Ever since I was little, I dreamt of travelling to Egypt – to visit the towering pyramids, to explore the ancient ruins etched in history and to sail down the great river Nile. It’s genuinely been at the top of my dream destinations for the longest time. Growing up, I remember pleading with (read: nagging) my parents to take us to Egypt, instead of our usual annual family holiday to India. They never gave in.
Last year, (most of) the map of Egypt turned green on the FCO travel safety/recommendations website and I convinced Mr Man it was a great time to take a trip. The benefits were clear, we’d be sure to avoid the crowds and the chaos because other travellers may be more reluctant and hopefully save some money along the way because hotels etc would be underbooked. Thankfully, he didn’t need too much convincing!
A couple of notes and things that I think are worth calling out:
- Tourism: The industry has really suffered. A lot of people heavily relied on it for their income. People can try to overcharge or be quite pushy when flogging their products/services because they’re pretty desperate. Whilst it’s sad, but also, as a visitor, it can get a little overwhelming sometimes. My advice is to stay calm and collected, firmly but politely say no, and walk away.
- Haggling & tips: Haggling is expected. And everyone wants a tip for everything. You normally end up doing a weird negotiation dance, going back and forth on numbers – it’s important to factor in that the final price you will pay will be rounded up 10% – 15% because of the obligatory tip.
- Route: We started our trip in Cairo before flying down to Aswan. From there we slowly worked our way back to the capital either driving or taking the overnight train and visiting other cities and sites along the way. So our overall itinerary was a bit like this: Cairo -> Aswan -> Luxor -> Cairo.
We booked a hotel overlooking the pyramids of Giza and I can’t recommend it enough. Waking up and having breakfast with views like this was simply incredible. It also means when you decide to visit the pyramids, you can get a headstart before the crowds arrive from the city each the morning.
Taxis in Cairo are very cheap and cheerful. Not only can you hail them IRL but you can also use Uber / Careem to book too. The traffic can be pretty insane though – it’s wise to group together the places you want to see rather than zig zagging back and forth the city otherwise you’ll waste so much time sat in cabs.
The pyramids are located just outside of the city of Cairo, in Giza. It’s so wild to think, these structures are thousands and thousands of years old.
They span over quite a large area so there’s a lot of ground to cover which is harder in the heat. You’re able to rent a horse and carriage or a camel ride for transportation. If you do decide to do so, be extra careful – ensure you see the animals before hand to ensure they’re well looked after and double check the price (you’ll ofc, need to haggle!).
^ Looking up at the great pyramid. You can queue up to go inside – word of warning: you aren’t allowed to take cameras / phones! It’s HOT and humid in there, you follow a long path and go up a ramp before you find yourself in a dark, empty room. It’s quite awkward to navigate and the ceilings are low. There’s also no real one way system in place so it’s busy and there’s a lot of waiting about. Definitely not for the claustrophobic.
The Khufu ship – King Cheops who was buried in the biggest and oldest pyramid commissioned five huge ships to be buried alongside him for transportation in the afterlife. They’re over 40m long and almost 6m wide and are so well built that they’d be able to function today! Apparently, archaeologists excavated all of the boats and then decided to replace four of them so they can remain well preserved for future generations.
This place is a treasure trove of ancient relics, practically bursting at the seams! It’s probably the best museum I’ve visited to date. As there’s minimal information displayed, we hired a guide (can’t recommend it enough), who gave us all the context and explanations to really bring to life the exhibitons.
A couple of nights a week, it’s open till late. We decided to take advantage of this – spending the daylight hours in the sunshine, exploring the market etc then dropping by at dusk.
The main hall is absolutely phenomenal. In the first couple of pictures, you can see the huge statues of King Amenophis III And Wife Queen Tiye at the far end, surrounded by various statues and sarcophagi. The sheer size of these things is astounding.
^ The Rosetta Stone – this is a replica, the original is in the British Museum alongside a number of other artifacts. (Our guide told us Egypt is trying to negotiate their return although sadly, I don’t think that’ll happen any time soon). It’s super important as it is effectively a key to read Egyptian hieroglyphs.
^ This is a throne. There are pictures of the King’s enemies on the footstool so when he’s sat, they’re beneath his feet. Ancient pettiness at it’s finest!
^ The papyrus room – gorgeous scrolls with colourful hieroglyphics depicting tales from the past.
During the mummification process, the priest would wear a jackal mask, representing Anubis, the God of Death. All the organs would be removed using the tools shown in the first couple of pictures. The one third one down was used to pull the brain out through the nose!! 😷 They’d be and dried out and the important organs – the stomach, intestines, liver and lungs were stored for the afterlife in the four jars. The body would be washed with wine and spices before being covered and dehydrated using salt. Finally, it’d be stuffed, wrapped in bandages and stored in a sarcophagus (the coffin boxes in the last few pictures).
