Egypt is home to one of the ancient Seven Wonders, also known for its delectable cuisine and friendly people, and filled with amazing experiences waiting to be had. It seems that Egypt is on everyone’s Bucket List but can feel so far away both literally and figuratively. The language barrier, political history, and the notoriously chaotic traffic all add to the hesitancy for even the seasoned traveler. I’m here to say, if I can make my way to Egypt you most certainly can, too!
I was very nervous booking my trip to Egypt – though I’ve trekked through Nepal and Patagonia, this would be my first SOLO travel adventure since I studied abroad in Barcelona and my first time to Africa. My tour through Egypt ended up being one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. I spent 8 days seeing and doing as much as I could while in Egypt and now can share my favorites and what I would do different.
It is very common to use a tour company or tour manager to help coordinate travel through Egypt as well as assign an Egyptologist to visit all of the historical sites with.
You can either work through a company that plans your entire itinerary or for a more hands on approach, you can use individual guides that will meet you at each destination throughout your trip.
I used Memphis Tours and had a great experience with them. I worked with one of their tour managers to organize my entire trip and had everything taken care from pickup at the airport to in-country travel, most meals, and options for add-ons in country.
Throughout your trip guides will take you to specific stops that give you an option to shop around for things “native” to Egypt from government approved vendors (meaning they’re legit). Some people feel this is too pushy, making them feel pressured to spend money. I felt I was learning something new at each location and genuinely enjoy all the purchases I made and never felt pressured to buy when I wasn’t interested. Personal preference but something to be aware of.
This itinerary includes a Nile Cruise – A cruise is a great way to see the sights along the Nile. It isn’t a must, in my opinion. You could just as easily stay at a nice hotel along the Nile and get beautiful views while potentially save some travel time.
That being said, I really enjoyed my cruising experience -it ended up being very relaxing and nice to not have to pack up each night for the next destination.
We had a small group so it never felt too crowded which can be a downfall on cruises; A Nile Cruise typically means you’ll be on the same schedule as other large groups and will have less control over your schedule in general.
Once you land at the airport in Cairo, you’ll have to go through customs and most likely take a taxi to your hotel. Although customs did not seem particularly overwhelming, you can get an escort to help with filling out your arrival form and navigating through the airport. The company I used offered this service which gave me peace of mind.
Feeling anxious about the long flight to get to Egypt? Check out my guide to surviving long haul flights!
You will most likely want to exchange some cash to get your started, there is an exchange booth before passport check or you can use an ATM after security.
You have two options for your first night in Cairo: stay in the city or stay in Giza next to the Pyramids.
Marriott Mena House in Giza has beautiful views of the pyramids, great reviews, and would’ve been where I stayed if I didn’t opt for the city location.
Instead, I stayed at the Cairo Marriott Hotel in Zamalek which was originally constructed as a visitor palace for diplomats. The hotel was beautiful, truly a palace and a great option if you’d like to explore Zamalek (an upscale district in Cairo) and have views along the Nile River in Cairo.
Another great option for staying in Cairo is Le Riad in Old Cairo. This hotel has a beautiful rooftop restaurant, great food, and right in the action of Khan El Khalili. This hotel feels old in the best sense – traditional decor and large suites.
Start Day 2 off with a bang by heading to the Pyramids first! A few tips for visiting the pyramids for the first time:
Day 3 of this 7 Day Egypt Itinerary starts with an early flight to Luxor, a small city along the Nile packed with exceptional sight-seeing. If doing a Nile River Cruise, you’ll board the ship but stay docked for the night. If staying in Luxor, I recommend checking out the Hilton Luxor Resort.
First stop upon arriving in Luxor is Karnak Temple Complex – an impressive compilation of temples, chapels, pylons, and more covering over 240 acres of land. The perfectly symmetrical columns were one of my favorite parts and fun to photograph.
Next up and just as impressive as Karnak Temples is Luxor Temple, constructed around 1400 BCE. Luxor Temple is the largest, most significant religious site in ancient Egypt. The massive, towering columns and statues are mind boggling. Luxor Temple is a must-see stop on your tour of Ancient Egypt.
As an add-on option in Luxor, you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride around Luxor. I recommend this – it’s a great way to see the markets, the new and the old, and if you’re lucky, they’ll stop at a local sugarcane juice bar and Koshari street vendor. Both of these are Egyptian specialities and must be tried at least once! I devoured the Koshari in record time – it was probably my favorite meal out of the whole trip.
Day 4 of this 8 Day Egypt Itinerary is another jam packed day starting before sunrise. A highlight of my trip was doing a sunrise hot air balloon ride in Luxor. The balloons take off on the West Bank of the Nile River, the side of Valley of Kings. They look magical rising over Luxor and allow you to see over the valley from above.
Pro tip: the balloons are massive and can take up to 20 people in one basket. Try to get a corner spot to have some privacy and the best photo ops.
The main attraction in Luxor is by far the Valley of the Kings which is home to over 90 tombs of Pharaohs from about 1539 BC to 1075 BC. The tombs vary in popularity based on how preserved and ornate the inscriptions are on the walls. Popular burial sites include King Tut, Ramses II, Ramses V, Ramses VI, and Seti I. Some tombs like Seti I and Tutankhahum cost extra to visit.
The Best Tombs in Valley of the Kings depend on what you’d like to see. It seems like you can’t really go wrong, though. After discussing the options, our tour guide and Egyptologist suggested Ramses III, Ramses VI, Ramses IX and I chose to add Tutankhahum’s tomb which holds his actual mummy. All three were fascinating though King Tut’s tomb is much smaller than the others.
