How to uncover the culture of Africa: 7 tips

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Traveling to another country isn’t all about spending hours lying in the sun and relaxing; it also offers up the chance to learn about a new culture. Africa is no exception. Thankfully, I have put together seven tips that will help you to uncover the culture of Africa on your next journey.

1. Head out on safari

When thinking about Africa, it can be easy to imagine all the animals living out there in the desert planes. So why not take a chance to experience them for yourself? Many companies offer up package deals that take the stress and worry out of organizing the tour yourself, and you could even learn some local tips and tricks from your local guide. After all, it’s their job to know all about the local area.

2. Take things slowly

It can be easy to get carried away when visiting another country, especially when trying to take in all that is on offer in Africa. Unfortunately, the faster you move, the more you could miss. Rather than scrambling around to see as much as you can before you go home, be sure to take the time to stop and look around, what are the locals doing? How does the wildlife sound? How does the sun feel on your skin? It’s the smaller things that will give you a better understanding of the culture of Africa.

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3. Visit the local bazaars

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to delve headfirst into many markets all around the world. Although many regions have their own take on the trade, Africa has perfected bazaars thanks to the variety of bargains on offer. The Khan-El-Khalili Bazaar in Egypt is one of the many I have got to browse through over the years, and these offer up the perfect way to chat with the locals and see life through their eyes.

4. Talk to the local residents

What better way to learn about the local area than by talking to the people that live there? Nearly everywhere I have been, there has been someone willing to offer up a secret vacation spot or snippet of information about the area that you would never learn unless you lived there. If you’re confused about how something works, be sure to ask. If you want to learn more about the history of the culture, get stuck in with some questions. You might even make some lifelong friends along the way.

5. Get on public transport

If you want to take a step deeper into uncovering the culture of Africa, then be sure to take a ride on their public transport. There are many variations of public transportation in Africa, with mini buses being one of the most popular. However, it might be best to opt for a shared taxi if you want a safer ride on your journey. The drivers of these vehicles tend to take things a little slower than their minibus rivals but will still get you there on time.

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6. Get your fork ready

Did you know that every country in Africa has its own specialty meal? While traveling around, you might come across kitfo in Ethiopia or mandazi in Kenya, and be sure not to let these opportunities pass you by. Enjoying mouthfuls of local offerings is a brilliant way to experience life in the local area as well as giving your taste buds the treat of a lifetime.

7. Learn some phrases

Before you head off on your next journey, do you know how to say “hello” and “goodbye” in the local language? It might be a small touch – and you might find many people speak English – but learning some simple words and phrases will show the locals how you’re willing to embrace their country. Plus, they could be more likely to help you uncover the culture if you’ve already made an effort before your plane lands.

Traveling through Africa is a perfect way to uncover the culture of the continent. However, if you have even more tips on how to learn about their ways of the world then be sure to let me know in the comments.

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4 Places Around The World To Find Incredible Ancient Ruins

Seeing a slice of history is one of the greatest things about travelling. Going to a country with a rich heritage and visiting some of the relics of those long forgotten era’s is an amazing experience. If you’ve got a keen interest in history, you should visit some of these incredible ruins around the globe.

Roman Forum

The Romans are one of the most interesting civilizations in history and there are some incredible surviving monuments from the period. The Colosseum is the most famous of the Roman ruins, attracting hordes of tourists every year. It’s worth seeing, of course, but you shouldn’t miss out on the Roman Forum. This was the heart of the Roman Empire where decisions that would shape the world were made. The place was used for so many different aspects of public and political life in the empire so if you’re interested in the history of the country, it’s an absolute must see. The ruins themselves are well preserved and you can get some great guided tours where you’ll learn about each of the buildings and their purpose.

Machu Picchu

In the early 1900’s, archaeologists discovered the lost city of the Incas, otherwise known as Machu Picchu. It is one of the few remaining places that were left untouched when the Spanish arrived in South America. You can easily spend a day exploring this impressive monument and if you really want to get in touch with the ancient Inca civilization, you should walk the Inca Trail. It’s a great hiking trail that takes you through dense jungle and mountainside landscapes before eventually leading up to the sun gate, with Machu Picchu at the end.

Pyramids Of Giza

The Pyramids are probably the most famous ruins in the entire world and if you haven’t been there before, you need to add them to your bucket list. Head over to the desert south of Cairo and you’ll find these impressive monuments to the pharaohs. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the last surviving wonder of the ancient world so get out there and see it before it’s too late. As well as the great pyramid, you’ll be able to see the Sphinx and a whole host of smaller pyramids as well. You can get inside some of the pyramids but the access is limited at certain times so it’s best to check whether you’ll be able to get in before you plan your trip.

