WHY TO VISIT EGYPT
Full of history and bathed with light like no other city, Egypt continues to make tourists dream and seduce its visitors.
Cairo, the capital, is not the least of its attractions: Huge and multicultural, it is almost a museum in itself; the innumerable minarets, the mosques, narrow streets, the Coptic Museum and the Egyptian Museum as well as Giza with the Pyramids and the Sphinx. These are some examples of the wonders it holds.
Alexandria was an international intellectual center, of which a few traces still remain: the Greco-Roman Museum has artifacts from the 3rd century BC and you may also wish to visit the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa.
Luxor is a definite place to include in your schedule: It’s built along the Nile from which you can you can view it perfectly; you will be awed by its amazing architecture. At the same place, the Temple of Karnak and the tombs of the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens will enchant you with their timeless majesty.
Further south, Aswan is another of this country’s treasures: The splendour of the Nile at this point, the Elephantine Island, the Nubian villages on the east coast, the Aswan Dam, and the Temple of Philae saved from the water by UNESCO, are just some of the stopovers that cannot be missed, not forgetting the magical and unforgettable journey to Abu Simbel.
WHAT TO SEE IN EGYPT
Top destinations in Egypt are:
- Cairo & Giza
- Luxor & Valley of the Kings
- Abu Simbel
- White Desert
- Siwa Oasis
- Mount Sinai
WHEN TO GO TO EGYPT
Best period to visit Egypt is from April to November.
The north of Egypt can be quite cold in winter, but generally the country benefits all year round from a warm and dry climate, except the months from January to March: The temperature varies between 20°C and 32°C throughout the Mediterranean area and between 28°C and 50°C around Aswan, which rarely sees rain.
The desert is evidently a place of extremes, with stifling days and cold nights.
You would be best to choose spring or autumn to discover the country but avoid March and April when the Rhamcin blows; sandy winds that saturate the air with dust making any outing difficult.
Following a list of typical festival and celebrations of Egypt.
- Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr: Ramadan is a month of fasting during daylight hours in which Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from sunup to sunset. The mood during the day can be somber, with reduced business hours to allow time for spiritual contemplation. The first day after Ramadan begins a three- or four-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr. After the final fast-breaking (iftar), people often celebrate all night. The next day everyone puts on new clothes to join street festivities with small fairs and open markets while families and friends get together to exchange gifts and sweets. Muslim holidays are not on fixed dates because they are on the lunar calendar, so they move back by about 11 days each year.
- Leylet en Nuktah: Ancient Egyptians worshiped the Nile because of the yearly bounty it brought, and beautiful women were sacrificed to appease the gods and bring on the flooding. Modern Egyptians still celebrate the yearly rise of the river on June 17, since the flooding is what brings the silt that feeds the Delta's rich soil. Instead of sacrifices, modern Egyptians picnic and camp along the edges of the river or spend the night out on the streets with family and friends. At sunset, women put out balls of dough representing the people in the house, and in the morning the cracks are examined to make predictions about each person's longevity and fortune.
- Coptic Christmas: Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, and most Egyptians regardless of religion join in the festivities, especially in Cairo and other Coptic regions. The week before Christmas, homes and businesses are decked out with colorful lights and decorations, and there are manger scenes and special holiday bazaars in the streets. Following the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, people gather to celebrate and eat a traditional dish of rice, garlic and meat soup called fata.
- Sham al-Naseem: “Sham al-Naseem” means “sniffing the breeze.” Egyptians of all religions celebrate this ancient holiday to mark the coming of spring on March 21 by spending the day in the countryside or in parks for picnics; some have their picnic on a boat trip on the Nile. The picnic baskets are loaded with the traditional foods of this holiday, including dried or pickled fish and dishes made with midamis or fuul (kidney beans). Food vendors, dancers and musicians also fill the streets to entertain the public on this festive day.
- Moulid an-Nabi: Moulid an-Nabi is a major Islamic festival that marks the birth of the prophet Mohammed. Most cities host parades and processions on this day, and the streets are filled with dancers, acrobats, drummers and musicians. Families join together to greet each other and exchange gifts before heading out to explore the street fairs. Traditional sweets like halawet el-moulid (a type of helvah or candy) and candy dolls called are sold from roadside stands as well as hummus (a puree made from chick peas), the traditional food of Moulid an-Nabi.
- Festivals in Fayoum: It's worth visiting the city purely for its festivals. Hotels overflow during Ah er-Rubi's moulid in Sha'ban, when the alleys around his mosque are crammed with stalls purveying sugar dolls and horsemen, and all kinds of amusements, while the devout perform zikrs in the courtyard. The other big occasion is the "viewing" (Er-Ruyeh) of the new moon that heralds Ramadan. This calls for a huge procession from the Gamal Abdel Nasser Mosque. Headed by the security forces, followed by imams and sheikhs, a parade of carnival floats "mimes" the work of different professions and bombards spectators with "lucky' prayer leaflets.
- Siwan Festivals: Siwan festivals are the most public side of a largely private culture, so it's worth making an effort to attend one. The largest and most famous is the Siayha, or Tourism Festival, which, despite its name, is a genuine event with a long tradition. Some 10,000 Siwans assemble at Jebel Dakhrour for three days of feasting, dancing and relaxation - acting as tourists in their own oasis. A sheikh from Sidi Barrani comes in to bless the feast with an inaugural Bism'illah (in the name of God). Many non-Siwans and foreigners come too, and are made welcome. Siayha always occurs during the period of the full moon in October.
- Wepet Renpet: Ancient Egyptians celebrated the new year with a festival called Wepet Renpet, or "opening of the year." The Egyptian New Year was not celebrated on an exact date because it corresponded with the Nile River's annual flooding. This typically occurred during the month of July. This event was significant to ancient Egyptians because it ensured the fertility of the farmlands for the following year. Wepet Renpet was celebrated with feasts and community gatherings.
