If your clients are first-time travelers to Egypt, the choices you
can offer them are mind-boggling. A good place to start is Cairo,
the heart and soul of the country and still the crossroads of the
Middle East. Dusty, noisy and exciting, it is a place to spend a
couple of days at least. Then, send your clients on a cruise down
the Nile, past Luxor and Aswan, which have some of the most
spectacular ruins in the world.
Time permitting, they can take a four-wheel drive into the
Western Desert, an exercise in solitude and wonder.
Finally, if your clients want to explore the Sinai Peninsula to
the east, they can start at the top, in Port Said at the mouth of
the Suez Canal, or go to the southern tip and enjoy the crystal
clear water and the beaches of the Red Sea.
After all that sightseeing, they might want to pull up at a
local cafe, order a mint tea and watch the foot traffic go by. It’s
a tradition as old as Egypt itself.
Cairo is estimated to have 12 million to 15 million inhabitants.
The cacophony of noise people, cars, animals, nonstop construction
can be overwhelming, but it is also part of the city’s charm.
The best place to begin a tour of the city is at the huge
downtown central square called Midan Tahrir. To the north is Balaq,
an old quarter full of mosques and twisty back streets. To the
South is Garden City, a tree-lined area where the British lived
during World War II, when the city was thick with intrigue and
spies. Old Cairo is located to the south, and Islamic Cairo, which
looks medieval, to the east.
Here, walking the narrow streets of the old walled city, you
will see ancient mosques and palaces, and some of the oldest shops
in Cairo, seemingly unchanged for centuries.
The spectacular Khan al-Khalili market is a must-see, with
thousands of shops, constant haggling and the aroma of fresh coffee
and spices pervading the atmosphere. The Egyptian Antiquities
Museum is worth the price of the whole trip it houses the mask of
King Tutankhamen and other treasures of ancient Egypt.
The muezzin call to prayer echoes through the city five times a
day, so it’s worth a visit to one of the city’s hundreds of
mosques, all admission free. Of course, the real reason to go to
Cairo is to see the pyramids and the Great Sphinx across the Nile
in Giza, literally a cab ride away. Construction on the pyramids
began in 27 B.C.; if your clients are adventurous, they can see
them by camel. The Great Pyramid, or Khufu’s Pyramid, is the only
one remaining of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. Don’t be
put off by the urban sprawl that has crept up to the edges of these
magnificent ruins. It’s all part of progress, Egyptian-style.
Where to stay:
" Cairo Marriott, Gezira. Located on one of the
islands in the middle of the Nile, this huge hotel was built around
a stunning old palace that originally hosted French Empress
Eugenie’s visit for the opening of the Suez Canal.
Standard room rates range from $110 to $150; suites start at
Web site: www.marriott.com.
" Four Seasons, Giza. The service is like
nothing else in Cairo: smoothly efficient, attentive to the
smallest detail and staff seemingly a whisper away, waiting to meet
Rates for standard rooms range from $190 to $260; suites start
Web site: www.fourseasons.com.
" Mena House Oberoi, Giza. Originally built as
a hunting lodge for a 19th-century Egyptian ruler, this is the
great colonial-era hotel in Cairo. The location, at the foot of the
pyramids, is superb.
Standard room rates range from $180 to $250; suites start at
Web site: www.oberoihotels.com.
" Conrad International. The rooms are spacious
and pleasant, typical of an international hotel chain.
Standard room rates range from $99 to $129; suites start at
Web site: www.hilton.com.
Cruising the Nile was once the only mode of transportation in
Egypt, and it’s highly recommended for the first-time traveler.
Most luxury cruise ships, or floating hotels, are equipped with
modern amenities air-conditioning, pools, hot tubs, exercise rooms,
saunas, Turkish baths, restaurants and special viewing rooms for
seeing the sights. In Luxor, known in ancient times as Thebes,
there are the Karnak and Luxor temples, huge undertakings that to
this day are a stunning testament to the scope and ambition of the
On the West Bank are the tombs in the valleys of the Kings and
Queens, where the mortuary of Queen Hatsheput is carved into the
bottom of a cliff with rows of columns still intact. The queen was
the only woman to reign as a pharaoh, which adds to the luster and
lore of this sacred place. Some of the walls of the tombs also have
beautifully painted scenes of everyday life in ancient Egypt.