Sphinx of Giza, the biggest sphinx in Egypt

Sphinx of Giza, the biggest sphinx in Egypt

The Acropolis

The Greeks have been credited with creating modern civilization as we know it so everybody should get out there and see where it all started at some point in their lives. At the heart of the Greek empire is the Acropolis in Athens. It’s a great collection of incredible monuments built by the ancient Greeks. The Parthenon is the most famous but you’ll also be able to see the Temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaea, and the Erechtheion.

Acropolis

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If you’re interested in history, you should plan your next trip around some of these incredible ancient ruins.

The Charm of Sharm…El Sheikh

There are few locations as steeped in history and romantic mysticism as Egypt. Most of us, as children have been enthralled by the tales of Egyptian mythology and thus, visiting the country as an adult, we tend to retain a sense of wide eyed mysticism when feasting our eyes on the wonders of this historically and culturally rich civilization. From the pyramids to the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt is steeped in exotic history that has captured the hearts and imaginations of Western visitors for generations. The beauty of Sharm El Shiekh is its ability to combine this sense of vivid and romantic history with peerless luxury so that one can explore or relax in this divine city while experiencing a vacation that is unique and full of character.

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Sun, sand and sea

If you want to take your sandals for an airing, you can hit one of Sharm El Sheikh’s many wonderful beach resorts and enjoy the uniquely arid beauty of the coastal regions.

Naama Bay is the epicenter of the region’s resort life, boasting ultra-luxurious hotels like the Sharm El Sheikh Marriott Resort and the Royal Savoy. Each offers a subtly different but undeniably luxurious stay from which you can begin your journey across the windswept sandy vistas.Naama Bay is famous for its expansive beach with its pedestrian only promenade ringed with profuse cafes and restaurants.

If, however, you’re looking for something more sedate and solitary, we recommend a trip to the Nabq Protectorate 20 km north of Sharm El Sheikh proper. Here you can spend a whole day without seeing another person, although you’ll find plenty of examples of the region’s exquisite wildlife. You’re likely to encounter gazelles and ibexes, and you can even explore the world’s most northerly mangrove forest which is also in the region.

Under the sea

For those with a restless sense of adventure, Sharm El Sheikh has a plethora of opportunities to scuba dive or snorkel among the region’s bountiful sea life. The Gardens Reef at the northern end of Naama Bay offers three different snorkelling and diving sites that can be accessed either off the shore or by boat. There’s a richly diverse palette of sea life to be found here to suit veteran divers and neophyte snorkelers.

Seasoned divers, however, will be drawn to the vivid coral of Thomas Reef where you can explore the spectacular underwater vistas amidst schools of fish.

Step back in time

A trip to Sharm El Sheikh isn’t complete without sampling some of the ancient wonders that give the city and its surrounding regions so much of their character. Take a coach trip to St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments. The ancient site is home to a still functioning Greek Orthodox monastery and is home to the legendary “burning bush” of the old testament.

The bustling streets of the Sharm Old Market are also a must for those whose trip is not complete without some friendly haggling. Here you can shop, eat and drink in the unique atmosphere that one would not expect to be able to experience without a time machine.

Cairo – City of Thousand Minarets

CAIRO, EGYPT: I don’t think I need to say much about Cairo or Egypt as a whole. This is one of the earliest civilizations of the world and when you visit this country, you will know that some talented group of people lived here once few thousand years ago. Some of world’s very original art, culture, history, language, and science started from this land.  For a traveler, this is a paradise to see, taste, learn, and experience uniqueness. Cairo is Egypt’s biggest city and is also known as the “City of Thousand Minarets” for having hundreds of big and small mosques in every corner. After being in so many places, I must say there are 2 places where I found people to be the friendliest, most helpful, and hospitable. One was in Dublin and another city is Cairo. Egyptian people are always eager to help its guests and very humble. This is a contemporary and thriving city with glorious history from past…a perfect place to feel both of the worlds and eras.

River Nile and Cairo city...what a great combination
River Nile and Cairo city…what a great combination
  

Some FYIs and tips for the travelers before visiting Cairo: Egypt made it really easy for US citizens to travel their country. We can get entry visa in the airport for 15 USD per person. About transportation, always ride white taxis with meters. Black cabs don’t have meters, therefore better to bargain a price before riding. Always carry tissue or napkins with you. Some public bathrooms don’t have tissues, even if they do they will expect some tips for that.

Streets and traffic jam of Cairo during rush hour, a view from Al-Azhar Park
Streets and traffic jam of Cairo during rush hour, a view from Al-Azhar Park
  

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Cairo from Belgium during the 2012 Christmas break. While it was freezing in Belgium, the weather in Cairo was just perfect. But carrying a sweater won’t be a bad idea when traveling here this time of the year.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Cairo Moon Hotel in the heart of Cairo, only 10 minutes’ of walk from Cairo Museum and Tahrir square. Honestly speaking this was a below average hotel with tiny (for only 3 people) and scary elevators, big red ants walking all over the floor, too much noise late at night, and few other problems. But the owner of this hotel, Mohamed, is an exceptionally friendly and helpful gentleman. All the staffs here are same way too which overcomes all the other problems of this hotel. Mohamed organized few trip for us here and there including the trip to Giza. It had free basic breakfast and free Wi-Fi. Pick up from or to airport can be arranged if you let them know ahead of time.

