Egypt has captured the imagination of historians, art buffs, treasure hunters and movie makers world-wide for over 200 years. This African country has one of the longest histories of any country in the world. By the tenth millennium BC, there was already a grain cultivating population in this land. By about 3150 BC, Egypt had a unified kingdom which would go on to build some of the greatest historical monuments in about another 500 years, while in comparison, Greece was not yet an agricultural country.
What you will see below is an extremely detailed, day by day itinerary that will take you through the 12,000 year history of Egypt in about 14 days. A lot to do, but doable. 🙂 I have not focused on some popular destinations like Hurghada or Sharm-El-Sheik, which is because I think any first time visitor to Egypt should immerse themselves in its history before venturing on to anything else. But, I have included the Black and White desert, because….because….oh well, nothing other than that the pictures just hooked me. 🙂 So, here we go!
I am writing this itinerary as a two part article. The first part will focus on Cairo (a little), Aswan, Nubian villages and Abu Simbel. The second part focuses on a Nile cruise, Luxor, Alexandria, a visit to the White and Black deserts and some more Cairo. If you have less than 15 days for your visit, refer to the handy guide below to pick and choose the parts you would like to do.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
2-3 days: Cairo
4-6 days: Add Nile Cruise (choose the route based on the rest of your itinerary)
7-9 days: Add Aswan & Abu Simbel
10-13 days: Add Alexandria and Siwa Oasis/Bahariya Oasis/Black & White Desert
14+ days: Add Sharm-El-Sheik/Dahab/Hurghada (check on current political situation before making your decision – Your tour agency can help you with this)
This is the day you will arrive in Cairo. I suggest you take it easy today. Get your SIM card, explore the area around your hotel to find out restaurants you like. Generally, recover from your jet lag. We stayed at the Movenpick resort with a view of the pyramids and it was absolutely gorgeous.
Depending on the time you arrive, if you have the energy for it, just get a full-on cultural immersion by visiting the Khan-Al-Khalili market. This market is busy, crowded and defines modern Egypt like nothing else does. Hawkers and shop owners will vie for your attention, and the incessant requests for Baksheesh will envelope you everywhere you turn. It can be a bit much unless you really are ready for it- you are forewarned. Pick up some souvenirs if you would like- I can definitely say they are cheaper and better here than anywhere else in Egypt. Turn in early for the night because you have a full day tomorrow.
After breakfast, get ready to be dazzled by one of the greatest museums anywhere in the world. The museum of Egyptian Antiquities houses about a 120,000 artifacts, and the star of the collection is the treasury of the boy king -Tutankhamun.
You will go through 5000 years of Egyptian history in this museum. The Narmer Palette, statues of various Egyptian Pharoahs including Khufu, Khafre, Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and many more can be found. Other highlights include the golden mask of Tutankhamun, several grave masks and many ushabti statues. Ushabti statues are funerary figurines, intended to act as servants of the deceased.
I cannot describe in words the sheer magnificence or the historical significance of this museum. You need to go there and actually experience it yourself. 🙂 You can spend pretty much the entire day at the museum, but I think around late afternoon, you will probably have had enough. Leave from the museum and catch an evening flight to Aswan. We stayed at the Pyramisa Isis Island Resort in Aswan, which is a gorgeous property on a tiny island of its own. You will be ferried to and from the island by the hotel ferry and this is a one-of-a-kind experience actually. 🙂
In Aswan, you are at the seat of the Nubian civilization. This is an ancient civilization that covered Southern Egypt and part of modern Sudan. Named after the Noba people who settled the area, Nubia was one of the earliest civilizations in ancient Egypt. One of the best ways for you to spend the morning is by exploring the extensive Nubian museum in Aswan. This museum has over 3000 antiquities dating to various periods from pre-historic, pharoanic, Coptic and Islamic. It is a great way for a traveler to understand that Ancient Egypt was a lot more than Giza and Luxor.
In the afternoon, visit a Nubian village- Seheyl island or Nagaa Suhayl Gharb will do nicely. This is again a cultural immersion. You will see brightly painted houses that are so well designed that they stay cool even in the heat of the desert sun. You can also see brightly colored spices for sale and Nile crocodiles being cultivated in homes. Interestingly, you will also see mummified crocodiles outside houses – make a mental note of this. It is not the last you will see of these.
Later in the evening, visit Elephantine island to witness a beautiful and idyllic sunset. Turn in early, you have an extremely early wake-up call the next morning.
At about 3.30 AM, you need to leave your hotel to join the convoy going to Abu Simbel. Every tourist needs to be a part of the escorted convoy that goes to Abu Simbel for reasons pertaining to safety. Do not be frightened by the young men (children, really), with their big machine guns. They are there to protect you.
You have a long drive ahead of you, because it takes about 4 hours to get to the Abu Simbel complex. Use this time to catch up on lost sleep.
The Abu Simbel temples are massive twin rock temples in Nubia, built by Ramesses II around 1250 BC, to impress his southern neighbors with his god-like stature and omniscience. This World Heritage site was originally carved out of the mountainside as a tribute to himself and his favorite queen, Nefertari. Later on, during the creation of the artificial Lake Nasser, this entire temple was re-located higher up to an artificial hill to prevent flooding. The larger temple was dedicated to Ra-Horakhty, Ptah and Amun, while the smaller temple was dedicated to the Goddess Hathor. Take your time at these temples; you will never again see such colossal monuments in utter isolation as at Abu Simbel.
Once you get back to Aswan, consider taking in the light and sound show at Philae temple. I am not a big fan of these things, but surprisingly enjoyed the one here. Something about the desolate temple on an uninhabited island, with the eerie musical stories playing in the background will stay with you long past this trip.
On this day, you will be checking out of your hotel in Aswan and transferring to your Nile cruise later in the evening. In the morning, visit the Philae temple by daylight. You will be very surprised that priests are not hurrying past you in the hallways carrying incense, because daylight will curb those esoteric wanderings of your mind 😛
The word Philae comes from the Egyptian word, Pilak, meaning, “the remote place”. This is a beautiful temple dedicated to the Goddess Isis and is also a World Heritage Site. This temple is another one that was originally located near the first cataract region of the Nile. It was subsequently relocated to Agilika island to protect the temple complex from flooding. Originally built by Nectenabu I in about 380 BC, this complex also has several ruins dating to Ptolemaic times. Later on during Egypt’s turbulent history, this temple also served as a church and you will see many signs of this.
After visiting Philae temple, do take the time to visit the unfinished obelisk. Why, you ask? It presents a great opportunity for you to learn about the architectural superiority necessary to construct and erect these obelisks. Believe me, it is no easy task!
Also take the time to visit the Aswan Dam, where your tour guide will explain to you the massive construction job it was. The government executed this project in a stellar manner and this dam has been extremely important to Egyptians from the day of its construction.
In the evening, check into your cruise and get ready to say Ahoy!
Exciting days lie ahead of you yet!6