HIGHLIGHTS OF EGYPT

Egyptian pyramids

Our highlights of Egypt. What to expect and our favourite experiences whilst travelling through Cairo, Giza, Luxor and Aswan.

Like most travellers, we started our visit to Egypt in Cairo. There is only one way we can describe the countries capital; Big, busy and loud. Some people love these kind of places. But it’s really not our scene and it’s safe to say, Cairo wasn’t one of our highlights of Egypt!. As a result, our stay was short. We arrived late in the afternoon, stayed one night and moved on the following afternoon.

The only place we really wanted to visit in Cairo was the Egyptian Museum. Annoyingly, we timed our visit badly, arriving at the exact same time as many tour buses. Needless to say, it was really busy. Once inside, it was incredible to see hundreds of ancient exhibits on display. And the building certainly did house some beautiful pieces. But we found it to be unorganised and poorly managed, with many pieces left unprotected from dust and visitors touching them. Some say this adds to the Egyptian charm, we tend to disagree.

There’s a new Grand Egyptian Museum being built in Giza, right by the pyramids. It’s due to open in 2021, meaning you can boycott Cairo and just do a day visit if you would like to look around the city.

*Egyptian museum entrance fee 160LE. Additional 180LE to enter the mummies room. 50LE for photos.

Giza

After our visit to the museum and short stay in Cairo, we headed to Giza. The traffic was thick and the 5km drive took over an hour. An unusual downpour of rain on the way most certainly slowed things down! As we neared Giza, we could see the pyramids peeking over the rooftops. And I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face!

After a very long journey, we finally reached our accommodation, Panorama Pyramids Inn. This small guest house was located directly opposite the pyramids and offered us a free transfer from Cairo, immediate check in, a room upgrade with pyramid views along with a welcome drink on the rooftop balcony. The rooftop offered fabulous pyramids views which we couldn’t stop staring at. Giza isn’t the most appealing area and as there wasn’t much else to see or do, we were happy to stay within the hotel and enjoy our pyramid views. The view from our room itself was certainly one of our highlights of Egypt!

Panorama Pyramids Inn, Pyramid room view

The very kind owner of the guesthouse invited us to share a local Egyptian meal in the evening on the rooftop, where we could also watch the nightly sound and light show. As the pyramids light up in different colours, the history of the great kings, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure is told. We were a little underwhelmed with the experience and are not sure that it’s worth the US$19 entrance fee. But it was a nice extra to observe from our guest house rooftop.

Pyramids of Giza light and sound show

The pyramids opened at 8am the following morning and as the ticket office was opposite our guesthouse, we were one of the first to enter. It was really quiet, so we took full advantage of having the site to ourselves. We started at the Sphinx, before moving on behind the royal tombs. It’s worth moving away from the centre of the pyramids to get a different perspective of complex. Although possible to pay an additional fee to enter one of the pyramids, we both opted to save ourselves from the claustrophobic experience and enjoy the views from the outside.

Great Sphinx of Giza
Pyramids of Giza Egypt

After about 3 hours of wandering and marvelling at this ancient site, we reached the Great Pyramid of Khufu. By this stage, the complex had well and truely come to life. It was busy and large tour groups were taking over the grounds! And at that point, we started getting harassed with locals followed us around trying to take our photos or sell us something. The place was crawling with men and their horses or camels, trying desperately to sell us a ride. Feeling overwhelmed, we left, thankful we had explored the complex relatively hassle free.

Pyramids of Giza views
Egypts Pyramids of Giza - Highlights of Egypt

We loved our stay in Giza and in retrospect, wish we had stayed there for two nights and skipped Cairo altogether. But that’s just our personal feeling. Visiting the pyramids was definitely one of our highlights of Egypt.

Luxor

They call Luxor the ‘hassle capital’ and when we arrived, we understood why! We hadn’t even stepped off our overnight train when we had men hounding us for taxis and tours. There weren’t a lot of tourists visiting Egypt at the time, so the demand for tourist dollars was higher than ever.

We spent 5 nights in Luxor at the Iberotel Hotel right on the Nile river, as the 4* hotel was only a little more than a nice hostel, allowing us to see the sights at our leisure and relax at the same time. The floating pool on the Nile quickly became another one of our highlights of Egypt!

Ibrotel luxor

After chilling by the pool all day long, we visited the Luxor Temple in the evening as it was open late. The extended opening hours also meant the temple was quite busy. That said, there was something calming about visiting this temple at night, and we spend quite a while wandering through the ruins. Our favourite part of the temple was the Avenue of Sphinxes, which offered a great view of the temple complex.