EATING and SHOPPING: Kushari is a famous cheap street-food in Egypt. This usually comes in different sizes. It may sound weird, but this combination of pasta, rice, spaghetti, lentils, white beans, and fried onions is very filling and tasty when you mix it with different types of sauces. We had dinner on 2 nights in a very popular restaurant in the heart of Cairo, called “Gad”. From the daily crowds of it, we could tell that this was going to be a great place to eat some local food. They have burgers and fast food menu as well as some traditional dishes, like Egyptian pancakes, spiced salad (the best), and burger with egg. One of the castle-like restaurants in Al-Azhar Park was a very fancy spot where we were taken to for a dinner by someone we knew. Night view of Ali Pasha Mosque in citadel as we were having dinner was gorgeous. I think this is where we had our best food in Cairo. Also try Egyptian pizza, falafel, and shwarma.

Kushari, a yummy street food of Cairo
Kushari, a yummy street food of Cairo
  

I can give you a whole list of things that you can buy from Cairo. Spices, papyrus, sphinx, pyramids (in different colors and materials), shawls/scarves, traditional clothes are just to name some. Khan-El-Khalili is more of an expensive place for tourists. Most of the tourist attractions have small stores or vendors nearby. When we took our Giza trip, our guide Haisam took us to a big showroom of papyrus, Golden Eagle Papyrus on Sakkara Road. This is a government approved store, and therefore you know you are buying the real thing. It has hundreds of papyrus wall decors to choose from at various price ranges and with different themes. The guy who was showing us around actually took 10 minutes to show us how a piece of papyrus was made from its trees…that was absolutely fascinating and very educational for our little ones. Here is their phone number if you need it – +2037719585.

Some souvenirs in Khan El-Khalili Bazar in Cairo, Egypt
Some souvenirs in Khan El-Khalili Bazar in Cairo, Egypt
  

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Cairo is overloaded with many touristic places from really ancient wonders to modern and stylish sites. We spent about a week here and was pretty much done seeing most of old part of the city. We could have stayed longer to visit experience more of new areas, its night life, and thriving life of Cairo. Other than the following some other places that tourists can consider visiting (we couldn’t see these places) are Cairo Tower, which can be seen almost from any corner of the city and provides 360-view of Cairo including Giza. Also dropped off your list was Abdeen Palace which was home of the last king of Egypt the exiled King Farouk.

Grand view of Ali Pasha at night from Al-Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt
Grand view of Ali Pasha Mosque at night from Al-Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt
  

1) KHAN-EL-KHALILI BAZAR: Khan-El-Khalili Bazar is a tourist trap in Cairo for shopping. It’s a like big maze with winding small alleys and many small stores. You will find almost anything here including perfumes, spices, handcrafts, traditional clothes, gold, and many other things. I wouldn’t recommend buying papyrus paper from here as they may not be real Egyptian papyrus. But whatever you buy bargain is a must…not just here, in whole Cairo.

A woman polishing her shoes in Khan El-Khalili Bazar
A woman getting her shoes polished in Khan El-Khalili Bazar
   

2) NILE RIVER CRUISE: You can’t leave Egypt without experiencing Nile at night and the best way to do is to take a dinner-cruise. Our ship’s name was Lady Diana Nile Cruise Line. This was a unique experience for all of us and the kids loved it the most. Combination of Nile and Cairo looked more than just beautiful at night from the observation deck.

It was a cozy sitting area where we had dinner. Buffet trays were filled with absolutely fantastic food. The show started with karaoke songs during our meal but the real entertainment started after dinner. First it was belly dance, which we saw before…I think I enjoyed the fast Arabic music the most here. The final item was a man doing whirling Sufi performance. Now, that was something we have never seen before and it looked out of this world. The enthusiastic music, Dervish’s costume, his circling…everything about it made that place very mystical.

A Dervish performing Sufi dance during our Nile River cruise
A Dervish performing Sufi dance during our Nile River cruise
   

Our hotel arranged this trip for us. It was 90 USD for all 4 of us. The dinner started at 7:30 pm and by the time we were done with all the performances, it was about 9:30 pm.

3) TAHRIR SQUARE: Also known as Midan Tahrir (meaning Liberation Square) is located in front of Egyptian Museum and was occupied by the demonstrators’ campsites and banners during our visit. This is where Egyptians gathered around during the uprising of the country before impeaching their President Hosni Mubarak. This large public square is a historic place for Cairo and Egypt and their history.

