This post covers more than one trip to my homeland, so I will not go in order. Rather, I will cover every region on its own. I waited long on this one since I kept adding new locations the more I re-visited. I grew up in Egypt, living there for a total of 18 years. However, I did not start experiencing it properly until I left and started visiting, from a traveler’s perspective.
Egypt is a place you can spend months at one time, so spare as much time as you can and you won’t regret it. From coastlines, mountains and desert oasis, to big cities, little villages. Ancient temples, monuments and pyramids. Citadels. Almost all activities can be accommodated there, ranging from scuba diving, kite surfing, trekking, hiking, sunbathing, swimming, partying, sightseeing and meditating. The energy there is like no other place, and I am not saying this because it’s home. I’m saying this because it’s actually unique and incredible.
Throughout the year, Egypt is a hot destination. Depending on the time of your visit, there will be more areas of the country more favorable than others. My personal favorite time to visit is during fall. So, end of October till December remains a golden time, especially if you’re willing to visit the south, where all the temples and monuments are.
The northern region of Egypt can get a little chilly in the months of January and February, however nothing like European and northern hemisphere type of winters. I sub-grouped different regions of Egypt together, to make it easier to follow and get the information across. I also included a weather matrix of these attractive regions with a scale 1-3, in my opinion, depending on time of year.
Cairo/Giza (Zone 1)
Despite being my hometown, I don’t recommend spending too much time here. Cairo is one of the busiest cities in the world, and you will wonder where the time has gone. With that being said, it’s a must visit. Apart from the pyramids, and the Cairo Museum, there’s more to see.
The ‘Old Town’ area, with the famous market ‘Khan el Khalili’ and several mosques in the area should not to be missed. The citadel, which is right next to one of the only parks worth visiting, ‘Azhar Park’ can make for an afternoon activity.
The old town area shows the character of Cairo; you get a real feel of how Egyptians are living. You can find outstanding food there too, street restaurants and upscale options at the same place. Any souvenir shopping usually takes place there, but make sure to bargain. You can get things for at least half of what they offer you, so don’t fall for that. Nonetheless, know that these guys have families to feed, and given the most recent economical downturn, life has become hard on them. So bargain, but don’t shoot so under in a way that disrespects them, because in the end of the day when you convert it to USD or EUR, the items are definitely affordable.
Among the things to do in Cairo is taking a boat down the nile. They can be rented for cheap, and remains a nice way to explore the city. The pyramids of Giza are definitely worth the visit, however, they became too hectic recent years. I wouldn’t spend all day there.
Instead, you can go check out other pyramids during the day and end the tour with the pyramids of Giza. Yes, there are more pyramids than the three famous ones. The ones I’d recommend are the ‘Dahshur pyramid’, ‘Saqqara pyramid‘ and the ‘Red pyramid‘. These sites are almost abandoned and tourists don’t generally go there, so you’ll have time to meditate and take in the immense energy of these ancient structures.
In Cairo, I would recommend staying in Zamalek. It’s a pretty central neighborhood with nice accommodation options and lots of dining and bar establishments.
Hurghada (Zone 2)
The ‘Red Sea’ is one of Egypt’s wonderful gifts. Several beach cities and towns can accommodate you on your visit. I will cover Hurghada in this section, and several other areas that lie close by. ‘Ein Sokhna’ is the nearest you can find a beach when leaving Cairo. About one hour east of Cairo starts ’Ein Sokhna’, and stretches for about 60 km (37 miles).
Similar layout to the North Coast, which is covered towards the end of this post, consisting of a bunch of gated communities and hotels by the sea; much more laidback however. Drive a couple of more hours south, you get to ‘El Gouna’.
El Gouna is a private, gated city that lies pretty close to Hurghada, and is famous for the vast amount of yachts on its marinas, large expat presence, upscale dining and nightlife options, in addition to a big kite surfing scene. Again, accommodation-wise, lots of options to choose from, Airbnb or hotels. El Gouna is also home to several international events, such as film festivals, music festivals and art exhibitions.
Comes after that the city of Hurghada. Used to be a gem back in the day, now became a lot more overpopulated and sadly built. Resort type of travelers started drifting a few kilometers south to ‘Sahl Hashish’ which is becoming more trendy and hosting a lot events year long. However, not dismissing the fact that you should visit Hurghada if you want to have a local feel of what a coastal city in Egypt is like.
Meanwhile, containing a large port where yachts can be taken for fishing trips, scuba diving excursions, etc. It’s considered one of the main hubs for these leave aboard type of boat trips, in addition to containing an international airport.
Marsa Alam (Zone 3)
Hours south of Hurghada, life still continues with magnificent sceneries and beaches. About two hours south of Hurghada, you reach Qusseir. As a town, Qusseir has not much to offer, but many dive resorts are found in this area. Usually all-inclusive, so you’re diving all day, dining on sight and not finding time to leave the resort.
The area that comes after that is Marsa Alam, home of the famous Elphinstone dive site. Here, the diving gets more intense and exciting. The accommodation options here change as well, with more eco-friendly and simple options found. You will find some resorts, nevertheless. Among the dive sites to look for in addition to Elphinstone are Long Canyon and Abu Dabbab.
