Egypt: The must-sees
This is where the city of Memphis was located, upstream from the Nile delta, the cradle of ancient Egyptian civilization.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is a must when visiting Cairo. Most of the treasures and mummies of the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings are found there, as well as the famous mask of Tutankhamun.
On the one hand, I liked the exotic atmosphere of shopping in the Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar, but I was surprised to see that the vendors are VERY intense and work hard to sell. They even followed me to our car.
You should also be careful when a taxi driver offers to take you to an Egyptian art shop at a “good price”. The drivers receive commissions from certain businesses.
You can buy beautiful paintings of scenes from Egyptian mythology on papyrus. Something to decorate your home!
I think it’s a great souvenir and even more significant since these are the same paintings that cover the walls of the monuments you come to visit in Egypt.
Here are some other points of interest:
- Muhammad Ali Mosque
- The Citadel of Cairo
The pyramids of Giza
Located about 20 km (40 mins to 1h drive) from Cairo, the pyramids are the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Egypt.
The pyramid complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only surviving wonder of the ancient world.
At the entrance, many salesmen and guides are waiting to offer you their services and the rental of a horse or camel to visit the complex if you don’t want to walk.
The complex includes the Sphinx, the three great pyramids and their secondary/annexed pyramids:
- The Great Pyramid of Giza (or Cheops/Khoufu)
- The Pyramid of Khafre
- The Pyramid of Menkaure
It is possible to visit the interior of these tombs, but it’s not worth it in my opinion. The interior is not well maintained and they are not as decorated as the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
Your 200 EP ticket does not include a pyramid tour. It costs 400 EP for the pyramid of Giza and 100 EP for the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure.
Is it still possible to climb the pyramids? The official answer is no. The climbing ban is there to protect them because there has been vandalism in the past.
However, in our case, police officers approached us and allowed us to do so if we wished. Strange, isn’t it? I could see how huge the blocks are!
It was still pretty tough so we didn’t go very high; just high enough to get a sense of scale.
Finally, there is a sound and light show that takes place every night at the pyramids.
From Cairo, it is possible to take a taxi to the entrance of the site. There are also hotels in Giza in front of the pyramids including Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa which is a Marriott Category 2 hotel (easily booked with points)! The latter is less than 20 minutes walk from the pyramids.
For those of you who have a stopover at Cairo airport and want to take a quick tour, this is also possible!
- 4 hours minimum to get the feel of this magnificent place.
- 3 hours round trip.
- 3 hours to clear customs and re-register on return (buy your visa online in advance – see link below).
We took a day trip to visit the Citadel of Qaitbay and the new Library of Alexandria.
The ancient library was one of the most important in the world, housing the writings of Socrates, Homer, Plato and many other great authors of antiquity. It unfortunately succumbed to the flames in the time of Julius Caesar.
It was refreshing to walk around Alexandria after the smog of Cairo and the dusty pyramids.
Located in the very south of the country, the temple of Abu Simbel is majestic.
Pharaoh Ramses II wanted to be immortalized as well as his queen, Nefertari, by having colossal statues carved. The latter are more than 20 metres long and left me speechless!
Around Aswan, the temple of Isis and Philae are also worth a visit. I particularly liked the panorama of this place with all this greenery and the Nile.
We also visited the great Aswan Dam which is an engineering masterpiece from what I have read.
The Nile cruise
To get back to Luxor, we booked a cruise to visit Kom Ombo and Edfu which are on the way. As this trip to Egypt was one of my (many) childhood dreams, the experience of sailing on the Nile was a must.
The boat we chose was not luxurious, we just took the one that suited our dates and our budget.
Most cruises start at 3 days/2 nights and $450 USD.
The temple of Kom Ombo is a double temple, which made the architecture out of the ordinary. All the rooms were double and perfectly symmetrical to the main axis. This complex is dedicated to several Egyptian gods.
The Temple of Edfu is one of the best preserved temples and is the largest complex dedicated to the god Horus, one of the main deities of Ancient Egypt.
Note that it is also possible to visit these two temples by road if you do not wish to take a cruise.
The Valley of the Kings, located west of the Nile and close to Luxor, is one of the most interesting places to visit in Egypt.
