Egypt Guide ~ HLV's Must-Sees and Biggest Tips to Traveling Egypt
Updated: Feb 23, 2021
Normally when writing a romantic travel article, I like to showcase the food and how the trip felt, but with Egypt there's just so many places to visit and see, all filled to the brim with excitement. So instead, I'm going to list out the "not to be missed" items while you're there in effort to narrow down the essential things, plus important tips that will make your trip unforgettable.
I had been dreaming of visiting Egypt since I was a little girl. I used to study the history in textbooks and even taught myself to read Hieroglyphics as a child... I had decided I wanted to be an Egyptologist. Yep, me, a little kid reading University grade textbooks on Egypt. But it's true, Egypt was just always so mystical to me and now I know for a fact, it is.
But first: Is Egypt a romantic place to visit?
Egypt is full of romantic history, from the stories of rulers, Kings and Queens like Cleopatra and Mark Antony and Tutankamun and Ankhesemamun, and love stories of the Gods like Osiris and Isis. Tombs, temples and pyramids were built on the preservation of love; love for the King, love for the queen and sometimes in dedication to those loves. Indeed, when Nefertari died, Ramesses II wrote poetry all over her tomb, like, "My love is unique - no one can rival her, for she is the most beautiful woman alive. Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart.” Just the experience of the vast extremes of Egypt together with your love, from simple everyday life to the historical fanfare of royalty, from the grand scenery along the Nile to the working neighborhoods, the magic of the Call To Prayer that launches from speakers all over the country to the gentle waters the Nile that pumps life throughout the land, is a truly uniting experience. Egypt is pure magic!
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~ Kom Ombo ~
Kom Ombo Temple was by far my favorite temple. Made for Sebek, the crocodile god, god of the Nile. Kom Ombo has incredible engraved hieroglyphics, wonderful tall columns and is a great showcase of the intricate construction methods developed by the Egyptians, all while being in an idyllic location along the Nile River. We went early in the morning and as you can see, we had the place to ourselves, which added even more mystique and splendor to the experience. This temple is often missed by tours, so make sure it's on your list.
~ Abu Simbel ~
I cried when I rounded the corner and saw my first glimpse of Abu Simbel, it was breathtaking. It was the image I'd grown up with in all my Egypt textbooks and I was finally seeing in in real life. Set in a beautiful location on Lake Nasser. The colorful hieroglyphics were beautiful to look at and colorfully flooded every wall and pillar. This is one of those places that will have you pinching yourself wondering if it's real.
~ Hatshepsut's Temple ~
Hatsheput's Temple was another one that took my breath away and was so different to any of the other temples. This one was built for Hatshepsut who was the fifth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty and the second female Pharaoh ever. The huge colomness statues that line the top level are actually different statue versions depicting Hatsheput. As a ruler, she was known for sometimes donning a crown and fake beard, presenting herself as a man (what a path paver!) and so she had herself depicted as a man with a male body and beard throughout her 20 year rule.
~ Karnak ~
The Temple of Karnak is probably one of the biggest and most famous of all the Temples, so be prepared for the crowds. But there's so much to see there, so you can still find a way to get lost amongst the columns and experience the old world all for yourself. Also, they do a cool light show there at night, which tells the history of the temple over the water of the pool. It's a great way to see the temple all lit up in grandeur at night, but I do recommend also seeing this during the day to see all the little details highlighted by the sun. It really is spectacular.
~ Luxor Temple ~
Luxor Temple was incredible to see. While it obviously showcases great Egyptian craftsmanship from kings like Tutankhamun and Ramasses II, it also has a Roman infusion. Yep, you read that right. When the Romans took over rule, they repurposed Luxor Temple and turned it into a church. And you can still see the Roman Murals in different areas all over the temple, painted over the Hieroglyphics. Luxor Temple also has some really cool statues, like a statue they made of King Tutankhamun and his wife, Ankhesemamun. Statues took so long to make that they made them ahead of time. They made the statue to represent the couple when they're older, only Tutankahmen died at 18 and never made it there. It now lays in this Temple and is a stunning display of craftmanship, you can see it below.
