Continuing the journey around Egypt that we started in part 1 of this episode, we pick up in Luxor and switch from ancient sites to fun things to do here. Then we head over to the Red Sea continuing on the same topic, then make our way over to the Sinai Peninsula to get into what there is to see and do there and who those things might interest.
Please feel welcome to reach out to me at John@EgyptElite.com for help planning your trip to Egypt and I’ll be personally happy to help you make it a reality with my company Egypt Elite.
NEW: Episode Transcript
Welcome back again everybody. It’s only been a few weeks since I released the last ETP episode and I TOLD you all that I’d be back more frequently this year, didn’t I, and here I am again with part 2 of planning 2nd and 3rd trips to Egypt for those who have already been there once.
And even if you’ve never been to Egypt before, these episodes right now are still great for you too because basically what I’m covering is what you can skip on a first trip because of time constraints, unless you’re there for more than about 2-3 weeks, and what you can hit in the future when you come back to Egypt for a second or third time.
Several people who are currently planning first trips to Egypt reached out after the part 1 episode and told me they found it useful in deciding what to include and what to skip over in planing their first trip, so that made me really realise that these two or three episodes aren’t only useful for those who have been to Egypt already but really for everyone planning to go, even if it’s your first time.
So let’s dive back into it. Ok, where did we leave off? In part one of this episode set we talked about some stuff near Giza, Aswan, and Luxor that most visitors don’t usually have time to see on a first trip to Egypt because they’re already too busy spending time on the big things, primarily pyramids, tombs, and temples. You’ve gotta see that stuff on your first trip, of course.
But then there are more pyramids, more tombs, and more temples that you can make time to see on a second trip or third trip, and some of those secondary or out-of-the-way sites are really unique and special, especially for history buffs.
But ok, what about beyond the ancient historical sites? Egypt’s packed full of those, more so than any other country in the world, I think, but Egypt is also more than just ancient sites and extraordinary monuments, which is why vacationing there isn’t just educational and enriching but also a ton of fun too.
So I was thinking for this episode we can talk about some of the fun stuff to do in Egypt in and around Luxor, out in the Sahara Desert, and over on the Red Sea Coast. Then I want to talk a little about the Sinai Peninsula, which can be a little out of the way but it’s quite well known nevertheless, and get into what there is to see and do there and what’s worth it and what’s not.
Then, I think I might save the last few things I want to tell you about for a part 3, and that’ll be a first because I don’t think I’ve done a 3-parter before. I know I’ve done at least two different 2-part episodes, but this will be the first 3-parter, I think.
Ok, back to Luxor where we left off before when we were talking about lots of extra tomb sites on the western bank and some extra temples over there, then Abydos and Dendera a little north of there. Luxor is one of the most ruin-rich areas of the world because it was a fabulously wealthy and powerful capital for thousands of years of one of the greatest civilisations in history, Egypt of course, which means that tons of small and large monuments, temples, and ruin sites dot the desert landscape outside of Luxor.
Luxor is also lush and green for miles on either side of the Nile because the river’s waters irrigate lot so farmland up and down the Nile Valley, so from the air you see just hundreds of miles of deep lush green running north to south and then hundreds of miles more of beautiful tan desert spreading out on either side of the valley. And peeking out from between the stretches of palm groves are these marvelous temples every few miles around Luxor.
And I haven’t even mentioned the sunrises and sunsets here yet. Sunrises and sunsets over Luxor – and Aswan too for that matter – are simply stunning because of the desert backdrops over which the sun comes up and goes down, which creates some amazingly dramatic scenes. So where is the best place to see all of this from, you ask?
Well, I hinted at it a minute ago when I said that you can really see the expanses of color and landscape from the air. Luxor is one of the best places to take a hot air balloon ride and take in some dramatic scenery that you just can’t see in all its glory from ground level. So this is one of the first fun things to do in Egypt that I wanted to mention because you can do it from right there in Luxor.
And now that I’m thinking about it, this is something you can also do on a first trip too if you really want because hot air ballooning in Luxor is a super super early morning thing because everyone wants to make sure they also see the sunrise back across the river over the Eastern Desert while they’re up in the balloon. So depending on the time of year, we’re talking about a 4 or 5am departure, so you can still be back down on the ground and ready for a full day of touring before the sites even open up.
