Egypt boasts a melting pot of ancient civilisations, impressive pharaonic temples, rambling metropolises and unique religious and cultural antiquities alongside fertile green valleys which stretch across the vast desert reaches.
I cannot say that there is one single region that has a hold on me more than any other. There are so many reasons to embark upon a holiday to Egypt; it is a magical country that holds treasures within her vast desert landscapes, a land that captivates the imagination through her magnificent temples and ancient Gods, a country that shares the beauty of fertile valleys fed by the waters of the Nile River, her cities are a vibrant melting pot of old and new, topped with coastal waters that offer some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world.
Here is a selection of some of my personal favourites which stand out to me because of the cultural and historical fascination they hold.
The city of Cairo was founded in 2,000 BC and is today one of Africa’s largest metropolitan areas - the largest in the Middle East and the 15th largest in the world - and is without a doubt somewhere that should be on everyone’s “must see” list.
To immerse yourself in the history of Cairo is an assault on the senses. On my last visit I found I was almost overwhelmed by the contrasts of modern Cairo and the cultural history one can find here. The congestion of the traffic and the intricate passageways of old bazaars where exotic smells flood one’s nostrils blend with the 120,000 antiquities of the ancient world housed in the Egyptian Museum.
Then let’s not forget the only surviving monument of the original Seven Wonders of the World - the incredible Great Pyramid of Giza – which left me breathless before we had even ventured further afield.
The ancient pyramids were built for the Pharaohs Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus and were constructed about 2500 BC with immense blocks of limestone. The Great Pyramid of Cheops alone required over 2,300,000 blocks each weighing about 2.5 tons! Just to the east of the 2nd pyramid lies the legendary Sphinx, whose human face is thought to represent that of Chephren, acting as the guardian of the Pharaoh’s enormous funerary monument.
Our exploration of central Cairo, to the El Azhar area, was equally giddying. El Azhar houses three cultural centres and was originally built in 1504AD. Wekalet El-Goury Cultural Center started out as a caravanserai, an inn for weary traders, and after a restoration project in 2005 the building is now a stunning arts centre home to the world-famous Tannoura Egyptian Heritage Dance Troupe.
We enjoyed a tour of the courtyard where dance performances are held in the evenings, the upper rooms which are now artists’ ateliers and the former stables which are now craft shops were well worth a visit. I recommend you take some time to wander around and absorb the atmosphere, listen to the oriental music and perhaps enjoy a coffee or a bite to eat.
Once you have had your fill of the pyramids and enjoyed a night out revelling in spectacular whirling dervishes I’d highly recommend a tour of Old & Coptic Cairo.
This highly spiritual area is a maze of ancient and modern churches and monasteries such as the Babylon Fortress, the Hanging Church as well as the Greek Church of St. George with some of these incredible buildings dating back to the 6th century BC. This area is believed to have been the place where the Holy Family visited and stayed and provides any visitor with a fascinating insight between the decline of the pharaonic religion and the arrival of Islam.
Often referred to as the world’s greatest open air museum, Luxor is the most dramatic historical site in Egypt. Home to more than half of all Egyptian antiquities, the town has a village atmosphere and a bustling local market, as well as an astonishing collection of ancient temples and relics including the Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kings, Colossi of Memnon and the Temple of Luxor.
In my opinion, one of the most impressive of all sites to visit in Luxor has to be the Valley of the Kings. 63 magnificent tombs and chambers dominate the valley. Standing next to these colossal structures that dwarf mankind you cannot help but gape, open mouthed, at what lies before you.
Pharaohs of Egypt’s Old Kingdom were once buried in the Pyramids of Giza and the Nile Delta but during Egypt's New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.), the Valley of the Kings found favour instead. The valley became a royal burial ground for pharaohs such as Tutankhamun, Seti I, and Ramses II, as well as queens, high priests, and other elites of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties who wished to be closer to the source of their dynastic roots of the South.
A holiday to Egypt is not complete without a cruise down the iconic Nile River, passing ancient cities that grace the banks of the river. This is truly a wonderful way to slow down the pace of life and witness everyday life of the Egyptian people who live here. Cruises down the Nile start either in Aswan and end in Luxor, or vice versa.
