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Egypt is the world’s oldest famous destination. The trend was established by ancient Greeks and Romans who came to marvel at the cyclopean scale of the Pyramids of Giza and the Colossi of Thebes in ancient Egypt. While Egypt was still a colony, Napoleon and the British stole the country for their national museums, which resulted in a trickle of Grand Tourists who turned into a flood of visitors when Thomas Cook began offering Nile cruises and Egyptological lectures.
While the Nile Valley and the souks, mosques, and madrasahs of Islamic Cairo remain top attractions, tourists are increasingly flocking to nearby coral reefs, tropical fish, dunes, old fortifications, and monasteries as well as prehistoric rock art.
The country is a quirk of nature in terms of geology, and the River Nile is its lifeblood. Barren wastelands surround the Nile Valley and its Delta from the Sudanese border to the Mediterranean coast, the latter as lonely as the former are bustling with people. The extreme contrast between Egypt’s abundance and desolation has molded the country’s history since prehistoric times, providing continuity to a wide range of civilizations and peoples for more than seven centuries. Religion, which permeates every area of life, strengthens this sense of permanence and timelessness. Although ancient Egypt’s pagan cults are as deadly as its legacy of mummies and temples, its ancient fertility rites and boat procession still exist in Islamic and Christian festivals.
As a result, we have a culture that is both old and modern at the same time. Bedouin and Nile peasants continue to lead parallel lives now as they did a thousand years ago. Others include the far-south Nubians and the Coptic Christians, whose lineage may be traced back to ancient Egypt’s pharaonic period. What binds them together is a devotion to their nation, strong links to extended family, and a sense of dignity and compassion toward others. While Egypt’s antiquities are a big lure, for most visitors, it’s the people and their way of life that stick with them.
Cairo, Egypt’s capital, is a raging megalopolis whose main tourist attractions are its bazaars and medieval mosques. However, there is no less fascination in its comparison of medieval and modern life. The city’s fortified gates, villas, and skyscrapers are interwoven by flyovers whose traffic may be halted by donkey carts. The enormity and diversity of this «Mother of Cities» are as mind-boggling as anything else in Egypt. The first pyramids that stretch over the desert to the edge of the Fayoum, just outside Cairo, are the unrivaled trio at Giza, the enormous necropolis of Saqqara, and the pyramids at Dahshur. Aside from that, there are excellent museums dedicated to Ancient, Coptic, and Islamic Egypt, as well as enough entertainment to keep you entertained for weeks.
With its historical monuments and timeless river panoramas, the Nile Valley remains the major traveler draw, as it always has – Nile cruises on a luxury vessel or a felucca sailboat are a fantastic way to combine the two. Luxor is connected to the magnificent Karnak temples and the Theban Necropolis, including the Valley of the Kings, where Tutankhamun and other pharaohs were interred. Aswan, Egypt’s southernmost city, boasts the most beautiful location on the Nile and a relaxing atmosphere. From here, you may visit other temples on Lake Nasser or the island Philae temple of Isis and the rock-hewn colossi at Abu Simbel. Other highlights are Edfu and Kom Ombo, located between Luxor and Aswan, and Abydos and Dendara, located north of Luxor.
Egypt is rich in natural marvels in addition to monuments. The Sinai Peninsula, surrounded by coral reefs teeming with tropical fish, provides excellent diving and snorkeling, as well as palm-fringed beaches where women can swim unmolested. The resorts surrounding the Gulf of Aqaba are diverse enough to appeal to everyone, whether you like the opulent hotels of Sharm el-Sheikh, adjacent Na’ama Bay, or Taba farther north, or the inexpensive, basic life of Dahab and Nuweiba. St Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai (where Moses received the Ten Commandments) are both easily accessible from there. You may even go on car safaris or camel treks to a distant oasis and beautiful wadis if you have more time.
Egypt’s Red Sea Coast features other reefs further offshore, with snorkeling and diving historically centered around Hurghada, while untouched island reefs from Port Safaga down to Marsa Alam entice professional divers. Inland, the rugged Eastern Desert is home to Coptic monasteries dedicated to St. Paul and St. Anthony, Roman quarries, and a plethora of pharaonic and ancient rock art, which few people see save nomadic Bedouin.
While the Eastern Desert is still untouched by tourism, the Western Desert Oases have been on the tourist route for forty years and now host wilderness safaris. On the Libyan border, Siwa has a distinct culture and history, as well as clear lakes and plenty of beauty. Travelers can also take the «Great Desert Circuit» (starting in Cairo, Luxor, or Assyut) through the four «inner» oases – through Bahariya and Farafra have the most appeal. With the lovely White Desert between them, the larger oases of Dakhla and Kharga also have their rewards once you escape their modernized «capitals.» There’s also the difficulty of discovering the Great Sand Sea or the remote wadis of the Gilf Kebir, whose prehistoric rock art was featured in the film The English Patient. The quasi-oases of Fayoum and Wadi Natrun, with the fossil-strewn Valley of the Whales, various ancient monuments, and Coptic monasteries, stand in stark contrast to these deep-desert locales.