Demonastration in Tahrir Square, Cairo
Demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Cairo
    

4) EGYPTIAN MUSEUM: Located in busy Tahrir Square, this is one of the greatest museums in the world and a must-see to acquire knowledge on real history of Egypt. Massive collections of ancient Egyptian antiquities can be found outside and inside of the building. I’ve heard that hundreds of items are added each year to this museum as more excavations and discoveries take place. More than 135,000 items of this museum display artifacts of pre-dynasty, Old-Kingdom, Middle-Kingdom, late periods, and from Greek and Roman periods.

Some of the highlights of this place are the 2 Royal Mummy rooms, pet/animal mummies, early jewelries, hundreds of beautifully carved coffins, stone-carved statues, hieroglyphics granites, and early manuscripts from different dynasties of Pharaonic periods from as early as 3200 BC.  Finally many objects/treasures from Tomb of Tutankhamen, including his famous original mask is at display here. Royal Mummy room has mummies of ancient Egyptian kings, queens, and high priests. Seeing mummy of Pharaoh Ramses II really gave me goose bumps. Evidently, he is the Pharaoh who chased Moses (Prophet Musa AS) across Red Sea and drowned with his army in the ocean. His mummy is the best preserved mummy there… when you look at his teeth and hair, those don’t look like few thousand years old. The museum is a bit un-organized and many of its objects lack labels or information board. Some collections looked like they were just stacked without care. But the good news is that, the location of this museum is supposed to move somewhere in Giza which will have more space to accommodate these object of bygone days.

Front of Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Front of Egyptian Museum in Cairo
  

Ticket to enter the museum is 60 LE for adults and 30 LE for children. There is a separate fee to enter the section of Royal Mummies which you can purchase from the upper level. It’s 100 LE for adults and 60 for the kids. No camera or backpack is allowed inside the museum. We had to keep them in a locker near the ticket office. The museum has 2 levels and visiting it took us about 2 ½ hours.

5) AL-AZHAR PARK: This is the best landscaped garden and park in Cairo for strolling and enjoying magnificent view of the city. It is known to the locals as the “lung of Cairo”. We went there right before sunset and saw the whole city lighting up as it was getting dark very slowly. Standing in Al-Azhar Park, you will realize why Cairo is known as “City of Thousand Minarets” … you can see many old and new minarets of mosques from here, creating a unique skyline. An uncle, my ex-colleague’s father, took us here and treated all of us to dinner in a restaurant inside the park name “The Citadel”. We had our best traditional Egyptian meal here while looking at lit-up Ali Pasha Mosque on the distance. The park looked ever nicer at night. 5 LE is the entry fee. It is very well maintained and absolutely safe. Park closes around 10pm and no one is allowed in afterwards.

Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt
Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt
  

6) CITADEL and ALI PASHA MOSQUE: Locals know this place as Salahdin’s Citadel because it was built by the mighty Salahdin (Muslim caliph who defeated the Crusaders) in 1183 AD.

Walking towards Cairo Citadel, also known as Salahdin's Citadel in Cairo, Egypt
Walking towards Cairo Citadel, also known as Salahdin’s Citadel in Cairo, Egypt
   

There are few old mosques and museums (like Police National Museum, Prison Museum, Al-Gawhara Palace Museum) inside the citadel. You can spend whole day roaming around and visiting them leisurely. The best part of being here is the view you get over Cairo. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Pyramids of Giza. Panoramic view of Sultan Hasan Mosque and Rifaii Mosque side by side looks great along with the other parts of Islamic Cairo.

View of Rifaii Mosque, Sultan Hasan Mosque, and other parts of Islamic Cairo in Cairo, Egypt
View of Rifaii Mosque (right), Sultan Hasan Mosque (left), and other parts of Islamic Cairo in Cairo, Egypt
   

Ali Pasha Mosque, also known as Mohamed Ali Mosque, is an iconic structure of Egypt that can be spotted from almost anywhere in Cairo day or night. The mosque was built inside the Citadel in the mid-19th century. This old and grand mosque was established by Mohamed Ali Pasha, who is considered to be the founder of modern Egypt, and took about 18 years to build. From outside, the mosque looks more like the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. Courtyard is enormously spacious and beautiful. This big mosque is very beautiful inside with nice dome, vaulted ceiling, big chandelier, and old patterns on wall. Tomb of Mohamed Ali Pasha is also located inside the mosque. One thing that made me sad about this mosque was that it lacked maintenance outside and inside.  A structure this massive and historical is country’s pride and deserves love and attention which was missing from this place.

Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - an iconic landmark of Cairo
Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – an iconic landmark of Cairo
   

The citadel is located in Islamic Cairo. Entry fee to the citadel is 50 LE for adults and 25 LE for the kids and is open from 8 -5 pm. We didn’t go to any museums or mosques, other than Ali Pasha Mosque, that’s why we were done in few hours.

Inside Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt
Inside Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt
    

7) HISTORIC MOSQUES of CAIRO: Most of the mosques are located in Islamic Cairo and they are very old, dusty, and lack in maintenance. You will see many homeless and beggars lurking around these places. Please try to maintain right etiquettes of visiting these sacred places during your trip, it shows the local that you respect their culture and belief.

