On the dusty Giza plateau at the edge of the expansive city of Cairo, the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure rise above the desert sands. Though I have seen Egypt’s monuments to eternity in photos and film, the sight of the elaborate tombs still takes my breath away – which, of course, has always been their purpose.
This was my day of arrival in this ancient land, and the pyramids were not the first wonder to leave me breathless – that honour belonged to Cairo traffic. At first glance Cairo’s streets appear to be in utter chaos. With no apparent designated lanes, cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles (often carrying a family of four and all their provisions) weave an interesting tapestry. All the while pedestrians walk through the tangle without care, and horns announce themselves as the music of the city.
My Egyptian journey will take me from Cairo, with its pyramids, Sphynx, Islamic mosques and fascinating Egyptian Museum, to the vibrant city of Luxor. Once known as Thebes, this ancient city was the capital of old Egypt. With the temples and palaces at Karnak and Luxor, and the necropolises of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, Luxor is a striking testimony to Egyptian civilization at its height.
From Luxor I have booked passage on Scenic Cruise’s small but luxurious Sanctuary Sunboat III for a 228 kilometre four night trip south to Aswan. The Nile is the unifying thread that runs through Egyptian history, culture and politics, and travelling the Nile is the best way to feel the pulse of the country. In 47 BC Julius Caesar sailed up the Nile with his love Cleopatra, and the journey has become a favourite of the curious and romantic ever since. From the vessel’s top deck I watch life on the Nile pass. Along the shore shepherds ride burrows while herding cattle and goats, people fish in tiny row boats, hawkers paddle alongside our vessel to sell their wares, camels shelter beneath sweeping palms and women wash clothes while children splash about in the shallows. The scene seems unchanged over thousands of years.
Nile cruises offer the best way to visit many of Egypt’s temples and small villages. We dock at a bend in the river and dodge persistent merchants in the colourful market on an excursion to the Temple of Kom Ombo, a monument that commemorates two gods, the falcon-headed Horus the sky god and Sobek the crocodile god. Most temples still have intact hieroglyphics adorning their walls, providing a fascinating insight into Egyptian culture.
Aswan is Egypt’s southernmost city and the source of much of the granite used for the distant pyramids and monuments. Here too is the Aswan dam, the Temple of Philae and the Old Cataract Hotel where Agatha Christie penned “Death on the Nile.” From the hotel, high granite cliffs overlook Elephantine Island and the feluccas and shallow-drought motor launches crowding the narrow passage.
Our last stop, an hour flight south, is Abu Simbel, one of Egypt’s most magnificent monuments. The enormous world heritage-listed temples of Ramses II and his wife Nefertari were rescued from the rising waters of the Aswan High Dam and relocated, stone by stone, to the shores of Lake Nasser. This pain-staking process was necessary for a country that recognizes that its future is linked so closely with its past – the old and the new must live here, side by side.
If You Go
When: Tourism in Egypt has suffered the ebbs and flows of troubled times; terrorism, political unease and the revolution of 2011. The situation was slowly righting itself and the tourists returning when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Egypt will bounce back and travellers will return, and perhaps when those doors open again the time for a visit will be best, the magnificent temples and monuments might have a sense of calm and quiet. Plan a trip in the winter months when temperatures are quite pleasant. A passport and VISA, which can be obtained online beforehand, are required.
How: To achieve the best experience in a safe manner, it is best to book with a tour company. I booked with Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours. Their itinerary, lodging and meals were first class. My tour director, Egyptologist Caroline Fayez, was personable, passionate and full of knowledge. The group size was only 24 and their smaller Sanctuary Sunboat III reached places that the larger river cruise ships could not access.
- The lush banks of the Nile can be seen from a hot air balloon above Luxor. PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Ross
- The felucca is a traditional Egyptian wooden boat with a canvas sail. PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Ross
- The Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel – it was moved from its original location on the banks of the Nile to the shores of Lake Nasser after the construction of Aswan’s High Dam. PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Ross