Egypt’s prime location straddling Africa, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Arabian Peninsula makes it a favorite spot of travelers coming from around the world. From the stunning beaches along the Mediterranean and the Red Sea to the rocky outcroppings of Mount Sinai and the oases of the Sahara Desert, the shifting landscapes across the country reflect the variety of travel experiences available there.
For those seeking a luxurious holiday, there are world-class resorts and excursions like a lavish Nile River cruise. Outdoorsy types can scale mountains and dive into crystal-clear waters in order to swim amongst coral reefs. Of course, a brush with Egypt’s ancient history is essential for any trip, and the most curious travelers can fill their days with cultural immersion in legendary settings.
Whatever kind of traveler you fancy yourself, we also know that one type of itinerary isn’t perfect for everyone. With so many different possibilities offered in Egypt, there’s every reason to remain flexible and try something new. Whether you want to head to the city, to the beach, or to the mountains is up to you: we’re here to make a case for all of it.
While certain regions of Egypt see the temperature drop into the low 40s (F) during the winter, the country has a year-round hot desert climate that creates the perfect setting for resorts along its pristine shores. Destinations like Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula attract vacationers for reasons besides just their agreeable climate: several resort hotspots in Sinai allow visa-free entry for US and EU passport holders, as long as your visit does not exceed 14 days. This policy applies to Sharm, Dahab, Nuweiba, and Taba, a convenient location for travel into neighboring Israel, as well. While these resort towns are replete with worldwide luxury hotel brands like the Four Seasons, Movenpick, and Hyatt Regency, they also often have more affordable rates than one might expect, with Marriott, Hilton, and Sheraton offer budget-friendly options, too.
If you plan on acquiring a visa anyway and want to be closer to some of Upper Egypt’s historical sites, there are also numerous resort destinations along the Red Sea’s coast. The largest of these is Hurghada, located across the Gulf of Suez from Sinai. The sprawling seaside paradise is home to more than 250,000 people, many of whom are expats. There’s an international airport with direct flights from Europe and connecting routes from Cairo. The city is also about three hours by car from Qena, notable for the Dendera Temple complex. A few hundred kilometers down the coast is Marsa Alam, a quieter destination also serviced by an international airport and located near fantastic swimming and diving in Wadi el Gemal National Park. There are numerous upmarket resorts here, notably the Hilton Nubian, which offers luxury getaways at comparatively lower prices.
If you’re not coming to Egypt for an oceanside holiday, chances are you’re coming to experience its rich and iconic history. While there are smaller and less hectic pockets of the architecture and intrigue that are scattered around the country, the main attractions are still the best and busiest for a reason. Luckily for you, they’re mostly concentrated in Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast and around three major urban centres along the Nile; Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan serve as the stepping-off points for historical excursions in Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt, and Nubia, respectively. To take full advantage of their positions along the Nile, consider a river cruise to see the highlights in style and add another layer of immersion to your Egypt experience.
Situated on the country’s northern shore, Alexandria’s record of constant conflict over the past few millennia means that little is left standing of the ancient city, with the great Library of Alexandria being the greatest loss. Nonetheless, this perennial seat of Mediterranean society still teems with history and bears notable marks of Roman influence, including an amphitheater and Pompey’s Pillar. Meanwhile, the modern tribute to the ancient library is home to an antiquities museum, and the nearby catacombs at Kom El Shoqafa date back to the 2nd century CE.
Moving south, Cairo is home to the world-famous pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza, while Luxor is replete with history at its namesake temple, the Karnak Temple complex, and the Theban Necropolis (which contains the Valley of the Kings).
Aswan is the site of ancient Philae and the nearest city to the magnificent temples of Abu Simbel, built by Ramses the Great near the modern border with Sudan. Read more about these sites and how to visit them in our temple guide.
In the words of Percy Shelley, Egypt’s “lone and level sands stretch far away.” But in the vastness of the desert and into the mountains, there is plenty of adventure out there for travelers who want to get up-close and personal with the Egyptian landscape and its people. We’ve already seen how the waterways on the Red Sea coast can add world-class swimming and diving to any kind of itinerary, but there are some truly memorable and more intimate experiences to be had by going both further inland and out to sea.
In Sinai alone, there are remote spots for diving and hiking, including the Ain Khudra oasis. While outdoorsy types should take the opportunity to scale both Mount Sinai and Mount Catherine, they should be prepared to navigate crowds of tourists and vendors selling everything from coffee to camel rides up the ascent. For calmer experiences where the physical strain of a hike will be rewarded with good company, clear swimming, and fresh food, head instead to the White Canyon or the Colored Canyon.. While it’s best to take a guide and hire a 4WD, the bedouins along both routes are also helpful if you manage to get lost. They organize lodging in Ain Khudra oasis at the end of the canyon, and Egypt’s first eco-lodge at Basata Village is a short drive from the Colored Canyon.
There are plenty of opportunities to escape the city elsewhere in Egypt, too. If your itinerary is mostly based in Cairo, the Wadi Degla Protected Area to the southeast of the city can accommodate any outdoor activity imaginable and is the closest place to trade the hustle and bustle of the metropolis for some peace and quiet. A valley formed by millions of years of limestone erosion, there are flat expanses perfect for walking, running, and biking. You can also do as the locals by renting a car and having a barbecue out here.
If you have ample time in Egypt or just like the idea of making a far-flung desert hideaway your home, consider a trip to Siwa Oasis. Located in the country’s vast Western Desert, this is an ancient Berber enclave with beautiful springs, lakes, and green areas unlike anywhere else in the country. Besides the natural beauty, this is also home to an ancient culture with cross-pollination of Egyptian and Maghreb traditions.
Accommodations and infrastructure here are very basic, but the emphasis on protecting traditional elements has left charming mud-brick houses and mosques unspoiled by modernity. Among the ancient fortresses and scattered ruins, there is even one remaining hieroglyphic temple wall of an Oracle of Amun-Ra, where Alexander the Great is said to have visited for guidance.
Want to know more about the religions of Egypt? Read more in our guide.
Header photo by Nassim Wahba.