Queen Hatshepsut is a favorite Pharaoh of many, being one of a few female pharaohs and considered one of the best Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Not to mention her story involves all the elements of a stellar drama: family drama, lust and infidelity, power grabs, etc. The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut is stunning from the outside with lots more to see inside as well.
Day 5 of this 8 Day Egypt Itinerary is an easy day – with only two stops, you can easily sleep in and enjoy the cruise ship amenities (rooftop pool, outdoor sundeck, top floor bar and view perhaps?) while recouping from the last four nonstop days. Both stops are short stops away from Luxor and can be arranged as a day trip if staying in Luxor instead of a Nile Cruise.
Temple of Horus in Edfu is one of the best preserved temples since it was built more recently in comparison to other temples and it was covered under sand up until the mid-19th century.
The Temple of Edfu, like many other temples, has an impressive facade with an additional facade once you enter. There are side rooms with ancient inscriptions covering every inch.
The Twin Temple of Kombucha Ombo just outside of Aswan is considered unique because of its design that doubles much of the typical features of a temple – rooms, courts, etc.
The design of the temple was also impacted by later additions made during the Roman period which gives it a European feel. Seeing the temple at sunset gives it an extra magical feel.
Near the exit of the temple is the Crocodile Museum where you can get you fill of crocodile mummies!
The Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan’s stone quarries of ancient Egypt is the largest obelisk yet discovered and over 3,500 years old! Seeing how the ancient Egyptians created these fascinating structures is fascinated. I’m still in disbelief that they developed these methods and could accomplish so much without machines. The Unfinished Obelisk is a quick stop but worth the trip if in Aswan.
Take a traditional water taxi through Aswan Dam for a scenic trip to the Temple of Philae. Visiting Philae Temple feels like you’ve landed in Greece with the rocky shoreline, beautiful blue water and Greco-Roman inspired architecture. The Temple of Philae was actually deconstructed and reassembled in its current location, an island in the reservoir of Aswan Low Dam.
A popular tour add-on from Aswan is visiting a traditional Nubian Village. You may have seen the pictures on Instagram or Pinterest – the brightly colored village is very photogenic, but as with many other popular places in Egypt, it’s worth the hype. I highly recommend doing the tour: Sailing by motorboat through the Nile River was beautiful and peaceful, seeing camels at the edge of the Sahara Desert, and exploring the brightly colored Nubian village was a great experience.
Abu Simbel, arguably the most impressive temple out of all the ancient Egyptian sites, takes quite the effort to get to: 3 hours from Aswan. After taking in the history and snapping all the photos, you’ll have another 3 hour drive back to the airport in Aswan to fly back to Cairo.
With the long drive and no nearby airports, many wonder if Abu Simbel is really worth the effort and time spent. In my opinion, it was worth it. The great sun temple of Ramses II and its neighboring temple of Queen Nefertari both have dramatic facades with well persevered corridors and inner walkways. Keep reading below if you’d like some alternatives to visiting Abu Simbel.
For the last day of this 8 Day Egypt Itinerary you can explore Cairo’s top religious sites: Mosque of Muhammad Ali (the Alabaster Mosque), Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, Mosque of Sultan al-Muayyad, and the Hanging Church in Coptic Cairo. I recommend touring the religious sites even if you don’t have a specific interest in religion. The mosques are beautiful and learning about Islam, the history of political and religious leaders in Cairo, and the impact of religion on the country was very interesting.
If anything, a quick visit to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali is worth it for the architecture. It’s a beautiful alabaster building largely influenced by Eastern European style.
The Hanging Church is believed to be where the Holy Family hid in Egypt while running from King Herod. It’s a quick stop where you can learn more about the christian history of Egypt.
If you have more time in Egypt (or if you think you won’t enjoy so many days of ancient history), I would most definitely recommend a few different options:
If you’re looking for some relaxation or exploring the Red Sea, Hurghada or Sharm El-Sheikh are excellent options. Both locations are known for excellent diving and are vacation hot spots with sea-side resorts.
A 19th century palace now turned 5 star resort, the Cataract Hotel is famous because of its famous guests through the years. Perhaps most notably is Agatha Christie who wrote “Death on the Nile” while staying at the hotel.
Cataract Hotel is a gorgeous property and conveniently located in Aswan which would be a perfect stay instead of returning to Cairo after Abu Simbel. Sip cocktails with a gorgeous view of the Nile from the balcony of your 5-stay resort room.
I love the desert; its stunning landscape always intrigues me and it typically has the best sunrises. For more adventurous options in Egypt, check out Egypt’s White Desert excursions. Camp, go 4-wheeling, and learn about the unique landscape.
Another popular add-on is climbing Mount Sinai for sunrise and visiting St Catherine Monastery. This can be done as a day trip from Sharm El-Sheikh. I would’ve added this if I had the additional time.
Alexandria is often looked over by most tourists visiting Egypt for its ancient history but the city is modern, less hectic than Cairo and just a quick trip from Cairo.
Dahshur, Saqqara and Memphis are typically combined as one day tour and only a short drive from Cairo. The pyramids of Dahshur are less crowded and even older than the Pyramids of Giza. You can explore the inner chambers which are supposed to be much more exciting than going inside the Giza Pyramids.
Saqqara is home to the step pyramid of Djoser – the oldest pyramid. Memphis was the original capital city of Egypt and now has an open air museum.