Note: This is not for claustrophobes, and it's hell on the hamstrings. When you emerge, 45 minutes later, circumambulate the base of the pyramid, looking up as you go: There's no better way to fully comprehend the structure's enormity, nor the lust for immortality that inspired it. You will now be ready for some air-conditioning, so stop at the small Solar Barque Museum, on the south side of Khufu's pyramid.
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It houses the foot cedarwood barque belonging to the pharaoh, which was discovered buried in a pit adjacent to his pyramid. Walk to the Sphinx, ten minutes downhill. Although riddles remain, the human head on the feline body probably portrays the pharaoh Khafre, as the beast was carved from the bedrock leading to his pyramid. Arrive no later than 2 p. Then it's back to the car and on to Sakkara, 15 minutes away. There are more than pyramids and graves in this vast funerary complex, whose monuments cover every period of Egyptian history right through the Christian era.
The one to see is Djoser's Step Pyramid, built circa b. It is the world's earliest stone monument, a precursor to the smooth-sided pyramids of Giza, and its architect was the Frank Gehry of the ancient world, the later deified Imhotep. Take the time to walk around—the visitors are fewer here than at Giza—and when you reach the pyramid's rear, chances are excellent that you will be alone, with just desert silence and wind. You can be back at the Hilton by 5 p. Then it's off on your own—a regular taxi is fine—for the short drive to Zamalek Island, an erstwhile expat and upper-middle-class residential enclave of leafy avenues and bourgeois apartment buildings and villas, now a bit shabby.
Stop by the excellent Diwan English-language bookstore, open until p. Inside, you'll find Royalist Egyptian meets Andy Warhol decor, and an interesting menu of Egyptian dishes, including one of my favorites, fettah, a risotto with yogurt, tomato, and beef. You'll find taxis outside for the ride back to the hotel. Meet your guide after breakfast at a. As the doors open, run, don't walk, up to the first-floor Tutankhamun Galleries and head straight to Room 3.
While other guides spend ten minutes on the ground floor with orientation lectures, you can steal some time alone with Tut's resplendent gold death mask pictured right. There are two other must-sees.
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The Royal Mummy Room No. Tear yourself away. This is your last full day in Cairo, and you should spend the rest of it walking the medieval Islamic city. Have your guide and driver escort you to the southern end of the quarter's Ibn Tulun Mosque. Built between a. Immediately adjacent is the Gayer-Anderson Museum—a fascinating old house where a British army doctor who was an avid art collector lived from to Drive from here to Bab Zuweila, the only remaining southern gate of the medieval city of Al-Qahira "The Victorious," from whence Cairo was derived. Your guide will still be with you, but the car and driver should go wait at Bab al-Futuh, one of the two northern gates.
You'll be walking from now on. Start by climbing either of the two minarets at the top of the gate. It's worth the effort for the old-city views, a sea of seemingly crumbling houses punctuated by domes and minarets—snap away. Next stop is Al-Azhar Mosque, with its vast white-marble-floored central courtyard. Founded in a. Women must wear head scarves—supplied for visitors at the door.
Hungry and tired? Ask your guide to walk you—all the while pointing out the other notable mosques, mausoleums, and madrassas—to the Naguib Mahfouz restaurant 5 Al-Badistan St. Named for Egypt's late Nobel laureate in literature, it's the safest bet for Western stomachs in this part of town.
Instead of sitting in the formal dining rooms, opt for a table in the up-front snack area, overlooking the alleyway running between Al-Hussein Mosque and the gold souk. You are in the middle of the Khan al-Khalili market—part tourist trap, part the real thing.
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Bid farewell to your guide after lunch and spend the next few hours exploring on your own, slowly snaking your way north. Try your skills at bargaining gold jewelry? Egyptian cottons?
Don't worry about getting lost—that's sort of the point. Connect with your driver at the Bab al-Futuh gate for the ride back to the Hilton. You have barely scratched the surface of what is one of the world's most historically and culturally fascinating cities, but your impressions will be vivid and long-lasting. End the day with a light dinner at any of the hotel's restaurants—you must be at the airport before six tomorrow morning.
