Destination: Cairo Egypt – 5 Amazing Experiences!
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What immediately comes to mind when you hear someone mention Cairo in Egypt?
Is it the current news and modern politics or ancient Egyptian history and amazing artefacts?
For me, Cairo is not so much a sprawling modern capital city, but a wistful and immersive meld of imagined adventuring and bold exploration, with its famously rich history and ancient splendour.
Join me in Cairo Egypt for 5 amazing experiences!
Growing up in the UK, I’ve had a fascination with Egypt since reading about Egyptian history and the kings and queens of Egypt, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Egyptian History books as a young child.
Photographs showed stunningly rich and colourful images and the text told incredible stories of adventure and discoveries of thousands of years old tombs containing ornate golden and bejewelled sarcophagus and mummified bodies and intact artefacts and countless other priceless treasures.
And, knowing all these fascinating treasures were all on display at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Tahrir Square in central Cairo, had always made Egypt – and Cairo in particular – an irresistible draw and a dream destination for me.
So, while on a holiday in Sharm el Sheik, when we saw our hotel was offering private day trips to Cairo, we decided to grab the opportunity to take a break from the beach and spend 1 day in Cairo for 5 amazing experiences.
We took an early morning flight to Cairo with Egypt Air and I didn’t get a wink of sleep the night before because I felt so excited about taking this trip.
I’ve included a summary of this trip in my post ‘My 10 Greatest Travel Experiences’ but wanted to share this more comprehensive post with you to better explain all that we did on this truly amazing day in Cairo and to explain why Cairo qualifies as a Top 10 Travel Experience for me!
On the day we went to Cairo, the alarm was set for before dawn, and we made our way to the local airport at first light.
And, soon I was peering down through my oval window, to see we were flying low over the Sinai desert.
The undulating sand dunes looked like red waves on a dreamy ocean.
I even spotted a miniature caravan of Bedouin people and their camels making their way through the wavy troughs, with seemingly nothing but sand ahead of them and nowhere behind them, and I pondered over the intricacies of their lives and how they survived in such an arid landscape.
I was so mesmerised that I missed my inflight breakfast
On arrival in Cairo, we were met by our private guide for the day, who would show us around The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and the Giza Plateau – incorporating the Pyramids at Giza, the Sphinx and the Temple of The Sphinx.
Our guide introduced himself to us as Sharif, a qualified Egyptologist. He was immediately welcoming and enthusiastic and informative about all our plans for the day. Sharif asked us how long we wanted to allocate for looking around the museum.
I explained how, for me personally, it would be the absolute highlight of our trip.
Little did I know what was in store for us… as the whole day would be a highlight in my life!
It was decided that we’d spend the whole morning in the museum of antiquities, with adequate time making sure to see the Tutankhamun Rooms and also the additional Mummy Room. Sharif then said he’d take us to lunch (he suggested The Hard Rock Café) after which we’d sail down the Nile in a traditional sailing boat called a felucca. We hadn’t realised a sailing trip was on the agenda and we were delighted.
That would leave the afternoon free to spend exploring the Giza Necropolis – just less than a 30 min drive by car out of Cairo. Sharif also promised, should we have time, he would take us to a papyrus museum to round off the day where we’d learn how to make traditional reed paper and to write in hieroglyphics!
The Adventure begins…
1. Visiting The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo.
As I write this, I’m aware that final preparations are being made for the opening of a NEW Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Cairo later in 2021. I get shivers of excitement just thinking about it!
The Main Galleries will hold over 12, 000 exhibits and the shrine of the Golden King, Tutankhamen, will display over 5600 pieces. News from Egypt is that the shrine’s ceiling is decorated with a winged sun disk and a gate to the shrine shows inscriptions and texts from the Book of the Dead!
So, if you go to Cairo to see the Egyptian antiquities yourself later in 2021 and beyond, you will no doubt get to experience the NEW GEM – which is closer to the sites at Giza – rather than the original Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (first inaugurated in 1902) in Tahrir Square, Central Cairo, the oldest archaeological museum in the Middle East.
But, of course, the treasures are still the same.
When I first saw the treasures of ancient Egypt for myself and experienced walking around the vast and crammed rooms of the museum, I have to tell you that I was so overwhelmed by it all that I burst into tears of joy as Sharif marched us along hallways and straight past the most incredible sights – gold sarcophagus and huge statues and unimaginable treasures and jewellery.
Sharif asked that we trusted him to show us all the things ‘we needed to see’ in the limited hours that we had available to us to investigate and explore the expanses of the museum. He warned that if you ambled around stopping to gaze – even for a moment on each of the 120,000 fabulous exhibits – then you would not spend many hours in the museum but many many years!
He was right, of course, and without him, we wouldn’t have been regaled with the fabulous and detailed history of each of the important pieces that he highlighted to us.
We gazed up at the colossal 83-tonne statue of Rameses 11 – the most powerful ancient ruler of Egypt – and also stopped at Sharif’s insistence to admire a tiny figurine of Khufu the Pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty (Old Kingdom) who was the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza. This tiny artefact at around 7 or 8 inches tall is, Sharif told us, the only complete three-dimensional object which depicts Khufu and that’s why it is so incredibly important.
