Egypt Travel Guide

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Photo: Jan Rihak/iStockphoto

Egypt is rich with temples: soaring lotus-bud columns, enormous stone portals laced with delicate carvings, elaborate underground tombs, windswept desert monasteries, and richly decorated mosques. But as extraordinary as these sights are, they will probably not be the things that linger in your memory after you return home. It is the rhythm of life in Egypt—from the Mediterranean feel of Alexandria to the electric pace of Cairo to the timelessness of desert villages—that is unforgettable. In a world that seems to get smaller and more homogeneous by the day, Egypt, outside a few pockets, is still a place that exists for its residents, not its visitors. It is the real thing. As a visitor you will have to learn how to accommodate Egypt and not hope that Egypt, with 5,000 years of momentum behind it, will accommodate you.

2 Cairo. One of the world's great cosmopolitan cities for well over 1,000 years, Egypt's capital is infinite and inexhaustible. Just don't expect a city frozen in time: Cairo's current vitality is as seductive as its rich past.

3 Alexandria. Alexandria still embodies the Mediterranean side of Egypt's character: breezy, relaxed, oriented toward the sea. It is a city of cafés and late-night dinners, of horse-drawn carriages and long strolls along the Corniche. Since its founding by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, the city has constantly reinvented itself and remains vibrant.

4 The Nile Valley and Luxor. From the implacable nobility of its pharaonic monuments at Karnak to the towering stone walls of the Valley of the Kings, Luxor never fails to impress. Stark desert borders verdant fields and silvery palm groves, and the diamond gleam of the late-afternoon sun plays on the mighty river. Prepare yourself for a dose of pure iconography.

5 Aswan and Lake Nasser. Aswan, the gateway to Nubia, is much less hectic than either Luxor or Cairo, so it offers a chance to slow down and relax. To the south is the expansive Lake Nasser, where a cruise here is even more laid-back than one on the busier stretch of the Nile. But most people are happy with a day trip to visit the magnificent temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel.

6 The Sinai and the Red Sea Coast. The Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea Coast make up Egypt's holiday land, where great beaches and year-round sunshine attract thousands of vacationers. Visitors here worship at the temple of pleasure—the exceptional diving and water sports, plus great golf courses—while others seek spiritual strength at Christian monasteries hidden in the hills.

7 The Western Desert Oases. Far to the west of the Nile Valley, at the edge of the Great Sand Sea before Egypt gives way to Libya, lie a series of remote oases—refuges from an inhospitable desert landscape and fertile enclaves historically famed for their dates and olives. In the past, these oases were isolated, many days' caravan journey from civilization; today they are hot spots for desert adventures and expeditions that push us beyond the boundaries created by our modern lives.

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