Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Egypt has always been on my ultimate bucket list because of the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Since childhood, I have loved learning Egyptian history. I remember creating a diorama for a 6th grade academic fair. In 9th grade, I continued to fall in love with #Egypt as we studied the ancient river valley civilizations. Fourteen year old me sitting in the front of Global History 9 never thought that I would someday get a chance to see this in person! That dream became a reality in April 2019 with my boyfriend turned fiance during that trip.
Why Should You Travel to Egypt?
The history is unmatched! Literally thousands of years of history right in front of your face. It is amazing that all of these structures have stood the test of time.
There is more to Egypt than the pyramids and the Sphinx -- so many temples to explore, amazing museums to visit. If that is not your thing, you can sail the Nile or shop in a bazaar. So many options!
Rich culture and great hospitality!
Random Facts about Egypt:
Egypt’s history goes as far back as 3500 BC.
Egyptians invented the 365 day calendar that we know today in order to predict the year Nile River flooding
Cairo is the largest city in Africa & the Middle East with 22 million people
Egypt is the largest Arabic nation with 98 million people -- about 22% of the population is Muslim
Egypt is also known as “The Gift of the Nile”
Week Long Itinerary for Egypt: “The Gift of the Nile:"
DISCLAIMER: Due to safety concerns, we decided to opt into a fully guided tour from start to finish through Gate 1 Travel. This gave us a huge peace of mind! In addition, considering that we saw so much during a short period of time, I could not imagine organizing it all by myself! I am laying out our itinerary just in case you wish to plan a trip from scratch or you are just interested in reliving our trip!
DAY 1: Arrive in Cairo
Our journey began with a nearly 11 hour flight from New York's JFK airport overnight, landing in Cairo’s International Airport. Our guide met us at the airport before customs to make sure we get our visa. IMPORTANT: For US citizens, you need a visa to enter Egypt. The process was pretty easy as we gave our guide $25 cash plus $2 tip and they placed the self-adhesive sticker on a blank page in our passport.
From there, we were taken straight to the hotel and given some time to settle in before our orientation meeting. Unfortunately, we were so tired that we fell asleep and didn’t wake up to our alarms; missing the meeting! When we did wake up, we decided to explore the hotel and change our currency on site.
TIP: U.S. citizens can obtain a renewable single-entry 30-day tourist visa on arrival at Egyptian airports for a 25 USD fee. You must pay in cash, so make sure you have exact change put aside for this!
TIP: Have Egyptian currency on your hands as many places don't take credit cards. It’s also easier to negotiate using cash. Many people also expect tips. Therefore, it is helpful to have smaller bills in your hand.
DAY 2: Giza, Memphis & Sakkara
1. Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx
First full day of exploring! This is when we got to see and experience the most popular thing to visit in Egypt: Pyramids and #Sphinx of #Giza. Interestingly, there are about eighty ancient pyramids. In Giza specifically, there are major three pyramids in the complex: the #GreatPyramid (most well known) that was built for the Pharaoh Khufu and then the Pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure. Impressively, this is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one that is still mainly intact! The area surrounding the pyramids is not what I expected (seemed anticlimactic), but just standing at the foot of the overpowering pyramids had a huge WOW factor. I had to remind myself several times that this is real! From there, we drove a short distance to the Sphinx. Can you believe it is carved out of one massive piece of limestone?
TIP: If someone offers to help you, they are expecting a tip 99% of the time. They will make it appear that they are doing you a favor. However, they will then try to overly charge you for such services. Stay strong, resist, and keep it moving! If you need a photo, ask a tourist or be ready to pay extra costs!
2. Tour of Memphis
Our next stop was Memphis, which is about 45 minutes from Cairo. Did you know that Memphis was the capital of Ancient Egypt? Founded around 3100 B.C. during the 1st dynasty, it was actually the first capital after Upper and Lower Egypt unified and continued to be the capital during the Old Kingdom.
The main highlight in Memphis today is the Open Air Museum. The biggest attraction is an enormous statue of King Ramses II, which is about 34ft/10m long! Carved out of limestone, it takes up the entire room that it is stored in, even though its feet are missing. Outside, you can find a giant Sphinx, made from alabaster and weighing over 80 tons. There are also many other artifacts, especially since there has been archaeological excavations happening for the past 200 years.
TIP: If this is out of your way, you can skip this. After 15-20 minutes, I was ready to leave the site since there is not much to see aside from the enormous statue, the Sphinx and some artifacts.
