It's easy to see why Egypt is a popular holiday destinations. It's hot, flights and packages from Britain are affordable, and it offers a multitude of attractions and activities ranging from exploring the ancient sights of Cairo and Luxor to beach-lounging along Alexandria's Mediterranean coastline to scaling the 2,285 metre-high Mount Sinai.
Here we round up the best places to visit.
Cairo and Alexandria
First-time visitors to the sprawling, bustling city of Cairo usually gaze on in wonder at the frenetic activity in the bazaars, the busy streetlife and the Islamic architecture. With approximately 15 million residents, it’s Africa’s biggest city. It’s easy to organise trips to see the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, as well as the Egyptian Museum that houses Tutankhamun’s tomb and its treasures. By contrast, Alexandria, founded in 331 BC, and which occupies a 20-kilometre strip along the Mediterranean coast, is Egypt’s second city and feels more cosmopolitan with its colonial-style architecture, beaches and restaurants, not to mention its illustrious ancient past. It’s easy to take the train between the two cities.
Stretching from the Suez Canal in the north to Sudan in the south, the Red Sea is some 1,250 kilometres long and flanked with superb beaches, mountains and desert. The tranquil resorts of Marsa Alam, El Quseir and Port Ghalib on the west coast of the Red Sea east of Luxor boast beaches, mountain backdrops and nightlife (largely hotel-based). These resorts lack the crowds you’ll find at other more popular choices (such as Sharm el Sheikh), making the area a savvy choice if you’re after a more laid-back vibe. Red Sea diving and snorkelling is the obvious activity here, but you can also arrange a Jeep safari to the Eastern Desert. Be warned: it can get very hot here; if you prefer cooler climes, opt to visit in the winter months, when temperatures are in the mid-20s.
Luxor, on the east bank of the Nile, has been attracting visitors for thousands of years. Built on the site of the ancient Egyptian capital Thebes, it’s home to some of the world’s most important archaeological sights (be warned that the crowds can be a little overwhelming). Luxor Temple, founded by Amenophis III circa 1400 BC, is the city’s most popular attraction; the tombs of the Valley of the Kings – where Tutankhamun was buried – are nothing short of impressive. And if you need a break from the ruins, you can arrange hot-air ballooning or a one-day Nile cruise. The best months to visit, weather-wise, are October to February.
Egypt’s Western Desert, which extends to Libya on the west, Sudan on the south and the Nile on its east, is a vast expanse that covers approximately two thirds of the country. It makes for an adventurous holiday for intrepid travellers. The only sensible way to get to see this arid part of Egypt is by booking an organised trek. The Adventure Company runs a ten-day Desert Explorer group trip travelling by camel and Jeep that begins and ends in Cairo and includes desert camps, visits to empty desert villages, a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Valley of the Whales to see 40 million-year-old fossils, the tomb of Alexander the Great and a donkey ride to the Valley of the Kings from Luxor.
At 2,285 metres high, an ascent of Mount Sinai – where Moses received the Ten Commandments – is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s hard to beat the incredible sense of achievement and sensational views when you reach the summit. World Expeditions’ 11-day Sinai Trek begins in Cairo and, after a day acclimatising and visiting the Pyramids at Giza, you begin the hiking element. The company employs Bedouin guides and camels to carry your stuff as you spend five days walking through the surrounding landscape and hills. The hiking culminates with a pre-dawn start – the reward is watching the sunrise from the top of Mount Sinai.