The mummification process is incredible. In the first picture, the woman’s hair, nails and teeth are all still preserved. The ancient Egyptians also mummified everything from Nile crocodiles to cats (their favourite pets).
There are tonnes of hefty tablets with hieroglyphic carvings, both in a plain and coloured style. It’s crazy how many example of this we saw at the temples we visited too – to think, people had to manually chip away at huge chunks of stone. Imagine messing up, there’s no ctrl+z to help you out!
There’s of course, a Tutankhamun exhibition, but as you can see, photography is prohibited inside (which, rather frustratingly we actually saw quite frequently around Egypt). We were also lucky enough to see his actual tomb in the Valley of the Kings – more on that later!
^ Quite a few examples of gold / jewellery / coins are displayed – sadly I couldn’t get many decent shots of these due to the glare but here are a couple.
There are also a couple of exhibits here which feature on bank notes which is really cool!
Khan El Khalili
The main market, Khan El Khalili, in Cairo is absolutely magical.
The chaotic winding streets, the endless colourful shops, the random whiffs of cumin, the echoing call to prayer, looking up to see the beautiful architecture in the most unexpected of places – a complete sensory overload. and the perfect place to lose yourself for a few hours.
There are SO many mosques in Cairo. Like I’m not sure I could count them all on both my fingers and toes. We only really had time to check one on out and opted for Mosque of Sultan al-Muayyad. It’s absolutely stunning – the elaborate entrance through to the heavy, engraved wooden doors and the prayer hall. Just wow!
You can also pay the guard to let you upstairs from where you can see into the courtyard from above and see countless minarets from the rooftop.
The Hanging Church
We also had a chance to visit Coptic Cairo and check out the hanging church. It’s so interesting to see how it’s architecturally infuenced by Islamic geometric art. Beautiful!
We ended up in this restaurant after exploring Khan El Khalili and it was quite a treat. Chicken shawarma and a mixed meat plate, served up with fresh, fluffy pitta and salad.
And as you can see, they also served our meals with an appropriately sized portion of garlic sauce. #NotEvenBeingSarcastic.
These guys are known for their khoshary / khoshari – an Egytian speciality! It’s a medley of rice, pasta, black lentils and chickpeas topped with a great tomato sauce and lots of fried onions. Vinegar and hot sauce optional, but recommended.
If I’m honest, I was surpised at how much I actually enjoyed it. The tomato sauce and crispy onions really bring the whole thing together! It’s cheap, cheerful and everyone from the rich through to the poor eat it.
I’m obsessed with Egyptian guavas. They’re definitely better than the Indian equivalent (please don’t tell my parents, ha!) Creamy, sweet, perfect. I would literally buy a couple day and keep them in my backpack to snack. I’m sure the other fruit was also great but I seriously have a one track mind when such great guavas are available.
We stumbled upon this little cafe in Khan El Khalili and it was a decent little stop but on reflection it was probably a fake version of the real place!
This crazy busy little cafe was heaving when we dropped by. You can buy everything from biscuits to cakes. We opted for their ice creams and I’d definitely recommend dropping by if you’re in the area. It might also be worth grabbing a few treats for your friends and family if you can stand the chaos in doors.
On our final night we had plans to check out a well recommended restaurant but when we showed up it was closed. As we stood there pondering over our next move, a few people told us it was permanently shut down.
We ended up at this little place nearby called Beit Ward and ended up having a delicious final meal with some fresh guava juice for the road.
From Cairo, we flew down to Aswan. Whilst it’s definitely not the cheapest option, it definitely saves a lot of time. We booked online in advance on the EgyptAir website and bagged tickets for approx £100 (which is quite pricy compared to domestic flights in other countries.)
We stayed at the Pyramisa Isis Corniche hotel for a couple of days which, despite its somewhat unfortunate name, was quite a charming little place overlooking the Nile and served as a great base to explore the Southern sites.
Abu Simbel Temples
We woke up bright and early and drove down to the border of Sudan to check out this absolutely phenomenal pair of temples. They were actually lost, buried deep in the desert sands and rediscovered in the 1800s. They’re carved out of the mountainside, overlooking Lake Nasser.
The Great temple is huge! Towering over visitors at 30m tall, four statues of Ramses II guard the entrance. There are also smaller statues of Queen Tuya, the pharaoh’s mum, Nefertari, his wife and his children too.
The feat of architechure / engineering is crazy – twice a year, on Ramses birthday and his coronation day, the position of the Earth means that the sunrays are able to shine right through to the inner sanctuary and illuminate the shrine. Sadly you’re not allowed to take pictures inside so here are a selection from the outside.
