Egypt has been on my bucket list for ages. To me, the history and architecture are so fascinatingly unique, that I couldn’t wait to visit. I wanted to see as much as I could and for me, taking a tour allowed me to do just that. It was a complete whirlwind of a trip but I loved every second of it (except trying to sleep sideways on bus seats for the overnight rides). Whether you go on your own or on a tour, here are 11 things you simply cannot miss in Egypt!
1. The Giza Pyramids
Let me just get this one out of the way because we all know the pyramids are an iconic part of Egypt. These huge structures were built about 4,500 years ago. There are 3 large pyramids and actually 3 very small pyramids as well. At one point, they were entirely covered in sleek limestone and were meant to reflect the sun so that people could see them from miles away. Unfortunately, when the ancient Egyptian ideologies were no longer prominent, the limestone was taken to build other structures like mosques and churches.
The fact that these pyramids are as intact and as huge as they are make them an architectural mystery. Of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World, the pyramids are the only one that still exists today.
2. Abu Simbel
A trip to Abu Simbel is an optional excursion on most tours. Though it is about a 3-hour drive away, it is well worth the trip! The two temples at Abu Simbel were mortuary temples built by Ramesses II for himself and the queen, Nefertari. The insides are covered in hieroglyphics, some with the original paint still on. The main temple has four large statues carved from the wall, the second being the only one not intact due to an earthquake.
The size and carvings are incredible, but the most insane thing is that the entire temple and surrounding rock were MOVED. That’s right, like picked up and moved to another location. When Lake Nasser was created and the Aswan High Dam built, Abu Simbel would have been submerged so they cut it into large blocks, dismantled it, moved it all and then PUT IT BACK TOGETHER like nothing had ever happened.
Abu Simbel was the busiest tourist attraction, but most tour groups arrive very early in the morning. Our bus left at 3am and arrived sometime between 6-7am. By 9am, there is hardly anyone there and you can get your people-free shots.
3. The Egyptian Museum
Now, I’m not a museum person (See: How to Navigate the Louvre in Under 2 Hours). But, I will say that seeing mummy cases and gold relics was pretty cool. Also, they have all gold everything that came out of King Tut’s tombs, including the FOUR gold boxes his body was found in, the headdresses he wore and the highly anticipated mask of King Tut, which is incredible. But I HIGHLY recommend getting the extra ticket and visiting the mummy rooms inside the museum. You cannot go in without the extra ticket, so buy it outside and get the combo pass because it’s cheaper.
The mummy rooms are literally just a room full of mummies. 3,000 YEAR OLD MUMMIES. And not just any old mummies, you are in a room full of Pharaohs. It was one of the craziest feelings standing next to the decayed body of a Pharaoh, looking at their teeth and hair, trying not to feel nauseated, but actually being like, “I’m standing next to a King/Queen of Egypt”. It kind of gave me goosebumps. And an upset stomach (some of them are pretty gnarly looking).
Also, you can only take pictures if you buy a photo pass (which was only a few dollars) but even if you buy a pass, you can’t take pictures inside the King Tut Exhibit or the Mummy Rooms.
The museum itself is not great. The building is a bit old, outdated and there’s no AC. However, they are building a brand new museum right next to the pyramids that looks like it will be amazing and it’s due to open sometime in 2019.
4. The Temple of Philae
The Temple of Philae is another temple that had to be moved when the Aswan Dam went in, though it was moved literally one island over. The best part is that it’s located on an island and you have to take a little boat to get to it, which makes it that much cooler. Our group ended up here just before sunset and the temple was golden, the water beautiful and it was completely empty.
5. The Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings is the burial ground for the notable kings of Egypt. There are over 60 tombs that have been found here, including King Tut’s. All of the tombs are built underground and are therefore some of the most intact pieces of Egyptian history that you can see. You aren’t allowed to bring your camera in unless you buy a photography ticket. It was a little more expensive, so I opted out and immediately regretted it. The tombs are far underground with multiple chambers coming off of some, hieroglyphics covering every inch and the original paint on the walls and ceiling. It really is incredible.
Your GA ticket will allow you to visit 3 tombs. There is an option to buy a ticket that allows you to see 6 and you must purchase additional tickets for some of the other tombs, including King Tut’s.
Karnak was one of my favorite places to visit in Egypt. This temple complex is huge and has 134 pillars, most of them in rows that tower over you. The grounds are extensive and roughly 30 pharaohs contributed to building this complex. Karnak also happens to be the 2nd most visited attraction in Egypt, just behind the pyramids.
7. Sailing The Nile River
Most of the tours have an option to sail down the Nile River either by cruise ship or felucca–a traditional wooden sailing boat. I chose the felucca and anticipated having a rough nights sleep, but was pleasantly surprised by the layout of the boat. The lower level was one big mattress that you could sprawl out on. The top had little poofs and small tables to sit at.
We stopped along the bank where we could get out and swim. I was a bit hesitant at first, especially because our guides had previously talked about crocodiles being in the Nile. When the rest of our group jumped in, I decided to take my chances and the water was surprisingly refreshing!
8. Habu Temple
Habu Temple was not originally on our itinerary, but our guide recommended swapping it out with another one. This temple is one of the most colorful, with the original paint still on several of the columns and ceiling. It also had a section of columns, much like Karnak though on a smaller scale. Not many temples still have the original paint on them, so this temple was quite exciting to see!
9. Diving in the Red Sea
I’d heard that diving in the Red Sea was well worth it but I was not prepared for what it would actually look like. Our tour included a stop in Hurghada and it was beautiful! The water was super turquoise and the diving amazing–probably my best yet and I’ve been diving in Thailand, the Bahamas and the Florida Keys. There were so many colorful fish and a huge Napoleon fish swam right in front of my face. Plus, diving is very inexpensive here!
10. The Temple of Hatshepshut
Queen Hatshepsut was one of the first female pharaohs in Egypt and is pretty fascinating. She initially ruled as regent for her son but took full reign as queen when he came of age, instead of passing it to him. She actually portrayed herself as a man to the people and built a pretty BA mortuary temple (as seen below). However, several kings that succeeded her did not support her claim as queen. They removed her from the list of kings, damaged her temple and any mention of her was removed–including the obelisk at Karnak (which is two different colors–the top being replaced later on since it had had her name on it).
11. Luxor at Night
Luxor is another must-see but is a great temple to see at night! The obelisk out front is lit, as well as the columns on the inside. Having visited most of the temples during the day, it was really cool to get to Luxor just as the sun was setting. It is definitely worth seeing the temple lit up at night!
There are so many things to see in Egypt that are rich in history and have amazing architecture. I’d highly recommend planning your trip so that you have time to take it all in. The sights are incredible!
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