Visiting a Nubian Village in Egypt: what an experience!

Since we hired a ferlucca to Soheil Island, 2 miles south of Aswan, to see the hieroglyphics, we also visited the Nubian village on the island. Our ferlucca captain asked us, so we said yes, going with the flow. It turned into one of the best experiences I had on the trip and I would recommend it to anyone interested into learning about another culture and seeing Egypt from a different perspective.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Zian, a local from the Nubian village who would show us around the island and talk to us about Egypt from a Nubian perspective. It seems that the guides wait by the jetty area until some tourists show up. However, Elephantine, where a larger proportion of the population lives, is much more on the map and much closer to Aswan. I am not sure how many tourists actually visit Soheil, but they were very happy that we made the journey there.

Firstly, we climbed a hill to look out over the island. It was hot and we didn’t bring much water with us.

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When we walked down, Zian took us to a lady’s house who invited us for mint tea which was very much appreciated. She brought out the glass beaded jewellery she made herself. He spoke of how the community agrees on which houses they will invite tourists to – the women of the village who are most vulnerable – the elderly, widowers, etc.

While we drank the refreshing mint tea, I picked out a few necklaces I liked the look of and asked Zian for a price. I was thinking it would be a lot, but when he said 35LE (£1.40 each) I was shocked. I bought about 4 for 200LE. I asked him to tell her that her jewellery was beautiful and she seemed very happy with the sincere compliment.

There are some women in the village who as you walk past, try to hassle you, which can be a little off-putting. Some of the women pulled at my clothes and tried to block the path. Zian repeated several times that this makes him angry – how he has raised this matter with the chief and the ladies many times. They would be better sitting in a place in the village where they can do their crafting, and he would bring the tourists to them, who would happily look at and support their work by buying from them. We agreed that we would prefer that method but in fairness to them, they are desperate with the few tourists visiting the village at the moment. It seems they are in the foundation stage in welcoming visitors to the village and I am interested to see how this develops in the years to come.

After tea, we walked around the village where we received some high-fives from the village kids (so cute, but one little girl really whacked J.’s hand which was hilarious! It was then on to the hieroglyphics area. There was a guard/ticket guy who we tipped 100LE for the visit and Zian explained the story behind the stones. It is crazy their significance and yet it is all just in a pile of rocks, half-forgotten on this island! They really could advertise it more but all the government has done is gated the area.

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We walked back to the ferlucca and it was time to say goodbye to Zian. He was an incredible guide, so friendly and open to discussion on everything we asked: from the Nubian language, the political situation in Egypt and how it is affecting the community, to ways in which they can benefit from tourism in the village. He had learned English from the tourists who come to the island. He cannot read or write English but he speaks it so well. He complimented our accents – British much easier than French – I had to laugh. We gave him a tip and said just how much we enjoyed our visit. They do not have any internet in the village, so getting the message out to the world that they are open and welcome to visitors is a challenge, but something they want everyone to know.

I explained that I had a blog and that I would write about our lovely time with him. He explained that he was happy for two reasons – 1. that we supported the village by visiting it and buying some of their crafts and 2. because we would share our experience with others who he hope will come as well, and that that meant a lot to him. And I can believe that.

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With Zian, our guide onn Soheil Island

It was a real insight into a different side to Egypt. The Nubians are still battling to reclaim their ancestral land with the Egyptian government, especially since many were displaced after the building of the High Dam in the 1960s.When we visited the High Dam, we were only recounted one side of the story – of the great turmoil of painfully relocating hundreds of Ancient Egyptian temples to save them from the flooding – but another direct impact was an entire community of thousands of people who were displaced.

The Nubians are such a welcoming people, warm, smiley and happy to share their culture with travelers. It felt truly humbling. It was an eye-opening experience and I would 100% recommend anyone to go.

The low-down:

How to get there: We visited Soheil Island which is easily accessible by motorboat/ferlucca from Aswan. Choose the ferlucca option if you would like a scenic, no-rush journey.

Cost: Negotiate the cost of your ferlucca/motorboat before you set off. Access to the Nubian village is free, but it is customary to give a tip to your guide for their time. They appreciate it if you would like to buy their crafts, but we were not pressured to do so.

