I remember wanting to visit Egypt when I was 8 years old after reading “The Adventures of Tin Tin – Cigars of the Pharaoh”. Ancient Egypt is one of the many topics we connected with when we started getting to know each other. Ever since then we both dreamed about visiting this ancient land together. After researching, reading the history and obsessing over the mysterious civilization for years, we finally booked the tickets to visit Kemet (now Egypt).
We landed in Cairo during Ramadan. The city was popping at 3 am. Street lights sparkling, people laughing and the moon shining bright. We arrived at Le Meridian to have breakfast looking at the pyramids as the sun rose. We started to Saqqara right after, no time to waste (Haha).
How to get around in Egypt
We had a tour guide with an Air conditioned car (w/driver) for most of the trip. Egypt is pocket friendly. If you are visiting during summer months, we highly recommend having a tour booked with air-conditioned everything. I mean at 34°C and heat waves from the desert you don’t have a choice. We did not want the group packages as we customized few things to see and we wanted it to do it in our pace.
Uber is über cheap in Cairo. Note when I say Cairo, because Uber is not available in Luxor/Aswan. We took Uber at least 10 times in the city and our total cost was $4 only. My credit card charges 20 cents and 30 cents each time☺ The only time it was a treat to my eyes when I see the bank statement.
Also couple of things to note here. We visited Egypt when it was burning hot and during the end of fasting period. Pros: there were almost no tourists in most of the sites, less hassle and crowd. We got to experience how Ramadan is celebrated and break Iftar with people we met for the first time with fresh dates and sweets.
Cons were you don’t get food from sunrise to sunset. So we had to plan ahead. There was one time where we couldn’t find lunch as we ran a little late from sight-seeing. We managed to get food eventually but to wait for food when you are drained and exhausted, it is not for everyone. This trip definitely tested our tolerance level with heat and patience too. It got to us at 3 pm everyday. Dehydration and headaches made us grumpy. When we got to our air-conditioned room, and ate our heart content, the hangry demon in us will disappear. And we would immediately get excited for what is next. We survived the test of heat 🌞.
Tip: We planned the tour so we could cover places from 7 am till before noon. And then tour again from 5 pm on. It’s best to avoid the afternoon scorching sun.
I wish I could tell you about each spot in detail with all we learnt about its history. I won’t be able to do justice in one blog post. The best way is to absorb the history when you are walking through the sites. A narration from the tourist guide/ audio recordings would be best. Below you will find the order in which we saw the sites with a little background from our experience:
The stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara was the first pyramid the Egyptians built.
Saqqara is located near the entrance of the Nile Delta, at the point where the river starts dividing into several arms, on the west bank of the Nile. It is good to start here because it is much smaller compared to the Giza pyramids and you can see how the idea became a reality. How a man kind can build a wonder once he sets his mind on it. You feel follow the trail of pyramid history and this is a good starting point. This is about an hour car drive from Cairo.
The Great Pyramid
The pyramids are as majestic as it sounds. You can only feel the “wonder”of it when you visit in person. When you step on each block, you will realize how tiny you are. You cannot help but imagine yourself in 2500 BC. When all the stories and facts you read comes into picture.
The great pyramids were once covered with casing stones (made of highly polished limestone). These casing stones reflected the sun’s light and made the pyramid shine like a jewel. Can you imagine how beautiful it must have been. On of those times I wish I could time travel to see how magnificent it would have been. The stones were loosened after an earthquake in 14th century. They were used to build mosques in the city later on. It has been calculated that the original pyramid with its casing stones would act like gigantic mirrors and reflect light so powerful that it would be visible from the moon as a shining star on earth. Appropriately, the ancient Egyptians called the Great Pyramid “Ikhet“, meaning the “Glorious Light“. How these blocks were transported and assembled into the pyramid is still a mystery.
We flew to Luxor the same evening. It is less than an hours flight, so pretty easy to get to. Also you get a great bird’s-eye view of the Pyramids and River Nile. We stayed in the west bank on the first day.
Hot air balloon
We booked this through the tour and it was heavily discounted as well. Sunrise over Valley of the Kings and lush green field beneath us. It was a dream. When the red sun rose, the sky went from crimson to blissful yellow and then came the beautiful sky blue. The 45 minutes ride seemed like a time-lapse. It was so worth it.
