My love of Egypt and amazing experiences are here to inspire. It’s time to get the passport and visa sorted, pack your bags and head South.
(in collaboration with e-visa.co.uk) – Note all experiences and photographs are my own ©KateDowse
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My Love of Egypt and travel to different lands
I have a love of Egypt. It’s not something I’ve shared with you before. But these last few months have been tough and I am seriously beginning to miss travel to distant lands. I’ve travelled to dozens of countries. The more ‘closed’, remote or politically different they are (often places requiring a visa), the more I have loved them.
I’ve been privileged to visit places long before they became ‘open’… East Berlin and walking through Checkpoint Charlie when the wall was still up; Prague before it became a party town; Leningrad and Moscow before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’ve travelled Cuba from end to end, visited villages in China to be greeted by children for whom Europeans were an unknown… I’ve got up at dawn to watch the sun rise on Kilimanjaro and I’ve island-hopped the Seychelles. But Egypt draws me back…
So, this post is a little different… In the hope of warding off the misery that is being ‘locked down’ week after week, I am revisiting my love of Egypt and (with a C Vaccine on the horizon) asking myself whether it is time to start planning travel again…
A traveller or a tourist?
Whether you see yourself as a traveller or a tourist is a subjective thing. I fall firmly into the ‘traveller’ camp. But it’s not about whether you travel independently, on a package or on an arranged group tour. And it’s not about whether you need a visa to get through the border or are simply catching a ferry across the Channel. It’s about what you do when you get there that (for me) creates the distinction… The photos you take… The food you seek out… Time spent or not spent being with and experiencing what it is to be a local.
When I travel, getting off the beaten track matters… I’m not interested in the familiarity of international coffee chains or selfies with landmarks… It is immersion with ‘the other’… ‘the different’… the alternative culture and local reality that I truly miss.
A Love of Egypt… SO much more than the pyramids…
As a child, Egypt held a fascination. But after visiting the British Museum to see the Tutankhamun exhibition back in 1972 (yes… I’m really that old) the need to go there really took hold. In my early 20’s I made my first trip… Landing in Cairo for a small group exploratory tour, the iconic Giza Pyramids were finally in sight. And yes… they were truly magnificent… A feat of engineering one can only begin to imagine. But Egypt offers so much more…. And with three trips, I have had the privilege of experiencing much beyond these triangular ancients.
My Egypt highlights
The Egypt tourist spots we all love
Anyone with a love of Egypt will recommend the usual tourist highlights… The iconic places which give Egypt its ‘bucket-list’ status. We’re talking the Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza (just outside Cairo)… The Valley of the Kings on the West Bank near Luxor… And of course, the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Dahab (my favourite).
Many people opt to cruise the Nile too… giving them access to the beautiful city of Aswan and its High Dam, a trip down to Abu Simbel and the Philae Temple, and further down-stream, the Kom Ombo Temple and the Temple of Horus at Edfu.
Most cruises either start or end in Luxor, offering easy opportunity to take in the ancient temples of Luxor and Karnak, as well as Medinet Habu and the Deir el-Medina.
But getting off the beaten track or doing things a bit differently can offer a whole new perspective.
See Egypt differently – Sail low, fly high, take a walk or hitch a donkey ride
So, here’s my recommendations to see Egypt differently…
- Sail the Nile by traditional Felucca. If you’re pushed for time, take a sunset sail from either Aswan or Luxor to stop off and explore a couple of villages.
- Or… for the more adventurous… Book a full-on Felucca sail from Aswan to Luxor. It takes 4 to 5 days, often sleeping on deck under the stars, bathing and swimming in the cool waters of the Nile and eating with new found friends. It’s not 5* luxury. But it’s an experience you’ll remember forever…enjoying the peace and calm of the water and stopping off along the way to explore epic sites, souks and camel markets.
- Fly high over Luxor in a sunrise hot air balloon. It gives a whole new understanding of the Nile Delta and the life it gives to this amazing country.
- Get up early for a pre-dawn donkey trek to the Valley of the Kings. Not only will you miss the crowds, but as the sun rises, your 4-legged time machine will help you experience the stillness of times past.
- And when you’ve done with the eerie coldness of the ancient tombs, take a guided walk over the barren mountains to approach the Temple of Hatshepsut from above.
A Love of Egypt’s Souks and Backstreets
Whenever I travel, I make a point of taking time with the locals. And my love of Egypt has been cemented by the beautiful, friendly and hospitable people met along the way. From walking and taking tea with the villagers of the West Bank, to bartering for silver in the souks of Aswan… and enjoying the company of the Nubians in their villages… It’s the people who make a place memorable.
Take time to stroll the back streets, chat and just ‘be’ with the local community… Buy fruit, nuts and spices in the local markets… Take in the sounds, smells, flavours and the rainbow of colours that await you.
Museums and where my Love of Egypt began…
The exhibits I saw back in the 70’s returned to Egypt. But seeing King Tut again in his rightful place as an adult was an ambition achieved. With its rich history however, Egypt has museums to entice even the most reluctant of museum goers… My favourites?
- Egyptian Museum – Cairo (an absolute must see)
- Luxor Museum (smaller than Cairo, but full of precious antiquities)
- Mummification Museum – Luxor (small but totally fascinating)
- Coptic Museum – Cairo (exploring Egypt’s Coptic Christian history) – and also visit the beautiful Coptic Church.
- The Nubian Museum – Aswan (exploring the history of the Nubian people)
- Museum at Bahariya Oasis housing a small, but beautifully displayed collection of golden mummies and sarcophagi.
- Kharga Museum of Antiquities – A fascinating collection of archaeological finds and artifacts from around the oases of the Western Desert
My Love of Egypt – Beyond the beaten track
If like me, you crave greater adventures, your love of Egypt might take you beyond the beaten track. My recommendations?