Farther to the south is Aswan, where the sight to see is Lake
Nasser. When the lake was created some 30 years ago, it threatened
to inundate some major Nubian monuments, but a public outcry saved
some of them. The Temple of Ramesses II looms over the lake, just
as the shadow of the pharaoh dominated the country he ruled
centuries ago. A river cruise by felucca, the traditional
single-mast sailboat that plies the Nile, is popular there.
There are many fine hotels in Luxor and Aswan for those who want
to stay a while.
" Sheraton Luxor Hotel & Resort. Group
travelers fill the lobby of this modern American-style hotel. The
Sheraton also operates its own medium-capacity cruise boats, which
make regular journeys to Aswan with stops at monuments along the
Standard room rates range from $60 to $96; suites start at
Call 800-325-3535. Web site: www.sheraton.com.
" Luxor Movenpick Jolie Ville. Occupying 60
acres of the lush Crocodile Island, the Movenpick’s exotic plants
and flowering trees are filled with flocks of migrating and local
Standard rates range from $126 to $140; suites start at
Call 800-344-6835. Web site: www.movenpick-hotels. com.
" Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan. Opened in
1900, the hotel’s fame was revived with the filming of Agatha
Christie’s “Death on the Nile,” and the current management has
restored the property to a high standard of elegance and
Room rates range from $162 to $287; rates for suites must be
requested directly from the hotel.
Call 800-763-4835. Web site: www.sofitel.com.
" Hotel St. Joseph, Luxor. For the
budget-minded, this property features spanking clean rooms,
spacious balconies and a friendly staff. The view from the rooftop
pool is one of the best in Luxor.
Rates not available.
Web site: www.st-joseph-luxor.com.
The great expanse of desert west of Cairo contains many splendid
ruins Roman, Islamic and monastic. It’s a tantalizing glimpse of
life before the age of technology, when camels ruled the road and
mud huts were hotels. The best way to see it is by four-wheel-drive
with a guide.
The fortress village of Siwa Oasis is a great place to buy
Bedouin crafts, rugs, embroidery and baskets. Farafa Oasis has hot
springs open to visitors. It’s just like in the movies oases
surrounded by date palms and the bleached beauty of the desert
stretching out to distant mountain ranges.
The White Desert is an ancient ocean floor that has been
bleached so white that everything seems to blend in sand, cliffs
Where to stay:
" Siwa Safari Paradise. An oasis of charm and
comfort, this is one of the best hotels in the Western Desert and
one of the few that accepts credit cards (MasterCard and Visa). A
variety of rooms are available at Siwi, from simple reed huts
without facilities to bungalows with fans and luxury suites. Rates
Sinai Peninsula, Red Sea, Suez Canal
Going east you will cross the Suez Canal, which many consider a
wonder of the modern world. At the northern end of the canal is Bur
Sa’id, or Port Said, mainly a tourist stop for those planning to
spend time watching the big ships enter and leave. To the south, at
the tip of the peninsula, the Red Sea is famous for spectacular
diving, some say the best in with world with an estimated 130
species of coral and 250 species of fish. The water at Ras Muhammad
National Park is crystal clear, perfect for snorkeling and scuba
Farther inland is St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount
Sinai, which many believe Moses climbed. If your clients want to
climb it, tell them to bring hats and plenty of suntan lotion. The
seaside resort of Sharm al-Sheikh is chock-full of luxury hotels
and great restaurants, but the small villages farther up the coast
are more typical of the area.
Where to stay<:
" Sofitel Sharm al-Sheikh Coralia. Its stark,
white Moorish exterior, brass chandeliers and Arab tile work, all
tastefully executed, make this is a first-class seaside resort.
Horses are available for desert rides.
Room rates range from $112 to $130.
Web site: www.sofitel.com.
" Ritz Carlton. The Ritz has thought of
everything, from aromatherapy and massage treatments in a tent
overlooking the sea to childproof rooms and bathrooms. This is the
definitive Red Sea experience, right down to the tuxedo-clad
Room rates range from $260 to $320; suites start at $600.
Web site: www.ritzcarlton. com.
"Hilton Fayrouz. The hotel boasts the biggest
stretch of sand of any property in Na’ama Bay, with beach and
watersports plentiful. Sign up for the Bedouin dinner trip,
prepared once a week deep in the mountains behind Sharm. Standard
room rates range from $145 to $160; suites start at $145.
Web site: www.hilton. com.
For a list of tour operators, call the Egyptian Tourist
Authority at 877-773-4978. Web site: www.egypttourism.org.