Once my sister and I landed at Cairo’s airport and saw our names on the Big Five board, our faces brightened. We met Amir, a tall dark Egyptian with eyes like Omar Shariff. He took our passports while we sat and talked about how happy we were to finally be here. After just a few minutes, he was back with our visas and we got our bags. No lines, no waiting, nothing! It was flawless, fast and so easy. What a great way to start the trip.
The story of Egypt is written across the ages and carved in magnificent sandstone structures. For millennia, this land has had a powerful effect on all who have been drawn here. The fascination usually begins with the great pyramids of Giza and the stunning Sphinx.
I couldn’t stop thinking that I could be standing in the footprints of history. Marc Anthony once stood here, Alexander the Great stood here, Napoleon was here, and now me, standing feet away from these more than 4,000-year-old tombs.
History never tires of revealing itself, often in unexpected places. According to a CNN report, a newly uncovered sandstone statue of the sphinx, thought to date back 2,000 years, was discovered while crews worked to lower the groundwater level in an ancient temple. Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities stated on its Facebook page that the tiny sphinx, some 38 centimeters/15 inches tall, was found on the southeastern side of the Kom Ombo temple near the southern city of Aswan.
And still more discoveries wait beneath the centuries of sand. An ancient cemetery with 40 mummies was found in Minya, south of Cairo, and included jewelry, pottery and a gold mask that may date to 300 BCE.
Our Egyptologist drove us to see Dashur, which most tourists don’t visit as it is out of the way. But here were the first pyramids built more than 4,600 years ago. And, there were few other people around, allowing us to absorb these private moments with history.
Each journey into Egypt is personal – or should be, allowing for time and space to connect with the surroundings and the people. Avoiding the “been there, done that” crowd is paramount for us and for our guests. Without genuine connections, an adventure can become just another day.
We met this beautiful, young Egyptian woman, Farah, Big Five’s country manager who used to work for the United Nations in Cairo fighting for gender equality. We talked about Egyptian women’s strength. I couldn’t help but think about women like Cleopatra, Nefertiti and Hatshepsut, all boldly performing jobs meant for men. We walked through Cairo neighborhoods, far from tourist areas, where Egyptians live and work and go to school. That evening. we talked with some of them about the latest political, economic and social aspects of country. An unforgettable evening!
Egypt is awash with experiences beyond cold monuments. Café visits to exchange ideas with local people. A short distance from Cairo, Fayoum is one of the fascinating oasis and the oldest city in Egypt, founded 4,000 years BCE. El Qasr is one of Egypt’s most captivating medieval desert villages and features unique desert homes, dating from the 16th through the 19th centuries that have been completely or partially restored. The Black Desert and the White Desert wait in the Western Desert, where camping is allowed.
We felt as if we were in a movie, walking the paths of pharaohs and queens and others that until now we had only heard or read about. In the Valley of the Kings and Queens, there are many tombs but Big Five took us to those not included in the regular tours such as the King Tut and Nefertari tombs, which had recently been renovated, including the walls restored and alive with colors of gold, green, blue and red… nothing like what I thought a tomb would be. The Egyptologists who traveled with us along the way revealed to us an ancient world with abundant hieroglyphic puzzles, and with their help we were able to recognize many hieroglyphics ourselves!
We ended our cruise in Luxor, where we planned to stay one extra day. So glad we did. It is beautiful to walk around Luxor, with the Nile on one side and these incredible ancient temples such as Karnak on the other side. What a special way to finish our time in Egypt. By being there, surrounded by it and seeing it all first-hand, I felt like I was actually a part of history…. And, in a way, I am.
An August 2018 report from the UN’s latest Tourism Highlights Report noted Egypt as the fastest growing tourist destination in 2017, with a 55.1% growth in 2017 international arrivals. Discover your story in Egypt.