Make the most of six days in ancient Egypt
Updated: Mar 15, 2022
Kicking off 2022 with a bang. Let's take a step back in time. Welcome to the supremely grand, ancient Egypt. If you are one of those people who has watched the Mummy movies a bunch of times and has wanted to recreate their own Egyptian adventure, this itinerary is for you (minus the trip to Hamanuputra).
Plenty has been said on the internet about what it is really like while traveling in Egypt. As someone who has a lot of Egyptian colleagues, our experience was in no way a culture shock - though there are few exceptions and experiences you should be prepared for.
Read on and join as we take you back to the land of mummies, mythical deities and towering temples.
Day wise itinerary:
Day 1: Land in Cairo. Giza Pyramids. Stay in Marriot Mena House.
Day 2: Explore old city. Cairo citadel. Ibn Tolun Mosque. Stay in Four Seasons Residence.
Day 3: Head to Aswan. Explore Nubian Village. Nubian Museum. Philae Temple. Heissa Island. Kayaking on the Nile river.
Day 4: Take a day trip to Abu Simbel. Island hopping in Aswan. Night train to Luxor.
Day 5: PCR test. Explore east side of Luxor. Karnak Temple. Luxor Temple.
Day 6: Explore west side of Luxor. Sunrise Hot Air Balloon. Valley of kings. Mortuary temple of Hatshepsut.
Day 7: Fly home
You don't require a PCR test if you are traveling from Dubai. You may require it if your airline/country of origin is outside of the UAE. Make sure to check this with your airlines/local embassy.
Vaccination is mandatory if you don't have a test; you will be asked for it.
Flights, Visa and Immigration (if traveling from UAE)
We flew directly to Cairo with Emirates. A short 4 trip took us to Cairo International Airport. Immigration at Cairo airport was fast you will only be asked about where you are staying.
Unlike Turkey or Jordan, a valid multiple entry US visa will not suffice for you to enter Egypt. Most NATO countries are eligible for a visa on arrival. If you have an Indian passport, you are required to apply for a visa ahead of time. It costs $30 for a single entry 3 month visa. If traveling from Dubai, apply at the Egypt Consulate in Dubai. Takes 72 hours. Efficient and quick process, if you have all necessary documents.
Safety and hygiene - a reality check!
We have been to 13 countries since 2020. People not following COVID protocols is no surprise to us. That being said, the sheer number of locals and tourists here at any given time, makes it a challenge to socially distance or feel safe.
Add to this the general chaos, people being unnecessarily loud, lack of organization, tipping culture (no, this not a myth!) and you are in for a very different experience if you have only ever traveled to first world countries. Be prepared for people to approach you - a LOT. Also, you will hear "no buy, no problem" - that is not true. If this irks you, you may not enjoy your time here.
I won't sugarcoat our Egyptian experience because of a few beautiful experiences. Just develop a thick skin and you will be just fine if you go on an organized tour.
Solo traveling in Egypt (as a woman)
I am never one to deter people from traveling solo to any country. However, there are obvious challenges in some parts of the world with regards to cost, safety and hygiene. At times, it felt like Egypt was definitely one to avoid if you are a woman traveling alone BUT if you decide to go alone, fret not. Just get local help. If nothing, just to keep the catcalls and sales pitches in check.
Best time to visit
Winter - between November to March is ideal. There is no shoulder season, as I was told people even visit here in the summer (though I cannot fathom anyone going here with the 110F heat!). Expect hordes of tourists either way.
Language and People
English, as you would expect, is not the primary language. If you are going with a guide, you should be ok.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is highly recommended - we have our own, but if you are looking for one try World Nomad. USD accepted at all resorts. Carry local currency for small purchases, train tickets, tipping.
Choosing a guide
Egypt is a place you can easily do on your own, if you know arabic and have infinite time at your disposal. If you don't, I recommend getting local help - for little tips, for keeping vendors at bay and so on. I went with Puzzle Egypt after a fellow blogger recommended them; they owner was her friend. They did a thorough job with arranging the plan I put together and added a few good recommendations of their own after I mentioned I like off the beaten track activities. Their rates were competitive too. Feel free to refer my name when you book with them.
How expensive is Egypt?
It's cheap - local food, transport, air bnb's are all reasonably priced. If you choose stay at the five resorts I mentioned here, then the price does go up significantly. If backpacking is your style, then this country is a fabulous place for an inexpensive getaway.
