The temples of Egypt were already ancient when the Romans arrived. However much you have seen and read about the country it will exceed your expectations. The grandeur and the sheer scale of the archaeological site is staggering, and there is also a wealth of mosques, churches and bazaars.
If you can stand the heat, summer is the best time to go, firstly because it is cheaper but mainly to minimise the crowds. A Nile cruise is an excellent way to travel if you can afford it as it lets you see the villages and temples in between the major cities.
A note for female travellers : European women do attract attention, particularly if you are blonde or red-headed. You are perfectly safe but the constant feeling of eyes following you can be unpleasant. Dressing modestly, with shoulders and knees covered, will help. This applies particularly in the South - Cairo is a bit more cosmopolitan. You can wear what you like in the tourist hotels, on cruise boats and at the major archaeological sites. It is a good idea for a woman travelling with a male companion to wear a wedding ring.
All over Egypt, especially in most of the touristy places you will no doubt get hassled by touts, shop owners and stall holders, the best tip is to chill out, learn a few friendly arabic negatives and smile. It is also a good idea to look like you know where you are going that way you are less likely to get latched onto by an Egyptian 'friend'.
On arrival you should buy a Visa (should be about £12) this can be bought before you go through passport control, from here there are buses that run to central Cairo although a taxi should be quite cheap, don't pay any more than 50LE.
Things to see:
The Pyramids obviously. Get there early (8am) in order to have an hour or so of relatively little hassle, and freedom from the hordes of people who show up in convoys of tour buses at about 9.30. If you want to enter the great Pyramid, tickets go on sale in the morning and the afternoon on a first come first served basis. I think 150 people can get in at each sitting. It costs LE20 to get into the Giza plateau itself, and LE100 to get into the Great Pyramid. Beware of taxi drivers and hotels that sell camel safaris around the Pyramids, most of these are grossly overpriced and you may also find that they go nowhere near the Pyramids themselves!
Islamic Cairo and the Khan El Khalili. You can spend hours wandering the labyrinthine streets of Islamic Cairo and the Khan (the main bazaar). It's like stepping back in time. Life goes on in and around a backdrop of 1000 year old mosques, gently crumbling city gates, and the architecture of medieval Cairo. It's worth a whole day of aimless wandering.
If Egyptology is your thing, then the Egyptian Museum should be on your list. More relics than you can shake an alabaster Anubis at.
The Corniche is a very pleasant place to stroll, and affords great views across the city, hugging the banks of the Nile. If you don't mind a bit of a trek, it's a useful artery to follow in order to get to Coptic Cairo, a small area of old Christian churches and peace from the touts.
If you have a spare afternoon take a felucca on the Nile, this is best done further down the Nile near the Maadi district where there is less river traffic.
Berlin Hotel (Sharia Shawarby, Downtown)
This hotel is a little more expensive than most budget options, coming in at LE77 per night (about 7 pounds). However the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful, the rooms are big and come with a private shower. You can also get breakfast served in your room, which is included in the price. It's located conveniently for most things, including Islamic Cairo, the Egyptian museum, and Ramses Station. The hotel will organise very reasonably priced transport to the Pyramids, Saqqara, Memphis and Darshur, which means you can easily do all these sites in one day with no hassle. They also do an airport pickup for only about LE5 more than a regular taxi should cost.
Dahab hotel (Mahmoud Bassiouni, Downtown)
The Dahab is popular with travellers who want the basics of a room and no frills. It's a collection of rooms on a rooftop in central Cairo, about 30 seconds from Midan Talaat Harb, so again very conveniently located. It comes in at LE20-25 per night.
Cairo is swarming with local cafes serving the basic Egyptian staples of Fuul, Taamiyya (Falafel) and Kushari (noodles, pasta, tomatoes, beans and other things in a spicy sauce. It's all good, cheap and readily available. Aside from that, a good place is the Felfela restaurant off Sharia Talaat Harb. A very nice atmosphere, friendly staff and good, reasonably priced food. Lots of veggie stuff, and a wide menu. They also have a takeaway just round the corner where you can get falafel for the princely sum of 65 piastres (about 6.5 pence!)
