Great Itineraries in Egypt
Great Itineraries in Egypt
In the Footsteps of the Pharaohs: The Classic Tour of Egypt
This weeklong itinerary is the whistle-stop tour of all whistle-stop tours, but it will give you the opportunity to see the most important locations relating to ancient Egypt in a limited period of time. Your days will be very full, but who wants to miss even one of these sites? If you are coming from the United States, remember to figure in the travel time (more than 10 hours from New York), so this tour actually requires nine full days away from home.
1 Day. Hit the ground running with an action-packed day. In the morning visit the Egyptian Museum, whose hallowed halls have the largest collection of artifacts of the Pharaonic era. The signage in this museum is abysmal, so you'll be at an advantage if you bring along a guide (or hire one once you arrive at the museum). Have lunch, either around the museum or in Giza, on the outskirts of the city. Then, in the afternoon, explore the mysteries of the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.
Memphis, Dahshur, and Saqqara
1 Day. Take a day to see these three Old and Middle Kingdom sites from your base in Cairo. Memphis was the first capital of Egypt, but there's little grandeur left on the ground. Saqqara is famous as the site of the first pyramid ever built, while Dahshur has five pyramids, including the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid. Of the three areas, Dahshur is the less visited, and if you time your visit well, you may not encounter large crowds.
Abu Simbel and Aswan
1 Day. In the early morning, fly south from Cairo to Abu Simbel, site of two monumental temples commissioned by Ramses II. As you head south along the Nile, you'll be able to see Lake Nasser as it snakes through the desert south of Aswan. A round-trip shuttle bus to the Temple of Ramses II is included in the price of your airline ticket; flights are carefully timed (they leave Cairo very early, arriving at Aswan around 9:30 AM) and will allow you just a couple of hours to view the temple. The colossal statues fronting the Great Temple are among the most photographed sites in the world, and rightly so, having been rescued through a heroic effort from the rising waters of Lake Nasser in the 1970s. Then fly to Aswan, which will get you to your hotel or cruise ship around lunchtime. In the afternoon tour the unfinished obelisk, Aswan High Dam, and Philae. Return to Philae in the evening for the Sound & Light show (depending on day and languages broadcast).
½ Day. The Ptolemaic Temple of Haroeris and Sobek combines the worship of two gods: the crocodile-headed Sobek, protector of the earth, and Haroeris, a hawk-headed manifestation of Horus and god of medicine. The temple was also an ancient center for medicine and healing. If you are on a cruise, you'll probably arrive at the temple around sunset; if you are visiting on a day trip from Aswan, try to go in the morning to avoid the crowds disembarking from the dozens of ships in the afternoon.
½ Day. The Temple of Horus was built in the Ptolemaic era and completed in only 180 years; this is the best-preserved temple on the Nile. On a cruise, you'll arrive in Edfu in the morning. You must take some kind of transportation from the cruise docks to the temple. The traditional method is by horse and carriage, but you can also take a taxi.
2 Days. You have much to see in Luxor, on both sides of the river. Split your two days into a West-Bank day and an East-Bank day. Devote Day 1 to the West Bank, spending the morning at the Valley of the Kings; have lunch, then tour Madinat Habu, the Valley of the Nobles, the Ramesseum, and the Colossi of Memnon. Tour the East Bank on Day 2, hitting the sprawling Karnak Temple in the morning, then after lunch visit Luxor Temple, returning to Karnak for the Sound & Light show in the evening.
Dendera and Luxor
1 Day. One significant temple is on few one-week itineraries (and almost no cruise itineraries), but if you want to get a little off the beaten path, then book a tour to visit the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, 40 km (25 mi) north of Luxor, especially noted for its Greco-Roman depictions of Queen Cleopatra presenting her son and heir Caesarion to the Egyptian gods. Return to Luxor, and shop in the souk for souvenirs on your final afternoon.
The Best of Egypt
14 to 16 Days
No visit to Egypt is complete without taking in some or all of the ancient sites in itinerary one, but you can certainly add a few important attractions to those already listed should you have a few more days in the country. More important, you can linger in each major destination for another day and experience some of the secondary sights and still have time to make a swing through the Sinai Peninsula.