*Luxor Temple entrance fee 100LE p/p, plus an additional tripod fee

Luxor temple at night

Early the following morning, we walked to Karnak Temple, arriving just after the opening time of 6am. We could see hot air balloons floating up into the sky on the West Bank by the Valley of the Kings along the way. We were aiming to arrive when the light was good for photos, however, we were a little too late. Despite the bright light and shadows, we thought Karnak Temple was so beautiful. The hieroglyphs on the massive pillars were just incredible. We definitely recommend a visit to Karnak Temple as it will most certainly be one of your highlights of Egypt.

*Karnak Temple entrance fee 120LE p/p

Karnak Temple pillars - Highlights of Egypt
Karnak Temple highlights of Egypt

In the afternoon, we took a local ferry to the West Bank, which was really cheap and easy to do. From there, we took a taxi to the Valley of the Kings. We agreed on a time to meet the driver when we were finished, so we could get back to the ferry. Our entrance ticket gave us access to 3 of the 63 tombs inside the complex, although not all tombs are open to the public. Entering additional tombs incurred additional entrance fees. So we just stuck with the 3 included tombs.

Following the advice of the ticket man, we visited the recently restored tomb of Rameses IV, followed by the Merenptah and Rameses III tombs. All three tombs were amazing and the hieroglyphs on the walls were mesmerising, full of vibrant colours. Our favourite tomb was Rameses IV. It was a little bigger and the restoration work was incredible. It was a very surreal experience walking into what are essentially beautifully decorated underground tunnels! One of our highlights of Egypt? You bet!!

This was one occasion where we didn’t take photos as a high camera fee was charged at the entrance. We wouldn’t recommend taking ‘sneaky’ photos either. If caught, the guards bribe you with extortionate fees or call the police! A security guard even encourage us to climb under a fenced area and take photos of a tomb, before demanding money from us. Of course we didn’t climb under nor pay him.

After exploring Valley of the Kings, we were hoping to hike over to the temple of Hatshepsut (as Chris had done on a previous visit to Egypt). However the hike for some reason was no longer allowed. So we headed back to the ferry.

*The entrance to the Valley of the Kings is 240LE p/p. Camera fee was 300LE (however this seems to constantly change).

It was interesting to see the contrast between the East and West Banks of Luxor. On the East Bank, we couldn’t walk 5 meters without being followed while being offered a felucca, horse, taxi or something. Once we got off the ferry on the West Bank, we instantly noticed how quiet it was, to the point where we couldn’t even find a taxi! We spent the rest of our time in Luxor watching felucca’s sailing up and down the Nile and enjoying beautiful sunsets from our awesome riverside pool.

Felucca on the nile Luxor - Highlights of Egypt

Aswan

After a few awesome days in Luxor, we caught a day train to Aswan, which took 4 hours and cost a local fare of a few dollars each. It was a nice journey, only arriving an hour late (which was good for Egypt standards!) After checking into our hotel, we went to the tourist office to ask about options for visiting Abu Simbel. Although an independent overnight trip was appealing, we settled on booking an organised group day trip, leaving us with a free day in Aswan. It’s worth shopping around for day trips to Abu Simbel, as our hotel was charging 350LE p/p and we paid 200LEp/p through a different hotel.

In the evening, we found a local restaurant serving fiteer, an Egyptian flaky pastry like pizza stuffed with cheese and mushrooms, which was absolutely delicious and from a food perspective, one of our highlights of Egypt!

We had plans to visit the botanical gardens and Nubian island on our free day. However, I had an upset stomach, so we stayed close to the hotel, briefly checking out the pleasant Grand Bizarre. We couldn’t resist popping out for another fiteer, which we ate as we watched another glorious sunset.

Egyptian sunset - Highlights of Egypt

Abu Simbel

Our minibus picked us up at 4am and we reached Abu Simbel just after 8am. A police convoy used to be required for all tourists visiting Abu Simbel. However, that changed in late 2016, so tour operators and tourists were free to travel at their own pace. In reality, though, most tourist buses still depart and return at the same time. On arrival, we were given 2 hours to visit the temples. That was plenty of time, however as the tours only depart once a day, they of course all arrive at the same time. So there were hundreds of people all entering at once. We quickly went over to the Temple of Nefertari, while most people lulled around the more iconic Temple of Rameses II, allowing us an elusive shot without others in it.

Highlights of Egypt - Temple of Nefertari Abu Simbel highlights of Egypt
Highlights of Egypt - Great Temple of Ramesses II Abu Simbel highlights of Egypt

It’s hard to believe these temples were cut into over 2000 pieces, relocated and restored back to their former glory over a 4 year period. By doing this, the temples were saved from disappearing into Lake Nasser when it was dammed in the 1960s. The temples were incredible and were the at the top of our highlights of Egypt.

