Pyramids and temples: Egypt for first-timers
February 8, 2018
Egypt has everything to be the ideal travel destination: an unrivaled amount of ancient monuments, vast infinite deserts and colorful coral reefs. There is so much to see and do, that there is the serious danger of getting overwhelmed. If you have only one week and want to immerse yourself in Egypts pharaonic past, this is your travel schedule full of pharaoh’s, temples and pyramids.
Spend your first couple of days in Cairo, but don’t expect it to be easy. Cairo’s traffic is beyond comprehension if you never experienced it yourself. People hang out of busses, motorbikes carry whole families, all cars, sometimes filled with camels, are constantly honking and in the midst of this grazy rush, skinny donkeys pull their heavy carts. Crossing a street is quite a challenge here!
The Egyptian Museum
A visit to the Egyptian Museum is the best introduction to Egypt’s rich past. You can wander through the many halls for days and it pays off to hire a guide to show you the highlights. Ofcourse you have to see Tutankhamuns golden mask and his rich decorated throne. Other must sees are the Narmer Palette, a small statue of pharaoh Cheops and a huge statue of pharaoh Akenaten. My favorites in the Egyptian Museum are the head of queen Hatshepsut, a panel with an adoration scene of the Aten, which shows Akenaten, his wife and daughters, and a political caricature of a cat herding geese.
Your first time in Giza is unforgettable. The mysterious pyramids, the mighty Sphinx, the Solar Boat Museum are all musts on your Egypt travel bucket list. Take your time here. Don’t just take the inevitable pyramid photos and leave. Walk the gateway, have a look at the Valley temples and the west cemetry. And make sure you will see at least one pyramid from the inside. Wander around and become a part of history.
About 24 kilometers south east of Cairo lies the desert necropolis Saqqara. Saqqara was built for the kings and nobles of the Old Kingdom. Here you can see the first pyramid and the Serapeum, a burial place of mummified scared bulls. But the reason to come here is ofcourse the Step Pyramid of Djoser. Here goes the same, don’t rush because your need to see other highlights. Take your time and get overwhelmed by the rich decorations.
Back in Cairo, there are some other places worthwhile visiting. The Citadel is one of the most impressive places in Egypt’s capital. The vast complex was built by the famed general Saladin and it still dominates the city. The Citadel includes the palace and mosque of Muhammad Ali. There are some great look out points over the city. Read more about Saladin and discover his influence on the European chivalric culture.
When you are in Cairo, visit the worlds oldest shopping district, the bazaar of Khan el-Khalili. It’s a noisy, magical place full of sparkles and glitters. And ofcourse your can’t leave the bazaar without bargaining over the price of a, still way too expensive, souvenir.
Cairo is a busy and grazy city. So now it’s time for some rest, so I suggest you embark on a Nile cruise. A Nile cruise is a relaxing way to travel and at the same time to see a lot. If you don’t want to cruise around or take a domestic flight, there is a good night train connection between Cairo and Luxor. But honestly, a Nile cruise is a must for first-timers. The Nile views are amazing.
While Cairo is a world city, Luxor is a tourist town. Tourism accounts for about 85 percent of the local economy and for a good reason: Ancient Thebes has a lot to offer. You can spend here several weeks exploring temples and tombs, and still you will run out of time and realise you can’t see everything.
To the ancient Egyptians Karnak Temple was Ipet-Isut, ‘The Most Perfect of Places’. The temple complex is in ruins now, but it remains spectacular. For me the Great Hypostyle Hall was an adventure of its own. It still feels like a hall of the Gods. The Precinct of Amun has a complex plan, combing two axes. The east- west axe is the main axis and the easiest way to explore the temple is to follow this axis.
The Luxor Temple is located in the middle of the town, across the street from the Nile-side Corniche. Luxor Temple is rather small, but when you have an eye for details, the rich reliefs you will make stay here for several hours. First explore the temple’s central sanctuary, head out one the west-side doorways and walk back along the exterior to marvel at the decorations, which contain battle scenes of Ramses II. The avenue of Sphinxes went originally all the way to Karnak, 3 kilometers north.
