Egypt, the seat of civilisation, has drawn visitors throughout history, enthralled by the majesty of the monuments.
Egypt, the seat of civilisation, has drawn visitors throughout history, enthralled by the majesty of the monuments which have remained largely unaltered through time. You cannot say the name without visualising the seemingly unfeasible, sand-blown pyramids on the edge of the arid desert at Giza, or the Sphinx whose calm eyes watch unblinking the passing of the centuries. But these represent just one facet of Egypt's rich archaeology; her cultural heritage has been moulded by Greek, Roman, Christian and Arab influences, all leaving their mark and shaping her present.
The heart of the capital, Cairo, which means 'conqueror', has retained its medieval character in numerous examples of Islamic architecture, earning it the nickname 'The City of a Thousand Minarets'. It was founded in 10th century AD, but the present day city bears remnants of successive capitals in the architecture of Old Cairo. Meanwhile, all around it life takes a chaotic lurch into 21st century modernity: a taxi ride through the city streets will leave your nails dug deeply into the fabric of a shabby seat. Yet still people throng the timeless bazaars, haggling for bargains amid the intense hues and exotic aromas which characterise this tapestry of middle eastern life.
Offering something for everyone, Egypt holidays continue to grow in popularity among British tourists. So if you're in search of an all inclusive holiday, family holiday or a winter sun break then Egypt holidays are the perfect choice. If you're thinking about booking a holiday to Egypt then deliberate no more because Egypt holidays will not disappoint.
Egypt holidays have been popular since the early days of world travel; the wonders of Egypt have attracted visitors seeking a glimpse of its romantic and mysterious past. Vast monuments and tombs stand proudly along the serene waters of the River Nile, a symbol of past civilisations and thousands of years of continuous history. Today, holidays to Egypt provide a taste of that fascinating heritage through visits to the impressive monuments.
The eastern coastline together with the southern tip of the Sinai is where many modern day holidays to Egypt are spent. The Red Sea region has a number of beach resorts, is a hub for modern day Egypt holidays and is a far cry from the temples and tombs of ancient times.
Holidays in Egypt for Fascinating History
The mature and mighty Nile, a confluence of the White and Blue Nile rivers, starting in Uganda and Ethiopia respectively, reaches its destination in Egypt where it flows into the Mediterranean. It conjures up images of romantic Egypt Cruises or Poirot mysteries and is never short of a surprise or two along its unending banks. Drift along and watch the scenery change while the waters break noiselessly over the prow and, as you sail towards Luxor, prepare for the sight of ancient Thebes. Here you'll see some of the most magnificent artefacts in the world among the opulent, labyrinthian burial chambers. Further south at Aswan, more temples await or, for more modern history, visit the Aswan damn, a landmark notable for its sheer vastness. The opportunity it provides to harness hydroelectric power has been pivotal in Egypt's industrialisation.
Red Sea Resorts for Luxurious Egypt Holidays
As the sands of the Sinai desert stretch out to the Sahara, small oases give life to islands of green where medieval fortresses and ghostly rock formations lend an eerie air to the landscape. Further on, the Red Sea's clear waters are home to coral in abundance and a rich variety of sea creatures and underwater life. Not surprisingly, it is renowned as a favoured destination for scuba diving holidays.
Located on the western side of Egypt's Red Sea Riviera is the exciting and vibrant resort of Hurghada. Formerly known as 'Ghardaga', it was a simple fishing village before transforming into the popular resort it is today with visitors attracted by its high quality hotels and magnificent sandy beach.
Egypt's most southerly resort, Marsa Alam, is an ecological paradise as yet off the radar of mass tourism. In twenty years it has grown from a sleepy fishing village to an up-market resort of luxury hotels; those in the know are drawn to the fantastic coastline of sandy beaches stretching to the vanishing point before warm seas in which coral reefs remain largely untouched.
The small town of Taba, at the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba in the eastern Sinai peninsula is the most northerly resort of the Red Sea Riviera and is a centre for diving. Most of the hotels are in Taba Heights some 20 minutes away, an area of spectacular scenery with the mountainous backdrop and the blue waters of the red sea in the foreground. It's a great base for visits to Petra, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, St Katherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai.
For the majority of the year, the weather in Egypt is hot and dry. In the north, the winter months of December, January and February can be quite cold with Cairo and the coast experiencing night temperatures as low as 8 deg C. The desert, day to night, can swing between searing heat and bitter cold.
However, in the resorts on the Mediterranean coast, the average temperature is around 20 deg C getting up to about 31 deg C as a maximum. Of course, further south, temperatures can get much higher, sometimes upto around 50 deg C.
Alexandria, on the northern coast, gets the most rain, about 19cm per annum, but in Aswan it is only about 10mm and Al-Kharga in the western desert, has been known to go 17 years without a drop falling! In spring, a hot,dry wind, or khamsin, blows in at 150km an hour from the desert, turning the sky orange and leaving a gritty deposit throughout.