Daily excursions can be taken to go swim with the dolphins at ‘Samadai’, or hidden beaches as ‘El Nayzak’. An international airport is available at ‘Port Ghalib’, which is pretty close to Marsa Alam.
Hamata is next, although I need to mention a national park that lies between Marsa Alam and Hamata. Named ‘Wadi el Gemal’, or valley of the camels, the protected area contains some of the best beaches I’ve seen in Egypt. Must visits are ‘Hankorab’ and ‘Qulaan’. I will let the photos do the talking.
A proper beach day can be spent at Hankorab, where the local bedouins can accommodate any food or drink requests, in additional to renting snorkeling equipment to explore the magnificent house reef.
The bedouin tent at ‘Qulaan’ is a place wind down from the heat, while sipping on some tea and coffee, crafted bedouin-style. Depending on the tide, you can either swim or walk to a world-famous large mangrove tree. Mangrove trees are known to favor saline conditions.
Ok, so now we get to Hamata, which is about 20 minutes south of ‘Wadi el Gemal’. Not many options to choose from here for accommodation, but that’s wonderful, as it keeps the area low key.
Spot on diving here, and to many experts, they suggest this is how Marsa Alam used to be back in the day. Dive sites to look for are Satayah, Claudia, Malahi and, Abu Galawa (which is a shipwreck).
Sinai (Zone 4)
We’ve made it that far in the post and still have not even scratched the surface of the gems in Egypt. Sinai is next! Kite surfer? Ras Sedr and Dahab (plus Blue Lagoon). Scuba Diver? Sharm el Sheikh (plus Ras Mohamed) and Dahab. Trekker/Hiker? Saint Catherine. Rock climber? Wadi Genai. Just about chilling, no activities? Nuweiba (including Ras Shitan).
Sinai peninsula is the only region of Egypt that lies in the Asian continent. The main airport that services the region is located in Sharm el Sheikh. Sharm el Sheikh itself is the largest city on the peninsula, most known for its heavy resort presence, alongside world renowned night clubs. In years preceding the 2011 revolution, the city was a quite popular winter destination for Europeans and locals. Since the revolution, the crowd changed and so did the night scene. For morning activities however, you can still do a lot, most notably the scuba diving trip excursions.
Many dive centers are available and can accommodate these requests. Shore diving, however, is almost non existent; you will need to go on yacht trips to the dive sites. Among the famous ones, Shark & Yolanda and Thistlegorm (which is one of the best wreck dives in the world).
Driving one hour north of Sharm el Sheikh you will get to Dahab. A pretty bohemian, laidback atmosphere, with great dining options, and world class diving. Dahab has been and still is one of the hottest diving towns in the world. Home to the popular blue hole, and several top dive sites in the world such as ‘The Canyon’ and ‘The Bells’, diving there is not to be skipped. Luckily, there is not much current, so the visibility underwater is top notch and the coral formations are exquisite.
While in Dahab, short trips can be taken to ‘Wadi Genai’ for rock climbing and hiking. Other trips to ‘Ras Abo Galoum’ and ‘Blue Lagoon’ are possible by boats leaving from the blue hole, although hiking there is also possible (takes 90 minutes to Ras Abo Galoum and an extra hour or so to Blue Lagoon).
Saint Catherine is another popular town in Sinai, due to its religious significance. The Saint Catherine monastery is built at the base of ‘Mount Sinai’ or ‘Jebel Musa’, the mountain where Moses is believed to have received the Ten Commandments.
At the mountain’s summit, some bedouin camps are available for accommodation and refreshments. You can also abandon the idea of sleeping in a hut, and wake up like this:
Let’s talk about Blue Lagoon for a moment, which is specifically popular among kite surfers. Accommodation is very simple; huts with mats on the ground and don’t expect hot water to shower. Not for the basics out there 💁🏽♂️.
Catching a pickup truck from Blue Lagoon is possible that can get you to Nuweiba. Another place worth checking if you have time and want to wind down after all the activities you got yourself into.
Moving on to ‘Ras Sedr’. Imagining Sinai peninsula as a ‘V’, all of the above lies on the right branch of the ‘V’. Ras Sedr is on the top of the left branch. So, it is out of the way, although buses going there can be found in Dahab or Sharm el Sheikh. Ras Sedr is about two hours from Cairo, and is a world-famous destination for kite surfing, due to the daily windy conditions. It’s possible to surf there everyday of the year.
Luxor/Aswan (Zone 5)
We’ve been talking heavily about the beaches, and from a history stand point, we touched on the famous Pyramids of Giza and other neighboring pyramids. But think of ‘Upper Egypt’ or the southern parts of Egypt as an open museum. I tried to research how many temples are in Egypt but couldn’t find a definitive answer. If I were to guess, probably hundreds. I would say 10-20 of them are in extraordinary condition and are to be visited. I’m going to go over ones that I’ve visited during two trips to Upper Egypt.
First, let me explain why it’s called Upper Egypt, even though the region lies at the bottom of the country, when you look at a map. The ancient Egyptians observed that the water on the River Nile is flowing down to Giza from the south. So, they assumed the southern parts to be more elevated, hence upper. Correct analogy by the Pharaohs.
