Egypt could be said to have six major tourist sites. Each has its own flavor, and mostly each serves a different purpose. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, most of these tourist areas do not depend on ancient monuments to sustain them. In fact, only Luxor is completely dependent on this trade. These sites consist of: Alexandria and the immediate area around the City, Cairo and the immediate area around the City, Luxor and the surrounding area, Aswan and the surrounding area, Hurghada and the surrounding area, particularly El Gouna and Sharm El Sheikh, and the surrounding area including Sharks Bay. This is not to say that there are many more tourist destinations, particularly on the Red Sea and in Sinai, and on Egypt's mainland interior, the oases. However, in much of the rest of the mainland interior, travel and destinations are limited. However, the tourist super-sites encompass perhaps ninety-five percent of the ancient monuments, and most else there is to do in Egypt.
The second largest city in Egypt, Alexandria, known as "The Pearl of the Mediterranean", has an atmosphere that is more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern; its ambience and cultural heritage distance it from the rest of the country although it is actually only 225 km. from Cairo. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, Alexandria became the capital of Greco-Roman Egypt, its status as a beacon of culture symbolized by Pharos, the legendary lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The setting for the stormy relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Alexandria was also the center of learning in the ancient world. But ancient Alexandria declined, and when Napoleon landed, he found a sparsely populated fishing village.
From the 19th century Alexandria took a new role, as a focus for Egypt's commercial and maritime expansion. This Alexandria has been immortalized by writers such as EM Forster and Cavafy. Generations of immigrants from Greece, Italy and the Levant settled here and made the city synonymous with commerce, cosmopolitanism and bohemian culture. Alexandria is a city to explore at random. It's as important to enjoy the atmosphere as it is to see the sights.
The largest city in Africa as well as the Middle East, Cairo is one of the world's largest urban areas and offers many sites to see. The city is a traveller’s delight, providing a fascinating look into the age-old empire of the pharaohs, with markets, museums and music conjuring up the spirits of the ancients. There are also ancient temples, tombs, Christian churches, magnificent Muslim monuments and of course, the Egyptian Antiquities Museum all within or nearby the city. Cairo is an amazing city full of life and movement, and it is that way almost 24 hours every day, with the noisy honking of horns, children playing in the streets and merchants selling their wares and services. And here, the Egyptians are most at home in this powerful, modern and ancient city Cairo provides great culture, including art galleries and music halls, such as the Cairo Opera House. Cairo offers an incredible selection of shopping, leisure and nightlife activities. Shopping ranges from the famous Khan el-Khalili souk, (or bazaar) largely unchanged since the 14th century, to modern air-conditioned centers displaying the latest fashions. All the bounty of the East can be found here. Particularly good buys are spices, perfumes, gold, silver, carpets, brass and copperware, leatherwork, glass, ceramics and mashrabiya. Try some of the famous street markets, like Wekala al-Balaq, for fabrics, including Egyptian cotton, the Tentmakers Bazaar for appliqué-work, and Mohammed Ali Street for musical instruments and, although you probably won't want to buy, the Camel Market makes a fascinating trip. This is, and has been for over a thousand years, truly a shopper's paradise.
PYRAMIDS at GIZA
The Great Pyramids at Giza are acclaimed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The entire complex of antediluvian tombs seemingly shrouded in mystery is spell-binding in its stature. The monumental Sphinx, along with the conical mausoleums of Cheops and Chephren, form El Giza’s imposing center. So ancient are these magnificent structures that, though they were built adjacent to the Nile, over the centuries the river has meandered over 5kms away.
Luxor has often been called the worlds greatest open-air museum, as indeed it is and much more. The number and preservation of the monuments in the Luxor area are unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Actually, what most people think of as Luxor is really three different areas, consisting of the City of Luxor on the East side of the Nile, the town of Karnak just north of Luxor and Thebes, which the ancient Egyptians called Waset, which is on the west side of the Nile across from Luxor. To say that the Luxor area is a major attraction for tourists in Egypt would be an understatement. It has been a tourist destination since the beginning of tourism. Even in ancient times, during the late dynasties of the Greek and Roman periods, the area drew tourists, and has been doing so ever since. Today Luxor is well equipped to accommodate tourists with many hotels and in general a tourist industry ready and willing to serve the people from many countries that descend on this area of the Nile Valley every year. Within Luxor, there are only three main streets consisting of Sharia al-Mahatta, Sharia al-Karnak and the Corniched, next to the Nile. Along this street one will find the colorful signs of restaurants and cafes, as well as bazaars where the usual variety of Egyptian souvenirs can be found. Of interest is the alabaster, which is plentiful along the west bank and milled not far from here. Also look for the clay pots used by the locals for cooking, which are more unusual. In Luxor proper on the East Bank, one of the first stops must be the Temple of Luxor built by Amenophis III.
