This fall Africa Adventure Consultants Journey Specialist Hilary spent 10 days in Egypt exploring Cairo and cruising the Nile from Aswan to Luxor. Hilary and her friend couldn’t have imagined a more perfect trip! Hilary joins us on the blog today to share more about her experience.
Egypt’s rich history, archeological treasures, warm and welcoming people and ‘to die for’ food exceeded all our expectations. Although I have many, many cherished memories and thousands of photographs I’ll fondly revisit year after year, there are a few stand out factors that made the trip extra special:
The Kings and Queens of the New Kingdom (the Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth dynasties) were buried in the sacred arid valleys across the Nile from Thebes – what is now modern-day Luxor. There have been more than 60 tombs discovered and visitors can explore some of these incredible time capsules, entering an ancient underworld where mummified pharaohs were entombed with enormous wealth, surrounded by hieroglyphics retelling their life stories and guiding their spirits to the afterlife.
I visited the tombs of Rameses I, Rameses III, King Tutankhamun and Merenptah – each was unique and amazing! My favorite in the Valley of the Kings was the tomb of Rameses III and Merenptah. We also stopped in the Valley of the Queens, saving the best for last. The tomb of Nefertari was nothing short of spectacular – the absolute showstopper as the best preserved and most decorative. And because of my guide’s expert timing, we were the only people in the tomb and had it entirely to ourselves during our visit.
Of the 60+ tombs discovered in this region, only a few are open to the public. The rest are closed for restoration or to minimize tourist traffic. The main entrance ticket includes entry into three tombs. Some of the most spectacular tombs require an additional ticket and it’s well worth adding a couple extra tombs to your visit! Work with your AAC Journey Specialist to learn more and plan your perfect experience!
The best and most decorative tombs include:
When I planned my trip to Egypt, I knew I wanted to sail the Nile onboard a classic dahabieh like the fashionable explorers and adventurers of the 19th century. How romantic and exotic!
What appealed to me most about the dahabieh was the slower more relaxed pace, the intimacy and exclusivity of traveling with only 10-12 passengers and the access to a genuine and authentic Egypt.
On board, the cabins were simple but stylish and comfortable, each with a private bathroom. Between landings and visits to tombs and temples, we lounged on the upper deck, taking in the beautiful landscapes, dreaming and meditating on ancient history and luxuriating in the peace and quiet. Not to mention the food onboard was simply amazing! Every dish at every meal was perfection. Because there are so few guests on board we became familiar with the whole crew, from the chef to the sailors and the housekeeper. Over the five days we spent together I became very fond of our crew.
Our boat could access smaller docks along the Nile, allowing us to visit villages and interact with the locals. One memorable highlight was visiting a family in their home, sharing tea and stories while bonding over the similarities between their family and our own back home while opening our minds to new ways of living, thinking and being. And there wasn’t a single tourist anywhere near us! I love these types of authentic interactions.
Every day of the cruise we explored tombs and temples. We also dined on a remote and private bank of the River, went fishing with local fisherman and swam in the Nile. I even managed to get a couple backflips off of the boat into the river ! Each night we would anchor on the riverbank and every morning I’d wake before everyone else, sneak to the upper deck, and practice my yoga as the sun rose over the shimmering water.
Seeing the pyramids has always been a dream for me! Little did I know that entering the pyramids would make me feel like an archeologist or Indiana Jones while also testing my physical strength.
My day exploring the pyramids began with a visit to the Dahshur necropolis and the Red and Pent Pyramids. I entered the Red Pyramid of King Sneferu. As I walked toward the immense structure I felt tiny and fleeting. I also felt a surge of joy and excitement in realizing a lifelong fantasy. Descending through the tunnel to the burial chamber required more flexibility and strength than I anticipated. I had to crouch as I walked the length of the gallery bent halfway over the entire way for several minutes. The deeper I went, the staler and thicker the air felt. Once inside, the enormity of the structure takes a different tone. It’s a stark, dark stone room. There are no hieroglyphics or decorations and the tomb is empty. Regardless, the space holds something inexplicable within it – perhaps the weight of the pyramid’s importance, age and purpose. You have to visit it in person to understand completely.
We next explored the Step Pyramid and the Saqqara necropolis before continuing to the most iconic of them all: The Great Pyramids of Giza. They were built during the Old Kingdom era, roughly 4,500 years ago. The largest and oldest among them is the “Great Pyramid,” which was built by the pharaoh Khufu. The second pyramid was built by his son Khafre – who also built the Sphinx. And the last, smallest pyramid was built by Menkaure. Visitors can enter Khufu’s temple through the Grand Gallery into the King’s Chamber. The climb into this pyramid was easier than the Red pyramid, but it was still a challenge! It’s when you find yourself inside the king’s chamber that you can fully comprehend how challenging it must have been for the ancient Egyptians to construct such a massive pyramid!
Visiting these two pyramids was a fantastic adventure, but my legs were sore for a few days afterward!
It was a very early morning departure from Luxor to the balloon launch site. We left our hotel at 4:00 am, took a charming boat ride across the river and then drove the rest of the way to the site. The excitement kept building as we climbed out of the vehicle to see dozens and dozens of balloons in various states of inflation, fire blazing in all directions, people climbing into the baskets and musical chanting from somewhere nearby. As the sky began to slowly dawn our balloon began to lift off the ground. The colors of the balloons all around us against the blue sky and the contrasting yellow desert meeting the green farmlands and villages below was breathtaking. We soared above the Nile with sweeping views over the West Bank necropolis, the Valley of Kings, the Valley of Queens and the massive Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. After our descent and goodbyes to our pilot I was high from the experience the rest of the day!
Ahmed was a godsend and a great reminder why having an exceptional guide is so important! He was extremely knowledgeable, able to translate hieroglyphics fluently and provided intriguing cultural and religious context at every stage of the journey. He was dynamic, engaging and a phenomenal storyteller! Although sights could sometimes be crowded, he ensured we were always at the front of the queue, comfortably out of the heat and always at ease traveling from place to place. Ahmed had the most remarkable way of getting us VIP treatment, avoiding all queues and tourist groups with impeccable timing. He made us feel we had exclusive access at every location.
While meandering through towering columns and the odalisque at Karnak Temple, standing awe struck before the Colossi of Memnon (statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III) who have guarded the Temple of Luxor for millennia, walking the Avenue of the Sphinxes and descending into the hauntingly beautiful tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Ahmed completely immersed us in tales of pharaohs and gods! With his help, I even began to recognize hieroglyphic characters. Having a deep love of and fascination with languages myself, I cannot tell you how fun it was to spot words and phrases I recognized and to learn new characters each day. Egypt’s fascinating history and incredible ancient wonders have long lured travelers from across the globe. Finally experiencing some of these incredible sights in person was a dream come true and exceeded my expectations. Doing it in a way reminiscent of days gone by was particularly special for me. Above all, having such an outstanding guide in Ahmed who could bring ancient history to colorful life made this the journey of a lifetime!
Photos courtesy Hilary Walters and Seif Amr