Don’t forget: your camera and an open mind!

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The ONE THING you MUST do in Aswan

What was the ultimate highlight of our Egypt trip? Probably the entire trip, but if you are in Aswan, there is one experience you cannot miss out on, it is too special.

Upon arrival in Aswan, we knew exactly how we wanted to spend our first afternoon – hire a ferlucca. Ferluccas are traditional small sailing boats which have no motors. Originally they would have been used for fishing but now they are geared towards tourism. You can hire a motorboat, but trust me – you want a ferlucca. All the tourists who were on motorboats were looking on at us with envy/wanting to take pictures of our boat.

We negotiated a price with a ferlucca captain, Iwa (sp?). He asked ‘Elephantine Island?’ We did want to go there later, but our destination was rather Soheil Island.

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I read in the Lonely Planet that this was a lovely destination for a longer ferlucca trip and a bit more  off-the-beaten-track. There, you can see hieroglyphic ruins of the famous seven year famine and there is also a Nubian village on the island – but that is a wonderful story which I will save for another post!

As we pushed away and meandered south towards Soheil, it became quieter and quieter until we were the only boat on the river. It was just us, the Nile and it was so quiet. It really was pure bliss. It took about half an hour to reach Soheil, but we were in no rush.

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J driving the ferlucca!

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Direction: Soheil

 

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Other ferluccas moored up

After spending over an hour on the island – we lost track of time, it really was such an interesting place and the people were equally interesting to talk to – we returned to the ferlucca for the journey back to the hotel.

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Leaving Soheil

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J. paddled his feet in the Nile water to cool himself down, all until we saw a dead dog floating passed us and the feet were briskly put back in the boat for the rest of the trip! We were going so slowly so it took a while to escape the dog on the river…

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hibiscus tea time!

We were going against the wind so it took well over an hour to get back. The boat meandered left to right, left to right, up the Nile. The sail changing direction each time. This was absolutely fine. We had timed the trip to perfection as the sun was setting and it was the most beautiful sunset of the trip.

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the cataracts on the Nile, swirling

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enjoying the sunset

 

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So yes, visit the pyramids, but make sure you hire a ferlucca in Aswan for a spectacular sunset!

Cairo: More than just the Pyramids

Cairo is a city of contrasts and it is so diverse. So different to anywhere in the world we have traveled before. I love how it is normal to see a 4×4, a donkey, a scooter, a camel and a horse and carriage – all in the same scene on a road. I really wish I had caught a photo of that when I had the chance!

As we spent an entire, wonderful day at Dahshur, Saqqara and Giza seeing the pyramids, we had a second full day in Cairo to see some more of its sites.

The first stop of the day was the Citadel where the Mohammed-Ali mosque is (no, not the boxer – as we were reassured several times). It was quiet here. The mosque was very pretty inside and out. The Citadel has a great vantage point over the city, but other than that, it was not a very exciting stop – we were there for only 30 minutes.

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A must-do is without a doubt the Egyptian Museum.

It is really worth hiring a guide to go inside with you as this museum is mad. There is very little information about any of the exhibits and there are many artifacts scattered around unlabelled, that you could miss some amazing treasures with an incredible story behind them. The quantity of artifacts is staggering, and this is only the few they have out on show, there are many, many more in storage!

Our guide gave us a choice of 1 hour, 2 hours or 3 hours. I wasn’t feeling very well (horrible cold) so, normally I would have said 3 hours, but I was struggling. J. said three hours though on our behalf and I didn’t feel I could go back. I wanted to make the most of the visit after all. Half-way through, we were both waning, and when I asked J. , he agreed he wanted to wind things up soon. Our guide sensed this and after two hours he called our driver to pick us up half an hour earlier. We were so lucky that we were able to do this. In the meantime J. carried my handbag around and looked very elegant.

We paid extra to go into the mummy rooms. J. asked – do you want to see the mummies? YES I do! These rooms are well labelled and you can meet so many of the famous kings and queens in here through the ages of Ancient Egypt. Some still have hair and jewellery on, it’s fascinating.