The Western Desert
Home to barren, yet colourful deserts and unexpected oases, the Western Desert is the place to which my heart always returns. While visiting requires more planning as well as the need to hire a guide and use a registered travel agency, the extra effort will take you to lesser visited and incredible places. In addition to basic visa requirements, you are likely to need specific area travel permits. And some expeditions and trips demand tight governmental controls for safety, including being accompanied by an armed escort within certain areas. It’s all part of the experience. Actually, it doesn’t feel in the slightest bit scary or intrusive.
What you might love in Egypt’s Western Desert…
- Sleep under the stars in the White Desert – The lack of light pollution offers the most incredible view of the night sky. I literally lay awake most of the night watching satellites and shooting stars and marvelling at the depth of the universe.
- Camp with the Bedouins chatting and making music late into the night.
- Head by Bedouin camel to hot springs for a warming mineral soak.
- Visit the incredible Inner Oases of Bahariya and Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga to mingle in the markets, see the Golden Mummies and visit Badr’s incredible art garden.
The Sinai Peninsula
Steeped in religious history and stories so miraculous they have a place in the bible, the Sinai Peninsula will leave you in awe…
- Mount Sinai – Set off in the dead of night and climb Mount Sinai to see the sun rise over the mountains beyond. It’s unforgettable. (Requires a reasonable level of fitness, although when I did it, there were plenty of locals selling a taxi ride on their camels and donkeys if you can’t make it all the way).
- Visit St Catherine’s Monastery on the way down and contemplate Moses and the Burning Bush.
- Take a 4-wheel desert safari or walk the dry beds of the Wadis… Whether it’s high-octane adventure you crave or the feel of hot sand under your feet… The peace and isolation of these empty deserts and river beds is awesome.
- Camp out with nature and total peace at Ras Mohammed National Park…This watery wilderness park is simply stunning… And if the weather’s warm enough, the dive sites and snorkelling are beyond imaginable.
- Glimpse the ships sailing through the desert on the Suez Canal. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.
Do I need a visa to travel to Egypt?
Currently, British passport holders require a visa for most travel within the country. It’s easiest to apply for your Egypt visa on-line, ahead of your trip. But there is also a new, super-easy Egypt e-visa, with a speedy and stream-lined application procedure.
As mentioned above, if you wish to travel in the Western Desert, you will likely need additional travel permits and to use local registered travel agents and guides to meet Egyptian government requirements.
Egyptian Food and health – what you should know if you are gluten free
Regardless of my love of Egypt, it is not the easiest of places to travel as a Coeliac, although can be done with a little care and determination. Not only are there language barriers to encounter, but be aware that this is a country for which wheat bread is a significant staple.
In addition to general travel tips and advice, here’s a few Egypt-specific thoughts…
The Safer stuff…
- Always carry and use an Arabic Coeliac/gluten free explanation card. Coeliac UK has a helpful Egyptian translated travel leaflet too.
- Order simply cooked fish, seafood, meats, eggs, beans and vegetables. As anywhere in the world, the Egyptians are perfectly able to cook them safely providing they know what you need. As with anywhere however, cross-contamination is always a potential risk when eating out.
- The markets and street vendors sell amazing fruit, vegetables and nuts… Make sure you stock up regularly to snack and fill a hole when required.
- Local food in packets (including biscuits and crisps) are likely to be poorly labelled (laws are not as you would expect in the UK, Europe or US). Always check carefully and buy imported goods with detailed labelling.
- Meze such as dips and starters are your friend. Always double check and be sure they are not served with bread, but wonderful North African dishes such as Baba Ghanoush, Houmous, straight tahini, pickled vegetables (Torshi), grilled cob corn or sweet potato are perfect for keeping you sated. Pack your own gluten free pita to grab when you need it.
- Equally, eating omelettes (which seem to be easy to order in most cafes and restaurants) is a relatively safe bet… with or without fillings.
Not so safe…
- Never drink the tap water (whether Coeliac or not) or take ice in your drinks. This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many people get sick due to oversight and not gluten. And just as important, don’t put your hands near your mouth… Handling money in particular will transfer bugs easily and quickly.
- Beware the outdoor bread bakers and cover your face as you pass. Atmospheric gluten in areas where bread is baked can be an unexpected hazard.
- Avoid eating at shawarma shops… Cross-contamination risk is too high.
- Be aware of rice dishes… It’s not unusual for these to be mixed with glutenous pasta and noodles.
As with ALL travel and restaurant eating, be sure to double check what you are eating before ordering and consumption. If in doubt… send it back.
Independent travel, Package Deal or Organised Tour? For the Love of Egypt, the choice is yours…
The decision you take on whether to travel to Egypt completely independently, on an organised small group tour or as a complete package deal will be up to you. Your travel experience, sense of adventure and desire to go to lesser visited areas, as well as the need to feel greater security, food familiarity and zero planning requirements will all shape your decision.
But whatever route you take, Egypt beckons and will leave you with experiences that will be as memorable as they are vibrant. With a new post-Covid travel era on the horizon, it may just be time to get the passport and visa sorted, pack your bags and head South.
OTHER GLUTEN FREE GUIDE INSPIRATION FOR SHORT BREAKS AND TRAVELLERS
Check out our other Gluten Free Travel Guides…
- Gluten Free Barcelona
- Ultimate Guide to Gluten Free Budapest
- Gluten Free Whitstable
- Gluten Free Gloucester, UK
- Pignoulet Pilates Retreat, Gascony France
- Cruising on the Sapphire Princess
- Gluten Free Rye (Sussex) – UK
If you are new to travelling gluten free, then head over to my post on Travel Tips & Planning for help and advice.
(In collaboration with e visa.co.uk. All experiences and photographs of Egypt are my own.)