Touring and Exploring Ancient Egypt

(Updated blog post from 2009 to new format)

Our first day on our main tour, with Insight Vacations. After the obligatory orientation in a hotel conference room, we boarded a tour bus and headed back to the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar.

Having been there just the day before, we took a quick walk through and picked up a few little things (I got a faux Patek Phillipe watch for $20) and then spent the remainder of the time drinking tea with our tour guide in a nearby cafe.

We spent the remainder of the day visiting the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It has one of the world’s largest collections of antiquities, including the contents of King Tutankhamun’s tomb – an amazing sight! Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to have cameras inside – this is actually one of my pet peeves: so many tourists don’t know how to turn off their camera flash that attractions have started banning cameras completely instead of just banning flash photography.

The next morning we awoke painfully early to fly to Abu Simbel, stopping in Aswan to offload our luggage, which was sent ahead to our hotel for the night. The plane took off again much faster without the weight of all that luggage!  The temples were an amazing sight; and it was amazing to think about the engineering involved in moving them (see above link).

Afterwards we flew back to Aswan and took a bus and small ferry to our hotel for the night, the Movenpick hotel on Elaphantine Island. After lunch and a nap break, we took a felucca ride around the island, which was named after the unusual rock formations in the area resembling pachyderm posteriors.


We sailed past the Old Cataract Hotel, which was featured in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile; and the three man boat crew treated us to a sing-along.

Then we returned to the hotel for high tea in the top-floor observation deck. There was a strolling violin player and we watched a beautiful sunset.


On Friday morning, we went to a quarry in Aswan where there is an unfinished obelisk that was abandoned due to a large crack. It was massive, and you could still see evidence of the original quarrying methods.

Then we headed to the Great Aswan Dam, which supplies 40% of Egypt’s power and was constructed during the 1950s with the help of the Soviet Union; and then on to the temple of Isis at Philae, later occupied by Coptic Christians, who damaged many of the carvings (something we would see in many of the temples we visited.) Upon entering, Dave swore this was where the movie Stargate was filmed, and it looked familiar to me too, though I can’t find anything on the internet.

On the way back to the tour bus Dave bought a local Nubian hat to wear to the Egyptian costume party later in the cruise and we stopped at another perfume essence factory. They had more blends than the one we visited earlier in the week, even a very good facsimile of Chanel Chance, one of my favorites.

Because of limited shore space, the Nile cruise boats line up parallel to the shore several deep, and you board through the lobbies of the boats between yours and the shore.


After boarding we had our first lunch aboard – not bad! Then we headed up to the observation deck for a quick workout followed by a lazy afternoon enjoying glasses of wine and the passing scenery. The gym equipment left a little to be desired, but the view was superb!

Along the way we spied camels, donkeys, water bullafo and ibises; along with women doing their laundry in the river with washboards.


In the evening the boat docked at Kom Ombo; it was a spectacular sight to pull up to the dramatically lit temple right on the dark water.

In one of the antechambers, the are 2000 year old mummified crocodiles! As our guide was giving us the history of the site, we could see and hear a screech owl looking for rodents – quite an eerie sound.

The next morning we woke up early again to see the temple at Edfubefore the rest of the crowds. There were several statues of the falcon god Horus, to whom the temple is dedicated.

There were also quite a few black dogs of indeterminate mixed breed…

I also found an illustration of the hippopotamus god Seth, who was killed by his brother – kind of a Cain and Able story.

After the temple, we returned to our boat for snacks on the sun deck while we waited to go through the Esna locks.


We docked in Luxor for the night and had a modern Egyptian culture round table with our guide, Hazem, followed by dinner and a galabeaparty. We had purchased galabeas while we were with our pre-tour guide, so we were anxious to put them to good use.

We then headed back to Cairo (and the Conrad) today by plane. We checked back into the hotel and hit the gym and swimming pool to unwind – both very nice. At 5pm we were picked up to go to the Sound & Light Show at Giza. It was a nice show, nothing spectacular; but there were some interesting stories about the lives of the pharaohs who built them and the history that has taken place around them.

The next morning we revisited the pyramids and sphinx at Giza.

We were surprised how much larger they appear in the daylight! Because we were touring in the open desert, our group had a bodyguard; who took a great liking to Dave after discovering they were both military men.

Only 150 people per day are allowed into the great pyramid, so our group went into his son’s pyramid nearby. It was not nearly as steep or long a trip down as Dashur – thank goodness!

Next we headed to the step pyramid at Sakkara. From there, on a clear day, you can see a panoramic view of 7 pyramids. Unfortunately, we were there on a rather polluted day and could just make them out; I tried a picture and it came out like dirty cotton wool. In an annex of one of the tombs, Dave found carvings that depict a monkey-like figure bursting from a man’s chest (unfortunately another place we couldn’t have cameras) – proof of his theory of extraterrestial (warning – nightmare alert!) involvement in the building of the pyramids?

This was the last day of the tour for most of the group – we and one other couple had signed up to do an extra day’s tour in Alexandria the next day.  We checked out really early the next morning since we would be going straight to the airport after the tour; and I slept for most of the 3-hour drive there. We were lucky to have Hazem, our guide for the main tour as our guide for this excursion also. Our first stop was the catacombs, and then on to Pompey’s Pillar and the surrounding hill of ruins.



Next we saw the city’s Roman amphitheater, considerably smaller than Caesarea’s, but with a “magic spot” – if you stand on the stone that marks it and speak normally, your voice is amplified to be heard from every seat in the house. There was also an open air museum showing some of the results of the recent underwater archaeology work going on in the harbor, where some of the ancient city is now below the ocean’s surface.

This was followed by a trip to the Alexandria National Museum (not nearly the size of the Egyptian museum, but so much better organized that I enjoyed it more) and a drive along the coast toward the Qaitbay Citadel.

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1 Response to Touring and Exploring Ancient Egypt

  1. Pingback: Egypt | David Cross International Travel Blog

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