I was half expecting one to move and scare-jump me though. The Egyptians don’t really like the American film ‘The Mummy.’ Apparently Imhotep was a good guy and scarab beetles don’t eat you alive – actually, they are a sign of good luck and were a symbol of the sun-god Ra, as they would come out of the sand in the morning to greet the sun (so cute!).

Of course, the highlight of the Egyptian Museum is seeing all the artifacts from Tutankhamen’s tomb –  So. much. gold! We would later visit the actual tomb in the Valley of the Kings in a few days time. It was amazing how so much stuff fitted inside it!

After the Egyptian Museum, food was of priority. We made our way to the souk – Khan el-Khalili.

Khan el-Khalili – the souk (market)

Here our guide took us to an Egyptian falafel wrap place. I am not a massive fan of falafel, but he assured us that Egyptian falafel was different and better than any other kind of falafel (of course). In fairness to him, it was really good. We had a falafel wrap each and a chip wrap each. So. much. carb. He really made us eat local for the two days we were with him, and I’m glad for that. I was absolutely stuffed but we couldn’t just sit around, we had shopping to do!

We had about 45 minutes to ourselves to walk around and find some bargains. It was the one time in central Cairo when we were on our own and we felt totally safe. It might have been because the souk was so empty – we didn’t see any other tourists. I would have thought we would have been hassled more because of this, but no, not really. Most sellers tried to initiate conversation and get us to visit their shops, but they didn’t push us or make us uncomfortable.

My first purchase was a small wooden jewellery box which was pretty. I got it down from 750LE to 250LE. It was a hard bargain I was pleased with but it took a lot of negotiation. A lot of shops were selling identical items.

James bought some incense, an incense burner holder and an essence oil tealight burner. I also purchased some small perfume bottles to put my essence in from the day before. That was it. We wandered around and meandered through the little alleyways but not much else caught our eye that day.

I wanted a necklace with my name on in hieroglyphics – it’s inside a symbol called a ‘cartouche’ – our guide knew a guy. He called them and only an hour after arriving back at our hotel, he returned with it for me all finished. It was 12$ – I did get it checked and it is proper silver, not plated, so I am chuffed with that – although for the rest of the trip, if anyone could read hieroglyphics (you’d be surprised by how many!), they instantly knew my name…

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View from the Citadel

Visiting some extra little pockets of Cairo made the visit feel less rushed.

 

Nile Cruise Day 4 – final day: sites in Aswan

Today we had to check-out at 7am before visiting the sights around Aswan: Temple of Philae, the High Dam and the Unfinished Obelisk.

Philae Temple is so picturesque as it is situated on an island between the British Dam and the High Dam. You get there by motorboat.

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Temple of Philae/Temple of Isis

The High Dam has a major part in the story of this temple, as well as hundreds of others.  Its creation was the cause of hundreds of ancient sites having to be moved to safety or flooded below the man-made Lake Nasser forever when it was built in the 1960s. This is how the beautiful Templo de Debod made it’s way to Spain! The Spanish funded for it to be moved piece by piece to Madrid so not to be lost to the lake.

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Me at the Templo de Debod in Madrid Nov 2017. It’s my favourite place in Madrid (especially for sunset!) but I didn’t ever know how it got there until now

We took a detour on the way to the final stop to a Perfume shop. We had already been to one in Cairo where we bought some essence, but we had enjoyed it and were happy to go to another one. The others in our group hadn’t been. I bought some lotus essence – a local scent which is beautiful. I had wanted it in Cairo but decided not to get it. In the shops they give you a bulk discount – if you buy 4 bottles, you get 2 free, if you buy 4 big bottles, 2 big bottles free and 2 perfume bottles free – you get the idea. However, it quickly racks up into a lot of money and I was feeling pressured to buy way more than I wanted to. The quality and quantity is good, but do you really need 6 massive bottles of essence? I really only wanted the lotus essence, so that’s what I did.

The Unfinished Obelisk was our final site to see. It really is amazing. If the obelisk hadn’t have cracked so badly, it wouldn’t still be here. It would have been the biggest obelisk ever made. Thanks to this imperfect obelisk, we have been able to learn the secrets of the Ancient Egyptians – how they made these massive masterpieces out of one single piece of granite.

