The country I have probably visited the most after Senegal and one I have in my top7 favourite countries - For some reasons, the more countries I visit, the more "favourites" I end up with. This article is about the country which, to my mind, is a depiction of the thousand and one nights tales. Called مصر (pronounced "masr") by the locals, the north-eastern country has had a very important place in the world's civilisation and geopolitics in the Arabic peninsula - Welcome to Egypt!
I am so fascinated by the pyramids, I was almost going daily to see them and it would amaze me anew every single time. There is so much to learn about humanity at large from Egypt.
Getting to Egypt
As a Flying Blue frequent flyer, I tend to stick with the airlines of the group, as long as it makes sense financially. On this occasion, I took a KLM flight to Cairo with a stopover in Amsterdam - Usually, I tend to go to the Avocado Show if I have a 5-6 hours wait between flights, but that's a story for another article. Unless you're from the 46 countries which are eligible for the e-visa, you will have to contact your local Egyptian embassy and submit an application. The turnaround is pretty impressive though. For the two occasions where I had to apply, I got my passport back within 48 hours. Egyptians are used to tourists, therefore, you will rarely have those negative encounters to complain about. The only piece of advice I must share though is that they drive super duper fast, brace yourself!
PS: My drone was confiscated at the airport so packing one as it will only delay your arrival and departure (a lot of red tape to go through).
Where to stay?
Cairo has got a large selection of hotels however my favourites remain the
Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino and Marriott Mena House. The Ramses Hilton was also quite nice but I think one can say that about most hotels in the country - Perhaps something to do with the Arab hospitality. In Hurghada, I tried the Movenpick hotel which has loads of amenities. Last but not least, I ended up at the Mercure hotel in Karnak.
I know I violated my rule around avoiding big hotel chains on this occasion and did not get to test AirBnBs or other accommodation options but wouldn't rule those out.
Before coming to Egypt, I only knew about Cairo and Alexandria, however, a little bit of curiosity often leads to locals sharing some gems that you would not have necessarily known about.
Capital city of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world, Cairo is also lifesize 24h du Mans, if you know a bit about racing, I will let you imagine how busy and buzzing that city must be. Driving in Cairo is probably the most challenging thing I have ever done on a trip (Today, I count 65 country flags on my list). It is also home to the Egyptian museum, the most prestigious university in the Arabic Peninsula, and the great pyramids of Giza.
The Egyptian Museum
Easily the biggest collection in the country, the Egyptian museum houses 120,000 items for display. The building is near the bank of the Nile and that had once cause significant damage when the river flooded. The collection was then moved to the former royal palace before being moved back again. There will be a new museum to supersede this at some point in 2021 as the Grand Egyptian Museum (also the largest archaeological museum in the world) is looking to open its doors.
Ticket: 160 EGP (£8/ $10 / €8.75)
This is not a landmark for tourists but rather for foodies. I would not be exaggerating if I said that Kebabgi makes the best food in Cairo (Believe me, I am tempted to say the whole of Egypt). The atmosphere alone is worth the visit and you can enjoy a shisha or fresh mint tea by the Nile.
So these guys make their Aish Baladi (Egyptian bread) from scratch. They literally make the paste and bake the bread on demand!
Talking about food, you have not been to Egypt if you have not eaten Koshary, I know I have said about a lot of things but this one is legit. Abou Tarek are specialists in this dish, make sure you pay them a visit.
Also, for chocolate lovers, house of cocoa is just a treat to your taste buds. Make sure you try their waffles if you get a chance...
It is Egypt's oldest degree-granting university and oversees a network of 2 million students nationally -That's the whole of Latvia or Slovenia!
Definitely the most famous Egyptian landmark, therefore, I will not dwell on the background of the pyramids except for the fact that I still wonder how such an impressive edifice has been built and still stands despite its age (4,600 years!)
The Sphinx is also in the Giza Necropolis, worth the detour...
Fun fact: The beard of the Sphinx is at the British Museum so you can see the other half of his face in London
Ticket: 200 EGP (£10/ $12 / €11) for the general entrance. Khufu’s Pyramid costs another 400 EGP and Khafree’s Pyramid costs 100 EGP - African passport holders get to pay less.