How long to spend in Egypt?
A minimum of 7 days is required to do what we did (even that is pushing it). If you plan to add on Siwa Oasis, Alexandria or Hurghada, then account for at least 10 - 14 days.
After Indian, Middle-Eastern food is one of the most vegan/vegetarian friendly food categories around. Falafel, hummus, salads and lots of steamed vegetables. Don't forget to try the local delicacy - called Koshari. We get it in Dubai too - I loved trying the authentic version in Egypt.
Where we stayed
Marriott Mena House
This was one property that was on top my list when we first planned our Egypt trip. Not just for the views, which were breathtaking, but also for the service and hygiene standards. Not to mention the fabulous fresh food we had.
Waking up to the views of the pyramids right outside our balcony is an experience we are not likely to forget any time soon. The sunrise glow et al.
Four Seasons The Residence
After experiencing Cairo, we decided to get a change of view by shifting across the river to experience the Giza side of the city. No better place to stay for the night than at yet another five star gem with fabulous view of the Nile River.
This one was a miss for me. Don't get me wrong, the views were great but the hygiene standards were a huge miss. Given the already low safety standards, on hindsight, I would have probably preferred something different.
Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa
One of the best name properties to stay in Luxor. Don't miss this one - from being centrally located, the safety standards, the exceptional food, room service, helpful staff and everything in between was spot on.
After landing late at night the previous day, we were exhausted. We had a lazy morning but not without catching the first glimpse of the sun rays over the Pyramids.
Let's go explore Pyramids. We were trying to be smart, got there early at 8 15 a.m. but there were already people (SO.MANY.PEOPLE) everywhere. So here is my first tip - go early. Not so you can beat crowds but because it may only get worse.
Ticking off one of the only remaining old world wonders is pretty simple - the monument is bang in middle of city. The leering clouds on the day we went made it all the more alluring and mystical. In essence, the pyramids are tombs for the kings, his son and grandson - there are a grand total of 9 pyramids, three big ones and 6 smaller ones around the complex.
However, for the best views of the pyramids, you have to get away and reach the PANORAMA spot across the three structure. It is a hike up. You can also drive up there or ride the camel.
Top tips for visiting the Pyramids of Egypt:
1. Stay close to the pyramids so you can walk or take a cab down for $5 or less.
2. Decide about whether or not you want to visit the inside of the pyramids; that is a separate ticket worth EGP 400 per person. We skipped it as I read it gets claustrophobic.
3. Get to the panoramic spot for views of the pyramids without the crowds.
4. You don't need a guide to visit the place but if you enjoy history, then I suggest you get one.
The Sphinx should be your last stop for the morning, you really cannot help but be in awe of this brilliant architecture.
We wanted a late start to the day. After checking into Four Seasons, we went out exploring the old city. After a relaxed morning at the resort, we started our day at the Ibn Tolun Mosque. This is one of the oldest and largest mosque's in the city.
This place is famed for it's understated pillars and unique minaret which has an exterior spiral staircase. Definitely recommend climbing the stairs for views of the old city.
The place thrives on it's open skies and well lit corners. I love how peaceful and secluded the place was. Considering that this place is in the middle of the city, the fortress like walls shield the noise of the incessant bustling city outside. The eerie quiet will draw you in.
Our next stop in the afternoon was the Cairo Citadel. This citadel was built by Salah Al-Din, one of the greatest military characters in Islamic history. Over the years, there were a lot of changes done to the place until the Ottoman Empire conquered Egypt, and decided to make this one of the first mosques built in the Ottoman architecture style.
If you have visited Istanbul, then you will realize the uncanny resemblance to Hagia Sofia from the gigantic chandelier to the patterns on the walls. The place is decorated with such intricate details and grandeur like massive limestone and marble pillars.
What I also loved was the panoramic views on the grand terrace. Take your time exploring this part of the complex as it serves up unparalleled views of the city including the mosque of Sultan Hassan. On a clear day you can even as far the pyramids.
We got back in time to watch the sunset right from room. Dinner was delicious room service since we had to wake up in just a few hours.
Up before the sun to catch our early morning flight to Aswan. Window seat views never get old!
After a quick 1 hour flight, we were in the Southern most part of Egypt. First things first, we checked into our room to freshen up and grab breakfast. We spent the morning chilling at the property and soaking up Nile views.
