Seen to be believed... The Wonders of Egypt
On 1st March Middle East Consultant Katie Parsons accompanied a group of travel agents to Egypt following the Wonders of Egypt itinerary and is still overwhelmed by what the country has to offer.
Having recently visited the Tutankhamen exhibition at London’s O2 centre, I wasn't expecting to be as surpised and amazed as I was on my first visit to Egypt. The country is a vast open-air museum and each day felt like we were venturing into the next room.
Opening the bedroom curtains at the first hotel we stayed at (Le Meridien Pyramids) to a full view of the pyramids was breath-taking, but for me the sights just got better and it was only a hint of what was to come. Cairo is an incredible city and the one day we spent there was not enough. What could have been a 45-minute drive at midnight to get from the airport to the hotel took almost 2 hours due to a traffic jam at 1am. Cairo’s traffic problem really does have to be seen to be believed.
For many people, visiting Cairo is only a day trip to see the Pyramids and Sphinx but no stay in Egypt is complete without seeing the Egyptian Museum. The obvious highlight of the museum is the room filled with the treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamen. Even though some of the artefacts are part of the touring exhibition, there are plenty more outstanding pieces still in Cairo as only items that are part of a set are allowed to leave Egypt. However, everything in the museum is so well preserved and the colours and carvings still so clear, that it is very hard to decide on a favourite exhibit. It’s definitely worth paying the additional fee to go into the Mummies Room just to see how preserved and intact they are.
Due to the sheer volume of places to see, Egypt is definitely a country where the only possible way to do it justice is with an Egyptologist. Our expert guide, Hany, was brilliant and explained everything to a very novice group but kept us all enthused throughout the week.
The main feature of the itinerary is a 4-night cruise on the Mirage from Luxor to Aswan. The city of Luxor has a completely different and much more relaxed feel to the busy capital; date palms line the banks of the Nile and the valley is lush and green. After an early morning flight from Cairo, the first stop was a visit to Luxor’s West Bank sites: the Colossi of Memnon, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and the Valley of the Kings. The hieroglyphics inside the tombs and on the walls and columns of the temples are fantastic and provide an incredible insight into the Ancient Egyptians beliefs and way of life. Since the tombs of the West Bank are hidden underground, the East Bank temples of Luxor and Karnak are far more structurally impressive.
Less than 10 minutes north of Luxor town centre, Karnak is a photographer’s dream and my personal favourite of all we visited. The columns and carvings are so impressive and listening to Hany translating the hieroglyphs and cartouches was fascinating and certainly far more informative than my trusted Rough Guide or Lonely Planet.
There are more than 200 boats of varying quality and size that cruise between Luxor and Aswan, offering 3, 4, 6 and 7-night cruises. The Mirage is a good 5-star boat and has all the facilities anyone could need, including a small swimming pool and shaded sundeck. There are other even more luxurious boats such as the new Oberoi Zahra, which has its own on-board spa, but the Mirage is a modern, clean boat and serves excellent food, which has a great atmosphere that is great for groups.
At the port in Luxor, I hadn’t really considered that there would be so many boats and I did fear that what looked like a vast car park of cruise boats moored up, would result in traffic jams along the river. But partly due to the fact the Mirage is one of the faster boats on the Nile, and mainly because the boats have to queue up to get through Esna lock two at a time, on the free afternoon once we had navigated through the lock and continued on the way to Edfu, it felt as if we had the Nile to ourselves. Whilst moored up at Esna waiting in the queue, we spent an entertaining few hours on the top deck of the boat bartering with locals in their rowing boats for their handicrafts, which they would throw up to us on the deck to look at and then when a deal was agreed, we would drop the money back down in a small bag, inevitably landing in the water! Whilst the East and West Banks tell the story of the Egypt of the past, cruising down the Nile gives a glimpse into the daily life of the Egyptians of today. Small farms and villages are scattered along the river’s fertile valley and cattle, donkeys and camels graze the banks as the cruise boats sail by and watching the way of life of the rural Egyptians it’s as if time has stood still and tourists are transported back 2000 years.
Early in the morning on the last day of the cruise we flew from Aswan to Abu Simbel, to see the famous temples of Ramses II and his queen, Nefetari. Not only is it the sheer size of the statues at Abu Simbel that has made the temples a must-see on any visit to Egypt, but it is also the enormity of the feat of engineering that was undertaken in the 1960s that propelled it to world-fame. The enormous task involved cutting the monument by hand into more than 1000 blocks and rebuilding the entire structure 210m behind, and 61m above the original site. This controversial undertaking successfully saved the monument from the rising waters of Lake Nasser with the construction of the Aswan High Dam and even with close inspection, it is virtually impossible to notice any sign of the temple being cut.
For those who don’t want to sleep in a floating hotel, you can go by road, in a convoy between Luxor and Aswan, stopping at the temples on the way, but a Nile cruise offers the perfect way to see life from the Nile as it was for the Ancient Egyptians. And nothing can quite beat sipping a gin and tonic from the sundeck watching the sun set after a day of exploring tombs and temples.
The 7-night Wonders of Egypt tour starts from £1005 per person, including international flights, accommodation with breakfast and full board on the cruise, guided excursions and transfers. Click here to view Cox & Kings' range of Egypt tours.