Valley of the Kings
After the hot air balloon ride. We had few hours to refresh and headed to VOK. Once part of the ancient city of Thebes, VOK is the burial site of almost all of Egypt’s Pharaohs from the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties. There are around sixty-three tombs at this burial complex located in the hills of Dayr- al-Bahri. With one ticket you will be able to see three tombs. After that each tomb is extra. Not all tombs are open to public. Each tomb is unique has its own story written in hieroglyphics throughout the tomb from the entrance.
The valley is well designed for tourists. In plain sight you will just see heaps of sand. But as you learn more about the tombs and the history, the richness of this place slowly unveils. Like the tent you have read about in magic. Looks so small from outside, but once you step in, it keeps going on and on. If you are thinking about treasures that were buried in the tomb with the mummies, do not worry, they are all looted at this point.
Built for the Pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut, this mortuary temple closely resembles the classical Greek architecture of 1,000 years later. This is the entrance to the Valley of the Kings, as you can see in the backdrop.
We would suggest you have a tour guide with you to explain the history. Without the history you are just looking at stones and drawings you can’t trace to words. The history is the key to reveal the real beauty of Egypt. This three layer temple is one of the greatest achievement of Egyptian architecture built for the most powerful woman pharaoh queen 👸
Sleeping in the desert
We wanted to sleep in the desert and we got it (almost). We stayed in a mud brick house located right next to valley of the kings. An avid reader that my husband is, found this place in Lonely planet guide called “Beit Sabee”. Usually this place is always booked and is very expensive but traveling off-season has its perks. If you get a chance to stay do not miss their home-made jams for break fast (Guava specifically 😋).We loved waking up to amazing views.
Constructed of sandstone blocks from Nubia, this temple is simply magnificent. Luxor Temple was buried under the streets of the city for over a 1000 years. It was discovered when people decided to build a mosque over it, and when they dug to build the mosque, they found the Luxor Temple. Also you will find a sphinx avenue that connects Karnak and Luxor temple here. There are around 1000 sphinx that line up for 3 km.
Karnak temple is an open air museum and the largest ancient religious site in the world. A whopping 30-pharaohs contributed to the construction of Karnak – and this list includes the crazy Queen Hatshepsut. Over eighty thousand servants and slaves were assigned the task of serving Amon-Ra in Karnak. To show off his opulence and power, over 5,000 statues were erected in his honor.
These temples were way more colorful when built. Check out the link attached below to get a virtual experience.
The heart of Egypt. Ancient Egypt could not have existed without the river Nile. Rainfall is almost non-existent in Egypt. Flowing from South to North, this beautiful river is the source for water, food and transportation. The river does not flood anymore since the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960’s meant that from 1970 the annual flood was controlled.
We took a felucca ride with a local to explore the great River. We loved the stories he had to share. He owns the boat and he practically lives in it. He sails to Aswan time to time with his friends/ family. He carries goods for selling/ takes tourists on rides and parties with friends in the boat. He has met lot of people through these rides and faced the river in different weather. He was kind enough to offer us hibiscus tea. And made a stop over in banana island. He was one of the very few who was less greedy and more friendly. He treasures his land for its history and values with all his heart. We also got to see the sun set during the story time. Pure bliss.
The capital wasn’t our favorite. The place is over crowded and traffic is horrendous. If you are here for the ancient Egypt experience you might as well avoid staying here. We stayed for a day to get our flight back home. We made use of this time to try more local food, visited the Egyptian museum, went shopping and met our friends.
Must try Food while visiting Egypt
Personal Interesting facts:
- If you want to imagine Egypt from 2500 BC click here
- The mathematics and logical reasoning behind ancient Egyptian beliefs will blow your mind. They built the temples in east bank of River Nile and the tombs on the west bank. Why? Because the sun rises in the east. They believed after death (sunset), post mummification, they will be underground over night and wake up in their after life when the sun rises.
- In the ancient times, women were considered men’s equals under the law. Just like men, women could run businesses, borrow money, and own property. Too bad it was not retained over the years. But we are getting back there 🙌
- All cat lovers will adore this place. Cats were considered sacred in Ancient Egypt.
- Egyptian men and women wore makeup. It was thought to have healing powers, plus it helped protect their skin from the sun. Yes they had sun screens too!!
Things to watch out for:
- The touts can be very aggressive and annoying to tourists. The fact is, any local who starts a conversation with you is looking for money.
- Do not forget to carry water bottle with you at all times.
- Dress appropriately. Cover up your shoulders and legs.
- Always carry change. You have to tip constantly.
- Do your research on how to get to places if you are on your own. The locals will tell you its farther and charge you more.
Source for Egyptian facts: