Egypt has lured world wanderers for millennia with some of civilization’s grandest treasures. From the Great Pyramid of Giza to King Tutankhamun’s tomb to mystical temples dotting the Nile, the country has long held a spot on adventurers’ bucket lists. Now, with tour prices dramatically slashed, ancient wonders decadently devoid of crowds, and the thrill of political change in the air, there may never be a better time for savvy travelers to dash to Egypt.
The Best Egypt Deals
Egypt’s 5,000-year history and breathtaking monuments are best savored the way the pharaohs intended—via a dazzling Nile cruise. Yet the chance to witness modern history-in-the-making in the capital city is not to be missed. Luxury tour company Abercrombie & Kent combines both with its 50-percent-off "Egypt: A Moment in History" itinerary (now $1,725/person), inspired by the Arab Spring revolution. The 11-day trip led by Egyptologists includes Cairo-area attractions like the pyramids, Great Sphinx, Egyptian Museum, and a loop around revolutionary Tahrir Square, paired with an exquisite four-night Nile cruise docking near monumental temples and tombs of Luxor and Aswan.
Even more adventure-minded explorers should opt for Intrepid Travel, currently offering 20 percent off last-minute Egypt trips, ranging from a two-day jaunt ($240) to a 39-day trek (from $10,400) with additional stops in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya.
At hotels across the country, inquire about discounted tours and rooms—many offer significant discounts on stays of three nights or longer. The palatial (literally) Marriott Cairo on the leafy island of Zamalek is floating its "Egypt 25" special through June 30, 2012, with 25 percent off stays purchased seven days in advance.
Where to Stay
The premier oasis for luxe pampering in downtown Cairo is the Fairmont Nile City, with posh art deco rooms and stunning Nile vistas from its rooftop pool bar. For Cairo’s ultimate boutique hotel, try the chic and well-appointed Kempinski Nile, an easy stroll to the Egyptian Museum. In Aswan, Sofitel just unveiled an extensive renovation of the legendary Old Cataract Hotel, where Sir Winston Churchill held court and Agatha Christie penned Death on the Nile. (For all lodging options, a Nile view is de rigueur.)
Where to Eat
After a long day touring Islamic mosques and Coptic churches, unwind as the cool Cairenes do, with Egyptian-style meze, sushi (who knew?), and shisha (traditional flavored water pipes) at Sequoia. Nestled on the tip of Zamalek island, the swankest spot in town is draped dramatically in white and offers romantic Nile-side seating. Or, try Cairo’s favorite hot spot for Thai at the upscale Birdcage restaurant, tucked in the InterContinental Cairo Semiramis. Then, round out the evening sipping cocktails near Egyptian movie stars and foreign dignitaries in the majestic gardens of the Marriott Cairo Hotel and Omar Khayyam casino.
Where to Shop
Brave bargainers in Cairo should venture to the sprawling Khan el-Khalili bazaar for everything from spices to lamps to souvenir wristbands. Just don’t too easily part ways with your Egyptian pounds—aim to pay about 40 percent of what’s asked. To skip the haggling, try Khan Misr Touloun near Ibn Touloun mosque in Islamic Cairo for beautiful handicrafts, or Home & Beyond in Zamalek for whimsical trinkets. Serious jewelry lovers mustn’t miss the unique and famed designs of Azza Fahmy, found in boutiques around the country.
Beyond the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, it’s a quick and worthwhile hop to Jordan’s Petra, the sixth century BC archaeological wonder and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Making it Happen
Egypt Air offers 11-hour nonstop flights to Cairo from New York, or break things up with a stop in London or Paris, each a five-hour flight from Cairo. Conservative dress is the order of the day; no need for women to cover their hair except when visiting mosques, but leave short skirts and revealing tops at home. (However, ladies should feel free to bring a pair of heels for stylish evenings out in Cairo!) Despite recent unrest in the country, visitors report an overwhelming sense of safety along the tourist track, with a special tourist police assigned to watch over the country’s guests.
Thinking of a trip to Egypt?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our Egypt Travel Guide.
Photo Credit: Pyramids Giza via Shutterstock