Then we made it to the highlight of the exhibition. The Golden King, Tutankhamen’s room.
I had to pinch myself when I finally stood, face to face, with the king who had been crowned King of Egypt aged nine and who had died abruptly – and mysteriously – at around age 18. I stood for several minutes in awe, blinking away tears of incredibility and joy, in front of his famous golden mask.
The same mask I’d seen and read about in books when I was a child.
I studied it carefully behind the glass in which it was encased – no doubt in a carefully controlled air – to preserve the 3,000-year-old coloured paint and the sheet gold and silver, coloured glass, and jewelled embellishments on the face that Howard Carter – who discovered Tutankhamun’s intact tomb at The Valley of The Kings in Egypt in 1922 – had described as “a beautiful and unique specimen of ancient portraiture which bears a sad but calm expression suggestive of youth prematurely overtaken by death.”
Walking around the case, I inspect the back of the mask, to see imprinted into sheet gold on the collar, several vertical rows of hieroglyphic inscriptions. As a writer, I wanted to know what had been written as an epitaph to this boy king, who had lived so long ago but with whom – and through time and space – I felt strangely and spiritually connected.
Sharif explained the inscription: “Your right eye is the night boat of the sun god, your left eye is the day boat, your eyebrows are those of the Ennead of the Gods, your forehead is that of Anubis, the nape of your neck is that of Horus, your locks of hair are those of Ptah-Soker. You are in front of the Osiris [Tutankhamun], he sees thanks to you, you guide him to the goodly ways, you smite for him the confederates of Seth so that he may overthrow your enemies before the Ennead of the Gods in the great Castle of the Prince, which is in Heliopolis…the Osiris, the king of Upper Egypt Nebkheperura, deceased, given life like Ra.”
I felt so incredibly emotional seeing all the treasures of his lifetime around me.
His clothes, his shoes, his jewellery, his hair combs and other personal items. As well as his bed and his bedroom chair and occasional furniture and, of course, his ornate throne.
Finally, we moved on to The Mummy Room. In this room, to which to have to pay an entry fee, the 3000 – 3500-year-old mummified remains of 22 of the kings and queens of ancient Egypt are displayed in temperature and humidity-controlled glass cases.
Interestingly, you can stand right next to the glass cases and examine their features in some detail.
Visiting The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Tahrir Square, Cairo, was such a mind-blowingly incredible experience for me. And now, with the Grand Museum of Egypt soon to be opened at Giza – I’m excited about the new building – but I’m also feeling grateful that for one wonderful day in my life, I was able to see and experience being inside the original over-crowded and incredibly over-whelming original home to a collection of Egyptian treasures that I know I’ll absolutely treasure forever.
2. Sailing The Nile On A Traditional Egyptian Felucca.
A felucca is a traditional Egyptian low wooden sailing boat with a canvas sail that has been used on The Nile since ancient times. Today it is an iconic image on the mighty river and they are still crewed by local sailors. Sailing on The Nile on a felucca is a wonderful and relaxing way to spend time in Cairo – especially in the heat of the early afternoon and after all the walking and the excitement in the museum. It also feels so in keeping with the theme of history and tradition and it seemed to me that there was no denying the authenticity of the boat or our boatman.
Feluccas are available in lots of sizes and so cater for just a few tourists or larger tourist groups.
Sharif had organised a small private boat for an hour of sailing and there was just the four of us abroad. My husband and myself, Sharif, and our friendly boatman – Mohammed.
After lunch at The Hard Rock Café in downtown Cairo, we headed down to the banks of the Nile and boarded the open deck boat of a felucca. We sat on the forward section, shaded from the midday sun by the large single billowing sail, to enjoy the views on both banks of the Nile.
It was a wonderful experience and one I would highly recommend to you!
3. Exploring the Great Pyramids at Giza in Egypt.
After exploring the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in downtown Cairo and sailing on the Nile in a traditional felucca sailing boat, our guide, Sharif, drove us out of town and to the Giza Plateau also known as the Giza necropolis, on the edge of the desert, to investigate The Great Pyramids at Giza.
All were built during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt (2700-2200 BC).
The Great Pyramid is the oldest of the Ancient Wonders and the only one still in existence.
My excitement knew no bounds and I actually shrieked as I caught my first glimpse of the three famous primary pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure; the last massive remaining wonders of the ancient world, silhouetted by the sun from our car.
We parked up on the sand and walked a short distance, in the incredible heat of the afternoon, right to the base of the giant block structures to pose for lots of photos that Sharif absolutely insisted on taking using my own camera.
The best thing we did that day was to employ Sharif to guide us.
He was so knowledgeable – not only of Egyptian history – but he had the most incredible organisational skills and he always knew exactly where to take us for the best experiences.
I saw that he also spoke discreetly to the pyramid guards and somehow managed to convince them to allow us to take our small camera into the pyramids with us even when there was a big sign stating ‘no cameras inside’. I’m guessing we only got away with it as there were few other tourists that day.