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Cheap and hearty food is available everywhere. Try the mezze (selection of starters, including stuffed vine leaves, houmous, tahina and babahanoug (smoked aubergine dip) for delicious peasant fare. Big and nourishing soups also appear frequently on the menu and are often the main course. Great for vegetarians, these are likely to be based on lentils or broad beans. A favourite among the locals is molokhiyya, or mallow made into an earthy-tasting soup to be served with rabbit or chicken. There are also plenty of tasty meats including kebabs and koftas (both skewered meats) and filling earthenware offerings where the flavours blend to perfection. Seafood is readily available along the Red Sea coast and in Sinai, including squid and mullet, sea bass, sole and shrimps. Salting and baking is a traditional way to cook them. You will also find great street food, and some delicious desserts.
Food more familiar to the sometimes conservative British holidaymaker is also available in abundance and so there is no need to go hungry if the local cuisine does not appeal. Many restaurants serve pizza, hamburgers and spaghetti and piping hot chips are available everywhere.
Egypt is an Islamic country so alcohol is not widely available. The exception to this is Stella beer, made in Egypt and which is ubiquitous - a welcome treat after a hard day's sightseeing. Bottled water is also everywhere as are Western soft drinks, including the diet varieties. Mint tea, or other herb tea, is very popular among the locals, and Arabic coffee is very strong, thick and, sweet, though it can also be ordered without sugar. European/American-style coffee houses are gradually making an appearance too.
Egypt Holidays - Nightlife
The Red Sea Riviera offers a great variety of destinations each with its own peculiar atmosphere and character. From the quaint, relaxing and silent Taba, through the chilled-out new age Dahab and El Gouna.
In the party towns of Hurghada, you will find a busy, bustling nightlife, fuelled by a large number of pubs, bars, trendy eateries and international clubs, from Hard Rock Cafes to Pacha clubs, Buddha bars and many other local popular ventures which keep everybody rocking until the small hours.
In contrast, El Gouna offers a relaxed elegance and has a sophisticated, bohemian flair.
Dahab is on the Red Sea with a beachfront promenade packed with Bedouin establishments. Everywhere you will find some interesting local hangout, whether it is the local Shawarma shop or cafeteria, where you can spend some entertaining time watching the locals play backgammon while sipping tea and smoking shisha (the local water-pipe).
One of the great delights of holidaying in Egypt is the shopping! However, there are many challenges: from learning how to bargain to knowing where the best places are to buy certain goods. You will be truly amazed at the range of items on sale, from souvenirs to treasures. There is everything from exotic spices to exquisite jewellery, textured shawls and scarves to brilliantly coloured papyri, handcrafted brass and copper ware to quality reproductions of antiquities, and delicately glowing alabaster and fabulously designed carpets and rugs.
The souks and markets of Egypt have a unique excitement and atmosphere quite unlike anything to be experienced elsewhere. The range of wares on display is mind-boggling and the friendliness and hospitality of the shop owners is unrivalled. The sights, scents and sounds will overwhelm your senses and the exotic atmosphere will dazzle and fire your imagination.
Things To Do
Snorkelling: is an easy and very enjoyable way to spend time discovering the wonders of the marine life. Whether you go out from your resort beach, or you spend a day or half a day on a snorkeling boat, you will collect unforgettable memories.
The Red Sea Riviera: is not for scuba diving and snorkelling alone however; the sea here is a paradise for a number of watersports, and some destinations are particularly famous because of their perfect conditions for one activity or another. When you think of board sports, such as wind and kite surfing, you think of the five main destinations: Dahab in Sinai, El Gouna, Hurghada, Safaga and Marsa Alam, on the Red Sea coast. Sandy beaches, constant wind and professional centres make it a watersport nirvana.
Boat Trip to Ras Mohammed National Park: Egypt's first national park, it is so named as it includes a cliff which resembles a man's face. It is an ideal spot to enjoy nature untainted by mass commercialism and has marked trails with information on what to expect. If you are visiting as part of a boat trip, take the opportunity to snorkel in one of the most amazing coral gardens where it is possible to see most of the 1000 species which swim in the Red Sea. There is a Visitors' Centre and restaurant in Marsa Ghoslane nearby. You will need your passport to enter the park.
Ballooning: Various tour operators offer trips in a hot air balloon over the mountains and monuments. They can be quite expensive, but it is worth bartering, particularly out of peak season.
Birdwatching: A paradise for twitchers, Egypt is home to a wide variety of species for at least part of the year. See sunbirds, herons, kingfishers, spoonbills and more. The best places are Lake Qarun, in the Al-Fayoum region, or in Aswan.