Tours to Abu Simbel from 200LE. Entrance tickets to Abu Simble are excluded in the tour price and are purchased directly at the ticket office 255LE.

After returning to Aswan, we had lunch and got ready for the next part of our Egyptian journey – A week in Marsa Alam!

Getting to/from and around

Flights

Egypt’s international airport is located around 20km from the centre of Cairo. Domestic flights operate between Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel and Marsa Alam. The local carrier is Egypt Air.

From Cairo International Airport, it’s best to arrange a transfer through your accommodation (some offer free transfers). Taxis are available at the airport, however how much you pay will depend on you haggling skill, what time you arrive and where you are going.

We took 2 buses and several trains to reach our hostel in downtown Cairo. Although this was super cheap, it took a long time. If this appeals to you, ask at the airport information desk what bus routes/train you should take. There is currently no train to/from the airport.

Trains

The best way to travel cheaply through Egypt is by train. We recommend checking out Seat61 for full details about train travel in Egypt, including timetables, fares and how to avoid paying ‘tourist prices’.

Bus

Buses are also available, however journeys can be longer and more uncomfortable than train travel. There are restrictions on tourists travelling on certain bus routes.

Car & driver

Many people hire a driver and or guide to take them around Egypt. We suggest taking trains between cities and hiring a driver/guide for day trips if you would like a more private experience.

What we did

We Flew into Cairo, took an overnight sleeper train to Luxor, a day train from Luxor to Aswan and then arranged a transfer from Aswan to Marsa Alam. We walked almost everywhere and took the odd taxi.

Accommodation

Accommodation standards in Egypt vary dramatically and may not be as high as you expect! We stayed in the following hotels/hostels and all can be booked through booking.com:

Cairo

We stayed at The Australian Hostel in a private double room with shared facilities, free WIFI, breakfast included – from US$20 p/nt. Room and bathrooms were clean. We had a VERY noisey room facing the road and the staff were nice, but offered a really bad exchange rate and uber slow breakfast! Overall, it was ok for one night.

Giza

We stayed at the Panorama Pyramids Inn. Located directly opposite the pyramids, we had a private double room with en-suite, A/C, & breakfast included. The guesthouse offered super clean rooms, awesome rooftop with pyramid views, free airport pickup, free wifi and awesome staff – from US$45 p/nt. Very kind owner, went over and above for us and we highly recommend this guesthouse. Staying here was one of our highlights of Egypt!

Luxor

We stayed at the Iberotel Hotel in a private double room with en-suite, WIFI & breakfast included – from US$50 p/nt. Check in was sloooooow, but rooms were clean and comfortable and the buffet breakfast was great. 1/2 or full board options are available and the pool on the nile was awesome!

Aswan

We stayed at the Nuba Nile Hotel in a private double with en-suite, breakfast included & free WIFI – from US$20. It was located 2 minute walk to the train station and centrally located. Although the room was super basic, it was clean. The location was perfect for us. We didn’t book in advance and got a cheaper price by walking in. Check the rooms before committing as the standard varies considerably.

Best time to visit

By far the best time to visit Egypt is during the cooler months of November-March. Cairo occasionally experiences rain at this time, however it is unlikely to rain in Luxor and Aswan. December and January are the busiest months and prices will generally be higher at this time, especially accommodation.

The summer months can be incredibly hot, with temperatures ranging from 40°c-55°c. June-August are the hottest months and heat can be extreme. Whilst Aswan and Luxor experience dry heat, the humidity in Cairo can make temperatures more uncomfortable.

November was perfect for us.

How much time do you need

How long you spend in Egypt really depends on what you want to see and do. You can see a lot in around 7 days. But to get the most out of your visit, we recommend allowing 10 days to visit Cairo, Giza, Luxor and Aswan. We had a couple of free days to relax in Luxor, but these days could have been spent seeing other temples/tombs in the area.

Visas

Most travellers will need a visa to enter Egypt. Citizens from countries such as Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, EU and handful of others, can obtain visas on arrival at Cairo’s International Airport. There is a bank window just before customs where you buy your visa. The fee is US$25. When we visited in 2017, it was not possible to get visas on arrival at land borders.

Currency

The official currency is Egyptian Pounds, abbreviated to E£ or LE. You can find ATM’s at the airport and in all of the big cities. There is a limit of around LE3000 per withdrawal.


Planning a trip to Egypt? Check out our other Egypt blogs:

The Red Sea Egypt

22 Things to know before travelling to Egypt

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