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The obelisk is free on 3 sides but connected to the main rock on the bottom side still

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Before long we were being picked up by our driver, waving the boat goodbye going towards our final hotel for two nights – The Old Cataract – a destination in itself.

Low-Down of the Nile Cruise:

We stayed on a good ship with a lovely crew who were always friendly and chatty with us. We had no complaints – everything was impeccable from start to finish. There were only 30 travelers on-board which was quiet – it’s a big boat that can cater for 100 people. This is all down to a downturn in tourism since 2011 in Egypt. If the boat were busy, I’m sure it would have been a very different experience.

Food on board: delicious. Breakfasts and lunches were buffet-style. There was always a veggie, fish, chicken and beef option at lunch and dinner with plenty of salads, vegetables, potatoes, rice and an array of mouth-watering desserts! Even the pickiest eater (me) ate well. On the final evening there was a BBQ on the top deck and it was such a fun way to end the cruise. The ‘English-speakers’ made a table of 12 and we all dined together for the last night.

Details of our trip: 3 nights with M/S Moon Goddess from Luxor to Aswan

Highlight: Valley of the Kings of course. But I loved sitting on the boat and watching the wildlife on the green riverbanks as we went by.

Lowlight: the 5am start before Valley of the Kings wasn’t great but worth it as it would have been too hot and crowded if we had had a lie-in!

Robyn

This is not a sponsored post and all opinions are my own.

Nile Cruise Day 2: Valley of the Kings, Queens and Hatshepsut’s Temple

Day 2 was the most tiring day, with a grueling 5am alarm . Despite the early start, really we were eternally grateful later in the day, when the temperature started to become unbearable. There is a reason why they do this to us!

The Valley of the Kings is the most impressive stop, so it felt like we had peaked at the start of the day, but you want to get it done early before all the other tour groups arrive.

You buy tickets which will let you in to only 3 of the 9 tombs currently open in the valley. Our guide chose the ones on the list that were most well preserved with the best wall decorations still intact: Rameses III, IV and IX. Rameses II which is closed, is the most damaged- his tomb was broken into the most in antiquity as he was so wealthy and left a great legacy.

For an extra charge you can get permission to take photos in the valley (read: inside the tombs AND outside). It was 300LE (£12) which is ridiculous. But don’t try to get away with it, every time someone took a picture or had a phone/camera out, they were challenged by the guards.

I decided instead to pay a little extra to see Tutankhkamun’s tomb. It’s incredible how well hidden it was as it is so close to many other tombs. It happened to be hidden underneath another tomb so is the only one so far to have not been raided in antiquity. You can see many of the incredible belongings of the boy king in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum which are beautiful. Considering the tomb was so small, and he died so young at 19, one can only imagine how incredible the original contents of the tombs of older, more famous kings which have diappeared…  There are a lot of other unfound tombs still, so maybe it is only a matter of time until we find more?

His tomb is the smallest and least impressive artistically (it was originally made for a high priest, not a king, but changed at last minute after his sudden death), but just for the historical value it is worth seeing. J. wasn’t fussed but I would have been sorely disappointed had I not gone. Inside his tomb, you can still see his mummy (absolutely tiny!) and part of the sarcophagus is still inside. The body is in a terrible condition as Howard Carter tried to cut it into three pieces to move it (oh why…)

After this highlight, we went to the Valley of the Queens. The tombs here are smaller and don’t have much of a wow-factor after visiting the Kings’ tombs but still worth seeing. For 1000LE (£40!), you can pay for entry for a measly 10 minutes to Nefertari’s tomb – arguably the most beautiful and intact. However the cost is crazy! I just looked it up online…

Before visiting Hatshepsut’s Temple, we went to the Artisan Village nearby. Obviously a tourist stop along the way, but it was an interesting stop. We got to see how the locals use the original techniques with the same type of tools to make handicrafts like vases and pots out of local stones like alabaster. We did a fair bit of haggling and got the price of a handmade white alabaster vase and two smaller blue onyx vases together from 4600LE to 2100LE (£80~). It was a bit of money but they are absolutely beautiful and I will keep them forever as a memory of this trip.

Hatshepsut, the female Pharoah, has an interesting history and so does her temple which was partially destroyed by her stepson, Tutmosis III. However it has been laboriously restored in recent years and is stunning. By this point in the day it was boiling and there was no shade.