After breakfast, we made our way to Philae Temple. I loved that we needed to catch a boat to make our way here. As we made our way across the first rocks of the cataract, the temple emerged from the river like a mirage.
What is also unmissable is the Green-Roman era influence. The temple is said to be dedicated to the Isis, the "sovereign of all gods" - making it one of the last footholds of stronghold of the Egyptians.
Behind us you see the walls are covered with hieroglyphs, telling us the story of their civilization. When you go around Egypt, you will obviously find a lot of these hieroglyphs but the ones in Philae temple are special because they were the last ones written by the ancient Egyptians.
This temple originally sat on the river but due to the construction of a dam, it had to shifted to the island and now, it can only be reached by a boat. The views of the islands from inside of the temple are second to none.
The second half of the day was spent hopping over to Heissa Island, a secluded island just about an hour from the Philae temple. A small resort on top of a hill serves us lunch - after which we spent a few hours kayaking until sundown. This was the perfect getaway from the temple runs and we really enjoyed our time out on the Nile.
On our way back, we also caught a glimpse of the Philae temple at sunset - boy, did it look impressive.
In a country filled with gorgeous surreal temples, it is hard to pick favorites but the Abu Simbel was right up there as one of the highlights of our trip.
The best way to reach Abu Simbel is from a day trip from Aswan; usually a 3 hour one way drive from Aswan. As you soon you reach, get ready to welcomed by a scene straight from the Mummy movie - that is how dramatic it is. This six stone monument is one of the most striking temples built by Ramesses ll over 3000 years ago. The story becomes even more intriguing when you learn that the entire complex was dismantled and relocated to this spot after the construction of the Aswan High Dam - brick by brick. Consider this and then imagine how incredible it is that these temples have survived the test of time.
There are actually two temples - one is the main temple complex dedicated to Ramses II and a smaller one that was built as a dedication to his wife Nefertiti. If you thought the inside of the temple was impressive, wait till you get inside. You cannot miss the hieroglyphs of the "Battle of Qadesh" plastered all over the walls. Look at this one where you can see the king firing arrows from his war chariot and supposedly winning the battle for the Egyptians.
We made our way back to Aswan around 2 p.m. Just in time for our second island trip. Local coffee and down time before our night train to Luxor.
Information on the train tickets:
You can buy your tickets until a day before your departure. Ideally, you could request your guide to purchase it for you. Tourists are usually only allowed to purchase VIP tickets. You cannot get your tickets hours before boarding - so make sure it is done ahead of time. The train ride is just 3 hours and we made it to Hilton Luxor at 9 p.m. The train itself was comfortable because it was empty. Just wear your mask at all times.
After a few early mornings, all we wanted to do was sleep in and have a fabulous chilled morning. Which is all we did. The gym at Hilton was so epic, so an hour of workout and delicious hot breakfast was what the doctor ordered.
We spent our afternoon exploring the East Bank of Luxor - starting with the Karnak temple. This is one of the masterpieces and important temple of Egyptian history dedicated to the almighty Amun-Ra. You start your journey through the Colony of Sphinxes - each one of them have a ram head.
The highlight of this temple are two fold - the obelisk and the great Hypostyle hall. My favorite part was walking through the 134 columns, each decorated with intricate hieroglyphs. This is said to be one of the largest single chamber of any temple in the world. Each one of these pillars soar to a height of twenty-one meters.
As we weaved our way between the columns, the light created a stunning vista. The whole place was so extra, I couldn't help but fall in love with every inch of it.
Next stop was the Luxor temple. Not as grand as the Karnak but just as important. It is right in the middle of the city, so impossible to miss and easy to walk to - which also means it gets really crowded through the day.
It is believed that in ancient times, the Karnak temple and the Luxor temple were connected via an underground passage. This temple was built in 1400 BC and was dedicated to Amon, his son.
Here also you find a lot of intercultural overlaps in the architecture like the ‘Abu Haggag’ mosque connected to the temple and mural paintings from the Roman period.
Our last stop for the day was a Felucca ride to the Banana Island. If there is one thing you have to add to your "must-see"" list in Egypt then make sure it is riding a traditional boat along the river Nile.
Here are my tips for riding the Felucca in Egypt.
It’s best to go for sunset because the weather is nicer and so are the views.
If you do this in Aswan, there are Felucca rides where you can spend more time and they serve delicious local food cooked by Nubians.