Egypt ... to go or not to go?


| June 26, 2014

Susan Leary recently travelled on a Cox & Kings holiday to Egypt. Though she was wary due to stories of unrest, she found it to be safe and virtually deserted of other tourists – an opportune time to visit.

life-on-the-Nile

Egypt, with its ancient history and reputation for truly magnificent sites, was one place that I had always intended to visit. But in recent years, stories of attacks on tourists and political unrest had made me think that perhaps the risks may outweigh the desire to travel to the country. However, happily prompted by friends who had travelled there in the past, I took the plunge and booked a trip for myself and my husband that would take in the major sites of Cairo and those along the Nile.

An escorted tour seemed to be the obvious choice, as it would provide a knowledgeable guide to inform us about the history and also ensure that all the travel arrangements ran smoothly and safely – and so they did!

Cairo provided the perfect start, and we were awed by the sight of the immense structures that are the pyramids – the first tombs constructed as burial places for the pharaohs. One of my concerns before we left home was that with the current lack of tourists in Egypt, we were sure to be targets for the many traders of souvenirs wherever we went. They do constantly surround you and are very persistent with various ways to get a sale, including placing items in your hand and demanding payment. I can only say you just have to say “no” forcibly and keep moving. They are also very clever and our refusal of an offer to ride on a camel still cost 100 Egyptian pounds as we were dressed up and photographed by the camel owners.

The-pyramids

Early the next morning, we flew to Luxor and boarded the MS Amarco, our home for the next few days on the Nile. Nothing had prepared me for the sheer pleasure of sailing down this magnificent river, watching life unfolding along its banks. Well-tended fields flourished with various crops and water buffalo grazed beside the river, while birds such as the Egyptian kingfisher flew overhead. The souvenir sellers turned up too on a small boat, which hitched a ride alongside, and then proceeded with commendable accuracy to throw plastic bags containing jalabiyas – the local dress – which were returned overboard unless a sale was agreed. No sales were agreed that day, but they continued to be towed along as our journey continued.

As we cruised between Luxor and Aswan, we moored alongside small towns and visited various temples where we became immersed in the history. It was easy to admire both the splendour and skill with which the ancient people managed to build such magnificent structures dedicated to the gods of Egypt. One of the most memorable, Philae Temple, dedicated to the goddess Isis, had been relocated and painstakingly reconstructed on an island close to the new Aswan Dam. This was done to prevent it being lost in the lake, which was now much deeper as a result of the construction work. The journey on small boats and the views on approaching the island were something special. An added advantage was the fact that its location meant a quieter and less frenetic visit as the purveyors of scarves, postcards and books were left behind on the mainland.

crusing-down-the-nile

We were well looked after on the MS Amarco by all the crew. Comfortable accommodation, good food and a relaxing deck on which to rest and admire the views all combined to make this a truly enjoyable experience. Plenty of security presence close to moorings and at the tourist sights all helped to dispel any fears of disruption. The tourists who have decided to desert Egypt as a holiday destination should perhaps think again as visiting temples and tombs are so much more pleasant without the crowds. This includes sailing along the Nile, which now has only 25 working cruisers; way down from the 300 registered to cruise between Luxor and Aswan, which made it a peaceful and relaxing experience.

Of course, the highlight was the Valley of the Kings. The incredible state of preservation in the tomb of Ramses III made it hard to believe that these tombs are many thousands of years old. We chose not to visit the Tomb of Tutankhamun as all the treasures are in the museum in Cairo. Once more, the lack of visitors was in our favour as we toured the exhibits in the museum. We were able to get close to the solid gold death mask of Tutankhamun and see the intricate detail on the semi-precious stone-encrusted jewellery. The sheer number of pieces of furniture that were created to accompany him to the afterlife gave an insight into the beliefs held by the ancient Egyptians of life beyond death.

Valley-of-the-Kings

The line of tanks protecting the approach to the museum was the only reminder that we encountered of Egypt’s troubled political situation.

I was glad that we decided to go and brave the persistent traders, while being enthralled by the beauty and splendour of the Egyptian treasures.

Susan Leary travelled on the Highlights of Egypt group tour with Cox & Kings. To enquire about an Egypt holiday, please see the website or call 020 7873 5000 to speak to a Middle East specialist.

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