Underneath recent turmoil and tourism disruptions lies a city of wonders, pyramids, & bazaars
Dubbed Al-Kahira, “the victorious” city in Arabic, Cairo beckons with its exotic oriental allure and ancient monuments. Since the revolution, tourists have slowly started to return. For travelers who can read past the sensational headlines, or those who couldn’t afford it before, there’s no better time than now to visit Egypt’s beating heart.
Nothing can prepare visitors to the Giza plateau for the awe inspiring and breathtaking vistas: the Pyramids and Sphinx, wondrous monuments bearing witness to the greatness and potential of the human spirit when united by a cause. When building your vacation with your travel agent, request that your tours arrive by 7:30am since Cairo’s traffic is notoriously congested. Though gates open at 8am, most tours still arrive earlier. Even after the troubles, Giza is notoriously busy and gets crowded very quickly, albeit not as much as it used to.
Once there, make sure to visit inside a pyramid, which requires another ticket; if you can schedule more time than the usual tour, try two. The larger pyramids of Khufu and Khafre are the most popular, but the less visited and smallest, Menkaure, is equally worthwhile. The journey through narrow and steep ancient shafts is daunting, but incomparable. Adjacent to the great pyramid is the Solar Boat museum, housing a recently excavated wooden barge.
While a visit to the Sphinx is also a must, visitors should not miss the adjacent Valley Temple where the body of pharaoh Khafre was embalmed and prepared for its procession into the pyramid and the afterlife beyond. Work with your travel agent to arrange a brief camel ride at Giza, as quality varies greatly; you can set one up on-site but will have to haggle with countless hecklers.
Cairo Tower rises above the hubbub, in the middle of the Nile, and offers great views of the city, Pyramids, and enveloping desert. Grab a snack or meal from the restaurant and café onsite, enjoying exquisite vistas, before continuing your day. A quick hop away is the Egyptian Museum, housing one of the greatest collections of mankind’s ancient artifacts. Mummies abound, and the treasures from Tut’s tomb are without equal.
Consider meandering through one of Khan al Khalili Bazaar’s many alleys. This ancient souk, or mall, is chock full of iconic knick knacks, making for great photos and shopping. Here, you will find perfume shops selling pure essences. Perfumes Palace (22 El-Neasr, Bassage El-Moaze) is a charming and intimate nook that feels like an alchemist’s shop from a fairy tale, each bottle a different shape and size. Traditional scents are available alongside classics like Chanel or Hugo Boss.
Across the road is the Al-Ghouri souk, frequented by few tourists. A traditional Tarbouch (fez) shop has masters working with only quality materials. Shoppers can find some of the best authentic papyrus reproductions and originals at the Al Ghouri Papyrus Art Centre. It’s best to ask for directions several times as both areas are a veritable maze. As with any shopping in Egypt, haggling is expected and necessary.
Evening & Nightcap
Evenings start in late afternoon at Sequoia restaurant, culminating with sunset Nile views from the tip of Gezira island. Creatively presented classics tantalize the palette with crisp and light flavors. Mezzes compete with main courses for your table and taste buds, with freshly baked rustic pita bread that is absolutely divine. Whether on a dinner cruise, hotel, or ancient courtyard, several performances by Sufi Dervishes are available to entertain or enlighten clients; most are simply shows, but some are authentic experiences you can arrange in advance.
A hotel both in the middle of the action near attractions, yet tucked in an upscale neighborhood, Hilton Zamalek residences offers lock-off suites for couples and families. The onsite gym and health club, included for guests, is lavish and features steam, sauna, and relaxation areas. For clients that want bragging rights, consider the Oberoi Minah House’s Pyramid view suites. Celebrity and Royalty stays here, and the rates maintain the exclusive ambiance.
Several popular tour companies continue to operate with smaller groups, and some have guaranteed their departures to encourage Egypt bookings. Uniworld, with its luxury vessel the River Tosca, offers extensive Nile cruise itineraries that feature Cairo. However you arrange your visit, a trip to Al-Kahira, the victorious will be one you’ll relish for years to come.
If You Go:
- Egypt Tourist Authority
- Sequoia Restaurant
- Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities
- Uniworld, Luxury Nile Cruises