There is so much to see in Egypt you could easily spend a month there and not see everything! However, if you only have a week then this guide is perfect for making the most of the time you have. I would recommend concentrating on Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan.
Start your journey by flying in (and later out of) Cairo International Airport. Some countries need visas (Americans do) to legally enter. Most countries can get their visa when they arrive for 25$ and it’s a very easy process. It took me all of 5 minutes. Customs is a breeze, and everyone is so friendly.
First piece of advice- hire a guide. In Egypt, you must study for years in university and be licensed by the government to be a tour guide. Our tour guide Mina was not only an amazing photographer and guide, but immediately felt like family. (Send me a message for his contact info!)
Cairo is a city like no other, vibrant and bustling. Just saying it sounds exotic, like I’m starring in an Indiana Jones movie. The traffic is unreal. I rode throughout the city with my face hanging out the window like a dog because I didn’t want to miss a single thing. On one side of the car could be a flashy Mercedes and the other a donkey driven by a 12 year old.
You can’t visit Cairo, or Egypt for that matter without seeing the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Scientists still don’t know how the pyramids were built, and the theories run from slaves to Aliens. The pyramid shape is built to mimic the rays of the sun shining down. It is quite hot during the day, and I recommend starting early. The Giza park opens at 8am, and security lines can be long. Tickets can be purchased on site (or your guide can get them for you). It is a separate ticket for the pyramid complex, inside the pyramids, and the Great Sphinx. I skipped the inside of the pyramids, as there really isn’t that much to see. Tourists can climb partway up the pyramids to explore and take photos. It is illegal to climb the entire away up the pyramids ever since someone got stuck at the top and had to be rescued by helicopter in the 90s. Imagine being that dude.
Word the wise, there are many vendors who will try diligently to sell you items. Do not accept items that are “free gifts” as they will turn out not to be so free. If you are in the market for souvenirs (I mean who isn’t?!) bargain and bargain hard. You can do this throughout Egypt. Don’t pay initial asking price!
If you have time make sure to visit Saqqara pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, and Khan El-Khalili (The Bazaar).
Egypt Air has a short hop from Cairo to Luxor that is really convenient (otherwise its about a 4 hour drive). We stayed at the Hilton Luxor Resort and Spa, a gorgeous luxury resort on the Nile River. Luxor is where the most stunning examples of the tombs of Kings and Queens are found. The colors inside are almost perfectly preserved. King Tut’s tomb, along with his mummy is also found here. Which I have a say is better than a movie star sighting any day. (OK, I’m a nerd). King Tut’s tomb requires a separate ticket from the regular Valley of the Kings entrance. The tomb of Ramses is incredible and not to be missed as well. If you tip the guards a few dollars US they will let you over a gate into a private section- totally worth it! However, my favorite thing in Luxor was the Karnak temple. It opens at 6am, which is ideal for getting photos without so many people in them. You can also go at the end of the day for golden lighting that is a photographer’s dream. Another great activity is hot air ballooning at sunrise, or cruising in a felucca boat on the Nile River. Don’t miss the spa at the Hilton Luxor, truly one of the best I have ever been to anywhere. After a day walking around, an emergency massage was definitely necessary.
The best way to get to this southern Egyptian town is by car. We hired a car and driver for the 4 hour trip (about 200$ US) and got to travel the country roads and see the real Egypt. It was hot and a bit dusty, but great views. Aswan much hotter than Cairo, and still located on the Nile. We stayed at the Sofitel Old Cataract, which was luxurious evoking old world Hemingway-esque charm. It is also where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile. You can tour her suite, if you are looking for inspiration but don’t want to shell out the thousands of dollars a night to stay there. Spring for the private dinner on the Winston Churchill terrace, seriously one of the best meals I have ever had. I ate so much I almost needed to be rolled back to my room.
Aswan is incredibly beautiful with a lot to see, my favorite was Abu Simbel, located 3.5 hours south of Aswan on Lake Nassar. We started the trip about 4am (the hotel packed lovely meals for us to take on the road- amazing!). It gets so incredibly hot there (115 during the day in October, up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer) so bring water, and start early. The Philae Temple is a picturesque ferry boat ride away. Not only is it beautiful, but there is a host of friendly felines guaranteed to be your escort for just a few head rubs. Many recommend the Nubian Village in Aswan, and while it is very pretty I found it to be a tourist trap and had concerns about the care the animals received there. I would advise skipping it.
I loved Egypt more than I can say. As a kid I grew up learning about Egypt, looking at pictures of the pyramids in history books. It was such a special experience. The sights were beautiful, the people were incredibly friendly, and the food was to die for (I ate a LOT). Egypt is very safe, they love Americans, and should be on absolutely everyone’s bucket list!