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After a short journey back to the boat, we got to enjoy lunch and relax by the pool all afternoon before a ‘cocktail party’ and à la carte dinner while the boat sailed south down to Edfu.

The entertainment this afternoon was having locals trying to sell their wares on little rowing boats which they tied to our big boat and the Italians on board bartering for what seemed like forever for an overpriced tablecloth. The whole situation was ridiculous and funny but after 45 minutes, the sellers were getting annoyed and the incessant hassling was wearing thin.

Buy my stuff!

After a dressy dinner, they put on Death on the Nile in the bar area. It was my favourite version but I was shattered and had seen it so many times before. I should watch it again so I can point out all the places I have been to and how different they looked in the 1960s!

Day 3 would be a more relaxing day which was welcome.

A Full-Day Itinerary of the Pyramids: Giza, Dahshur and Saqqara

Every traveller comes to Cairo for one thing: the Pyramids of Giza. You can easily visit them in a few hours in the morning and then explore the Egyptian Museum later that afternoon and Cairo is ticked off your bucket list, job done.

If you do your research though and and want to make the most of your trip then make sure you visit Dahshur and Saqqara too!

We asked our travel agent, Emma, to include Dahshur and Saqqara as well into our itinerary, and all of a sudden we had a full day of Pyramid exploring to look forward to and the following day to enjoy the sites in Cairo: Egyptian Museum, the Citadel and the Souk. Most tours don’t include all three pyramid sites in the itinerary as not everyone is obsessed with Ancient Egypt and one Pyramid may be enough for some people (???). I’m just trying to get my head around that…

Dahshur is the furthest afield of the three sites, so this is where we headed first. The roads are bumpy and less travelled. After a while, we made it to the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid – the first stops of the day.

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Much to our surprise, the area was empty. There was not a single other person in sight except a few guards keeping watch of the sites. So, with the Bent Pyramid to ourselves, we wandered around each side. It was the most surreal experience – how is no-one else here?! The pyramid was magnificent, albeit wonky! The first pyramid at Dahshur, so-named the ‘Bent Pyramid’ because it is bent – duh. The first pyramid that wasn’t a step-pyramid format, the original angle would have made the structure too high, so at about halfway through the building process, they gave in and made the angle less steep, so as to make it less tall. This pyramid was never used though, it was like a guinea-pig pyramid.

A two-minute drive away is the Red Pyramid which you can see in the distance from the Bent Pyramid. We took ALL the photos:

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Yes my jumping skills are rubbish. This was proven time and again on this day!

This one was built after the Bent Pyramid with better success. It is in good condition, and for a mere 20LE (less than £1), you can even go inside it – which we did.

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I wasn’t smiling 5 minutes after this was taken! The climb down was difficult…

It was amazing going inside a pyramid but it is no easy feat. We had to climb up to the pyramid to get to the entrance, then, it is a long, steep climb down which took me ages as I was quite scared and cautious! J. was much quicker. There is very little air inside and it is hot! The detail of the ceiling inside the pyramid is cool. Our guide said it is better than the one you can go inside at Giza – plus it is a fraction of the price and there is no queuing to get in and out! Climbing up and out of the pyramid was easier than getting in (thank goodness!) but I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t like small spaces and doing a lot of climbing!

From here, we made our way to Saqqara – the first step pyramid, older than the ones at Dahshur. This site is interesting as it is not just a pyramid here, but a scattering of hundreds of tombs in the area that you can go inside and explore. The pyramid is having conservation work done on it, so it has scaffolding on it, partially I think to also keep it up!

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We spent quite a while at Saqqara as there is a lot of see.

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Oh look…more terrible jumping!

Our guide stopped off and picked up some sugarcane juice (unusual but good) and koshary – Egyptian street food dish. It has everything in it – macaroni, pasta, tomato sauce, onions, black lentils. It was very tasty but what I wasn’t prepared for was eating in the car…while we were moving! The roads were so bumpy and full of pot-holes, it was difficult to eat, digest and also not spill all the tomato sauce on my white top! I didn’t manage to eat all mine, but J. was more than obliging to help me out as he was starving!