If you’re not afraid of heights or super early mornings and you want to do something really unique while your’e in Luxor, just know that this is a really great and really popular place for hot air ballooning, and they have a really advanced ballooning industry now in Luxor as a result of its popularity there. This isn’t a place with only one or two companies. There are dozens and dozens and they’re really experienced with it on a daily basis, so it’s very safe too.
Even if you don’t want to go up in a hot air balloon, it can also be worth it to wake up early one day and see all of the hot air balloons floating in the air over the western bank of the Nile at sunrise. That makes for a really beautiful site too even from the ground, if you don’t mind waking early up to catch it.
Ok, now let’s move on from Luxor and float on over to the Red Sea coast. This is an area of Egypt that’s not about ancient history really at all and more about modern luxuries and fun. The Red Sea has beautiful turquoise blue water that just makes for strikingly beautiful vistas, and now it has lots of options for resorts ranging from smaller and more eco-friendly to large luxurious compounds that have everything you could ever want to pamper you in one of the most gorgeous seaside environments.
Beware though – there are also lots of shoddy and overly touristy resorts too along the Red Sea. I did an entire episode a while back on the resorts along Egypt’s mainland Red Sea coast, and in that episode I talked about how many of the mass-tourism resorts in Hurghada that cater to the cheap Euro weekend package holiday tourists should be avoided by those who are coming over for longer and nicer vacations from North America and Western Europe and Australia and even East Asia.
For you, this is a big trip that you want to do up nice, not a cheap weekend holiday package that you picked up at the gas station, like you see coming out of places like Ukraine and Russia and Poland and even Italy and some other places that are a lot closer to Egypt and for whom Egypt is just a quick weekend trip to lay out in the sun all day and get skin cancer.
Anyway, those coming to Egypt on bigger trips to see the historic sites and soak up the culture want to have a nicer Red Sea experience, which you can do at many of the nicer resort areas I’ve mentioned along the coast like El Gonna and the new Soma Bay development and even further south at Marsa Alam.
Just keep in mind that Marsa Alam is really far south, so you have to fly there from Cairo if you’re going there. It’s not very practical to be driven there, although it can be arranged if you want. But it just take a whole long day and it’s just easier to fly, although that can take a whole day too if you’re coming from Luxor or Aswan because you have to connect back in Cairo.
El Gouna and especially Soma Bay, however, are easily drivable from Luxor. Soma Bay is only about 3 hours away, while Gouna is about 4 or maybe just a little under. And Hurghada does have an airport that sits right in between those two areas that’s convenient for taking quick flights back to Cairo when you’re ready to leave.
Ok, so what’s there fun to do at the Red Sea? Well, the thing the Red Sea is most famous for is scuba diving. It’s one of the world’s premier scuba diving sites. If you’re interested in scuba and aren’t certified yet, it’s also a really cheap place to get your certification, compared to places like the US and Europe. And even if you don’t scuba dive like me, it’s still a great place for snorkeling too.
And obviously since we’re talking about water activities, anything else water-related that you can imagine is big on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, like boating, fishing, parasailing, water skiing, jet skiing, and all of that normal beachy stuff. And many of the bigger resorts here have separate stuff especially for kids too, so if you’re traveling with a family and young kids, parking in a nice resort on the coast for a few days can be a nice change for them from all of the historical stuff elsewhere.
But don’t get the wrong idea though – I rarely see kids at these resorts along the Red Sea. I think there are more at the package holiday touristy places in and around Hurghada, but I’m just saying that young kids would be more likely to enjoy this part of a trip IF you happen to have them in tow with you on a journey to Egypt.
Another thing you can do at the Red Sea which I really love doing, and which you can also do back in Giza if you want as well – I’ve done this there many times too in the desert out behind the pyramids – is 4-wheeling. In Egypt they call it quad biking, and the machines they call quad bikes, but in the US at least we call them 4-wheelers and the activity 4-wheeling.
In the rocky desert areas outside of Gouna I used to take lots of folks out on 4-wheeling trips for a few hours in the late-afternoon and it was really a lot of fun. We’d always ride for about a half hour, stop and check out some ancient fossils at a site on the trail, ride about another half hour, then stop and have tea at a bedouin camp and relax a while, then ride out to another spot where we could goof off and take pictures together in the desert, then we’d make the journey back to Gouna after watching the sunset in the desert and it was a lot of fun.
There’s also a place near the pyramids where I like to take people riding 4-wheelers over the desert sand dunes and it’s a lot of fun to do that there too for about an hour in the late-afternoon then have tea or a few drinks while watching the sunset over the Sahara with the pyramids right there in the background too.
