxor Temple
Entrance to Luxor Temple.
Luxor Temple
Luxor Temple – The images of roman saints seen alongside the hieroglyphics they once covered.

Hot Air Ballooning Over the Valley of the Kings

My sister and I rose at 3 a.m. for our hot air balloon ride and climbed into the basket with eight other tourists while the sky was still dark. The balloon glowed bright as the flames filled their interior with hot air. As the captain worked the flame, the basket rocked  and dragged lightly across the ground, with men holding it under control — until at last, the hot air was enough to lift the balloon from the ground and we floated up into the sky.

We watched the sunrise while we were in the air, and saw the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and the snaking mile from high above the ground. I found the experience beautiful and relaxing — largely because our captain was so skilled at the operation of the balloon.

Hot air ballooning in Luxor – Overlooking the Valley of the Kings and the Nile river at sunrise.

The Red Sea

My sister and I finished our last days in Egypt in Dahab – a small coastal town with a laid back vibe. We swam in the warm waters of the sea on our first night and enjoyed the setting sun.

Since Dahab is known for its scuba diving schools (our hotel had a class of over 40 Korean students who had come for diving training), we decided to take an introductory diving class — both of us feeling rather nervous. Diving is an intimidating thing, with the heavy equipment and weights, the concern of pressures, the issue of maintaining depths, and the need for calm. With the introductory class, though, we were guided through the entire experience by our teachers who made sure that we felt safe the entire time. I was able to (mostly) relax into it fairly quickly and enjoy the experience of seeing the multitudes of coral, fish, and other life seven meters under water.

After diving, we traveled out to another amazing spot, called Blue Hole. Just as it sounds, Blue Hole is a circular formation in the reed that goes straight down into the dark blue depths. We did some phenomenal snorkling there, where we saw more multitudes of fish living on the reef next to the drop off into the deep sea.

We’ve heard that many people come to Dahab and stay — and it’s clear to see why. The place is beautiful and so chill.

Footnote: Much of our trip (or more accurately all of our trip) was planned by Thomas (aka Ahmed) at the Pyramids Loft in Cairo. His help was incredibly valuable in making our trip amazing and I would highly recommend the Loft as a great inexpensive place to stay.

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