Abu-as-Sid (Maadi/Sharia) - Eat delicious Mezze in eastern surroundings at great prices. We checked out the one in Maadi but I was informed the one in central Cairo is similar, if not better.
La Bodega (157 Sharia 26th July) - Posh colonnial style restaurant that offers high quality food and delicious cocktails, a little bit on the pricey side but worth treating yourself to.
Feshawi's Coffee Shop (in alley off Midan Hussein, Khan al-Khalili) - Apparently this place has not closed in over 150 years, this is one of the best places to take a pause from the chaos of Islamic Cairo and relax with a tea and a Shisha. The only downside was that we were offered a new wallet about 20 times in half an hour!
SIWA AND THE DESERT OASES
It is possible to book 2-3 safari's into the White and Black Desert's from Cairo or before you come to Egypt and provide a totally different experience from the usual temples and pharoahic sights. It is also possible to catch a train/bus to Alexandra and then onto Siwa to there where you can take overnight safaris into the desert.
Siwa Oasis is a nine hour bus ride from Alexandria. Siwa lies about 40km form the Libyan border, and is absolutely in the middle of nowhere - an isolated corner of the vast Western Desert. The town itself is charming. The predominant mode of transport is the donkey and cart. Most of the buildings (including the bank) are made of mud, and the town is dominated by Shali, a 13th century mud fortress, which stood more or less intact until 1923, when three days of heavy rain brought about it's near collapse. Today, Shali is crumbling romantically in the desert sun. Around Siwa there are a number of interesting things. The site of the Oracle is just outside town. It was here that Alexander the Great came to find an answer to the question of whether he was a living God. Apparently the oracle said yes. There is also the ruined Temple of Amun, and a number of attractive hot springs.
Siwa is also an ideal place to organise either day trips into the great sand sea, or desert safaris down through Bahariyya oasis, then across the Black and White deserts to Farafra. From here you can either progress further south towards Dahkla and Kharga, or head back to Bahariyya and get a bus to Cairo (about 6 hours).
Accommodation is limited in Siwa, but I would recommend the Palm Trees hotel. It's cheap, at 10 LE a night, and the staff are very friendly and helpful.
There isn't much to keep you in Luxor more than a few days but it acts as an excellent base in which to explore the many ruins around the West Bank. Luxor itself is devoid of good restaurants and bars and after a couple of nights you will want to move on.
Getting There - Trains run overnight from the main Cairo station with tickets about $10 in first class seating, if you want to travel in comfort you can book a sleeper cabin which costs about $53. It is advised to book this about a day in advance and make sure you have either Euro's or US Dollars as the sleeper company does not accept cards or Egyptian cash. The office can be found just past the toilets on the inside left of the main entrance, the platforms for the Luxor trains go from the back of the station, an arabic phrasebook is useful in case the platform numbers change! The train leaves Cairo between 7-8pm arrives in Luxor at about 5.30am the following morning. It is a good idea to take some food and drink as the food on the train is of airline standard and drinks are very expensive. It is also possible to fly to Luxor from Cairo and may be a good idea if your on an extremely limited timescale, expect flights to start at around £50-60 .
Accommodation - It may be worth booking your accommodation in advance of arrival if your coming on train due to the early hour of arrival, but it is also possible to head straight out of the station (ignore the hotel touts) and strike out to your preferred choice of accommodation.
New Windsor Hotel - A bit on the crumbling side, but an agreeable place to stay in a good location for the bus station and Karnak Temple.
Amoun (Sharia al-Karnak) - Nice open air restaurant serving cheap tasty Egyptian food, seems to get more custom than the restaurant next door. There is also an internet cafe next door.
