I’ve always been facinated by the Old Egyptian history and stories. During History classes in Middle school and Culture History in college I always payed attention when it was about the land of the Sun God Horus and its pharaohs. It was about time I visited this facinating country. One week was all I had left from work for 2017, so one week Ancient Egypt Tour it was!
Booking a guided tour
To avoid any problems of travelling on our own, I decided to join a group tour through a Dutch agency Egypte.nl. Doing so, I knew there would always be somebody there to guide us and to be responsible if anything would happen.
As total beginners, we picked their tour “Sfinx”, visiting main touristic attractions of Old Egypt including a 4-night all inclusive Nile cruise. A bit intensive maybe, but a week was all I had left from work anyway this year, so that was just perfect.
I will sum up what we did each day, so I can give inspiration for your upcoming Egypt trip!
First we arrived late in Cairo and were transferred to our hotel. The last day was a very early flight back home. So I will sum up only the days we actually visited places.
Day 1 Cairo:
National Museum – Pyramids of Giza – Sphinx
We started off by visiting the big National Museum in Cairo. As they are opening a complete new and much bigger museum on another location soon, many collections were already transferred there. We were still able to see important artifacts including the famous golden Tutankhamun mask and coffin. Needless to say this was a highlight for me after learning years about it.
After the museum we had a buffet lunch on a boat on the Nile and after filling our bellies we set off to the Pyramids in Giza close to Cairo. We went in November and even though there was a lot of people there, I don’t think this is as busy as it can get. The site is very large. You will need some form of transportation for moving around (this is why I liked taking the package tour as all was taken care of).
You can enter the Pyramids, but if you don’t want to wait in line, you can always go to the smaller pyramids where the entrance is free (well you should give a small tip to the person at the entrance) and you can have an idea on how they build the inside. Let me tell you it is not as fascinating as you may think. Obviously you can not explore the pyramids on your own inside. So to sum it up: small, hot and dark tunnels…
After walking around the biggest pyramids, we went to a paronamic view point for some more shots.
Next up was off course the Sphinx. You can not miss the protector of the pyramids! I have to admit it was smaller than I imagined but still really cool. What a pitty the poor thing is missing its nose.
Day 2 Cairo:
Saqqara – Memphis – Coptic district – Grand Bazaar Khan El Khalili
The second day in Cairo, we had a free day. We arranged with the guide for a day tour to Memphis and Saqqara and after that we went to visit Coptic Egypt and the Souks of Khan El Khalili.
Saqqara & Memphis
Starting of with Memphis.
What is Memphis? It is an ancient city at the delta of the Nile on the east bank. It used to be the capital of Egypt in the Old Kingdom for 6 dynasties, but it declined after economic downfall. Nowadays you can visit the Museum, where you can find several Old and Middle Kingdom artifacts and statues. The most famous statue being the one of Ramses II, a 10 meter long limestone statue.
Still a part of the big Memphis is Saqqara, the necropolis site with several tombs and pyramids from the Old Kingdom. Why is Saqqara worthy of a visit from Cairo? Well you can visit the very first pyramid EVER build: the Pyramids of Djoser. Before you reach the famous step pyramid, you walk through the temple of Saqqara with its amazing facade and columns of limestone. It really was astonishing.
Here you can also visit the tombs inside a smaller pyramid. As you can see in my pictures, you will have to duck down and almost crawl into it. The other tombs in Saqqara were for nobles or VIP people (so not the Royals, they had an other necropolis which I will talk about later on). They are very well decorated, and well preserved, with mural carvings of local sacrificing rituals.
After visiting some Old Kingdom sites, we went to the Coptic area of Cairo.
What is Coptic? It refers to the Coptic Egyptian Christians, traditionally believed to be founded by St. Mark around 42 AD. In the Bible you can read the story of the Holy Family (Joseph, Holy Mary and baby Jesus) through Egypt, as the place they refuged in its flight from Judea and king Herod the Great. They stayed there until the death of Herod. In Coptic Cairo you will find several churches, as well as synagogues and a mosques.
Grand Bazaar Khan el Khalili
We were getting hungry by now, and we decided to have lunch in the Grand Bazaar Khan el Khalili, the local market / souks of Cairo.
Our guide gave us the tip to eat their local dish ‘”Kushari”. It is made of rice, macaroni and lentils mixed together, topped with a spiced tomato sauce, and garlic vinegar; garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions.
As you can see in the picture below, it doesn’t really look appealing, but believe me IT IS. So please do eat some Kushari when you are in Egypt! If you want some more inspiration and information on Egyptian dishes, read about 13 traditional Egyptian dishes you should try here.
Day 3 Luxor:
Hatshepsut Temple, Valley of the Kings and Queens – Luxor Temple – Karnak Temple
The third day was a day of temples and necropolises.
Starting with the temple of Hatshepsut. What is so special about this temple? It is build for the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. Hearing all about her from our guide I found her to be a badass ruler.
- First of all: she made the people believe she was the daughter of Horus, the sun god
- She built her temple right next to an already existing one, making it much bigger off course
- Her statues were represented as any other male ruler statue’s, including the false beard and bigger muscles
- Her tomb was not in the valley of the Queens, where all princesses and princes were buried, but right next to all the other male rulers in the Valley of the Kings.