The Luxor Museum is a small museum compared to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, but it has a rich collection. Where the Egyptian Museum excels in quantity and quality, the museum in Luxor distinguishes itself in the beautiful way of presenting the objects. Don’t leave Luxor without visiting this museum, it’s a must see.
Across the Nile from Luxor town lies the Westbank, an archeological paradise filled with temples and tombs. It’s also the gateway to the world famous Valley of the Kings. Take your time to explore the Westbank, rent a bike and most of all, choose what you wish to see, because seeing everything is impossible. Start with Deir al-Bahri, Hatshepsut’s temple, followed by the Ramsesseum. Then go to the Valley of the Kings. The Valley of the Kings is one of the richest archeological sites in the world. The pharaohs were buried in tombs, richly decorated with images of the afterlife. The chambers were filled with treasures, but most of these treasures were robbed. Everyone wants to see Tutankhamuns tomb, but trust me, it’s not the best. It’s small and undecorated. My advice is to visit other tombs: those of Ramses VI (KV9), Horemheb (KV57), Seti I (KV17) and Merenptah (KV8) are a few of my favorites. Each tomb is unique. Much smaller are the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Nobles, but still, you have to visit both.
Leaving Luxor filled with colorful images of the after life and full of impressions, you will need some time to take all in. But there is no time for that. Egypt will never cease to amaze you. Luckily you have a relaxing way to travel, sitting on deck watching the Nile passing by gently, will help you to process your many impressions.
The Nile cruise will certainly stop at Edfu Temple. Edfu is the most splendid of the Nile monuments between Luxor and Aswan. The temple of Horus will give you a good impression of the Greco-Roman time in Egypt. Horus is one of the most sigificant ancient Egyptian deities. The image of this falcon god is everywhere in the temple.
Just 48 kilometers north of Aswan lies Kom Ombo, a temple decicated to Sobek, the crocodile god. Pay attention to the richly decorated ceilings; I loved the ceiling paintings. The nearby Crocodile Museum will tell your more about the crocodile cultus in ancient Egypt. It also displays some mummified crocodiles.
Historically Aswan was Egypts southern frontier town. Nowadays it’s an attractive town with a nice souk and a great museum. The Nubian Museum gives a good insight in the Nubian culture. The must on your list here is the Unfinished Obelisk. This huge obelisk is perfectly shaped on three sides, but is still attached to the rock on the fourth side. If you have enough time, plan a trip to Philae. This temple complex is devoted to the goddess Isis and lies on an island in the Nile. The natural harmony between the temple and the river Nile make a visit unforgettable. On your way to the south you will make a stop at the High Dam and Lake Nasser, the world’s largest artificial body of water.
There are no words to describe these monuments built by the mightiest of the pharaohs, Ramses II. The temples marked the end of the pharaonic lands and were intended to convey the might of the pharaohs tot anyone who approached. The temples are huge, but don’t forget to look at the small details, the hieroglyphs and drawings. Note also the beautiful images of Ramses daughters flanking his huge effigies. Abu Simbel is a worthy end to an impressive journey into the past. For sure, you have made memories that will last a life time.
After this travel to Egypt, you will need some time to process all the beauty you saw. And for sure you will start planning your next trip to Egypt, because this was just a start. There is so much more to explore. Of all the places I have visited around the world, my favourite places are those that people said were unsafe or advised me not to travel to. Egypt is one of those countries. I have been there 16 times now (and I’m still counting!) and I have traveled all corners of the country. I never felt unsafe and I feel there is still so much more to discover in this magical land, on land, in the deserts and under water. Don’t let yourself hold back by fear. The pharaohs brought Egypt to unequaled greatness. Their legacy captivated our imaginations till today and traveling there to see this rich history with your own eyes is a fair tale coming true.