Looking at Islamic Cairo and its many minarets from Al-Azhar Park...no wonder Cairo is known as the City of Thousand Minarets
Looking at Islamic Cairo and its many minarets from Al-Azhar Park…no wonder Cairo is known as the City of Thousand Minarets
   

a) SAYYIDINA AL-HUSSEIN MOSQUE: The mosque is located in Midan Hussein and very close to Khan-El-Khalil souk. The original mosque was built-in the early 12th century. This is a very sacred site for Muslims all over the world since head of Ibn Al-Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), was buried here. The decorative rawdah or tomb can be viewed from both men and women side. It’s free to enter (have to pay 1 LE to store your shoes) but unfortunately, this in not accessible to non-Muslims.

Rawdah or tomb of Sayyidina Hussine AS (grandson of Prophet Mohamed SAW) inside Al-Hussein Mosque, Cairo, Egypt
Rawdah or tomb of Sayyidina Hussein AS (grandson of Prophet Muhammad SAW) inside Al-Hussein Mosque, Cairo, Egypt
   

b) AL-AZHAR MOSQUE: This is another historic site in Midan Hussein. Founded in 970 A.D., Al-Azhar Mosque is one of Cairo’s oldest mosques and nearby Al-Azhar University which is the world’s OLDEST OPERATING UNIVERSITY. Its big and open inner courtyard is very peaceful where you can spend some time appreciating its age and beauty. Inside the mosque is simple but very big. It’s free to enter but have to pay 1 LE to store your shoes in the entrance. Non-Muslims can access this mosque but not during prayer times.

Courtyard of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - standing there since 970 AD
Courtyard of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – standing there since 970 AD
  

c) IBN-TULUN MOSQUE: Built in 879, this mosque is from early Islamic era. The minaret of Ibn-Tulun Mosque is said to be the oldest minaret in Egypt. The inner courtyard and the interior are huge, but lack care. It was free to enter and took us about 15-20 minutes to walk around the perimeter. The mosque is still active, therefore, they don’t allow any visitors during prayer times.

Ibn-Tulun Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - minaret of this mosque is said to be the oldest in Egypt
Ibn-Tulun Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – minaret of this mosque is said to be the oldest in Egypt
    

d) SULTANA HASAN MOSQUE: Located in Midan Salah ad-Din (Saladin Square) and lying at the foothill of the hill, this is a really old mosque from 1356 and is a great example of Mamluk dynasty. This is one of the biggest mosques in Egypt. This is actually a both mosque and madrassa (Islamic school) with very early Islamic architectural design. You can still see some of the original old mosaic floors here and there. The courtyard is notable for its elaborate marble flooring, a trademark of Mamluk art. It was under major renovation during our visit, therefore couldn’t visit some of the sections. Entry free to this mosque and Rifaii Mosque is 40 LE for adults and 20 LE for kids.

Inside Sultan Hasan Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - a great example of Mamluk dynasty architecture
Inside Sultan Hasan Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – a great example of Mamluk dynasty architecture
   

e)RIFAII MOSQUE: This mosque is located right opposite of Sultan Hasan Mosque and the same ticket covers both the mosques. This is probably the last large-scale mosque to be built-in pre-Republican Egypt. Several leading architects of that time took part in designing it. Replacing a smaller mosque, this early 20th century mosque is the final resting place of the last Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi). Many members of the Egyptian royal family were eventually buried in the mosque. Ironically, Egypt’s King Farouk, who was overthrown in 1952 and died in exile, has his tomb inside the mosque too. Both exterior and the interior of the building are elaborately decorated. High ceilings and big old chandelier are some of the highlights of this place.

Prayer hall of Rifaii Mosque in Egypt, final resting place of Egypt's last king, King Farouq
Prayer hall of Rifaii Mosque in Egypt, final resting place of Egypt’s last king, King Farouq
   

f) AMR IBN AL-AS MOSQUE: Built in 642, this is Cairo’s first mosque and is still an active place for the worshippers. The mosque looked very simple, dull, and not very nurtured by the authority. The mosque is free to enter for everyone, except during prayer times.  Men and women have separate entrances.

The ladies have to wear a cloak and everyone must take off their shoes upon entering any of mosques.

Courtyard of Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque, the oldest mosque in Egypt from 642 AD
Courtyard of Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque, the oldest mosque in Egypt from 642 AD
   

8) COPTIC CAIRO & ITS CHURCHES: This is part of Old Cairo and has been home of Cairo’s Christian community for centuries. You can actually walk from Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque to the boundary of Coptic Cairo. Old walls and the winding alleys of Coptic Cairo are amazing. Many old churches and monasteries still stand bold and beautiful here. One of the biggest and oldest churches (from the 7th century) of this community is The Hanging Church. It was under major renovation that time, so we couldn’t get an inside view.

