A Land of Antiquity

Finding tranquility amidst Egypt’s historical landmarks

By: Jimmy Im

While ancient history has always been the driving force of tourism in Egypt, more present-day interests are being recognized as touchstones in this North African getaway. A diverse range of pastimes both in and out of the Nile river, the lifeblood of Egypt have remained an oversight to many travelers, but when complemented with antiquity, you get more than you bargained for. It’s the blend of ancient history, culture and modern activities that makes Egypt truly a worthwhile and unforgettable destination.

Cuisine in Cairo

Egypt’s capital and most tumultuous city has a population of 18 million. If New York City is the city that never sleeps, Cairo is the city that never stops. Shops and restaurants are virtually open 24 hours, and the streets are overrun with crowds and vehicles, both four-wheeled and four-legged. With the city’s feverish energy, sometimes a little downtime can bring back clarity.

Cairo is divided into three areas: heliopolis (near the airport), downtown (on the Nile) and Giza (by the pyramids), all of which have quite extreme atmospheres.

Downtown is the most bustling and chaotic, but a two-hour cruise on the Nile is a convenient escape. Floating restaurants aboard small cruise ships on the Nile run approximately two hours for dinner and entertainment. While some of the ships are quite tacky with festive lights and hokey decor, Nile Maxim is elegant, with contemporary furnishings and hand-painted ceiling murals. Mediterranean cuisine is served while traditional acts (from belly dancing to Arabic singing) are provided. If the entertainment is too clamorous, head out to the deck for some calm viewing. Reservations are recommended.

Across town, Giza is a retreat in itself with a gentler pace and the tranquility of the pyramids and Sphinx. Should clients want to explore the interior of the Great Pyramid, they need to come early, as only 300 visitors are allowed inside its chambers. The Great Pyramid is Egypt’s prize site and, at night, a light and sound show makes it more mesmerizing. The most commanding views of the Pyramids are at the Mena House Oberoi hotel, Egypt’s oldest and most luxurious hotel, closest to the Pyramids. Indulge in a light Mediterranean fare and try the traditional kakadeh, sweetened hibiscus tea, claimed to be the best here. This prestigious landmark is also home to one of the most spectacular (and few) 18-hole golf courses in Cairo, set on the backdrop of one of the ancient wonders of the world.

With panoramic views and lush landscaped gardens and fountains sprawling 74 acres of Al-Azhar Park in Old Cairo, it’s hard to believe it used to be a landfill. Enjoy the restaurants serving Mediterranean cuisine in this quiet sanctuary.

Sharm El-Sheikh

The Red Sea is ranked as one of the best diving spots in the world; even Jacques Cousteau glorified it as a “corridor of marvels the happiest hours of my diving experience.”

With great diving come great resorts, and Sharm El-Shiekh in Sinai is the great getaway. 252 hotels, all ranging from three to five stars, mostly line the coastal resort, all of which are prohibited from being more than two stories high, thus enhancing the landscape. The Sinai mountain range is a breathtaking backdrop to this peninsular paradise.

The sea is famous for its crystal clear waters with visibility up to 150 feet and a wealth of marine life, including 10 percent of species found nowhere else on earth. All hotels have their own diving center with diving gear for rent. If you want to experience the sea on a superficial level, snorkeling is just as popular and most travelers combine this with a boat ride.

Day boats are located at Travito Marina, where you can rent snorkeling gear before taking a half- or full-day trip in the Red Sea. Lunch is served aboard the boat, which stops at popular diving/snorkeling stops along the coast. A vast variety of coral, fish, jellyfish, and even stingrays wait below the surface.

Not a water fan? Windsailing, camel riding, desert safaris, casinos and shopping are all at your fingertips.

Nile River Cruise

A Nile River cruise isn’t just a practical way to experience the Nile and the important cities surrounding it, it’s also a plunge into 1,000 years of history to understand why it’s the life of Egypt. The absorbing calm of small villages, green shores, roaming animals and distant desert takes you back to biblical times. Significant port stops (Luxor, Edfu and Aswan) are chockfull of ancient sites and monuments that are essential to most itineraries.

More than 200 ships ply the Nile, but sailing is a spectacular experience aboard the Mirage Nile, a five-star ship with 62 large cabins and an all-inclusive option. The Mirage Nile’s open sundeck is spacious, with prime viewing available from every vantage point. So, there’s no need to fight for deck chairs.

Shopping in Aswan

Slather on some sunscreen as it gets up to 150 degrees (June to mid-August) in Aswan, but that won’t stop clients from appreciating highlights like the Temple Phila, the High Dam and Lake Nasser (the largest man-made lake in the world).

In addition to ancient history, Aswan is quite popular for its unique shopping.

Sandallia Papyrus has more than 1,300 hand-painted papyrus samples in its bi-level shop and offers demonstrations on the origins of papermaking dating back to ancient Egypt.

It’s said that essential oils first originated in Aswan, and Al-Khan Perfume Palace showcases 52 scents, several that are unique to Egypt. The oils are untainted and emanate some of the purest scents.

The vendors in Aswan’s bazaar are less aggressive than elsewhere, and here you can find everything from spices to scarves and fewer souvenir trinkets as it’s more of a strip for locals rather than tourists.


Nile Maxim

Mena House Oberoi

Al-Azhar Park

Mirage Nile Cruise

South Sinai Travel Group

Sandallia Papyrus
Sadat St.

Al-Khan Perfume Palace