Cairo & Giza

  The twin streams of Egypt's history converge just below the Delta at Cairo, where the greatest city in the Islamic world sprawls across the Nile towards the Pyramids, those supreme monuments of antiquity. Every visitor to Egypt comes here, to reel at the Pyramids' baleful mass and the seething immensity of Cairo, with its bazaars, mosques and Citadel and extraordinary Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. It's impossible, too, not to find yourself carried away by the street life, where medieval trades and customs coexist with a modern, cosmopolitan mix of Arab, African and European influences.

  Cairo has been the largest city in Africa and the Middle East ever since the Mongols wasted Imperial Baghdad in 1258. Acknowledged as umm dunya or "Mother of the World" by medieval Arabs, and as Great Cairo by nineteenth-century Europeans, it remains, as Jan Morris writes in Destinations, "one of the half-dozen supercapitals - capitals that are bigger than themselves or their countries ... the focus of a whole culture, an ideology or a historical moment". As Egypt has been a prize for conquerors from Alexander the Great to Rommel, so Cairo has been a fulcrum of power in the Arab world from the Crusades to the present day.

Luxor - Valley of the Kings & Karnak Temple

  Royal Thebes, Egyptian treasure-house of countless wealth, Who boasts her hundred gates, through each of which, With horse and car, two hundred warriors march. -Homer, The Iliad, Book IX

  The city's governor claims that Luxor is the world's greatest open-air museum, but that doesn't come close to describing this amazing place. There's nothing like the grandeur of ancient Thebes. Florence Nightingale called it 'the deathbed of the world' and likened it to the writings of Shakespeare. It's one of the few places in the world that deserves to be called unforgettable.

  Although the modern East Bank city has grown rapidly in recent years, the setting is still breathtakingly beautiful, the Nile flowing between the modern town and the West Bank necropolis, backed by the enigmatic Theban escarpment. Scattered across the landscape is an embarrassment of riches, from the temples of Karnak and Luxor on its East Bank to the temples of Deir al-Bahri and Medinat Habu, the Colossi of Memnon and the Valley of the Kings.

  Thebes' wealth and power was legendary in antiquity, its god Amun feared across the Mediterranean and Asia. By the late 18th century, its legend lured travellers from Europe. Since then, fuelled by tales of treasure and pharaoh's curses, huge numbers have made pilgrimages here.

Aswan & Abu Simbel

  Aswan may be the regional capital and administrative center, but this ancient ivory-trading post has a laid-back atmosphere that sets it apart from other tourist centers in Egypt. With the Nubia Museum, ancient remains, a vibrant souq, beautiful gardens and a unique Nubian-influenced local culture, it is a fascinating and relaxing place to spend time.

  South of Aswan, the land is dominated by the High Dam and its offspring, Lake Nasser, the world's largest artificial lake. Remarkable monuments that would have been lost to the lake's waters now stand grouped on its shores and can be visited by boat. Most southerly and spectacular of all is the Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, one of ancient Egypt's most awesome structures and a highlight of any visit to Egypt.

Nile River Cruise

  A cruise on the Nile River has always ranked among the world's most exciting and most romantic travel experiences. The combination of the world's longest river and its extraordinary monuments; the stunningly fertile valley and barren beauty of the surrounding desert; the light; the heat; and the joy of slow travel in a superfast world: it all adds up to one of the highlights of any trip to Egypt.

  The Nile Basin covers 3.35 million sq km - an incredible 10% of the African continent - and is shared by 10 countries, but Egypt is the main beneficiary of this mighty river. Rain seldom falls on this part of the Nile valley, so without the river, the country would simply not exist. Ancient Egyptians recognized this fact when they likened their land to a lotus - the Delta was the flower, the oasis of Al-Fayoum the bud, and the river and its valley the stem that supported them all.

  But rather than the practical use of the waterway, the Nile's beauty strikes travellers most: the soft light of its mornings, the lushness of the plants and trees that grow along its banks, the thrill of flights of birds that shuttle up- or down-river on their migrations, the patience of fishermen, rowing out in the morning to cast their nets, the greatness of it all.

  Spending a few days on and close to the Nile, one gains an understanding of the fundamentals of ancient Egyptian religion. Wake up at dawn to witness the sun come up in all its majesty on the east bank, hear the countryside wake up and see the fishermen already at work. During the day gaze upon the all-important Nile that makes everything possible, with the light getting warmer and softer all afternoon, until the glowing sun sets over the west bank and everything is put to rest until the following day.

Government Links

US Embassy in Cairo

Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC

Egyptian Consulate in San Francisco

Transportation Links


Train info

More train info

Nile Cruise tips

Accommodation Links

Site-seeing Links

Movies & Books

Leg 3 RTW 2009 Leg 5

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