- The Sed Festival: The Sed Festival, also known as Heb Sed and Feast of the Tail, was an ancient Egyptian festival that celebrated the 30th year of a pharaoh's rule. This festival was held every three years until the end of a pharaoh's rule. Sed Festivals included several temple rituals, offerings and the raising of adjed, the spine of a bovine that represented the strength of the pharaoh. A feast was also offered to the pharaoh to give him strength to continue his rule.
- The Opet Festival: The Opet Festival was a celebration of the Theban Triad, which is the collective name of three Egyptian Gods. This festival occurred on the 19th day of the second month of Akhet, the first season in the Egyptian calendar. During the festival, the statues of the Theban Triad were brought by boat from the temple of Amun to the temple of Luxor. In later festivals, the statues were transported on a road connecting the two temples. Along the way, the procession would stop at several chapels where the community would gather and bring offerings. The statues remained at the temple of Luxor for three weeks before returning to their respective temples in Karnek, where they remained until the next Opet festival.
- Festival of Khoiak: The Festival of Khoiak, also known as ka-her-ka or sustenance upon sustenance, originated from myths regarding the Egyptian god Osiris. It is believed that Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, but revived by his sister-wife Isis. The death and revival of Osiris was observed during the fourth month of the season of the flood. As soon as the Nile River receded, Egyptians celebrated the Festival of Khoiak by shaping earth to look like Osiris' profile. Seeds were placed in the "Osiris beds" to guarantee the crops would flourish and be revived like Osiris was.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH EGYPT
The buses connect the main cities. Renting a car will allow you to discover the more hidden places. Be adventurous and take a journey on a Nile Felucca, you will not regret it.
by plane, main airports are:
- Cairo - Giza (Sphinx International)
- Abu Simbel
- Marsa Alam
- Sharm El Sheikh
- El Dabaa
- St. Caterine
GENERAL INFORMATION ON EGYPT
country entry requirements: passport + visa (for some countries not required)
health tips & vaccination: drink only bottled water and avoid ice.
local currency: Egyptian Pound
local time zone: GMT+2 (+3)
electricity: tipe C and F (220V 50Hz)
mobile phone operators:
WHAT TO DO IN EGYPT
typical food in Egypt
- Kushari (or Koshari): dish made of rice, macaroni and lentils mixed together, topped with a spiced tomato sauce, and garlic vinegar; garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions
- Aish: Aish is the Egyptian traditional pocket bread similar to pita bread. It is made by mixing wheat flour, water and salt then baked.
- Aish baladi: same as above but it uses whole wheat bread.
- Mulukhiya: jute and corchorus leaves chopped with garlic and coriander and cooking it in an animal stock such as chicken, beef or rabbit, and served with Egyptian bread or rice
- Baba Ghanoush: Made from grilled eggplant that is peeled then mashed and mixed with tahini (see below), lemon juice, salt, pepper, parsley, cumin and dressed with olive oil. This dip has a smoky flavor and is best served with pita bread.
- Basbousa: A sweet semolina cake which is soaked in a syrup that has a floral scent (made from rose water and sometimes lemon and honey).
- Beide Hamine: Almost like hard-boiled eggs though smoother and creamier due to them slowly simmering for 6-8 hours.
- Bram rice: Rice made with milk which is stuffed with chicken liver.
- Falafel (or ta'amiya): balls of fava beans (broad beans) or chickpeas that have been deep fried.
- Fatta: a garlic and white vinegar flavored meat soup served with rice
- Feseekh (or Fesikh): fermented, salted and dried gray mullet fish. It is normally eaten during the spring celebration of Sham el-Nessim.
- Ful medames: Mashed Fava beans (broad beans) that are cooked with oil, chopped parsley, garlic, lemon juice and salt added to them. Traditionally eaten with pita bread and onions with some pickled vegetables and fresh rocket leaves on the side.
- Hamam Mahshi: dish made by stuffing rice, wheat or herbs into pigeon then grilled or roasted it.
- Hummus bi Tahina: a dip made from chickpea and sesame. It is usually served with grilled or toasted bread. It can also be used as a spread or in a sandwich.
- Gibna Domiati: a white soft cheese made from buffalo aged 1-3 years
- Kofta: spiced meatballs (looking more like small sausages than balls) often served on a skewer.
- Sambousak: fried thin pastry stuffed with cheese
- Mesh: a tomato and cheese dip
- Kibda: fried liver (beef) usually sold from a cart on the street.
- Dukkah: consists of a mixture of herbs, nuts and spices such as mint, salt, sesame, coriander and cumin. Commonly used as a dip and eaten along with Egyptian flatbread or raw vegetables, such as tomatoes or cucumber, as an hors d’oeuvre or side dish.
- Halawa: sweet paste made of sesame
- Konafah: sweet made of a very thin noodle-like pastry, mixed with butter or oil and wrapped around a filling made out of nuts, whipped cream or both. It is baked and presented with a fruit syrup on top.
souvenirs from Egypt
- carpets, rugs and kilims
- brass lanterns and lamps with coloured glass
- alabaster items
- Embroidered Beduine scarves
- Shisa pipes
- Belly dancing outfit: masks, skirts, sequin vests
- Jalabiya, garment
- Tee, coffee, spices
- gold jewellery
Hello: مرحبا (marhba)
Goodbye: وداعا (wadaeaan)
How are you?: كيف حالك؟ (kayf halk?)
Thank you: شكرا (shukraan)
What is your name?: ما اسمك؟ (ma asmak)
How much is it?: كم سعره؟ (kam saerha?)
Sorry: معذرة (maedhira)