There is a certain unshakable mystique to Egypt. In the last 4,000 years, the country has witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations, suffered the conquest of foreign powers, and seen both unimaginable riches and crushing poverty. Its name alone is evocative to the contemporary imagination. Just scratch the surface and you’ll find it is teeming with a mesmerizing beauty and history. Here is a guide to the land of the pharaohs, artfully blending modern culture with ancient history, to make for an ultimate Egyptian getaway in eight perfect days.
DAY 1-2: CAIRO
Two days in Cairo is perfect for those who want to see only the best the city has to offer. Spend a morning touring the Egyptian National Museum to catch a glimpse of King Tutankhamun’s iconic death mask and the mummified pharaohs, but make sure to leave time for the Khan el-Khalili Souk, where the turbaned men smoking shisha pipes and winding alleyways evoke a distinctly “Arabian Nights” air.
For those looking to learn more about ancient times, the excellent Djed Egypt Travel Company (djedegypt.com, +202 23959124) provides informative tour guides and tailored tours of Egypt. You can spend your second day visiting the step pyramids and of course, the great Pyramids of Giza. It is well worth the price (around $10 USD) to climb into the heart of this 4,000 year old structure and feel the unnerving spirit of a thousand year old mummy haunting its empty chambers. Alternatively, opt for the camel rides around the Pyramids and Sphinx for a great photo opportunity!
While in Cairo, don’t miss a meal at Zooba (+202 33453980) in the edgy Zamalek neighborhood for cheap and delicious koshari (a traditional pasta dish), or taamiye (the classic Egyptian falafel). If you’re looking for more upscale dining, head to the Mena House Hotel, (menahousehotel.com, +202 33773222), where you can enjoy mezze while overlooking the Pyramids for real luxury.
DAY 3-4: LUXOR
Anyone looking to soak up the ancient Egyptian history cannot miss this city, which was once the seat of Egypt’s pharaohs. Luxor houses one of the most impressive and important ancient Egyptian sites, the Temple of Karnak. The sheer magnitude of the temple demands contemplation of the power, glory and ingenuity of ancient Egyptians. Many visitors are awed into a stunned silence roaming around the enormous structures that have somehow persevered while so much of human creation has crumbled. Give yourself time to explore the sprawling ruins of the temple and get lost in the hieroglyphs around you.
However, most important in Luxor is the Valley of the Kings, where treasure lurks below ground. The brilliantly colored murals and underground tombs create an eerie atmosphere and an almost-spiritual tone. End your day at the popular restaurant, Sofra (sofra.com.eg, +209 52359752), a great local spot in a beautiful renovated Luxor house.
DAY 4-7: SAIL DOWN THE NILE
Sailing down the Nile River is a stand-out highlight of any trip to Egypt. Cruise down the river from Luxor to Aswan over four days in an old fashioned (but modernly renovated) Dahabiya. The Djed Egypt Tour Company has a fleet of boats with spacious rooms and a beautiful deck where you can view the desert, palm trees and water around you, while enjoying freshly prepared local foods.
The boat stops at various ancient sites and villages on the way to Aswan to give you a chance to stretch your legs and meet some local Egyptians, who will doubtlessly welcome you with an invitation for tea and a shisha.
DAY 7-8: ASWAN
Aswan is a beautiful city in the southern part of Egypt that boasts beautiful ruins, a great souk, and wonderful people. The Movenpick Hotel (movenpick.com, +209 72454455) is a good option if you’re looking for luxury. The sprawling property gives off a resort-like vibe, where an attentive team is ready to serve you at all hours of the day. While in Aswan, be sure to visit the souk, which is less hectic than its Cairo counterpart, and will give you a chance to buy souvenirs at a more leisurely pace before heading back home.