The luxury and glamourous 5* Nile cruises are for many travellers a ‘must-do’. The vessels are simply exquisite and the accommodation is second to none, with wonderful on-board activities and sublime cuisine with expert Egyptologist guides educating you with their vast knowledge.
However, I prefer a more personal experience, so we opted to sail by dahabiya on a private charter journey. Stepping onto a traditional dahabiya with our own personal small crew and the wind in the sails (there are no motors on these cruise vessels) is a classical and magical way to explore local villages and idyllic islands in a truly traditional Egyptian way!
These vessels are smaller than the large modern cruise ships and far easier to manoeuvre, so one can sail to less accessible monuments and the experience becomes even more personal. One really fun activity to take part in is to join the chef on a food market tour. It is a brilliant way to learn about traditional food products and your senses are heightened with the exotic smells and tastes before you head back to the boat for your Egyptian cooking class!
Egypt’s sunniest southern city and ancient frontier town holds one of the most beautiful spots along the Nile, where the pace of life is quiet and gentle. I could spend hours just sitting watching the sailboats glide past! My favourite thing to do here is to head to the Cultural Center where every night, Nubian dancers and musicians perform. They recreate scenes from village life as well as perform the famous Nubian mock stick-fight dances!
Another site that is well-worth a visit is Elephantine Island, the largest island in the Aswan area and also one of the most ancient sites in Egypt with artefacts dating to pre-dynastic times. The ruins of Abu on the island tend to be forgotten by tourists which makes it the perfect place to explore.
Whilst other structures such as the Valley of the Kings and the Pyramids where dedicated to the deceased, Abu remained a thriving town for thousands of years and it provides a real insight into what Egyptian society was like through the ages.
Another awe-inspiring historical site in Egypt is Abu Simbel near Lake Nasser. These temples, hewn directly into the rock during the 13th century BCE (a feat taking over 20 years to complete) are remote and astounding! Even more fascinating is that they were painstakingly removed from their original position and reconstructed on higher ground in the 1960's to avoid losing them to the flood waters when Lake Nasser was created.
The beauty of Egypt exists in the choice of a number of different accommodation options. From luxury hotels to traditional dahabiyas (or luxury boats, depending on your preference) cruising up the iconic Nile River to Bedouin tents by desert oases, there truly is something for everyone who is planning a luxury holiday to this special country.
Staying in any of Egypt’s major cities, Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Alexandria you are presented with many of the world’s leading hotel brands such as Hilton, Four Seasons and Sofitel all offering top class accommodation, service and cuisine. Among these top brand hotels, gems such as the fabulous Al Moudira Hotel in Luxor makes the magic of Arabian Nights come alive.
Located on the west bank of the Nile close to the Valley of the Kings, this remote boutique hotel is set amid rolling countryside and rustic courtyards. Adorned with Egyptian antiques and artefacts sourced from the souks of Cairo, Al Moudira is a quirky hotel with bounds of character and style, featuring exquisite soaring domes, mosaic floors and murals.
Fabulous courtyards and its 200 sqm swimming pool with its columns and fountains integrate perfectly into the garden's greenery and is the perfect place to relax and enjoy your surroundings.
Although Egypt is a year-round destination, the summer season (May to September) is hot and can make being outside unpleasant, however this being said, air-conditioned hotels, fewer tourists and lower prices maybe just the enticement you need to travel during this time. River cruises at this time of the year are pleasant due a bit of a breeze on the Nile.
Visiting Egypt is really best done between October and April when the temperatures are cooler but still pleasantly warm across the country. The cooler temperatures make exploring the hustle and bustle of Cairo, the incredible Pyramids and tombs in the desert a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience.
“Egypt is full of dreams, mysteries and memories” – Janet Erskine Stuart
If you would like more information about adventures in Africa or, indeed, private sailing experiences whether around Africa and the Indian Ocean, Asia or Latin America, please do feel free to contact me. Or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.
This blog was originally posted on 11th November 2019 and updated and republished in July 2021
Images kindly provided courtesy of and copyright to Sanctuary Retreats and the Al Moudira Hotel.