Oh and both of these are also places where you can do horseback riding too. I used to love to go out to that same place in Giza after I finished up with a group and rent a horse and just go riding across the desert to relax for an afternoon.
Oh one more thing about horses in Egypt… when you’re in Luxor and Aswan especially, these carriage jockeys approach you all the time on the street if you’re walking alone or in a small group and they can tell you’re a foreigner. They’ll follow you for 5 minutes or so trying to get you to do a horse-drawn carriage ride through the city. Please don’t do those. Those horses in Aswan and Luxor are so badly treated and these creepy guys are such bad harasses of tourists down there if they catch them alone.
Please just do me a favor and don’t reward their harassing behaviour and mistreatment of animals by giving them any money or letting them give or show you anything at all. Be rude to them if you have to be too, because those carriage guys are the bad guys who make honest Egyptians look bad because of their behaviour.
Alright, back to the Red Sea. But now let’s head to another part of it – the Sinai Peninsula. This is, of course, a very well known region of Egypt to Westerners because it has a lot of biblical significance and also because it was a flashpoint in several of the international conflicts that happened in the Middle East in the 60s and 70s.
Israel actually took control of the Sinai Peninsula in 1967 after the 3rd Arab-Israeli War in less than 2 decades, and it held onto it until Egypt agreed to a peace treaty in 1979. So before that, the Sinai wasn’t at all a tourist destination and was more of a no man’s land. But since the 80s, the southern tip of the Sinai and the southeastern coast have been built up into a very popular tourist destination for people from Europe and the Middle East, and some from North America too.
Now there are pros and cons to including Sinai Peninsula spots on a trip to Egypt, and I’ll go through them with you. For starters, let’s talk about the pros. The main city in the Sinai Peninsula is Sharm el Sheikh, which is probably Egypt’s most well known Red Sea beach resort. It’s not realistically drivable from Cairo, so you have to take a flight there regardless unless you want to spend 10 hours on the road, which I wouldn’t recommend. There are also no trains that run there, so it’s pretty much plane or nothing.
Sharm is a decent-sized city for a beach resort in Egypt. It’s obviously nowhere as big as Cairo – almost no city in the world is as big as Cairo – but it’s comparable in size to Luxor and Hurghada. Now, I give Hurghada a lot of crap about being a cheap Euro tourist package holiday destination with shoddy resorts and no decent city attached, but I put Sharm about two notches above that.
I don’t usually recommend that people go to Sharm on a first visit to Egypt, even if you want to spend some time at the Red Sea, because there are other much nicer Red Sea destinations that are much closer. But sometimes people do want to go there, especially if they’re seriously into scuba diving because Sharm is one of the top global destinations for scuba.
Another reason to go to Sharm is if you want a Red Sea resort with a little bit of a party scene attached in the adjacent city. You won’t find that in Hurghada b/c that city’s just trashy, and the other Red Sea towns are too small to have any short of bar or party scene. But Sharm does have a little bit of that. However, most people go to the Red Sea to unplug and get away and relax, so most aren’t looking for that in a Red Sea destination.
With that said, however, I have had some really good times partying and dancing in some bars and clubs in Sharm in my youth, and then stumbling back to the resort late at night. And I’ll leave that there for now and keep those crazy stories in the past. But just keep in mind that Sharm does have a small nightlife scene that some may want experience if you’re into that and if that’s a factor for you.
Sharm is also a launching point for those who really want to visit Saint Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai, which is pretty much in the middle of the southern third of the Sinai Peninsula.
Now be warned… you don’t want to go to any further north than this into the interior of the Sinai Peninsula. That area is largely ungoverned and you can run into some trouble if you try to wander out into the desert there. If anyone, including companies, offer to take you elsewhere in the desert in the central or northern Sinai, know that they’re doing so illegally and they’re putting you in danger because that area is off limits to foreigners because of crime and bandits and the like.
But going as far up as Mount Sinai is still generally safe and many people still do it. It’s about a three-hour journey by road to Mount Siani, and I really only recommend it for those who have a strong religious draw to see it. It’s not really beautiful or anything, although hiking up Mount Sinai before dawn and watching the sunrise from the top is pretty nice, although you can see spectacular sunrises from many other places in Egypt too, so I wouldn’t do it just for that purpose alone.