Nile Cruise: Not to be missed, this gentle, slow journey is one of the best ways to get a feel for the majesty of the world's longest river. There are many Nile Cruise operators and one of the busiest areas is between Luxor and Aswan, admiring the monuments en route. A restful way to travel is on a traditional Felucca, which travels slowly from one bank to the other.
Desert Safari: These are available in the Sinai, Western and Eastern Deserts, and can include some quite challenging routes. Try the Great Sand Sea of the Western Desert, or in the southwest, the Gilf Kebir where the Cave of the Swimmers from the film, The English Patient is to be found.
Bedouin Evening: An evening not to be missed, enjoy a spectacular sunset in the Sinai desert from the back of a camel. Arrive at a traditional Bedouin tent, relax and get ready for a typical dinner including entertainment, aromatic tea and soft drinks. This is a great opportunity to discover the real local life of the Bedouins.
Things To See
Pyramids: No visit to Egypt is complete without a visit to the pyramids at Giza; they are the world's oldest tourist attraction and the Great Pyramid is one of the wonders of the ancient world. The day will include a tour of the Giza plateau to visit the Pyramids and the Sphinx which seldom fail to elicit gasps of wonder as they suddenly appear in all their magnificence on the horizon from the suburbs of Cairo. It is possible to go inside some, though not advisable if you are at all claustrophobic, and you can buy tickets for a booming evening sound and light show projected onto their expansive height. Less touristy are the pyramids at Saqqara and Dahshur, further south. The former's Step Pyramid is the oldest in the world and the Red Pyramid at Dahshur is the first true one.
Valley of the Kings: Gaze in jaw dropping amazement at the well-preserved tombs at the Valley of the Kings, Luxor where the Judgement of Osiris and the rebirth of the Pharaohs are vividly depicted on the walls and ceilings of the royal tombs.
Egyptian Museum: Located in central Cairo and with so much to see, you may not fit it all in in one visit alone. Room follows room full of amazing ancient treasures. It is worth paying the extra fee to enter the Royal Mummy Room where ancient Egyptian royalty lie in glass showcases. The fatal wounds of some of them are visible if you look closely. Another room houses mummies of animals - always a winner with younger visitors. The best time to visit is late in the afternoon when the crowds have subsided a little.
Red Sea: The Red Sea offers scuba divers some truly wonderful underwater coral landscapes and sight of a wide variety of watery wildlife. (See 'things to do'). There are also the Coptic monasteries of St Anthony and St Paul to visit, both of which are open daily all year round, other than during Advent and Lent, when visits are restricted to Friday, Saturday and Sunday, or Holy Week when they close. Organised tours run from Cairo or Hurghada.
St Katherine's Monastery: Depart for St Katherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. The spectacular setting of this Monastery, built in AD330 around the site of Moses; Burning Bush, has remained largely unchanged over the centuries. Still inhabited by monks, you will have the opportunity to see the library, museum and Chapel of Burning Bush.
Mount Sinai: Mount Sinai, just south of the Monastery of St Katherine, is of great religious importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims. According to the Old Testament this is where Moses received the Ten Commandments. You can ascend to the summit (2285 m, 7497 ft) to experience the ultimate spiritual high either by climbing some 4000 steps built by monks or by following an easier but longer path. The climb takes about three hours but the view from the top is breathtaking, especially at sunrise.
Camel Racing: Throughout the month of May in the South Sinai, 250 camels carry Bedouins and nomads from 17 different tribes who race their beasts at speeds of up up to 40 mph.
Buses: The intercity bus service in Egypt is good offering reasonable comfort at a reasonable price. The network is extensive making it very easy to get where you want to go with little difficulty or expense. Advance booking is advisable on the most popular routes, or those with few runs timetabled. Local buses in Cairo and Alexandria (the only cities with their own bus systems) is chaotic, however. Don't expect a seat.
Mini-bus: An alternative is the minibus which leaves once full. Standing is not permitted in theory, though this is frequently ignored.
Tube train: Cairo is the only city which has an underground system. It is, however, clean, efficient and a good value way to travel. The front carriage is for women travellers only.
River bus: You can get to Giza, Manial and Misr al-Qadima (the old part of Cairo) on a leisurely 50-minute ride on a river bus. There are three departures daily from downtown Maspero: one at 8am, one at 2pm and the last at 9pm.
Taxi: The old, unmetered black and white taxis which can be hailed street-side now face competition from pre-orderable yellow taxis which a bit more expensive, and which are metered. Hold on tight for a nerve jangling experience. Tipping is expected at around 10%.
Car: An international driving permit is required for hiring cars in Egypt. You'll also need nerves of steel and sharp reactions to drive in the centre of Cairo, however. If you do decide to hire a car, keep your ID papers on you and your permit, as it is quite common to be stopped and, if without them, fined.