Old and narrow alley of Coptic Cairo, Egypt
One of many old and narrow alleys of Coptic Cairo, Egypt
   

Then we followed an old road of this neighborhood and stopped at in front of another underground ancient church, called Church of St. Sergius. Built in the 4th century, this church has been destroyed and renovated many times over and over again. This old style church is very small but beautiful inside. When we entered there was some kind of recitation going on inside the church and I must say it was a bit surprising listening to these recitation in Arabic, it sounded like I am in a mosque…lolz. Another interesting fact about the Christians here is that they celebrate Christmas on January 7th of each year and not on 25th of December.

9) PHARAONIC VILLAGE: This theme park was built by Dr. Ragab to teach the children of Egypt and the whole world about the 5000 year’s history of this country. This is a living museum and one of the best place for kids as well as adults to get a visual feeling of Egypt’s glorious past. There are four different packages that you can choose to fulfill visitor’s interests. Here they are:

***Village tour + 4 Museums = 95 LE

***Village tour + 8 Museums = 115 LE

***Village tour + 4 Museums + Nefertari Yacht Ride = 145 LE

***Village tour + 4 Museums + Nefertari Yacht Ride + Meal = 195 LE

We took 3rd package but for the lack of their organization and time management, we couldn’t visit all four museums. It’s better to come here in the morning and stay until they close. The “Village Tour” is done by a small engine boat that takes you to the “Mythological Canal” and gives you a ride thru the canal for 30 minutes. This was probably the best part for all of us. You actually see real people enacting ancient scenes of agriculture (like fishing, farming, and etc.) and ancient industries (like papyrus, cotton, wine, pottery, mummification, and a lot more).  As the little boat passes by each station you feel like you are living in that era of ancient time.

Scene of baby Moses being picked up by Pharaoh Queen in Pharaonic Village, Egypt
Scene of baby Moses being picked up by Pharaoh Queen in Pharaonic Village, Egypt
   

After our boat stopped at the last stop, we met up with a young man who guided us thru the exact replica of Karnak Temple of Luxor. Even though not the real one, this architecture and its decoration are almost look-alike of the real temple. Leaving the temple behind, he showed us around the example of how rich men and peasants used to live thousands of years ago…model of their houses, real people acting out how fire was made, how rich man’s wife would live a lavish life, and how a poor man’s wife would have to work hard all day at home.

A copy of Temple of Abu Simbel in Pharaonic Village, Egypt
A replica of the Temple of Abu Simbel in Pharaonic Village, Egypt
    

After a 10 minutes break, we headed towards “The Tomb of Tutankhamun”. This is another depiction of the actual tomb of Egypt’s most famous Pharaoh, King Tutankhamun found in Valley of the Kings in Luxor. You can visualize the exact way the tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. The tomb was filled with many treasures, furniture, couple layers of casket layers, mummified body of King Tutankhamun, and finally his musk, an iconic symbol of ancient Egypt. Our last attraction was Nefertari Yacht tour. The yacht took us to River Nile and gave us a chance to get a daytime view of the river for 45 minutes.

Our Neferteri Yacht in Pharaonic Village, waiting to take us to River Nile
Our Nefertari Yacht in Pharaonic Village, waiting to take us to River Nile
   

The park has few important museums, like Pyramid’s Museum, Cleopatra’s Museum, The Tomb of Tutankhamun, Mummification Museum, Boats Museum, Modern History Museum, Museum of Islamic History and Art, and couple other museums. Each of these museum doesn’t take more than 15-20 minutes but they are very informative. There are also few unique souvenir stores, cafes, and a photo studio.

A whole day in the desert of Giza, Memphis, and Saqqara

GIZA, MEMPHIS, & SAQQARA: Giza is THE site where most of the tourists (if not all) come to while visiting Cairo. This is the iconic image of Egypt and one of the most famous symbols of all ancient wonders. The pyramids and the sphinx in Giza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, give a real glimpse to the early Egyptian civilization, their life-style, beliefs, and talents. Looking at something that old (from 2500 BC) literally gave me goose-bumps.

The desert in Giza Necropolis, Egypt
The desert in Giza Necropolis, Egypt

Memphis is more like “an open air museum” as our tour guide Haisam said. This was the first capital of unified Egypt during the Old Kingdom around 3000 BC and another UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the pyramid complex in Giza.

The open-air museum of Memphis - 1st capital of unified Egypt
The open-air museum of Memphis – 1st capital of unified Egypt

Saqqara is also a necropolis which houses the first and the oldest pyramid in Egypt. I think I would really remember the beauty of the desert of Saqqara for a long time. It was almost sunset; we were standing on a small hill and looking at other pyramids in far distance. The sight of sand with pyramids in the backdrop during that moment will stay with me as long as I live…this was a memorable day overall.

An ancient corridor to pass in Saqqara before reaching the Step pyramid
An ancient corridor to pass before reaching the Step pyramid in Saqqara

Please scroll down to “Places We’ve Visited” for detailed information on these three places.