Let’s work our way North to South. Or down-up as the Pharaohs would say.
It is said that Luxor has one third of the ancient monuments in the world. How accurate is that? I don’t know, but there is definitely a ton load of stuff to see there. The River Nile divides the city into two, the main temples on the East side of the city, and the tombs on the West side.
The pharaohs did that on purpose, as the sun sets in the west, and so should the tombs, as a reference to the end of life. And vice versa for the temples. However, you will still find some temples on the west side. There are also a few temples that have been found in recent years, buried under the ground, but excavation works have not started. A local in Luxor told me that we have probably found/excavated less than 50% of what is actually there. Impressive.
Where most of the luxurious hotels are, the main city center, market, in addition to the temples. The main two temples that cannot be missed on the east side are ‘Karnak Temple’ and ‘Luxor Temple’, with the latter open till late.
The way tourists do it is visit the Karnak Temple in the morning and Luxor Temple in the late afternoon/early evening. The sun setting in the Nile can be viewed from Luxor Temple, so it’s typically where you want to end your day. However, everybody thinks the same, so expect larger crowds if you do it in that order; that’s the downside.
Karnak is a complex consisting of several temples, pylons and chapels, and Egyptologists believe that it has been worked on during the reign of several kings. It was all during the new kingdom, however. The complex consists of four main parts, Amun-Re, Mut, Montu and Amenhotep IV temple. The latter has been dismantled, only ruins can be found. Without going into too much details, here are a couple of Wikipedia pages, one on Karnak temple and the other on Egyptian Gods, to familiarize yourself before going. Hiring a guide can be beneficial, although I’d recommend a professional private one to escape large crowded areas.
Luxor temple was regarded as a festive temple, which hosted the Opet festival. Covered statues of the Gods were carried between both temples, Karnak and Luxor, through the ‘Avenue of the Sphinxes’, which is still intact. The festival usually involved the recoronation ceremony of the Pharaoh.
The accommodation on this side is more simple, bohemian and the general feel is a country-side feel. If you stay on the east side, you can take a boat across the Nile to get west. It costs no more than 20 LE ($1). Here there’s a lot to see. It can take two days to check the main attractions out, although one day is still possible.
Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Hatshepsut Temple, Habu Temple are a must. Additionally, I came across the Noble tombs on my last visit, and they are incredible. Not a lot of foot traffic there, so usually you’re all alone and the energy cannot be explained.
Make time for Habu temple as well, since most tour agencies skip it, and that’s exactly why you should go. On your way to all these attractions, you come across standing statues, some ruins and temples. If you have a private guide, you will be able to stop whenever and check them out.
Almost midway between Luxor and Aswan, Edfu contains a temple worth visiting if you have time.
There is no doubt that Aswan also holds some magnificent archeological sites, yet it has an edge on neighboring towns by being home to colorful Nubian villages by the Nile.
The Nubians are an ethnolinguistic group that speak a language different than Arabic, and are known to have lived in the southern regions of Egypt and northern parts of Sudan. Sparing a few days to explore their culture, cuisine, and take boat tours in the Nile is encouraged.
Philae temple is among the popular temples in Aswan, located on an island offering breathtaking views alongside the rich history. You purchase the ticket at the loading area of the boats, and once ready you take a boat there.
You can either wait for people to share the boat with or just take a private one. Always negotiate. The boat will wait for you until you finish the temple seeing and take you back to the loading area.
Some tourists find interest in visiting the high dam as well, although passing by it maybe just enough. If you decide to go to ‘Abu Simbel‘ temple south of Aswan (which I really recommend), you will pass by the dam.
About a 3 hour drive south of Aswan, Abu Simbel is one of the best temple sites to see in Egypt. Containing two temples, Ramsis II and his queen Nefertary, and located on the Nile, it’s a wonderful place to visit.
Here is a video on a tour inside the temple:
You can reach there by car/bus or plane. The airline tickets from Aswan are kind of overpriced however, so the bus or car option is recommended.
North Coast (Zone 6)
If you make it to Egypt in the summer, the north coast remains a hot destination. The party scene can get kind of pretentious and over-priced on occasions, yet you can still find good music. I’d check ResidentAdvisor.net for what’s happening. The beach, as a rule of thumb, keeps getting nicer as you move west, so closer to ‘Marsa Matrouh’ and further from Alexandria. There are lots of accommodation options along the way and you’ll find Airbnbs as well. The closest airport to that area is Borg el Arab, and Uber is available during the summer and relatively inexpensive.
If you have time to spare east, then a day to spend in Alexandria is worth it. A walk on the promenade, checking out the ‘Qaitbay Citadel’, and having superior sea food is worthwhile. The citadel lies on the far west coast of Alexandria. If you manage to make it east, ‘Montazah Park’ is a rare occurrence of greenery, right on the coast.
Oasis (Zone 7)
I have not been to the Oasis, still. I had a plan to make it to Siwa last time around, but could not due to family emergencies. Look up Siwa, it’s one of the best Oasis to visit. I plan to update this section as soon as I make it to these oasis.
To Sum Up