Egypt is a travel destination of archaeological wonders. When people think of Egypt, they think of the ancient Pharaohs, the Great Pyramids, tombs filled with treasures, and mysteriously awe-inspiring hieroglyphs. Every year, millions of tourists come to visit this exotic land that is colorfully decorated with ancient pyramids, mosques, temples, and other magnificent monuments along the Nile River Valley. For many tourists, this makes a trip to Egypt much like a journey back in time, a glimpse of a civilization that dates back more than 5,000 years ago. Secondary to the ancient marvels of Egypt are the biblical landmarks found in the Sinai desert, and the attraction of the Mediterranean Beaches and the reefs of the Red Sea, where scuba diving resorts lure both leisure and serious divers. But whether you enjoy Egypt for its archaeological touring and historic sightseeing, or its warm beaches and coast, this “mother of the world” is considered a “must” for any sophisticated traveler.
Geographically, the longest river in the world, the Nile, traverses north-south down Egypt. This river has been a life-giving source for Egyptians for thousands of years, spawning irrigated fields and flourishing palm villages alongside. In the east is the Red Sea, a Technicolor underwater display of corals and marine fishes. In the interior, you’ll find arid mountains like the Biblical Sinai and desert oases dominated by nomads on camels wandering into the “Great Desert” of Sahara, the largest in the world.
Culturally, Egypt is a mosaic of food, art, and traditions from various influences. This is not surprising considering that Egypt has been ruled by Pharaohs, Romans, the Turkish and Muslim Ottomans, and British and French colonialists over the last half-dozen millennia. Egyptians are also some of the friendliest and most generous people, traits that they have developed over several centuries of hosting tourists.
The Nile has been inhabited since at least the Paleolithic era. Around 10,000 BC, hunter and gatherers fed off the river and began growing grain in the region. The climate changed in the 8th millennium BC when dry weather desiccated the lands, creating the Sahara Desert. From 6,000 BC to 3,000 BC, agriculture through irrigation was the way of life in the Nile Valley.
It was around 3,100 BC when the first Pharaoh, King Narmer, established the first nation state in the world. King Narmer, like other Pharaohs who followed, were worshipped as gods and divine rulers. They commanded vast armies and administered a system of bureaucracy that allowed them to construct Egypt’s many great monuments such as the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings tombs, the ruins of Thebes, and the Sphinx at Giza. Today, names like Ramesses the Great, Tutankhamun, Hatshepsut, and Tuthmosis III echo from the successive dynasties of pharaohs that perpetuated until Egypt was conquered by the Persians, then the Greeks, and then the Romans.
In 639 AD, Egypt was invaded and conquered by Muslim Arabs who appointed Caliphs to rule over the land for the next 600 years. The Turkish Mamluks too control around 1250AD and continued to rule even after the Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1518.
In 1798, Egypt was briefly colonized by the French who were led by Napoleon Bonaparte. The Ottomans reassumed control in 1805. For much of the 19th century, Egypt fell into debt to the European powers. To protect its investment, Britain declared Egypt a protectorate of its empire in 1885.
In the early 20th century, Egypt constantly revolted against the British who finally decided to give in. Egypt was declared independent and became a nation in 1923. Since then, the country has been evolving economically, politically, and culturally in rapid fashion. The construction of the Suez Canal has also made it an important center of trade and shipping. Today, Egypt is one of the leading nations of the Arab world, a pioneer in information technology and a center of tourism and trade.
Egypt is all about its pyramids, monuments, temples, and museums of antiquities. Perhaps the most famous of the pyramids are the three Great Pyramids of Giza guarded by the lion-bodied “Great Sphinx” with its lost nose. These monuments once hosted the mummies of kings and pharaohs. The Cheop’s Pyramid is the greatest of the three pyramids. It stands at 145 meters high, holding the title of the world’s tallest structure for thousands of years before being knocked out by the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower in the late 19th century. In Giza, you’ll also find the Giza necropolis, which is the final resting place of the famous Pharaohs and high officials. The mastabas and minor pyramids host the tombs of other royal officials.
Besides the Pyramids of Giza, you can also visit the Dahshur Pyramids, which includes the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid – two pyramids from the Old Kingdom. The Red Pyramid is the first real pyramid built in Egypt.
In Memphis, you’ll find 11 more pyramids, dozens of mastabas, and the five-mile Coptic monastery. The highlight, however, are the 11 Saqqara Pyramids, which include King Djoser’s Stepped Pyramid, which is the world’s first stone structure, and the Serapeum limestone sculptures and granite coffins which host mummified bulls. In one of the pyramids, you’ll find the burial chamber of King Teti with text depicting his journey to the afterlife. Be sure to check out the colossal statue of Ramesses II and its accompanying museum.
In Thebes, you’ll find the Valley of the Kings and its tombs. This was where the latter pharaohs decided to bury themselves after the great pyramids were constantly being looted by robbers. The tombs of Tutankhamun, Tuthmosis, and Ramses the Great can be found here.
Luxor, meanwhile, features more monuments built by the Pharaohs, including the Colossi of Memnon, where the remains of the temple of Amenhotep III are found and the faceless giant statues of pharaohs seated in their thrones stand. The Ramesseum in Luxor is also worth a visit, built as a memorial temple to Amenophis III. Unfortunately, the temple has been pillaged over the years. Today, broken columns and pieces of the Ramesses II statue that once stood 17 meters high are all that’s left. The Temple of Luxor is also in Luxor. It is a large ancient complex more than 3000 years old. It features colossal statues of Ramesses, granite obelisks, colonnades and columns, and a dark antechamber with carvings and shrines. The Luxor museum nearby houses rare collections of antiquity, including the treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun.
For tourists more interested in diving, the Red Sea features reefs, corals, unique fishes, and numerous shipwrecks and underwater archaeological sites that make it an underwater sea adventure to explore. Towns like Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada, Dahab, El Gouna, Marsa Alam, and Safaga are among the more popular scuba destinations, and collectively make up one of the best scuba diving regions in the world.
In northern Egypt, you’ll find Mediterranean beaches and resort destinations like Borg el-Arab, Sidi Abdel Rahman, Mariut, Agami, and Abu Sir, which are lined with hotels, marinas, shopping complexes, and miles of pristine beaches.
If you want to explore the Sahara and the deserts on the Sinai Peninsula, you can take jeeps or camels out west. You can look for spectacular sandscapes, set up overnight camps, barbecue out in the sand dunes, and at night enjoy the moonlight beauty of the stars decorating an endless horizon.