People often mistakenly think that Egypt is not part of Africa but rather of the Middle East or the ‘Arab world’ or even the Arabian Peninsula. But Egypt is as African as Kilimanjaro and lions. Just ask soccer lovers. They will tell you that Egypt is the most successful team in the African Cup of Nations, having won the tournament seven times.
Egypt has one of the oldest histories of any country going all the way back to the 6th–4th millennia BCE, making it much older than the Roman Kingdom, Republic and later Empire. In fact, Egypt was a major empire of the ancient world, keenly eyed by Rome who eventually, after Cleopatra’s death, annexed and ruled it as part of the Roman Empire.
Nonetheless, this ancient Empire of the Nile Delta is Africa’s oldest country with a meticulously written recorded history from around the kingdom of King Menes founded in 3150 BC right up to this day. And much of what was built and created in terms of architecture, agriculture, urbanisation, organised religion and central government, and what was written down during the different ruling dynasties and the empire over the ages, has been preserved and can still be seen and read today.
No wonder Egypt is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Its achievements, heritage, attractions, and history are unique, not only in Africa, but in the entire world. It is rightly considered to be the ‘cradle of civilisation’. This is reflected in its iconic monuments such as the Giza Necropolis and its Great Sphinx, as well the ruins of Memphis, Thebes, Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings among others. No other country come close in offering such magnificent and well-preserved relics of antiquity.
Egypt was also an early and important centre of Christianity before being Islamised in the 7th century and is today a predominantly Muslim country. Egypt’s history and its position in the world today is closely tied up with its unique transcontinental location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean region, the Middle East and North Africa.
Tourists wanting to visit Egypt will find some excellent bargains. This is because after the Arab uprisings and the so-called Egyptian revolution just over a decade ago, tourism to Egypt fell dramatically. It was just being rebuilt when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and once again tourism fell dramatically, which led to tourism operators in Egypt offering heavily discounted packages to draw visitors back to their country.
Today Egypt continues to be what are the most sought after most exotic destinations with a hugely varied menu of attractions and experiences to offer. Among the major tourist destinations in Egypt are the ancient monuments in the Nile Valley, The most popular and best known of which are the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx at Giza, and the Abu Simbel temples located south of Aswan. In sprawling and ancient city of Cairo, some of the major attractions include the Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha and of course the fascinating Cairo Museum.
For some excellent seaside resorts visitors can travel to Hurghada on the Red Sea coast and the famous El Gouna Resort 25 km from Hurghada, while the coast of the Sinai Peninsula has many excellent seaside resorts as well. In the Sinai Peninsula are the beach resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba as well as locations mentioned in the Bible such as Mount Sinai. Ain Sukhna, about 110 km east of Cairo also has a number of excellent beach resorts.
Some of the most famous pyramids, temples and monuments to the pharaohs are found at Giza, 20 km southwest of Cairo, dating back to the 26th century BC. These include the Great Sphinx, and the Great Pyramids of Giza. Also, very much worth a visit is Saqqara, 30 km south of Cairo, which is a vast and ancient burial ground. It once served as the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis and features pyramids, including the world’s oldest standing step pyramid, as well as a number of mastabas.
For more pyramids, there are more than 70 pyramids along the Nile River, with the three pyramids of Giza being the best-known. The Sphinx, in the giant shape of a lion-bodied guard, stands guard beside the pyramids of Giza that were built more than 4,000 years ago. The bodies of Kings Cheops, Kefren and Mykerinos were buried within these pyramids. The pyramid of Cheops is the largest of these at 145 metres high and is called the Great Pyramid.
About 500 km south of Cairo, is the Luxor, the site of the ancient city of Thebes with its ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor. Today these are within the confines of the modern city of Luxor. Across the Nile River are the monuments, temples and tombs of the West Bank Necropolis, which include the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. These are not to be missed.
Then there are the Abu Simbel temples about 850 km south of Cairo close to the Egypt–Sudan border. This ancient archaeological site consists of two massive rock temples originally carved out of a mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC. A fascinating story about this place is that the entire complex was relocated in the 1960s to avoid being submerged when Lake Nasser was created.
Cairo is a pulsating, fascinating city that never seems to sleep. You can lose yourself in its vast markets, drink coffee or smoke a hookah pipe in one of the many little coffee shops, visit the museums and historical sites, and so much more. Alexandria, the second city and major seaside city filled with history, is a major seaside summer resort. Discover its its beaches, ancient history, especially from the Roman Empire era, and its many muuseums, especially the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a modern project based on reviving the ancient Library of Alexandria.
Camel tours, hot air ballooning and Nile cruises
Three of the most popular ways to take in all of these ancient sites, are on camel back, from a hot air balloon or cruising down the Nile. There are plenty of camel tours offered in different locations to different sites.
Around Luxor hot air ballooning is very popular. Tour operators offer anything from sunrise balloon rides to trips for viewing Thebes, the ancient temple complexes of Karnak and Luxor, and the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens.
A popular Nile cruise is the one between Aswan and Esna. Cruises range from short ones such as between Luxor and Aswan to longer cruises that include the northern town of Dendera. Nile Cruising started during the early 19th century when Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt made his journey up and down the Nile, and the tradition continues. Most cruise are offered on large vessels that look like floating hotels. But cruises are also available on feluccas or traditional sailboats. On the overnight journeys passengers may have to sleep in the open air on the deck.
Of course, Egypt has many excellent hotels, resorts and spas, as well as modern shopping malls, superb and varied restaurants, fascinating traditional markets and plenty more. This is just a small sampling of all that can be enjoyed in this ancient Empire of the Nile.