Alexandria, Egypt’s second city on the Mediterranean, has a stretch of beaches that Cairenes go to in the summer and great seafood eateries. Despite being founded by Alexander the Great and lost to the Romans by Cleopatra, today’s city bears little resemblance to its ancient glory. However, its magnificent new library, which features statues raised from the sunken remains of Cleopatra’s Palace, and the Lighthouse of Pharos (which divers can explore), are restoring a sense of majesty. Alexandria, famed for its opulence during colonial times, still offers romantics a nostalgic tour of the city memorialized in Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, while El-Alamein, a World War II battlefield, is located farther down the Mediterranean coast. Divers can explore buried civilizations and military wreckage in the seas near Alexandria.
The Nile Delta, east of Alexandria, has few archeological sites despite its importance in Egyptian history, and tourists usually ignore it. However, Tanta, Zagazig, and other cities hold colorful religious festivals for those interested in Egyptian culture. The Canal Zone, located further east, is dominated by the Suez Canal and its three towns: Suez is desolate, but it serves as a crucial transportation hub between Cairo, Sinai, and the Red Sea Coast; Port Said and Ismailiya are lovely if sleepy, towns where you can get a sense of «real Egypt» without stumbling over other visitors.
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On the Mediterranean coast, the winter is warm and spring-like, with highs about 18-20°C/64-68°F and lows about 10°C/50°F; however, this is the only time of year where rains are light to moderate. Summer is lengthy, humid, and bright, with highs about 30°C/86 °F, although sea breezes keep it cool. The humidity level in the Nile River delta is very high. Rainfall on the northern shore follows the Mediterranean pattern. However, it is sparse and concentrated in winter since this is the only time when depressions may impact the region. The Mediterranean Sea is warm from July through October, although it is also warm enough for swimming in June.
Cairo, the capital, is approximately 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the sea, but it lies on the massive Nile River Delta; thus, its climate is midway between Mediterranean and desert. In the desert, summer temperatures are lower but higher near the coast, with highs in July and August about 35°C/95°F, but humidity is high, so that the heat may be unpleasant. Summer lasts a long time, with maximum temperatures above 30°C/86°F from May to mid-October. The uncomfortable feeling of warmth inside the city is exacerbated by the so-called «urban heat island effect,» which happens in large cities and pollution. The rainfall in Cairo is low, at just 55 mm (2.1 in) per year, and it is missing throughout the long summer.
Winter in the capital is comparable to the north coast, with highs about 19-21°C/66-70°F between December and February, but chilly and overcast days are possible when northern currents dominate. In any event, the sun often shines throughout the year, and it nearly always shines from spring through fall.
The environment in the interior is desert, with almost little rain; temperatures steadily rise as you go south. Because of the bright sky and little humidity, the diurnal temperature variation is remarkable. Winters are warm and sunny, but evenings are chilly to cold, with temperatures ranging from 7-8°C /45-46°F in the central region (Luxor) to 10-11°C (Aswan), but the coldest nights may approach freezing 0°C/32°F. Winter days are delightfully moderate or warm, with average temperatures of 23-24°C/73-75°F. Summers in inland regions are scorchingly hot, with highs ranging from 36-37°C/97-99°F in the center-north to 41-42°C/106-108°F in the south, and the sun beats down fiercely throughout this season. The temperature in the south may reach 48-50°C/118-122°F on the warmest days.
Between October and April is the perfect season to visit Egypt, when temperatures are lower but comfortable throughout the nation. This makes exploring Cairo’s bustling streets, seeing the Pyramids in the desert, and discovering old Pharaonic tombs more comfortable and pleasant.
Even though it’s hot throughout summer (May to September), dry air, air conditioning, fewer people in town, and lower costs help offset the high temperatures. This indicates that summer is still a viable option for your journey. There is also a little wind on the Nile at this time, making a river cruise an excellent choice.
Egypt is home to about 100 mammal species, many of which are critically endangered or vulnerable. Surprisingly, in certain arid regions, such as the Wadis of Jebel Uweinat, rock art has been found depicting a wetter environment with what seem to be images of ostriches, giraffes, gazelles, and herds of cattle. Unfortunately, rodents such as house mice and rats, and the long-eared hedgehog are the most prevalent animals.
There are also some unusual animals, such as the Sand Cat, the Fennec (the world’s smallest fox), and the Nubian Ibex. Camels have been the preferred mode of transportation in much of Egypt for weeks without food or water. True camels have two humps, while dromedary camels have just one. Manatees, dolphins, whales, dugongs, and seals are examples of marine mammals.
There are about 106 reptile and amphibian species in addition to mammals, including snakes, lizards, geckos, scorpions, and crocodiles. You can find 36 snake varieties in Egypt, including cobras, horned vipers, and sand boa. Geckos are the most frequent of the 49 lizard species that live in Egypt. The Nile crocodile, formerly common in Egypt, may now be found only in Lake Nasser. The building of the Aswan Dam was a devastating blow to the Nile crocodile’s existence since the Nile River served as a vital food supply.
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