3. Tour of Sakkara
Before the Pyramids of Giza was the Step Pyramid dedicated to King Djoser, dating back to 2700BC. You can find this pyramid in Sakkara (also spelled Saqqara). Initially intended to be a tomb, it was built with 6 steps gradually getting smaller as the steps ascend. While there are hundreds of tombs (making it one of the most extensive Egyptian archaeological sites), the Step Pyramid is significant for being one of the oldest stone structures in the entire world! It is also the first Egyptian structure using limestone! 4700 years later, it is still standing tall! WOW, wow, wow.
DAY 3 - Aswan
As part of this fast paced tour, we flew to Aswan bright and early -- a 1 hr, 25 min flight! Aswan is Egypt’s southernmost city and the third sunniest place in the world! Our first stop was the Aswan High Dam, one of the world’s largest dams. Originally built in the 1960s, the dam was built to stop immense flooding from the Nile River.
The main highlight on Day 3 was Philae Temple, which you must reach by motorboat. The Greek term Philae (Pilak in ancient Egypt) actually means “the end,” which refers to the fact that this island is located on the southernmost tip of Egypt. As we approached by motorboat, the air was cool and the scenery was breathtaking. It was an Egypt that one does not typically see on social media or on the news. Catching my eye was the beautiful Temple of Isis, the Goddess of health, marriage, and wisdom and “Mother of God.” In the complex, there are also temples for the gods Horus and Osiris. In fact, it is believed that the temple was the burial site for Osiris.
Being able to see Philae Temple is simply astounding once you know the effort it took to rescue it. In 1902, the construction of the Aswan Low Dam caused Philae Island and the temple complex to flood for most of the year. You were able to explore partially submerged ruins by rowboat and they strengthened the foundation to withstand the flood damage annually. However, the color of the temple began to wash away. In the mid 1900s, Aswan High Dam needed to be built because of the continued rising waters. It was realized that action needed to be taken in order to save this complex. As a result, the dam was built surrounding Philae Island and the inside of the island was pumped dry. Next, every stone block of the temple was labeled and removed. These stones were then put together like a giant jigsaw puzzle on Agilkia island, which is on higher ground. It may have taken 10 years to do this, but the project saved this beautiful temple for a lifetime!
It is worth visiting this temple complex! I would recommend leaving plenty of time to walk around as there are so many nooks and crannies. There are also great views since the complex is surrounded by water.
TIP: It is helpful to have a tour guide or read up on the history of the Philae Temple in order to truly appreciate it as a magnificent feat! I highly encourage you to see both the beauty of the temple and the relaxing ride by boat on the Nile River.
DAY 4: Abu Simbel, Nile Cruise Embarkation
1. Abu Simbel
Continuing this fast paced tour, we caught a super super early flight to Abu Simbel -- we woke up at 3 AM to leave by 4:15 AM to get to the airport by 5 AM to catch a 7 AM flight. By 10:45 AM, we were flying back! The scenery outside the flight window is impeccable as all you can see is dessert and patches of water.
Abu Simbel is a village further south from Aswan, only 40km north of the Sudanese border. The temples at this small village used to be located down the hill, facing the Nile. However, the rising waters of Lake Nasser caused the area to be underwater. Similar to the Philae temple, they cut the temple into stone cubes, moved them uphill and then reassembled the temples.
When you get to Abu Simbel, you will find two massive temples for Ramses II and his wife Queen Nefertari. It is believed that they were created with such massive sizes to scare enemies. However, I also think that it was a way to show off too (from what I know about Ramses II, haha).
TIP: Prioritize visiting Abu Simbel! You will understand why the minute you are close and personal to these over towering temples. Inside, the walls have details of carvings and hieroglyphics that are worth admiring. One of my biggest highlights on this trip!
TIP: Abu Simbel only needs to be a day trip from Aswan. By plane, it's faster but more money, while land is slower, but cheaper. Egypt Air is the only airline that offers flights to Abu Simbel. They are direct flights that are super fast. From the airport, there is a free bus service to the complex, which was included in the price with the flight.
2. Aswan Felucca Ride
Another highlight of this trip was the felucca ride down the Nile River. A felucca is a traditional sailboat of Egypt that is used along the Nile River. Although it was a short ride, about an hour, I enjoyed the views, the river breeze from being on the water, and the entertainment onboard. We even danced on board to Egyptian music!
TIP: There are many types of felucca rides. Some are more luxurious than others; some have overnight experiences. Therefore, investigate the type of experience that you want!
3. Embarking on Nile Cruise
Our day ended with embarking on our Nile Cruise ship, where we would spend the next 3 days, 3 nights. This was my first time on a cruise ever, so this was extra exciting for me. It was super convenient to have our meals on the cruise, which was quite tasty. There was also nightly entertainment, but nowhere near the same level as a big cruise ship. I appreciated the views from the rooftop as I got to see the variety of scenery of Egypt that you do not see typically showcased. The cruise was used as a means of transporting us from city to city. Typically, we would stop in a city so we can explore the area and then sail again in the afternoon into the next morning.