Did I mention that it was HOT? Our visit was in August and it was over 40 degrees plus C!
I suppose the benefit of going there in the summer and during the hottest part of the day meant that there were not as many other tourists around. Everyone else had, I imagine, seen the pyramids in the comparatively cooler part of the morning and then headed to the air-conditioned museum in the heat of the afternoon.
Squeezing into the narrow shaft and climbing down a sloping wooden ladder into the pyramids – all the way down to the crypts at the bottom – felt like being baked in a pizza oven. But it was worth the sweltering discomfort and feelings of claustrophobia to be so deep inside the pyramid.
I would have hated to have been there when it was busy as the narrow shaft only allowed for one way traffic.
We explored each of the pyramids in turn, buying tickets on-site and squeezing into the narrow chutes leading down – and then sometimes levelling off – before going down again into the tomb.
Outside the pyramids, Sharif insisted on taking lots and lots of wonderful and often quirky photos of us with my camera!
And, as if seeing the Pyramids wasn’t enough, Sharif had arranged for one of the guards at the plateau to open up a locked wooden door at the bottom of some steps in the sand, to allow us entry into what Sharif described as ‘The Engineer’s Tomb’.
This secret tomb was, we were told, a gift from the Pharaoh Khufu to his chief engineer of the Great pyramid and an eternal resting place for him and his family. And, as we waited in great anticipation for the wooden door to the chamber to be unlocked, I saw there were rows of perfectly preserved hieroglyphics on a stone above the door. To say I was excited was an understatement!
It was quite clear to us that this crypt was not normally open nor available to tourists.
Inside the crypt, it was low and narrow and deep, with stone columns decorated with more perfectly preserved hieroglyphics holding up the roof. On the walls were carved pictures and statues of the Engineer and his entire family. It felt so very special and sacred to be inside this mausoleum.
Even though I’m a writer, I hardly know how to find the words to explain to you how I felt that day – experiencing the ancient wonders of Egypt with my own eyes – touching them with my own hands.
It was then and still is one of the most special and emotional days in my entire life.
Standing in front of the very same sights and antiquities that I’d gazed at in the pages of history books as a child was, at times, just too much – and I spontaneously wept with wonder and joy several times that day – simply because I couldn’t contain my overwhelming feelings on being faced with such incredible history and the achievement of a lifelong dream.
4. The Sphinx and the Sphinx Temple at Giza.
The Great Sphinx at Giza is considered an icon of the Ancient Egyptian civilisation. The giant structure features a lion’s body and a human head adorned with a royal headdress. The statue was carved from a single piece of limestone and likely dates from the reign of King Khafre (2575 2465 BC) and is said to depict his face. Although, many believe that the monument is much older and predates King Khafre and it is of the jackal god Anubis, the god of funerals.
There is certainly still an air of the unknown and a mystery around its origins.
And, to be faced with this amazing and famous structure, is awe-inspiring!
Sharif once again took my camera from me and insisted on taking lots more photos and he took great pride and skill in taking the ones of me apparently kissing the Sphinx on its lips!
Right in front of the Sphinx, an open structure was erected, and some archaeologists consider it to be the Temple of The Sphinx. Others say the temple is dedicated to the God Ra (Re), the famous Sun God of the Egyptians. It’s a special and spiritual place to behold and I found myself silently thanking the sun, the stars, and the whole universe, for granting me this truly momentously special day in my life.
And, while we were at the temple, having our photos taken peering out from and between the standing columns to appease Sharif, who was still insisting on taking more photo mementoes of the fabulous day (for which I am now truly grateful) we saw that a white feather had floated down from above and landed at our feet.
And, in such a special place, I felt it was a sign that my grateful thanks had been acknowledged.
5. The Egyptian Papyrus Museum.
To round off our day, before Sharif dropped us off back at the airport for our evening flight back to Sharm El Sheik, he took us to the government-approved Papyrus Museum, also known as The Hassan Ragab Papyrus Institute.
The Late Dr. Hassan Ragab opened his Papyrus Institute in 1968 to re-establish the authentic papyrus ancient technique. The museum/institute provides visitors with a demonstration on how the papyrus plant was turned into a paper material for writing on by the ancient Egyptians that has survived for thousands of years.
There is no entrance fee but once inside the museum you are also encouraged to have a go at making papyrus paper yourself and you are sure to want to buy a souvenir from the shop.
We bought three beautiful papyrus parchment paper featuring our three son’s names in hieroglyphics.
The museum is located just outside the centre of Cairo on the west bank of the river Nile and between the Cairo Sheraton and the University bridge.
Are you planning to visit the New Grand Egyptian Museum sometime in the future?
Have you ever been to The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo?
Have you ever visited the Pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza?
What do you think of my suggestions for 1 day in Cairo Egypt and 5 Amazing Experiences?
Do you have any experiences you might add?
I’d love to hear your stories if you have been to Cairo and about your dream and plans of travelling there if it’s still on your bucket list. Do please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!
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