- She built SO MANY temples, statues, obelisks, and other buildings that really showed her power as a pharaoh
- She reigned over 20 years, being the longest reigning female pharaoh, bringing great wealth and peace to Egypt
Valley of the Kings and Queens
After the Hatshepsut temple, we visited the Valley of the Kings and after that the Valley of the Queens. The necropolis was built in the valley of the Theban Hills, on the west bank of the Nile, across Thebes (modern Luxor). You find rock cut tombs there from the 16th till 11th century AD. Until this day they did not find all the tombs yet.
We could not take pictures there. The main reason is to preserve the decorations inside the tombs. I found it very interesting to see how the tombs are on the inside, as on the outside it doesn’t look like much. The Kings/ Pharaohs started digging their tombs when they started reigning. How longer the King reigned, how longer and deeper his tomb was. Tutankhamun’s tomb is also there, but due to his short reign it is not that impressive, so we did not enter (you can chose to enter 3 tombs available for tourists with your entrance ticket).
After the valley, we checked in on our cruise ship and had lunch. In the afternoon we visited two popular temples.
Two temples in Luxor
First we saw Luxor temple where you can see how other religions built on top of it. For example in the picture bellow you can see how there is a mosque on top of it (when most of the temple structure was below sand). Christians also used this Temple as a religious building and made changes to the temple as they saw fit. Luxor has an obelisk at the entrance and some Ramses II statues that is worth seeing.
The second visit was at the temple complex of Karnak. Personally I found this complex one of my favorites. It is huge and has many high pillars still intact. On top of them you have open and closes lotus flowers, a holy plant of old Egypt. It is the only temple complex where there is still water in the holy temple pond.
Now we are in our cruise ship and we set sail from Luxor towards Aswan. On the next day, day 4, about half way thorugh the Nile cruise you find the next stop: Edfu.
Here you have the biggest temple dedicated to Horus and it is one of the best preserved in whole Egypt. The reliefs on the walls are dedicated to the life of Horus, and you find the Horus statue in the shape of the falcon at the entrance.
Here you can clearly see that the almost intact reliefs have been damaged. The faces and sometimes arms and legs are destroyed. But not all.. the images of normal civilians are still untouched. Throughout the history, Egyptian temples were used by other religions as well. They carved away the faces of the Egyptian Gods, as they do not worship those.
I loved how big this temple was, and how well preserved. Here you could have a pretty realistic feeling of how it would have been in the past.
You will reach the last stop before Aswan on the fifth day: Kom Ombo. An other special temple as it is the only temple that was built for not one , but two Gods. Both equally represented here are Horus and the crocodile God Sobek.
Next to the temple you have the museum of the mummified crocodiles.. yes CROC MUMMIES. There are about 25 of them! From big crocodiles to very small ones. The crocodile was a sacred animal (like almost every animal that had a God representation) that is why they also mummified them there at the crocodile god temple.
Aswan Botanical Garden and Nubian Village
Reaching Aswan the next day you noticed it is a very Green place. this is exactly how I always imagined the villages on the Nile would look like.
If you want to enjoy the natural greens and flowers even more, a worthy place to visit is the Botanical gardens. You can reach it with the boat taxis or with a traditional felucca. The felucca does not have a motor, as it only uses the wind to sail. So it may take a bit longer to reach your destination, but it is a nice experience.
After you visit (or skip) the botanical garden, a place I believe you SHOULD visit is the Nubian village.
It is about 30 minutes boat ride to get there. But when you get there you will see how the Nubians are different from the Egyptians. They have their own community with their own language and even their own currency. Their vibrant colors and decorations are as welcoming as themselves.
Right in front the port that you get off your boat you have a house that its owner opened up for visitors. He will welcome you and gladly explain you all about the Nubian traditions for a small entrance fee. You can have a tea break there first before walking around the village.
The last day of the tour was a day off, but we had the choice to do an extra tour to Abu Simbel. And if you also have that option: just go! You can not leave Egypt without seeing Abu Simbel.
Known for the four hugeeee pharaoh statues at the entrance, this temple was clearly build by and for the great Ramses II. He just loved building huge statues of himself. But he didn’t only loved himself, he also loved his wife Nefertari very very much. He built another temple for her next to it. Just like Philae temple, UNESCO moved the whole thing to another artificial hill, as when they found the original one it was already half under water of the Nile.
The inside is super well retained too, with great mural displays, carved and colored ones. Just respect the rule and don’t take pictures inside!
Heading back home!
I really enjoyed this week. It was very tiring but so rewarding! The temples, the tombs, the nile cruise, the Nubian Village, the local life, and off course the pyramids on the way were just AMAZING. I love when you learn so much about a place and finally being able to see it for yourself.
In my opinion, travelling with a group might be a bit more expensive than planning everything yourself, separately… but I wouldn’t want to change it. I loved to have somebody welcoming us and a guide with us at all times and how everything was well planned with all transfers. I would definitely recommend to do a group tour when you visit Egypt.
Thank you for reading and I hope to have inspired you a little bit and hopefully you will add Egypt to your bucket list.
I also wrote down 11 things you should know before going to Egypt, so take a look.