The second, smaller temple, is dedicated to Nefertari (Ramses II’s wife) and the Goddess Hathor. The statues outside are of the King and his Queen:
I’m not 100% sure if you’re allowed to take pictures inside but I found a couple on my camera so I thought I’d share.
Exploring these temples was quite an overwhelming experience for me – there’s so much to take in, the majesty of it, the sheer size, the walls etched in history, the stunning carvings, how every last detail was thought out but also how well it’s been preserved. It’s bonkers looking back at how the ancient Egyptians lived. So, so grateful I had this opportunity!
The largest known obelisk lies unfinished in this quarry. It’s made of Aswan’s finest granite and would have taken approx 8 months to complete. Men would have used tennis ball sized rocks to repeatedly pound the stone to carve it out. [CRAZY!!]
Unfortunately as they were working on releasing it from the larger bedrock, it cracked and was therefore deemed unusable.
I feel like these pictures don’t do justice to the sheer size of this thing. It’s about 42m long and weighs over 1,000 tonnes. That’s absolute madness!
It would have been carved with hieraglyphics. placed on a purpose built boat and transported down the Nile to it’s new home.
More than half of all of the remaining obelisks actually now live outside of Egypt – everywhere from the UK to Italy.
Temple of Philae
The Temple of Isis is located on the island of Philae and so you need to hop on a boat to get there – expect to have to haggle! It was actually previously located on a different island, which is now submerged due to a new dam. It was deconstructed, relocated and reconstruted. [The temples of Abu Simbel above share a similar story!]
^ This temple was also repurposed later on down the line, there’s a few pictures which show slightly less delicate carvings of crosses and defaced Egyptian Gods and Goddesses.
The main courtyard is stunning with all the pillars lined up.
These guards insisted I take their picture!
^ You can also flick through to see some pics of the hieroglyphics and wall carvings as well as the inner sanctuary.
Our trip coincided with sunset which was a rather beautiful end to the day.
Nile boat trip
One of my favourite experiences in Egypt was sailing down the Nile. You can hire a felucca (a traditional wooden boat) for anything from an hour or two right through to three to five days, traversing up / down the river. Either way, don’t forget to haggle on the price!
We spent a few hours kicking back, lazing around and admiring the views in Aswan – it was so tranquil and peaceful and a real escape from the chaos of the city.
The old souk in Aswan is a great place for an aimless stroll. We walked through, admiring the wares, colours and smells. I don’t think I actually ended up buying anything (aside from some guavas!) but it’s a good place to pick up some souvineers and spices.
Probably one of my favourite meals in Egypt – this little gem is a Nubian restaurant, located on an island in the middle of the Nile and provide their own boats to transport you to and fro. The atmosphere was really nice and they even had live music with a man strumming away on his guitar.
We ordered some tahini to start which was incredible. I only wish they sold it in jars!! We had the Nile perch – it arrived sizzling in a clay pot. The perfectly cooked fish was nestled in a tomato and pepper sauce and served with rice – yum! And to finish our meal: mint tea and Nubian coffee – green beans roasted over charcoal before being breweed with cardamom and nutmeg.
Lunch at the hotel
One of the other notable meals we had was in the hotel – fresh mezze and juice / a decent beef burger overlooking the Nile.
Aswan -> Luxor
We hired a driver to take us from Aswan to Luxor, stopping at a couple of temples along the way. The drive is pretty lush and green as it just follows the Nile. As soon as you veer away, it quickly becomes a desolate desert.
Temple of Kom Ombo
This temple is dedicated to two Gods – Sobek, the crocodile God, and Horus, the falcon God. This is reflected in the symmetrical architecture: double hypostyle halls, dual entrances and twin chambers / sanctuaries.
I loved walking around brushing my fingers along the carvings on the wall and simply just standing there taking in all. It’s like you’re physically just touching history.
These ‘papyrus’ style columns were stunning – towering over us.
There’s also a crocodile museum connected to this temple. It displays hundreds of mummifed crocs from the Nile – sadly no photos were allowed inside.
Temple of Horus, Edfu
In the small town of Edfu, there’s a temple dedicated to the falcon God, Horus. It was buried in sand and rubble and rediscovered in the 19th century
The hieraglyphocs carved into the walls here are simply jaw-dropping. They’re etched in delicately and preserved so well, capturing ancient stories and events. I only wish we had a guide / there were displays to explain what they all say!