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Cairo during our Christmas break of 2012. Although Giza is about 45 minutes of drive from Cairo downtown, it took us little more than an hour to reach there due to traffic conditions and some road blocks. November to March is the best time to explore Egypt, when the weather is fine and you can enjoy desert sun without going crazy from exhausting heat.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Cairo Moon Hotel in the heart of Cairo, only 10 minutes’ of walk from Cairo Museum and Tahrir square. Honestly speaking this was a below average hotel with tiny (for only 3 people) and scary elevators, big red ants walking all over the floor, too much noise late at night, and few other problems. But the owner of this hotel, Mohamed, is an exceptionally friendly and helpful gentleman. All the staffs here are same way too which overcomes all the other problems of this hotel. Mohamed organized few trip for us here and there including the trip to Giza.

We paid 45 USD for a private car with driver and 15 USD for a tour guide, Haisam (please click on my Tour Guide tab if you or someone you know needs a tour guide in Cairo). For a total 60 USD, I think, we got a great deal to tour around Giza, Memphis, and Saqqara. Fortunately, brother Haisam was an excellent guide who knew A LOT about Egypt from its ancient, recent-past, and modern era. He was very humble, gentle, nice, and finally, someone we could absolutely depend on for anything.

EATING & SHOPPING: We stopped at a local street-side restaurant for lunch that day. It was more like a quick pick-up shwarma in between Giza and Memphis. There is absolutely no place to eat or have lunch within the boundaries of the pyramids; at least I didn’t see any.

For souvenirs, we saw many individual vendors selling cheap items here and there in Giza and Saqqara. Memphis has more stores where you can get some small gifts and something for yourself. WARNING: do not buy any papyrus products from them as they are not real papyrus papers. Our guide Haisam took us to a big showroom of papyrus, Golden Eagle Papyrus on Sakkara Road. This is a government approved store, and therefore you know you are buying the real thing. It has hundreds of papyrus wall decors to choose from at various price ranges and with different themes. The guy who was showing us around actually took 10 minutes to show us how a piece of papyrus was made from its trees…thatwas absolutely fascinating and very educational for our little ones. Here is their phone number if you need it – +2037719585.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Our taxi left for Giza little before 9am and we reached the place where we were going to rent out camels from near the entrance to the pyramids around 10. Giza is the place where we spent most of the time – about 3:30 hours. Memphis is about half an hour drive from Giza and we spent, I think, about little more than an hour. Then our final destination of the day, Saqqara, was another half an hour drive and again, spent about an hour near the sunset time. Our guide, Haisam, kept us entertained with all the charming secrets of these pyramids and ancient Egyptians all day.

Pyramids of Giza and our ride in the desert of Egypt
Pyramids of Giza and our ride in the desert of Egypt

1) GREAT PYRAMIDS of GIZA & SPHINX: After arriving at Giza city, we first went to the place where we were going to rent our camels from; another option was to ride a horse (but who would…?). We took the longest ride which took us around the deserts, to the panoramic spot, to the pyramids, and then to the sphinx.

Here comes one of our rides to the pyramids in Giza
Here comes one of our rides to go to the pyramids in Giza

Pardon my ignorance, but all this time I thought there were total of 3 pyramids in Giza necropolis. But as we were approaching the “Panoramic spot” near the pyramids, Haisam explained that there are 3 main pyramids which are the burial sites for 3 pharaohs (Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure) and 6 small ones (3 with the pyramid of Khufu and the other 3 with the pyramid of Menkaure) for their mothers, daughters, and wives. Panoramic spot is an up-hill site from where you can see all the 9 pyramids lined up. This place not only gave us magnificent view of the Great Pyramids, but from here we could also be fascinated by the wilderness of the desert. Watching men riding their horses fast, flying white sand in the air looked like Arabian Sultans chasing their enemies in Hollywood movies. I am not exaggerating, but it was a true beauty that I enjoyed from the back of my camel.

The Great Pyramids of Giza
The Great Pyramids of Giza

After the panoramic site, we were on the camels again and off to get up-close and personal with these pyramids. So, we touched the old limestone of these relic structures, took some pictures, and back on the camel headed towards the sphinx. You can actually go inside the burial chamber of these pyramids which we didn’t do. At any given day, at least two of the three big pyramids will have the burial chamber open to visitors. And you pay separately for these visits.

On the camel again and we headed towards the Sphinx. Sphinx of Giza, the biggest one in Egypt, is located in front of the middle pyramid, which was for Pharaoh Khafre. The Sphinx’s body is a combination of head of a man, representing the wisdom of human and the body of a lion, meaning the strength and power of a lion. This was our last stop before returning our camels to their owners and start driving towards Memphis.