3 Days. After spending your first two days exploring ancient Cairo (as described on the 7-day itinerary), it's time to immerse yourself in the post-Pharaonic era. On Day 3 explore the Islamic city and the attractions leading off Shar‘a al-Mu'iz; the streets and alleys all still brim with life. Browse in Khan al-Khalili or the Tent Maker's bazaar for souvenirs, and stop for some tea or even lunch at El Fishawy or the Naguib Mahfouz Café. Later, take a taxi to the Citadel to explore the mosques and museums here, and for wonderful views over the city. One night, have dinner in one of Cairo's floating restaurants or in one of the top hotels along the Nile.
2 Days. If you have the time, take a side-trip to Egypt's second city, Alexandria. The Turbini or Espani trains from Cairo's main station are the fastest, taking 2½ hours to get to Alex. If you take a morning train, you can spend your first afternoon visiting the picture-perfect Fort Qait Bay in the Eastern Harbor, followed by a delicious fish dinner. The following morning, visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and in the afternoon head out to Pompey's Pillar and descend into the eerie Kom al-Shoqafa catacombs, and you can fly directly to your next destination, Aswan.
Aswan and Abu Simbel
2 Days. A visit to Abu Simbel requires a half day, assuming you fly; spend the afternoon of Day 1 visiting the Philae Temple, and, if you have the time and energy, stop by the Nubian Museum for at least an hour or two either before or after your visit to Philae. On Day 2, cross to the West Bank for the Tombs of the Nobles and the Tomb of the Aga Khan. If you still have time after your tour of the major sights, make for Kitchener's Island in the center of the river to explore the Botanical Gardens, then take a felucca ride in the late afternoon to enjoy the boulder-strewn cataracts of the Nile. Don't forget to leave some time for shopping; the souks of Aswan are less frenetic than those in Luxor or Cairo.
Edfu and Kom Ombo
2 Days. Don't forget these important temples between Aswan and Luxor. If you don't take a cruise, then Edfu is more easily seen on a full-day excursion from Luxor, and Kom Ombo on a half-day excursion from Aswan.
Luxor, Dendera, and Abydos
4 Days. Spend two days seeing the highlights of Luxor. Spend a third day visiting Dendera. On your fourth day, book a trip to the Temple of Seti I at Abydos (150 km [93 mi] north of Luxor), which is dedicated to the god Osiris. Cruises rarely stop here, and relatively few tourists make this trip, but the carvings on this temple are magnificent. After visiting the Osiris Temple, you can walk over to the Temple of Ramses; though not as well preserved as Seti I's temple, the remaining walls still have some of their vibrant color. If you are traveling by land, because of the convoy system, you'll be allowed two hours at the site before you return to Luxor for an evening stroll or carriage ride along the riverside Corniche.
2 Days. Early on Day 1, fly into Sharm El-Sheikh. Take an afternoon tour into the Sinai by camel or quad and then cool off in your hotel's pool or at the beach. Spend Day 2 at Ras Mohammed National Park. Divers should book a dive on one of the famed sites offshore—perhaps Thistlegorm—while nondivers can take a snorkeling trip or glass-bottom boat ride. Nonswimmers can enjoy an overland tour of the terrestrial elements of the park with some beach time. If you plan to spend the night at the base of Mount Sinai, head there in the afternoon so you arrive before dark.
Saint Catherine's Monastery and Jabal Moussa
1 Day. Stay overnight close to Saint Catherine's Monastery, which is deep in the Sinai Mountains. Wake before dawn to climb Jabal Moussa (Mount Sinai), reaching the summit just as dawn breaks. Retrace your steps and explore the monastery in the early morning. After returning to Sharm, you can fly back to Cairo that evening.
If you are taking the classic tour and adding these extra elements into the schedule, you'll save time by flying directly to Sharm El-Sheikh from Luxor.
Tour companies can arrange your trip to Saint Catherine's Monastery, or you can rent a car in Sharm El-Sheikh and make your own way.
If you have more than two weeks to spend in Egypt, you may wish to add three or four days and visit Siwa in the Western Desert region, or perhaps visit the White Desert, Black Desert, and Farafra, a trip of four or five days.
Return flights from Egypt to the United States generally leave in the morning.
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