The hypostyle hall and inner sanctuary/temple/altar dedicated to Horus:
In Luxor, we splashed out a little and stayed at the Hilton Hotel. It’s a great escape from the city – especially because you tend to get hounded a fair bit as people are constantly trying to sell you something / get money out of you, more so in Luxor than we experienced throughout Egypt.
We would regularly aim to get back to the hotel to enjoy sunset from one of the pools before hitting up the spa to end the day.
Luxor temple was constructed over hundreds of years and multiple pharaohs contributed to it – Amenhotep III, Ramses II, Tutankhamun to name a few.
You can visit the temple both by day, and by night – save your ticket because it’s valid for a double entry! I’d definitely recommend returning after dark as the temple is beautifully lit up and makes for a great experience, exploring Egyptian ruins in moonlight!
^ Only one of the two 25m tall obelisks remains at the entrance. Its counterpart now lives in Paris (Place de la Concorde).
Statues of Ramses II – originally there would have been six statues at the entrance.
^ Beautiful columns framing the Sun Court of Amenhotep III and hypostyle court with 32 columns!
Excavations and restorations continue in the temple.
There are also lots of elaboarate examples of detailed stonework on display too.
^ Statue of King Tut and his wife, Ankhesenamun by day and night.
Valley of the Kings
Luxor’s West Bank is the final resting place of 60+ ancient rulers. Tombs were built into the mountainside and varied in both size and style. They’d be filled to the brim with treasures and artifacts for the afterlife – everything from furniture and clothing to food and wine. That said, sadly many of these were raided and looted over time. Most of the remaining items are largely kept in the Egyptian musuem in Cairo.
Purchasing a standard ticket means no photography (but we sneakily managed to take some anyway) and allows entrance into three tombs – so pick carefully. You can also pay extra to visit the tomb of Tutankhamun:
He ruled for a short durtion and died young. His tomb is best known for the impressive treasures – jewellery, chariots, food, weapons and more!
Here are some pictures from the tomb of Amen Khopshef:
The tomb of Ramses IV is stunning – the walls are carved and painted with detailed hyroglophics.
The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut (one of ancient Egypt’s first female leaders) is set into the cliffside and is almost entirely a resconstruction, but it really helps understand what the architecture would have been like.
It was built to honour the Gods / Goddesses Hathor, Anubis, Amun and Re.
The Colossi of Memnon:
18m tall and cut from a single block, weighing in at 1,000 tonnes, these statues would have guarded the entrance of a funary temple which is currently being excavated.
Karnak temple is huge – spanning across 2 square kms, potentially the largest religious building in ancient Egypt. The entrance is stunning – you’re greeted with two rows of ram-headed sphinxes which at one point ran all the way from here to Luxor Temple!
There’s so much to see here and it’s astounding to think this was built thousands of years ago. I think one of my favourite musings of this entire trip was something that Mr Man said whilst exploring: “it’s amazing what people can achieve without Netflix!”
These columns are huge – here’s a picture of me sat by one for some perspective:
There are tonnes of carvings – you really can’t help trail your fingers along these walls, etched in history.
Here are some pictures of the festival hall which I adore. The faded colours are so beautiful when the light hits them.
Sailing to Banana Island
We spent our last afternoon in Luxor sailing the Nile on a felucca. It was so tranquil that I definitely fell asleep!
We stopped at banana island for a quick walk – I absolutely despise bananas but it was cool to see them being grown.
We also lucked out with this stunning sunset.
Thankfully I was awake for this bit!
We actually dined at this place twice – the food was good and the service was even better. I particularly enjoyed their mezze / starters.
Wenkie’s ice cream parlour
A great little dessert shop where they make their own ice creams in local flavours – from guava to dates to hibiscus. My favourite was daum (the fried fruit in the final pic of this causrosel) which has coffee / caramel notes.
Rather unusually for us, we dined at our hotel a couple of times:
^ Falafel plate and wings.
^ Shawarma wrap and steak sandwich
^ Date based kunefe.
Oh and if you can find it, definitely recommend grabbing some sugarcane juice from town:
Dendera Temple Complex, Qena
About an hour and a half drive from Luxor was my favourite temple of the trip – the Temple of Hathor, the Goddess of goddess of the sky, of women, fertility and love.
The inside is absolutely stunning – so well preserved including the roof being in tact. Ginormous columns stand, carved and painted with blue details.
They’re seriously HUGE – toweing over you:
And the ceilings – B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L.
^ Apparently the ancient Egyptians also came up with the Zodiac signs and you can see it in these pictures.
After wrapping up in Luxor we took an overnight sleeper train (pictured below) back to Cairo. It was definitely a little bit of a downgrade after spending a few nights at the Hilton, more so because I was suffering from food poisioning! That said, overall, it was simple, clean and quite an efficient way to travel.