I took around 45 flights this year and apart from a few Instagram posts (okay, more than a few), I realised I should document my travels some more. And as Egypt is the last place I’ve visited, we shall start here.
Before I dig into what to do and what to see, I want to highlight how sweet and helpful were everyone I got to know tin Egypt. Starting from the guy I met on the airport shuttle to people on the streets, Egyptians projected lightness and simplicity that made any communication with them easy. I was also told they are the funniest nation in the Middle East and their comedies are bomb but unless you speak fluent Arabic, you can’t always tell (with no offence to everyone I met there). Egyptians can also really have fun and enjoy dancing a lot as they all get into their songs and sing along (plus they don’t even need alcohol for that, crazy huh?).
On top of that, everyday conversations they have with each other go further than just polite “hello” and “thank you”, Egyptians seem to be making friends everywhere they go and with a great pleasure! My introverted nature struggled big time sometimes so having a local really helped. Nevertheless, I’d point out that in poorer areas, people would pay a lot attention to tourists and dressing in moderate clothing comes in handy. However, I never felt in danger or somehow threatened, just felt a little bit more attention than normally. Not to brag, but Egyptian children can also get excited about tourists and might ask you to take pictures with them, which is so sweet and endearing, if they let you go.
In terms of culture, I noticed a lot of marriage talk. I heard about engagements and fiancées on a regular basis, rather than just casual boyfriend/girlfriend terms. But it might be just me, my friends try to live their best single lives for as long as they can. Nevertheless, it was funny to see how random people would wish you a happy marriage before anything else. However, it can get annoying if you travel with an Egyptian person as you get lots of attention from every guard and their questioning on why you travel together. Sometimes it was chill and entertaining but sometimes I wish I knew Arabic for ‘it’s really none of your business’.
Another thing before I move on to my stops, some basic info: Language Arabic but they have their own dialect and slang. Currency: Egyptian Pound and due to recent outcomes of revolution, you can really be balling on a small budget. Religion- Islam, so keep it in mind in terms of clothing and especially when visiting Mosques. Transport — it’s kinda crazy on the roads out there with no rules being followed so think about it before you rent a car. Uber is a good option as any other public transport I just couldn’t figure out.
Stop 1: Cairo
As I was staying with friends, I lived in New Cairo and it’s like 30 mins drive from the Old Cairo. And from what I was told, nobody really goes to the Old Cairo unless they really have to as everything can be found in New Cairo and everyone who is better off lives there or in adjacent areas. But if you staying in the Old Cairo, there isn’t much to see in the New one apart from a few malls and nice restaurants.
In terms of sightseeing, off any website, you’d know to see pyramids in Giza but be warned, it’s not as impressive as I hoped it will be. It is of course one of the greatest heritage sites and is amazing to visit once in your life, just bear in mind you’ll be sweating once inside the pyramid and the climb is really for nothing. There is just a small empty room at the top. Like literally. It’s a great spot for pictures tho as you drive out into the dessert with tons of tourists trying to get lame photos, very entertaining. There is a market too and you can ride camels but be careful and bargain as much as you can. After pyramids, during the sunset, you can have lunch at Marriot Mena House Hotel and it’s amazing, with a great view on pyramids. It’s a beautiful spot for pictures and the food is really good too.
Cairo is not called “the city of a thousand minarets” for no reason — there are plenty of beautiful Islamic architecture in Cairo so just wondering around the old town next to Khan Al-Khalili is great. They have tons of souvenirs and coffee shops that are quite pricey for Cairo but are really worth checking out. There is also a cool place called Naugib Mahfouz Cafe with a great atmosphere, shisha and live music, an awesome spot to chill between shopping errands. There are literally hundreds of mosques so you’ll have to do some research to decide which ones interest you the most.
I saw Ibn Tulun Mosque and it was beautiful with a famous museum just next to it. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend running there if you don’t have much time. Mohamed Ali Mosque has a great view of the city and you can wander around it to check smaller mosques and many museums, it’s more interesting and much bigger. It’s a shame not enough is done to maintain all the landmarks and it’s not taking care of. Egyptian Museum is also definitely worth checking out although it’s quite disorganised inside but you can find some local guides by the cashiers. Mummies’ room is worth paying extra for with its impressive and well preserved mummies. A little creepy but awesome to see. The museum is massive so be ready to spend at least a few hours there.
Stop 2: Alexandria
One day is enough there and I wouldn’t make it a priority if you are short on time. But it still has beautiful places and is a great way to see how people live as you drive through different districts and areas to see how architecture evolved. It looks quite different from Cairo and has more of a European vibe to it. Citadel of Qaitbay, Library of Alexandria and Montaza Palace are probably the most important landmarks. I didn’t make it inside the Library but it is worth checking it out at least from the outside. In Montaza Palace, you can spend a quite afternoon in the gardens and get some food in nearby cafes.
Stop 3. El Gouna
This small resort town is freaking beautiful with its marina full of glamorous yachts. There are plenty of restaurants and cute beach bars where you can have a drink, a meal and dip in the sea. It’s filled with tourists, mostly Germans, but it’s still very charming and isn’t a tourist trap. I would definitely recommend spending a few nights there as it has plenty of options from Sheraton to cute Airbnbs that won’t make you broke. There is also a motorcycle park, Safari tours and boats that take you to the Maldives of the Middle East — Mahmya Island. All the tours are easy to book on their official website and are well organised.
Mahmya is a small paradise island and it isn’t crazy busy either. You can always find a place to sunbath with towels given out to you. It has the most stunning views as you climb up and is definitely very Instagrammable. So make sure you look good, if you can. Safari is another way to spend an afternoon there as you visit a tiny village of Bedouins, watch the sunset and have a surprisingly delicious dinner. I don’t want to spoil it any further for you and hope you can see it all for yourself. Definitely worth it. But bear in mind that you’ll be fully covered in sand by the end of the trip so maybe don’t wear your favorite outfit.
Would I want to live there?
When I visit any new place I always ask myself if I could live here or is it just a spot for holidays or if it’s worth coming back to at all. For me, Egypt is definitely a great place for a vacation and I would love to come back, to at least check out Luxor, but there also so many more great beaches, resorts and hiking spots. On an everyday basis, I would probably get bored with the same setting of just eating out and meeting always the same group of people but Egyptians are lucky to have great getaway spots for a weekend.But that’s it from me, book your tickets.