~ Valley of the Kings ~
The Valley of the Kings look unremarkable when you first arrive. It's just a bunch of sandy hills within a mountainous cove. But once you step through the wooden doorways of the tombs, that's when the majesty is reavealed. From the entrance onward, every wall and roof is carved and painted in epic detail of the journey and judgement the king will take to the afterlife. The hallways are large, grand and been maintained beautifully with some of the tombs going way down into the rocky earth. You need an entire morning to see everything and there are extra charges to see specific tombs like Tutankhamun's tomb. I promise you, Valley of the Kings is worth it.
~ Valley of the Queens ~
While everyone loves the Valley Of The Kings, I actually prefer the Valley Of The Queens. The vibrant colors used in the Queen's tombs are tantalizing. Also, as there was less effort put into making them so large, they don't really go underground very much, they were mostly carved into the rock horizontally. So for those that are scared of traveling deep into the underground, Valley of the Queens is for you.
3. Workers Tombs
Deir el-Medina, also known as Valley of the Artisans, is fascinating and seriously one of the best things I saw in Egypt, if you have a chance to see this, it is incredible. While the workers built the temples, tombs and pyramids, they lived in makeshift villages that they would build. It had homes and a communal eating area. In this area you can see the walls of this workers village still and how it was laid out. But although that is really cool, that is not the best part.
After toiling away all day, the workers would go into the hills near their village and create their own tombs for their family, along with paintings of their lives, wishes and depictions of the gods. This was not allowed as only royalty or nobility could do this, but I love seeing this rebellious streak, that by essentially taking little bits from the sites they worked on, they were able to create these stunning tombs for their travel to the afterlife. Just be prepared, these tombs are way down into the earth and are narrow, steep and stuffy - no grand entrances for these tombs, unlike those of the Kings and Queens. But definitely worth seeing.
~ Giza ~
I mean, if you didn't go to Giza, did you go to Egypt at all? I joke, but seriously, Giza is not to be missed. The Giza Pyramid is jaw-droppingly way larger than I ever would have imagined. There's just no way for a picture to do it justice. Each stone is enormous. To get a better view and something that will fit into a camera image, your guide will take you to a lookout point where you can see the Giza complex in all its glory, this is where you'll take most of your pictures and its a lot of fun.
Speaking of size, the Sphinx surprised me the most. I had only ever seen it in movies and photos and it was a lot smaller than depicted in those images, but nethertheless, absolutely stunning. This whole area is filled with incredible ancient Egyptian architecture and stories of past excavations that were fascinating, so definitely spend some time here.
~ Saqqara ~
Saqqara is the burial ground that houses the first known pyramid, The Pyramid of Djoser. It's definitely a must see and there's a great yet very small museum nearby that gives you more of an idea of Saqqara's mystical past and what you're about to see which I recommend visiting, plus it had some incredible artifacts found in the tombs there.
While in Saqqara you'll see a few of the excavated burial sites (some which you access down a TINY shaft - seriously, my Mum (pictured) is tiny, so that entryway is smaaaaaalll. Trust me, I hit my head. It hurt, but it was worth it.), including a sarcophagus, beautiful hieroglyphics and the whole roof covered in stars. When we were there, they had just found and were excavating another burial plot, with workers pulling out large stones and checking what everything was - that was really exciting for me as someone who wanted to grow up to be Howard Carter (minus the curse of course!). Also of note, the surrounding neighborhood in this area is so lush and stunning to drive through. Whilst everything in my pictures may look like desert, the closer you get to the Nile River, the more vegetation there is. In the old, old days, the Nile River was much wider and reached the outskirts of all these temples and tombs. In fact, the Nile used to flood and wipe out towns so those people would have to move into the mountains. But now, those areas are desert landscapes due to a mixture of damming to manage the Nile waters and drought.