The pyramids of Giza are impressive in size, but the Valley of the Kings contains some 60 tombs of pharaohs and nobles. A real treasure – literally – for the world of archaeology.
This site was built in the desert to protect the tombs from thieves, but time has shown that they have always managed to persevere. The remaining objects and mummies are now being returned to the Cairo Museum.
The walls are decorated with paintings of Egyptian mythology and have been very well preserved. They are therefore full of information on the practices and customs of this civilization, which dates back over 3,000 years.
The entrance ticket costs 250 EP and gives access to three tombs excluding that of Tutankhamun; an additional 200 EP must be paid for the latter.
The last tomb to be discovered was that of Tutankhamun. The discovery in 1922 caused a media furore and renewed interest in ancient Egypt. The tomb was almost intact and full of treasures.
I didn’t want to visit this tomb, because I had read a lot about it and the “curse of the pharaohs” scared me (no judgement please! hehe). There were several deaths among those involved in the discovery of his mummy.
Only as of 2018 is it allowed to take pictures inside the tombs so unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to show you. You have to pay for a photography permit which costs 300 EP and is valid for three tombs, excluding Tutankhamun, as your entrance ticket.
If you want to take a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, you can easily book it from Luxor.
The following sites are also worth a visit:
- Temple of Hatshepsut
- Luxor Temple
- Temple of Karnak
- Medinet Habu
Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada
Our trip ended in Luxor and we continued to Jordan and Petra, but a short stay on the Red Sea is a nice way to end a wonderful trip to Egypt.
The Red Sea is one of the best diving destinations around the world!
Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada are sun destinations where you can bask on the beach or enjoy the turquoise water for water sports.
Organize your trip to Egypt
When to visit?
I went to Egypt in August and the temperature reached 40-45 degrees Celsius. It was in another life when I was still a student so I didn’t really have a choice except to go in the middle of summer!
It may be stereotypically Asian with the umbrella, but it was so hot that it was a must!
The most pleasant time to visit is between October and April. December to February are the busiest months.
Ideally, we avoid the Ramadan period, but I didn’t see a big difference since we were concentrated in the tourist areas. Ramadan had started during the last days of our trip.
Getting to Egypt
Direct flights with Air Canada from Montreal are now available from 40,000 points in economy class and 70,000 in business class for one-way travel.
When we arrived at the airport in Cairo, we bought our visa at a kiosk as if we were buying a movie ticket. It’s one of my favourite visas!
The cost of a single-entry visa is US$25 in 2021. It is always possible to buy it on arrival, in cash, or in advance on the official website of the Egyptian government.
Getting around Egypt
The most popular route is as follows:
- Base in Cairo to visit the pyramids and a day trip to
- Travel to Aswan to visit Abu Simbel (by plane, bus or train)
- Take a cruise on the Nile from Aswan to Luxor to visit Philae, Edfu and
- End of the trip on the Red Sea in Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada (by plane
or by bus)
In our case, we had taken a driver/guide for the Cairo area and another one for the part from Aswan to Luxor. It was a way to make the most of our time since we only had 11 days for our stay (we did not go to the Red Sea).
Being a history buff of the first civilizations, I also wanted to make sure I understood what we were visiting without having my nose in a book.
For those who would like to visit independently, it is very easy. Just base yourself in Cairo and Luxor.
All activities and excursions can be booked from these bases. Taxis and Uber are very safe and inexpensive in Cairo. In Luxor, we walked and took taxis on occasion as the tourist sites are very close together.
To get the best prices on cruises, you’ll need to spend some time shopping around for a boat that fits your travel dates.
Prices for a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings start at around $50 USD. There are several vendors in town in Luxor, but it is easiest to book online at through.com
In high season, it is better to book in advance.
Marriott Bonvoy members will be pleased to know that there are a multitude of the chain’s hotels throughout the country. Indeed, whether in Alexandria, the Pyramids, or Sharm el Sheikh, the choice is vast.
Since many Marriott Bonvoy hotels are Category 2 or 3, it’s not hard to find a night’s stay for under 20,000 points. Marriott Bonvoy Personal and Business Cards Welcome Bonus points can go a long way!