DAY 5: Kom Ombo & Edfu Temples, Cruise to Luxor
Waking up to the sunrise on the water through our window was such a beautiful sight! A great way to start our day.
1. Kom Ombo Temple
Our first stop was the Greco-Roman temple of Kom Ombo. The eastern half of the temple is dedicated to Horus, the falcon sky and creator god while the western half of the temple is dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god of fertility. Ancient Egyptians worshipped Sobek to not only promote fertility for people and crops, but to also protect themselves against actual crocodiles in the Nile River.
Interestingly, there is a Crocodile Museum next to the temple where you can look at mummies of different sized crocodiles discovered around the temples. Apparently, as many as 300 crocodile mummies were discovered. I could have passed on this part, haha!
I found this temple to be impressive because of the carvings on the walls, ceilings, and columns themselves; all of which depict a range of things from hieroglyphs, deities, kings and queens, and several Roman emperors.
2. Edfu Temple
The other major stop was the Temple of Horus in Edfu-- halfway between Aswan and Luxor. We sailed to Edfa and reached the temple by horse carriages! That was quite an experience and a unique way to see the Egyptian streets.
This temple is dedicated to Horus, the falcon Sky god, as evident through the many falcon statues in the temple complex. This is considered to be the most preserved Egyptian temple, since it did not suffer destruction from Nile floods because it was built above the river valley . Built over a 180 year period, it was one of the last temples built at such a grand scale. You will be in awe by the many inscriptions on the walls, giving lots of information on the religion, language, and myth during the Hellenistic period in Egypt.
DAY 6: West Bank & East Bank
Another day, more temples! They are all unique in their own ways but it is definitely hard to keep track of all its history. Today, we squeezed in both the West Bank and East Bank, which was intense because there are so many temples, especially in the West Bank. The East and West bank are a result of the Nile River splitting Luxor into two parts. In the East Bank, most Egyptians live and work while in the West Bank many ancient Egyptians buried the dead. Both have great things to offer!
TIP: If you are able to, I would visit the West Bank and East Bank on separate days so that you can take in the sites more, not feel rushed, or exhausted (especially in the intense heat).
Our first excursion was the West Bank, where you can find the Valley of Kings and Queens, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and the Colossi of Memnon. Clearly, lots of historical sites to visit!
1. The Valley of Kings
A royal burial ground for pharaohs who ruled Egypt between 1539 and 1075 BC, there are many famous pharaohs from this time period including Tutankhamun, Ramses II, Tuthmosis III, and Seti I. The valley has about 65 tombs that have been excavated (labelled with KV1 to KV65, KV standing for Kings Valley) . Tombs were carved deep into the earth and in this far away location so tombs and treasures would be safe from robbers, unlike the Pyramids of Giza. Within the Valley of kings, there is an East and West valley, with most tombs in the East Valley.
HELPFUL to know: In order to get to the tombs, you take a 3 minute tram ride. From here, you take an uphill walk to get to the entrances of the tombs. There are 8 open tombs, but with your ticket, you can visit three other tombs.
KV1 – Ramesses VII
KV2 – Ramesses IV
KV6 – Ramesses IX
KV8 – Merenptah
KV11 – Ramesses III
KV14 – Tausert-Setnakht
KV15 – Seti II
KV47 – Siptah
There are three additional tombs that you can visit with an extra ticket. We paid to see King Tut's tomb because when in Egypt...
KV9 – Ramesses V & VI 100 EGP per person
KV17 – Seti I 1,000 EGP per person
KV62 – Tutankhamun 300 EGP per person
2. Temple of Hatshepsut
The next stop was the Temple of Hatshepsut, who was Egypt’s longest-reigning female ruler (20 years) and had to portray herself as a man. This temple was her most famous architectural achievement and is quite unique when compared to other temples. There are three terraces connected with long ramps and steps.
TIP: Pace yourself here as there are lots of steps and lots of sun. There is a shuttle that brings you a little closer if you want. You may want to use this shuttle to save your energy for climbing up the lots of steps to the higher terrace.
3. Valley of Queens
In comparison to the Valley of Kings, they did the Queens dirty! The Valley of Queens is the burial site for many of the wives of pharaohs. Roads are unpaved, no trams to take you closer. The tombs are smaller.
In the afternoon, we toured the East Bank of Luxor, which contains two of Egypt’s most important sites, the Luxor and Karnak Temple.
