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Egypt travel guide

Cultural powerhouse of the ancient world, Egypt is a peerless land of coral-filled seas and rolling desert, seas of sand preserving temples, tombs and pyramids

Nestled into North Africa between the Mediterranean and the Middle East, Egypt was, for centuries, the world's most advanced society. Alexander the Great was an early tourist, and it was years before the empires of Greece and Rome came anywhere near matching Egypt's sophisticated culture. Successive civilisations - including the West - have marvelled at its mega-monuments such as the Pyramids of Giza and the stone temples of Karnak.

The River Nile runs through the heart of Egypt, and is still the lifeblood of the nation, irrigating the verdant Nile Delta and the desert beyond, and linking the Mediterranean all the way down Africa to the Sudan. Along the way are a string of Egyptian marvels: the Pyramids at Giza and Sakara near Cairo, Kom Omboh, Dendera, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings further south towards Luxor.

West of the Nile is the ancient city of Alexandria, once home to the world's greatest library, and a string of oases heading south, palm-fringed communities marooned in a sea of sand that depend on ancient aquifers for their very existence.

To the east is the Sinai Peninsula, visited by the pilgrims, prophets and saints of the Orient's rival religions, now tracked by Bedouin leading camels through the sands.

The Suez Canal, still carrying vast cargo ships incongruously through the desert, links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. This is where you'll find Egypt's world-class diving and snorkelling. International resort hotels line up on sandy beaches, taking advantage of year-round sun to offer fly and flop comforts to a steady stream of visitors.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Sail the Nile. Egypt's greatest sights are clustered around the Nile's southern section, between Luxor and Aswan. Cruise the timeless waters in a traditional felucca, sleeping on deck under the stars, or a dahabiyya, its upmarket local counterpart. Alternatively, join a package-tour cruise ship where every day it is Gala Night 
  2. Talk to the Dead. The great painted tombs of the ancient Pharoahs provide a graphic glimpse of the ancients' view of death. The tombs in Luxor's 'City of the Dead' are the most complete, with vivid colours and exquisite craftsmanship
  3. Drive the Desert. Rent a car and head out into the Western Desert. You'll need to wake the guard to visit tombs and temples in atmospheric oases, far from the crowds
  4. Climb Mount Sinai. Trek to St Catharine's Monastery with a Bedouin guide, and spend a night under the stars, with camels by your side
  5. Dive the Red Sea. Rent a hut in Dahab or a suite in Sharm and take to the waters for world-class dives. Snorkelling is a substitute if you don't have PADI
  6. Passion for the Past. Delve into the wonders of Cairo’s peerless Museum of Antiquities and buy replicas at the Khan el-Khalili bazaar
  7. Be with Berbers. There's a very different atmosphere is Siwa Oasis, out towards the border with Libya. Explore the Delphic Oracle and ancient town centre, built from mud, that melted in an unexpected shower sixty years ago

Wanderlust tips

The lock on the Nile at Esna closes for two weeks each June and December; at this time Egypt’s cruising boats can’t pass – check the dates to make sure this doesn’t impact on your trip.

Although Egypt is used to Western tourists remember this is still a Muslim society and both men and women should dress conservatively (covered knees and shoulders) unless on a resort beach.

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