Kings Head (Sharia Khaled ibn al-Walid) - English style Bar run by Egyptians with a pool table, internet and food. You can also book a car to take you around the West Bank sights from here.
Royal Oak - Smaller so called English bar, good for a quiet drink early evening.
Jem - Excellent Mezze served here for only 30LE with friendly service aswell. No Alcohol served.
Luxor Temple - Arrive early to avoid the tourist hordes, also open at night where it is floodlit.
Karnak Temple - About 25-30 mins walk from Luxor Centre, probably advisable to get a taxi in the hot part of the day (about 5LE). Best to go late afternoon when the tourist levels dwindle and the light is at its best.
West Bank Sights
To get to the West bank you can either catch a ferry across the Nile and then arrange a taxi, however, it may be simpler to arrange a taxi for the day, something you should be able to arrange for around 150LE a day maximum. We arranged our driver at the Kings Head Pub, make sure you clarify the price for the vehicle though.
Valley of Kings - Where a lot of the pharoahs were laid to rest, you can get a ticket for 3 tombs (55LE). Tutenkhamun's tomb is paid for separately (70LE) and is perhaps only worth paying for the fame value as there's not that much to see! As for the tombs, the Tombs of Ramses IV (2), Ramses VI (9) and Ramses III (11) are recommended, if you want to see more you can always go out and come back in again. Please note that all camera's (still and video) will have to be left at the gate where they are quite secure.
Deir al-Bahri (Temple of Hatshepsut) - Impressive temple that merges with the sheer limestone cliffs of the Theban Mountain. The Assasif Tombs are also worth a look if you have time and are prepared for a steep climb!
Medinet Habu - Possibly the most impressive sight on the West Bank this temple complex comes close to rivaling Karnak in size and shouldn't be missed. Some of the best hieroglyphic reliefs can be found here.
Much quieter than Luxor and a place to spend a few days relaxing on the Nile and visiting some of the less explored sights. You can catch a train from Cairo or Luxor down to Aswan, same details apply as per Luxor above.
Sights - Philae temple, the unfinished Obelisk, and the usual base for exploring Lake Nasser and trips to Abu Simbel
THE RED SEA
The modern resorts of Hurgada and Sharm El Sheik have good diving and sweltering beaches. No history, but go there if you want to just relax and soak up the sun.
Getting to Hurghada
Buses and trains run to Hurghada regularly from Cairo, its worth checking when you arrive in Cairo the latest timetables.
To get from Hurghada from Luxor catch the Egpyt bus (60LE) that leaves every night at 7pm from the bus kiosk behind the Luxor Temple (tickets can be bought at one of the travel agents on the Corniche), the journey takes about 5-6 hours. From there you can connect with the hydrofoil ferry service to Sharm.
Getting to Sharm-el-Sheik & Dahab
From Cairo you can catch buses to Dahab and Sharm although the 10 hour journey may put you off it is the most economical way of travelling, another option if there is a few of you is to pay for a taxi minibus, this may cost you as much as £30 per person but will shave 4-5 hours off your journey, with a bit of bartering it should be possible to get the price down. Flights leave to Sharm from Cairo on a daily basis but are often booked up weeks in advance in busy periods so it is worth thinking ahead if you want to do this.
From Hurghada there is a hydrofoil ferry that leaves between 3-5 in the morning although you'll need to check with a travel agent for the days and times they run. If your doing this a taxi from the bus station to the ferry port shouldn't be more than 20LE and expect to have to spend a few hours in a cafe waiting till they open the port. The journey to Sharm takes around 2 hours and if you are travelling onto Dahab it is worth arranging a taxi in advance to pick you up when you arrive, otherwise a bus does run.