Our final stop was the Pyramids of Giza. We arrived early afternoon. There was still a good number of people here but it wasn’t crowded at all which was still a little surprising due to the importance of this site. I think the morning would have been much busier though.

Our guide ushered us to one side of the Pyramid where no one was, it was like a secret spot. I didn’t know why we were going there, but when I turned around, I could see all of the pyramids in view! So we have a little photoshoot. He made us do lots of jumping pictures all day and all it confirmed was that I am rubbish at them and J. is amazing. The height difference makes it even worse…

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The Sphinx was the most crowded place – smallest area to view it

I’d love to know what really happened to the Sphinx’s nose…

We decided not to ride a camel which is an option at the Pyramids of Giza. There are loads of camels at Giza. But J. and I have both been on a camel before and we were not overly fussed.

Luckily, our hotel was just around the corner from the Pyramids so it wasn’t long until today’s tour was over.

Highlight: Going to Dahshur – having the Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid all to ourselves was so special! This day in general was just perfect though…

Lowlight: eating what would have been a nice lunch in the car on the bumpy roads. My stomach did not appreciate it!

 

3 Reasons Why NOW is the time to visit Egypt

 

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The Bent Pyramid, Dashur

No that is not a stock image above – that is a photo I took at The Bent Pyramid on our first sightseeing day in Egypt. What is missing? People. We were the only living souls there…

Egypt has been suffering from a serious dip in tourism ever since the Revolution in 2011. Speaking with Egyptians during our stay, they say that 2018 is better than 2017, which was better than 2016, with 2012-2013 being the worst years. Tourism numbers are ever-so slowly increasing, but they are nothing compared to ten years ago.

When I first booked the trip, all anyone asked was – but is it safe? Check your country’s travel advice, currently all but North Sinai are safe to visit for British nationals. Use common sense, do all the necessary research and have an amazing time!

Egypt is open for tourism and the locals, the hotels, the shopkeepers, the tour guides, they are all so eager for us to come. ‘Welcome to Egypt!’ ‘You must come again!’ ‘Next time to the Red Sea, it is beautiful there!’ Egyptians are extremely proud of their unique country and what it has to offer for those looking for an adventure through the ages.

The amount of hotels “closed for renovation” and half-empty cruise ships along the Nile (ours was only at 30% capacity), gives you a pang of sadness for what could be, what should be a bustling tourism economy.

Take advantage of this to be the time that you book your dream holiday to Egypt. 

Reason 1: Low tourist numbers? Lower prices!

We splurged on a luxury holiday which would probably have been way out of our budget if Egypt wasn’t begging for tourists. Yes, we still spent a lot, but many hotels and tours have slashed their prices to be more accommodating to travelers.

You can get a great bargain at markets and shops – some of the shops and market stalls we bargained with, they probably didn’t have another customer that day, which meant they were very keen to agree on a sale with us. It’s all about getting a great deal, but making sure you are giving enough for what the item is worth to support the seller.

Reason 2: No crowds

The more I travel, the more I want to go ‘more off the beaten track.’ Crowds of people really put me off enjoying places and it is difficult to get a nice photo when you’re fighting with the group next to you for the perfect spot.

In Egypt, this was not an issue (see the picture of the Bent Pyramid!). Even at the Pyramids of Giza, which is THE MOST famous and popular sight in Egypt, it was by no means busy. It really was astounding to experience my first pyramid on my own – it felt so special and personal. At the Red Pyramid at Dashur, we also were able to go inside the Pyramid alone – no queues to get up or down, we could take our time, it was incredible.

Reason 3: Where Else?

Where else are you going to see incredible temples, tombs and pyramids by the Ancient Egyptians? See beautiful original paintings about the afterlife in tombs from 4,000 years ago that are still there? Marvel at giant obelisks laboriously carved out of a single granite stone? Sip hibiscus tea while watching the gorgeous sunsets on the Nile? Experience the generous hospitality of the locals who are so happy you have chosen Egypt as your destination?

Look out for new posts on Sundays for more about my trip to Egypt.

I have so many amazing stories and travel ideas to share! It was without a doubt, the best holiday I have ever experienced. Everywhere that follows, you have some serious competition!