1. Karnak Temple
Dating back over 3,000 years, this temple is unique in many ways with the avenue of Sphinxes -- a symbol of the god Amun, which comprises over 100 massive sandstone columns and an obelisk similar to the Washington monument. Whether you look up or around, you will catch yourself in a gaze of awe. No wonder it is the 2nd most visited site in Egypt after the Pyramids and Sphinx of Giza. This is also the second largest temple complex in the world, behind the Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
TIP: Be sure to take time to walk through the 134 columns as different angles give different views and details, great for photos!
2. Luxor Temple
Luxor Temple appears to be a smaller version of Karnak Temple. This temple appears to have been the location of crowning of many pharoahs, versus their burial. This temple was built in 1400 BC, mainly by Amenhotep III and Ramesses II. One of the most notable things are the two enormous statues of Ramesses II that guard the temple!
DAY 7: Cairo
This was our last full day in Cairo *tear tear* From Luxor, we left our cruise ship and took a flight back to Cairo. There were 3 main stops for the day:
1. Egyptian Museum
This is a must see! Although there are about 120,000 items on display, there are more Egyptian artifacts outside of Egypt than in the country because of theft *calling you out European countries* (although this is still the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts). One of the most memorable items is King Tutankhamun’s 11kg gold mask , which is in a room with security. You cannot take pictures! There is also what feels like an infinite number of statues, jewelry, and treasures.
TIP: It is SUPER crowded - from the lines outside to get in to visit once you are inside. It is helpful to have a tour guide to point out some of the most important items and give context because there is just too much to see!
TIP: You can easily spend hours in this museum. If you love museums, you may want to just carve out the entire day to walk around.
2. Khan El Khalili Bazaar
Looking to shop? Here is a spot. You can easily get overwhelmed by the number of stalls selling souvenirs, copper, brass ware, leather, perfumes, and antiques. There are several coffeehouses, restaurants, and street food vendors throughout.
TIP: Be focused as you will come out spending a lot more than you planned! Also, make sure to bargain for any purchase.
3. Sound & Light Show at the Pyramids
I am just including this to say: DON’T DO IT - it’s a tourist trap! Although it was cool to see the pyramids at sunset, the show itself was disappointing (although it did give a lot of historical narrative). We could have relaxed more at the hotel. However, we did conclude our evening with a delicious Italian dinner at a beautiful restaurant conveniently at the hotel.
DAY 8: Depart Egypt
On the last day, we had an early breakfast at 5 AM at the hotel and headed straight to the airport for our 9:20 AM flight. This was the saddest part -- to leave. Tons of memories and stories to last a lifetime, especially our engagement :-).
We had an amazing tour guide (Neveen) who was super experienced and sweet. Having a female Egyptian guide is a rarity as this profession is frowned upon for women in this culture since you are always on the move. She was super passionate and her story of obstacles to get to this position was nothing short of inspiring!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
TRANSPORTATION: How do I get to and around Egypt?
From NYC JFK, you can get a direct flight on EgyptAir to Cairo International Airport. However, that can cost $1000+. There are cheaper options starting around $750. Our flight was included in our tour package, so I am unsure of how much it cost for that trip.
In Egypt, I highly recommend getting a tour guide with transportation to take you around. You can book day excursions if you do not want to be on a tour for the entire time. Personally, Egypt is hard to plan for on your own.
On our tour, we were constantly escorted by a police officer following our tour bus and an officer riding our bus for double security.
LODGING: Where should I stay in Egypt?
These were the hotels we stayed at in different cities:
Cairo: Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino -- this was a massive hotel with everything you need. It was clean, spacious, and beautifully decorated. You can change your currency there. There was a delicious bakery and many great restaurant options! Also, the food they served for breakfast was great (I appreciated that they had an omelette station)! Because we were always on the move, we did not get to truly appreciate everything the hotel had to offer.
Aswan: Movenpick Resort Aswan -- I had no idea Egypt had resorts, so this was a pleasant surprise! I recall that we had to get on a small boat to reach the resort at Elephantine Island. We had great views from the balcony of the water and sunset. Similarly, I wished I had more time to truly enjoy the resort!
Cruise for 3 Days: MS Queen of Hansa Cruise: This was not one of the newest or most luxurious ships, but it did the job. I loved the views from the rooftop. I also loved the food they served for breakfast and dinner. The ship itself could use some updates, however.
FOOD: Where should I eat in Cairo? What are the national dishes to try?
Since we ate a lot at hotels or buffets, here is the one recommendation I can give you for food -- try the Falafel at Gad, an Egyptian fast food restaurant. It was truly one of the best falafel we have ever tasted. My fiance is picky and loved it! It was SUPER tasty and fresh in a sesame seed pita pocket. Unlike most of the Middle East where falafel is made with ground chickpeas, in Egypt it is made with dried fava beans!
OTHER: What should I keep in mind when p