But if seeing Mount Siani once in your life is something you’ve always want to do, then it can be a special experience. I’ve climbed it a few times myself, and once I even took a set of clients there to help one of them propose to his fiancé on top of Mount Sinai, which was a very endearing experience and she wasn’t expecting it at all.
That was such a great memory for all of us because I went shopping for him before we left Cairo and I bought a bunch of white blankets and candles and other decorations to lay out on the mountaintop and create a really romantic setting for them, and then we had to keep it secret from her the whole hike up and especially near the top.
They had a few other friends with them too who had come to Egypt with them, and so they had to delay her from reaching the top before we were finished setting up everything and so her friends kept stopping with her and being like, “Oh wow let’s stay here for a minute and take in this view,” and she was like, “What? We’re almost to the top. Let’s catch up with everyone else and take in the view from the top instead of just below the top.”
So creating really special moments like that with guests in Egypt has been really amazing over the years, and I love doing stuff like that. There are so many unique places and settings in Egypt, so there’s a hint… if you’re thinking of proposing to a significant other in a really special place like in a pyramid or on a pyramid or underneath the Sphinx or on top of Mount Sinai or on a Red Sea beach or inside of an ancient temple, reach out and let me know and we can plan something really unique and memorable and special.
Ok, back to Mount Sinai. The other interesting thing at this site is Saint Catherine’s Monastery. This is an Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery that was built in the 6th century AD, although there was likely an even older monastery on the site before the current one was built in the mid-500s because the travel diary of a Roman pilgrim from the late-300s has survived and mentioned the site then too.
Regardless of the site’s real founding date, Saint Catherine’s is still one of the oldest monasteries in the world and actually contains the oldest continuously operating library in the world inside of its walls. It’s also supposedly the site of the burning bush from the Old Testament, and there’s literally a bush growing inside of the monastery that the monks say is the original burning bush. So that’s up for you to decide, but even with the religious story aside, Saint Catherine’s is undeniably steeped in nearly 2,000 years of authentic Christian history that is very very fascinating for history lovers, and especially biblical history lovers.
Another area in the Sinai worth briefly mentioning is the strip of coastline running northeast from Sharm. There’s about 200 kilometers of coast stretching from Sharm at the southern tip of the peninsula up to the Israeli border, and this area tends to be popular with Israeli tourists because it’s close to Israel and they can cross the land border between Egypt and Israel at Taba and vacation in the Sinai without a visa. But this area also tends to be somewhat popular with both expats living in Egypt who are looking for a beach area that isn’t frequented by many foreigners and with hippie types who are looking for something a little more natural and laid back and even a little rustic.
There are two main beach towns in this part of the Sinai, Dahab and Nuweiba, and honestly I’ve always known them to be places where travelers go to smoke pot and chill out on the beach, even though pot of course is illegal in Egypt, that’s just the type of thing I’ve always associated Dahab and Nuweiba with. In other words, that type of cheaper, less developed, and more laid back type of area.
You won’t find any big resorts or chains in this area like in the other big Red Sea hotspots. What you have in Dahab and Nuweiba are smaller beach motels and quirky places, although there is a Le Meridien hotel in Dahab. But other than that it’s just small local places with more independent backpacker types and expats.
And further up the coast right by the Israeli border is a city called Taba that has larger hotels and resorts on the Red Sea, but I wouldn’t advise anyone coming from abroad to visit Egypt to waste their time in Taba. It’s more of a weekend getaway place for locals and nothing nice or special. So don’t bother with Taba, consider Dahab or Nuweiba if you want a hippie backpacker experience, and do Sharm if you want diving or nightlife while on the Red Sea.
Otherwise, the best places to do the Red Sea are still over on the mainland coast, like El Gouna, Soma Bay, and even as far south as Marsa Alam if you really want to get away and have a chill experience where few people go.
So in addition to Egypt’s Red Sea coast, another area that’s really starting to boom finally is what we call the North Coast, which is Egypt’s stretch of beach on the Mediterranean. This area was never that attractive until recently, but now it’s getting a lot of new life breathed into it with some new resorts areas and even some really trendy and swanky new developments.
But I’ll save that for another episode. We’ll make this a 3-parter and in the third and final part I’ll cover not only these new North Coast beach areas that are becoming popular as of late, but also some of Egypt’s oases and what you should consider if you are thinking of incorporating an oasis experience into your trip.
Alright, so with that we’ll leave it here for now and pick up again soon. All the best everyone! Ma’salaama.