I only had a few days of annual leave left for the year and really wanted to book a trip to North Africa and the Middle East with Imaginative Traveller. I fell upon the Egypt Adventure trip - an 8 day whistle-stop tour of the very best that the country has to offer. I chose a departure date that began on a Saturday so I could utilise my remaining annual leave, convinced a friend to come along (it wasn't too difficult), and got our flights booked. There are direct flights available from London, so it was nice and easy.
We chose early December for our trip as temperatures are warm to hot during the day but tolerable for lots of walking around ancient archaeological sites. It gets pretty chilly at night at this time of year but nothing a jumper won’t sort out.
The trip begins in the sprawling capital Cairo, one of the biggest cities in Africa, and possibly one of the craziest! We began some independent sight-seeing as we had a few hours to kill before the group meeting. We managed to tick off the step pyramid of Saqqara, a papyrus paper-making factory, Memphis and a silver workshop. The day ended with some mouth-watering shwarma from a local cafe down the road recommended by our fantastic guide Khaled.
Perhaps the top reason why most people visit Egypt is to gaze in wonder at the colossal Pyramids of Giza. They do not disappoint. We made a very early start to get down to Giza (on the outskirts of Cairo) and spent several hours exploring the complex by foot and on camel. Nothing quite prepares you for the size of these iconic structures, and how exhausting it can be to get around them in the hot sun. We took a well earned break at lunch and tried the famous dish 'Koshari'. The only way I can describe it is being a mish-mash of all of the leftovers in your store cupboard. The majority of the group loved it but I wasn't sold.
After lunch we visited the impressive collection of the Egyptian Museum in the heart of Cairo. There is so much to see here and if you are a history buff then you should consider arriving a day early to spend more time here.
That evening we boarded a train at Giza Station to take us all the way down south to Aswan, Egypt's southernmost city. The train exceeded our expectations when we discovered our twin-share cabins! Each compartment had two fold away beds, a sink, mirror, and hanging space for clothes, as well as plenty of storage space for our bags. Dinner was included and we were served in our compartments. The beds were pretty comfortable but sleep was scarce as the driver had a rather heavy hand on the break lever for every stop he made. Morning came too soon, however, drawing back the curtains, we were appeased by the sight of lush palm trees, blue skies and the sacred waters of the Nile rushing by our window. Our friendly carriage attendant brought us breakfast (also included) and much needed coffee. We were excited to be arriving in Aswan.
There was no messing about - we got straight off the train, jumped on a private minibus and headed for Agilkia Island for a tour of the Philae Temple. This is an optional activity but one that shouldn't be missed! The Philae Temple is a stunning complex with some incredibly well preserved hieroglyphics. The setting itself is very peaceful but interestingly, not its original location. Our guide filled us in on its fascinating history.
In the late afternoon we took another tranquil boat trip on the Nile and this time headed for Elephantine Island, home to a Nubian community, where we were given a tour by local man, Ahmed, whose family have lived on the island for many generations. Ahmed guided us through the winding alleyways, telling us stories as we went, until we reached the house of a local family where we had a delicious home-cooked feast.
This was a free day, however, the whole group decided to do the optional visit to Abu Simbel (approx. $100). It was an early start so the hotel made us a packed breakfast and sent us on our way at 05:00am. It takes approximately 3 hours of driving through the desert to reach the site, and is well worth it. Once we arrived and made the short walk around the bend, nothing could prepare us for the colossal sight of the 4 statues of Ramses II. Like most ancient constructions in Egypt, photos cannot prepare you for the scale and craftsmanship, and nowhere is this more apparent than at Abu Simbel.
We had a very leisurely breakfast in the morning overlooking the Nile before boarding our felucca for a tranquil day and night on the river. Our vessel was basically a giant floating bed and there was nothing to do but kick back and relax which was very welcome after the fast-paced sight-seeing we had done. Our crew cooked us lunch and dinner followed by a very nice breakfast the next day. It was the best night's sleep I'd had in ages and to be woken up to the smell of pancakes made it even better!
Our felucca crew dropped us off on the banks of the Nile at around 7:00am and a mini bus took us to our penultimate stop - the city of Luxor - home to the one of the largest ancient religious sites in the world. Our guide took us around the vast complex and gave us plenty of historical insights to keep us entertained as we checked out the obelisks, pylons and chapels.
In the afternoon we did something a little different from the usual sight-seeing. We paid a visit to A.C.E (Animal Care Egypt), a local charity that is focused on ending the suffering of animals in Luxor and surrounding areas through care, and, most importantly, education. It was great to learn about their work and to interact with the animals.
We fully immersed ourselves back in to the history of ancient Egypt today, starting with a visit to the Colossi of Memnon which were indeed colossal! Then it was on to the Valley of the Kings for some tomb exploration. Tickets included the possibility to explore 3 tombs, although there are over 62 on the sprawling site, however only a handful are open to tourists each day. As an optional extra, a few of us decided to also visit the famous tomb of Tutankhamen which is very small and beautifully preserved. All of the tombs that we saw were incredible but Tut's was by far the best.
At lunch time we dined with a local family in a nearby village. They gave us a feast of multiple dishes - all of which were mouth-wateringly good!
The afternoon was free for us to enjoy and so we headed for the city's bustling bazaar where we made many purchases and even more friends, before finding a rooftop bar for some sun-downers overlooking part of the Karnak temple complex. Perfect.
That night we caught the overnight train back to Cairo for the final day.
We arrived in Cairo painfully early but were able to check straight in to a room for a couple of hours of sleep. We said goodbye to most people in the group that morning but my friend and I had one more day and night to enjoy so we used the surprisingly easy and very cheap metro system to take us to the Coptic Christian quarter. Here we explored some beautiful old churches and mansions, the most fascinating being the Hanging Church.
We rounded off our fantastic trip with yet another delicious shwarma on the streets of Cairo.
GROUP TOUR from £592 for 8 days