Aswan, Egypt's sunniest southern city and ancient frontier town located about 81 miles south of Luxor, has a distinctively African atmosphere. Its ancient Egyptian name was Syene. Small enough to walk around and graced with the most beautiful setting on the Nile, the pace of life is slow and relaxing. Days can be spent strolling up and down the broad Corniche watching the sailboats etch the sky with their tall masts or sitting in floating restaurants listening to Nubian music and eating freshly caught fish. In Aswan the Nile is at its most beautiful, flowing through amber desert and granite rocks, round emerald islands covered in palm groves and tropical plants. Explore the souk, full of the scent and color of spices, perfumes, scarves and baskets. View the spectacular sunsets while having tea on the terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel (named due to the location of the Nile's first cataract located here). Aswan has been a favorite winter resort since the beginning of the nineteenth century, and it's still a perfect place to get away from it all. Every night Nubian dancers and musicians perform in the Cultural Center, just off the Corniche. Folklore troupes recreate scenes from village life and perform the famous Nubian mock stick-fight dances.
SHARM el SHEIK
The simplicity of sun, sea and sand. The luxury of five-star hotels, water sports, shopping and entertainment. This is Sharm el-Sheikh, one of the most accessible and developed tourist resort communities on the Sinai peninsula. All around are Bedouins, colorful tents, mountains and sea. There are small, intimate hotels with modern designs, as well as larger hotel complexes belonging to International chains, plus about all the amenities one could expect of a tourist center, including casinos, discos and nightclubs, golf courses and health facilities. In fact, with diving and snorkeling, windsurfing and other water sports, horses and camel riding, desert safaris, and great nearby antiquities attractions, it is almost impossible for a visitor to ever suffer from boredom.
Four miles south the southern section of the town stands on a cliff overlooking the port providing a great view. Na'ama Beach is a center of tourist activities. Located just north of Sharm, this area is developing into a resort town of its own. Most hotels at Na'ama Bay have their own, private beaches with comfortable amenities such as chairs, shades and even bars. Shark's Bay is also nearby, and again is a growing resort community with more and more to offer, along with several diving centers. The small harbor known as Sharm el-Moiya is located next to the civil harbor, has accommodations for boats, and includes a Yacht Club with rooms. For those who live to shop, the Sharm El-Sheikh mall provides shops with both foreign and local products, including jewelry, leather goods, clothing, pottery and books. For diving enthusiasts, it has been said that this area is a must. There are many diving sites along the 10 mile beach between Sharm el-Sheikh and Ras Nusrani.
Hurghada was founded in the early 20th century, and until a few years ago, remained a small fishing village. But today, it has gone on to become the foremost tourist resort of the Red Sea coast and an international center for aquatic sports. If it takes place in or on the water you can do it here: windsurfing, sailing, deep-sea fishing, swimming, but, above all, snorkeling and diving. The unique underwater gardens offshore are some of the finest in the world, justifiably famous amongst divers. The warm waters here are ideal for many varieties of rare fish and coral reefs, which may also be observed through glass bottom boats. This area has many fine accommodations, usually offering warm and efficient service. Restaurants are mostly along the main road. While in Hurghada, don't miss the museum and aquarium, with their complete collections of flora and fauna of the Red Sea. Today, Hurghada is known as a party town, particularly among Europeans. Locals and others will tell you that life begins at night in Hurghada, with the many, many clubs. One may often find a rousing party centered around the visitors from a tour group taking over the action of a particular bar.
A first time visitor to Egypt who wants a classical pharaonic antiquities experience would do well to book a Nile cruise. Of course modern airlines now shuttle tourists to the southern region of Egypt, but historically the Nile cruise was really the only way to visit the temples and tombs located along this stretch of the river. It is still a popular means of visiting upper Egypt and has many advantages to other means of travel. Nile cruises often visit a wider variety of antiquities along the banks of the river. But equally important, they also allow the tourist to gain a perspective of the rural Egypt, where people live much the same way they did even thousands of years ago, in mud brick homes, tending their fields with wooden plows and moving produce via donkey. It is a wonderful experience to sit on a shaded deck of a floating hotel, sipping an iced beverage while watching 5,000 years of culture slowly drift by.