After an early breakfast, transfer to the Cairo Airport for your 7 a. EgyptAir flight to Aswan arriving at a. Your next guide will meet you on the flight and will accompany you through Day 8 at which point, you'll meet up with another guide. A bus will take you from the airport to a village that's just a five-minute walk from the temples at Abu Simbel. Nothing, not the tour buses nor the heat you are just 25 miles from the Sudanese border , can diminish the impact of these two savagely beautiful structures that were built into a mountainside on the West Bank of the Nile between and b.
The original feat is matched only by the skill with which the temples were cut into pieces and reassembled on high ground in the mids to save them from the newly dammed Nile's rising waters. The facade of the Great Temple of Ramses II pictured right , with its four colossal statues of the pharaoh, seems conceived on a divine scale; it's both an overwhelming display of Egyptian imperial power in what was then ancient Nubia and a bold grasp at immortality by a pharaoh who was not interested in going gently into that good night. The nearby Temple of Hathor is dedicated to Ramses' first and favorite wife, Nefertari, represented on the facade—unusually and touchingly in a culture where size signified stature—at the same scale as her husband.
You can ponder the nature of ancient love on your flight back to Aswan, which departs Abu Simbel at p. Aswan is situated at what was in antiquity the southern border of Egypt, the point where the Nile cuts through the granite rock of the first cataract.
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Nubia lay beyond. You'll be spending the next two nights at the Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel, a splendid reddish-brown pile built by the British in ; sofitel. The terrace is a must for lunch or a cold glass of karkadeh. After breakfast on the terrace, walk down to the river with your guide to a waiting felucca, which will take you across to the western bank.
From there, it's a minute camel ride to St. Simeon's Monastery, the best example of an ancient Christian Coptic stronghold in Egypt. Dating back to the seventh century and abandoned in the twelfth because of difficulties with the water supply and Muslim attacks, the monastery is a wreck, but the setting—on high ground surrounded by desert sands—is splendid and the ruins have an oddly powerful aura. Wait out the midday heat poolside—desert sightseeing, especially in the off-season, takes a surprising toll. Around 4 p. The market is essentially a small-town main street with offshoots—easy to navigate, relatively tourist-free, and an unintimidating place to sharpen your bargaining skills.
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Evenings are truly lovely in Aswan, so have dinner on the terrace at the Basma Hotel. Because Nile cruise boats require that you book a minimum of three nights, you will be embarking at noon today, although not actually sailing from Aswan until tomorrow afternoon see The Basics for boat recommendations. Leave your packed bags in the Old Cataract lobby after breakfast they'll be transferred to your boat and you're off to Elephantine Island via felucca. Elephantine was the nucleus from which the town of Aswan Syene in ancient times developed, a crossroads of ancient trading routes from Lower Egypt, the Western Desert, and India.
Roman garrisons tromped through here in later times, as did the Turkish troops of the Ottoman sultan in the s and the armies of British general Lord Horatio Kitchener during the conquest of Sudan —98 , as the lands that were Nubia came to be called. There are two interesting Nubian villages to tour—note the "designer" doors pictured bottom right —and a small museum in the former home of Sir William Willcocks, engineer of the Old Aswan Dam , where you can see objects unearthed on Elephantine and its environs from prehistory on.
But the overall impression is of compacted ruin upon ruin. Still, if your guide is good at filling in the gaps, there is arguably no site like it for feeling the whoosh of aeons. Recover from historical vertigo—and from the heat there is little shade on Elephantine —during a slow sail along the Nile to nearby Kitchener's Island, a. Lunch is on your moored cruise ship.
Escape the heat in the top deck's plunge pool or with a nap in your cabin. Toward day's end, your guide will take you to the elegant, red granite Nubia Museum, a must-see for the fresh perspectives it affords on Egyptian history from the point of view of Egypt's southern neighbor. Note the fine sculpted head of Taharka — b. And at this time of day, you'll likely have the place to yourself Al Fanadek St.