You have to be very careful of which cruise you choose. We made the mistake of making our cruise too long, 5 days, and were sitting in a port for 2 of those days. It only takes 3 days to very slowly sail down the Nile, so I personally do not recommend doing any more than three days.
We sailed from Aswan to Luxor (so adjust my times if you are going further) and it was super relaxing, especially to come back to after a long hot day of site seeing temples. There's a couple of different styles of cruises, we opted for the old traditional style of Egyptian cruise which is by sail (even though they used an engine for most of their trip).
I highly recommend taking a tuk-tuk around the towns and check out the local food markets for the vibrant and incredible selection of foods and spices, plus this is your chance to purchase all the souvenirs you need for back home at a really good price - definitely have to make sure your bartering is on game. There is a really famous Bazaar called Khan Al-Khalili that we didn't get to go to and will have to do that when I return, its the biggest in Egypt and apparently incredible. But we shopped the Old Market in Cairo and that's where we got a lot of our souviner type things like leather slippers.
7. Food - Currys made in the clay pots.
I wasn't a huge fan of the drier kabob meats, but Egypt has some incredible, curry-like dishes slow cooked with clay pots that are so incredible. The meat just falls apart. If you have the option of trying any of these delectable dishes, I highly recommend it.
After all the heat, sand and walking of your trip you're going to need to recharge before heading home. The best thing to do is to go to a sea side resort, whether it's the Red Sea on the east of Egypt or the Mediterranean Sea to the north. We stayed in Hurghada on the Red Sea for a week after our Egypt adventure and it was perfect. The water of the Red Sea is refreshing, plus there are some great hotels there.
Best advice I could give you:
1. Do a private tour. Unfortunately there are still many terrorist threats to Egypt and it is the main tourist attractions like Giza and Hatshepsut's Temple that get targeted. It is also the big tourist busses that get targeted. So, by sticking to a private tour and guide, you will be able to see everything much more safely. It's only a little bit more with cost, but if you think of all the benefits like having more time to see whatever you want to see and being able to add or take away attractions at your own will, it's completely worth it - plus, I wouldn't mess around with safety. Otherwise, as long as you keep your awareness and listen to your guide, Egypt is a completely safe country with the most incredibly caring people. Our tour guide, Hoteb, was incredible - if you need his contact, I'd be very happy to give it to you.
2. Learn how and whom to tip. This is very confusing but extremely important. Firstly, they prefer to use USD when it comes to tipping and payment. You will still need some Egyptian money, but definitely get an abundance of US Dollars before you leave for Egypt. Overall, you need to tip anyone who helps you with anything. Sometimes your tour guide will tip, but don't rely on that. Just remember, Egyptians earn a lot less money and your dollar goes a lot further there than wherever you're from.
3. Book a relaxing stay at a seaside hotel to end your trip. You'll need it after all the exhausting exploration of tombs in the heat. We booked a stay at the Red Sea in Hurghada. They have a lot of luxury hotels that line the ocean with private beaches for a relatively inexpensive price and that Red Sea salty water does wonders for your tired achey muscles after all that exploring. We stayed as the Sunrise Crystal Bay Resort in a suite with our own private pool and it was perfection.
4. Travel in the off season. We went in October and it was still really hot, uncomfortably sometimes. So I would honesty recommend around November. Tour guides schedule viewings from 6am to 11am because that's when temperatures are bearable. But besides the obvious heat, it is much less crowded. During the cooler months tourists flock to Egypt and attractions are packed, which makes it hard to take everything in, get any good pictures and would be extremely stuffy in the heat surrounded by people in the tombs (ugh, I don't even want to imagine). But luckily, Egypt is exactly the same, albeit a nicer temperature later in the year, so travel then. You can see by a lot of my pictures, that oftentimes we had whole temples to ourselves and it was marvelous.
I hope you enjoyed my Egypt guide and it helps you with your dream Egyptian escape. Comment below if you have any questions for me, I'm happy to help.
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