Hurghada is the resort city of Egypt. I have called it that because of the outstanding number of resorts you can find in the same place. I think you can find a resort for every 5 minutes driven on the corniche.
Swimming in the Red Sea had been a big thing for me as I have always cherished the idea of seeing firsthand the sea which has been reported to be crossed by موسى (Musa/Moses).
I booked on Viator to dive with Sea Secret Diving, a very fun bunch. We had nice snacks and hot drinks between the two dives and they even have a photographer on board should you want to take some photos home. Diving in the red sea cost me less than half of the price I paid in Santorini yet the experience is a wowing.
Fee: 1,380 EGP (£68/ $85 / €75)
There is also a huge plateau with loads of dunes to try yourself at quad biking. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to but it is still another activity worth looking into while in Hurghada.
Luxor is light years away from Cairo in terms of the dynamics. It has no traffic stress and pollution, giving visitors the opportunity to reach a higher joy per m2 (another metric I made up).
Wādī Al-Mulūk (Valley of the kings)
While the Giza pyramids were the tombs of the Pharaohs of the old kingdom, the Pharaohs of the new kingdom have chosen Luxor as their final resting place.
I was not allowed to take photos inside the tomb but I guess I did not know in time ...
Fee: 100 EGP (£5/ $6 / €5.5)
The temple is a cult temple dedicated to Amun, Mut, and Khonsu and is the largest religious building ever constructed (200 acres). It is so big it took 2000 years to build...
These guys invented pools, the water comes straight from the Nile and they can set the level of the water to the fancy...
Fee: 200 EGP (£10/ $12 / €11)
Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
The guide that showed me around gave me a tip to pronounce the name properly - Hot sheep soup. Hatshepsut was the second historically-confirmed and the longest-reigning female Pharaoh(and she has one of the most impressive temples - Who runs the world?). Queen Hatshepsut is also known for having one of the most prosperous reigns ever.
Fee: 140 EGP (£7/ $9 / €8)
Also, on the way back from the temple, I stopped by the sculptors who work with local rocks - I even spent some time learning about geology and the art of sculpting.
I was very curious about the name of this island and wanted to see for myself what the hype was about and quite frankly do regret not spending more time on the island. Getting to the island is just a short sail away from the mainland.
There is plenty of greenery, a few caged animals, one little cafe, and probably the quietest spots to just sit by the Nile and just take it in.
One of the most beautiful sunsets on the Pharaoh land for sure...
If you are at all a football fan, you would know how big the Afcon is. Despite the heat and dust of Cairo, the atmosphere was to the level of a festival. The whole country dressed up and welcomed people from all over the world.
I even got to meet a few celebrities such as Samuel Eto'o or Cheikhou Kouyate...
And even attend a training session...
We had the "best" of fortune as we initially set out to go to Sharm El Sheikh but the course of events has diverted us on the other side of the Red Sea. Our initial itinerary looked like this ...
However, the below conversation was going to shape the rest of our holidays for good. We ended up completely changing our plans (hotels, activities, etc.) and the main reason for it was that we ignore the warning of the rental company who told us that 4WDs are not allowed in the Sinai region and we thought our luck was going to get us over the line. A bit of background, in 2015, Sinai Province militants launched an attack on multiple Egyptian army checkpoints in the Sinai Peninsula, killing 21 soldiers. Since then the decision was taken not to allow any non-official 4WDs.
I remember the conversation I had at the checkpoint:
Soldier: Hello Sir
Soldier: Can I check the car?
Me: Of course, the doors are unlocked
Soldier: One last thing, is the car a 4WD
Me: Erm...It is an SUV
Soldier: Are you sure?
Me: Yep, very much so
Soldier: I do not think it is a SUV, this is a 4WD
Me: It is a SUV, Sir. I kid you not
Then came a few more soldiers... And we were ejected from the Sinai region...
Now, we were not ready at all to go back to Cairo because we felt we've seen all of it and done all the activities we had on our list so we decided to move south of the Nile and settle in the amazing city of Hurghada - All of this took place around 2-3 AM...
And almost 6 hours of driving at night and finding the hotel staff had not yet started their shifts, we slept in the car for a short while...
Until next time...