Dahab - Lying on the east coast of the Sinai peninsula, Dahab is a sleepy, laid back place, which used to be famed for it's easily available dope and general hippie ambience. These days it's not quite the stoned out place it used to be, but it's still a very nice town in which to relax, drink a mango juice while watching the Red Sea lapping gently at the shore, and generally chill out. On the other hand, it is also a Mecca for divers and snorkellers, boasting some fantastic dive sites, and a plethora of dive clubs and schools for those who wish to learn. Among the best are:
Fantasea Dive Centre
In terms of accommodation, Dahab has it all. Everything from a 5LE a night bamboo hut, to the Hilton. Cheap camps that I would recommend are 'Alaska', 'Fantasea', 'Green Valley' and 'Camelot', although this last one has the disadvantage of being close to Dahab's only late night/loud music bar, so unless you don't hit the hay until 3am, you'll be listening to it while you try to sleep. At a slightly higher price, the 'Coral Coast' hotel is also apparently very nice.
Jasmina Pension (5 mins from seafront) - Popular with divers this is the next level up from the camps and is good value at £7 a night based on 2 people sharing. It can get a bit noisy with street traffic and the call to prayer but you get used to it. They also do a Bedouin style BBQ if there is a group of you that is worth doing one night.
Jasmine Pension (Mashraba) - Not to be confused with the Jasmina, this place is in the quieter part of town and was highly recommended to us, apparently not that more expensive than the Jasmina.
There are a plethora of restaurants spread out along the waterfront. Most of the ones along the beach are decidedly mediocre, despite what the touts who hang around outside will tell you. The food is average, overpriced, and takes far too long to arrive.
Laughing Buddha - Good for a good, generous, cheap Egyptian breakfast
Sharks - Opens at 6pm and is one of the best restaurants in Dahab. The portions are enormous, the food is good, the prices are very reasonable, and Osama the owner is an absolutely lovely bloke. He went to the length of bringing in a vegetarian cookbook for me, and saying, "Pick something, and I'll cook it for you tomorrow." !
Al Capones (First restaurant after bridge) - Better than most places on the front but still a long way off dazzling. No Alcohol.
Nessima Resort (Mashraba) - One of the best places to eat in Dahab and also watch the sunset. Their Bedouin Fish meal comes highly recommended. Serves beer.
Penguin Cafe (Mashraba) - Waterside cafe serving good food
Faces Bar (Mashraba) - Quiet bar on waterfront, a good place to enjoy an afternoon beer and a book. Gets a bit busier at nightimes.
Calm Inn (Masbat) - Beautifully decorated jungle lodge style restaurant serving healthy wholesome food. It goes without saying that it caters excellently for vegetarians. The food is exquisite and presented well. No Alcohol allowed.
Al Farna Cafe (Masbat) - A good place to have breakfast if you don't mind cats and the odd fly!
Friends Restaurant (Masbat) - Good breakfasts and cleaner than a lot of seafront places.
Jasmine Restaurant (Mashraba) - A nice seaside setting to eat good food, this place is one of the better seafront places, serves Stella Beer.
Dahab Hilton (Dahab City) - Should you have the misfortune to accidentally end up here you can get a buffet for 90 LE in which you can eat as much as you like, the food is good but nowhere near the quality that you would expect from European Hilton's and watch out for clumsy waiters with steel trays!
Trattoria Pizziera (Masbat) - Cheap Italian place on the seafront with quick service but don't expect anything special.
Tota's Dance Bar (Masbat) - The hub of Dahab entertainment in the shape of a boat that is open to 3am every night. This place also serves good lunches (Italian and Vegetarian) and has a nice chill out area at the back where you can relax with a shisha. Also has a pool table.
Crazy House Bar (Masbat) - A nice place to have a beer and watch the sunset, also has a good pool table, although they only seem to own 3 CDs (2 chillout and 1 Bob Marley) that play on auto-repeat and skip quite often!
Furry Cup Bar - Popular dive bar past the lighthouse, can get quite busy on party nights. Also serves excellent steak and shows Sky Sports.
Info supplied by Andy Webb, Elaine Coates and Andy Coates
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