Sphinx of Giza, the biggest sphinx in Egypt
Sphinx of Giza, the biggest sphinx in Egypt

One thing I must say here is that, if you haven’t ridden a camel before, DO IT in Giza…you won’t regret it. I cannot describe the royal feeling of looking over the sand and to the astonishing pyramids from a camel-back as it slowly makes it trails into the heart of the desert…nothing beats that. It was a bit scary when the camel got up or sat down with me on its back…I felt like screaming every time. Oh, and not to mention the pain I had in my legs the next day from that ride. The trick of riding a camel is that you have to relax and just let your body move back and forth with the movement of the camel, which took some time for me to get used to. I felt like I was going to fall from that height and break a leg if I let my body loose.

Here are some necessary information/precautions when visiting Giza. First of all, if you are thinking about riding camel/horse in the desert, see if your hotel/tour guide can arrange that for you before arriving in Giza. You can always contact and take our guide Haisam, if he is available (please click on my Tour Guides tab). Second, never, ever rent camels once you are already inside the perimeter of the pyramid complex. Lots of horrible stories have happened where they not only charge you sky amount of money, but also takes your money first for 1 hour and won’t give you the camel for more than 10 minutes. We paid 400 LE for 2 camels with 2 helpers for about 2 and half hours and a free horse for brother Haisam, our guide. Also keep in mind that, the helpers expect some tips after you are done with the trip…they work really hard walking on foot on the desert for a long time under the sun, be a little generous. The entrance fee to enter the main gate to Giza pyramids is 60 LE for adults and 30 LE for kids. If you want to go inside one of the 3 pyramids its 100 LE for adults and 60 LE for kids. Usually the biggest pyramid, “Pyramid of Khufu” is open every day for the visitors in addition to another smaller one. Another thing is – don’t wear any fancy clothes on the day you are going to Giza. You are going to desert, you will be covered in dusts by the time you are done seeing these pyramids and other sites. Wear something very comfortable, a hat, and take few water-bottles with you, especially if you are traveling in summer. Finally, don’t try to climb the pyramids…its forbidden and extremely dangerous.

A random poser in Giza, who later asked for money since he posed for my camera and he was the one who kept insisting that I take picture of him and his camel
A random poser in Giza, who later asked for money since he posed for my camera and he was the one who kept insisting that I take picture of him and his camel

2) MEMPHIS OPEN-AIR MUSEUM: This is rather a small open area to explore compared to Giza’s vast desert and the pyramids. There is an enclosed area where an enormous limestone statue of Egypt’s most important king Pharaoh Ramsey II from New Kingdom rests. Research has indicated that most likely it was Pharaoh King Remses II who chased Moses out of Egypt and drowned in Red Sea. The statue is about 10 meters long and laying on its back. Outside, there are many ruins along with couple other smaller sculptures of Pharaoh Ramsey II. The alabaster sphinx, called Sphinx of Memphis, in the middle of the yard is in its original spot from 1200 BC.

A limestone statue of Pharaoh Remses II from New Kingdom in Memphis
A limestone statue of Pharaoh Remses II from New Kingdom in Memphis, researchers believe that he is the Pharaoh King who chased Moses out of Egypt and drowned in Red Sea

Entry fee here is 30 LE for adults and 20 LE for children. There are few souvenir shops lined up in one side of this open air museum.

An alabaster sphinx in the open air museum of Memphis, known as Sphinx of Memphis - also from the New Kingdom
An alabaster sphinx in the open air museum of Memphis, known as Sphinx of Memphis – also from the New Kingdom

3) SAQQARA NECROPOLIS: As I have mentioned above, Saqqara Necropolis is a vast burial ground which has the first and the oldest pyramid in Egypt. It features the famous Step pyramid of King Zoser or Djoser from the 27th century BC. There is a corridor that you have to pass to come to the Step pyramid complex. I can’t remember what Haisam said, but the passageway is also an ancient stable-like architecture with many stone pillars and many rooms. After climbing the stairs opposite of the pyramid, we came up to a small hill, from where we saw another two famous pyramids in the far distance of Dahshur, called Bent pyramid and Red pyramid. Bent pyramid was built under Old Kingdom from around 2600 BC by the son of Djoser. This is an example of a transitional form of pyramid between Step pyramid and regular smooth pyramids. As the Bent pyramid did not come out the way expected it was never used. Instead the Red pyramid was built next to it with correct pyramidal angles and that is the burial site of the king. It was almost dusk and looking at those pyramids from afar on the dusty desert was magical.

Step pyramid of Saqqara Necropolis - the first and oldest pyramid in Egypt
Step pyramid of Saqqara Necropolis – the first and oldest pyramid in Egypt

Entrance fee to Saqqara pyramid is 60 LE for adult and 30 LE for children. This is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the pyramids in Dahshur.

Bent pyramid (back on the left) of Dahshur and Red pyramid (on the right) in far distance, seen from Saqqara
Bent pyramid (back on the left) of Dahshur and Red pyramid (on the right) in far distance, seen from Saqqara

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