What comes to mind when you think about Egypt and traveling to Egypt? Normally, people think of the Great Pyramids, the sphinx, the tombs of the pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings, the Nile, Alexandria, and Luxor. These are incredible tourist destinations as evidenced by the millions of tourists who flock to Egypt every year. However, there are many off-the-beaten travel destinations in Egypt that should be a part of your next trip there.
As the largest city in the Middle East and Africa, there is so much to see and do. With over 19.5 million inhabitants and thousands of years of existence, Cairo offers the greatest representation of Egypt’s history, influence, and rich culture. One of my favorite places in Cairo is the Khan El Khalili souq (market), which offers literally everything you can imagine and more for a fraction of the price. You can spend hours just winding your way through the narrow streets that comprise the souq visiting the many ancient mosques peppered along the way and be prepared to haggle your way to a “best” price. Cairo also boasts an amazing culinary scene, from local fare to fusion and international cuisine, there something for everyone. For the foodie travelers among us, the Cairo food scene is worthy of exploration.
Go to “Garbage City” and Visit the Cave Church of St. Simon
The Cave Church is one of the most unique places to visit in Cairo. It is also slightly less visited than the major sites as tourists are dissuaded to visit due to the name of the location where the church is found, but don’t let the name dissuade you. The “garbage city” neighborhood derives its name because historically a large population of trash (garbage) collectors lived in this area. The Cave Church of St. Simon is special because it is the largest of seven Coptic Christian churches carved into the nearby Moqattam Mountain. The Cave Church of St. Simon in addition to its beauty and uniqueness also boasts an amphitheater with a seating capacity of 20,000. If you want to see something different in Cairo, this is the place.
The Botanical Gardens of Kitchener (El Nabatat) Island
In the middle of the Nile River near Aswan is a small island called Kitchener (El Nabatat) Island. In the past, the island was the property of a lord who transformed the island into a beautiful garden filled with exotic plants and flowers from across Asia and Africa. Today, the island belongs to the government and is open to visitors to enjoy the verdant and lush gardens. This island truly is an oasis.
The Mummification Museum of Luxor
If you are an ancient Egyptophile, then you may be fascinated by the mummification process and ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife and preparation necessary to enter the after-life. The mummification museum is a smaller museum that displays information about the mummification process and the “secrets” and beliefs that led ancient Egyptians towards the afterlife. The Mummification Museum is one of the best museums in all of Egypt. Not only will you see the famous human mummy is known as Masharta; here you will also see crocodiles, fish, cats, dogs, and much more. You will also get to see the tools used for the mummification process as well as several examples of canopic jars, amulets, and embalming fluid.
The Valley of the Nobles in Luxor
The Valley of the Nobles (Tombs of the Nobles) may lack the star power of the Valley of the Kings or other Luxor major attractions, but this lesser-visited gem is well worth your time. The Valley of the Nobles features hundreds of tombs embedded in rock including in many cases beautifully decorated frescoes depicting the working lives of their inhabitants.
The Siwa Oasis, located in the heart of the Sahara Desert (a 10 to 11-hour drive from Cairo), is largely untouched by the outside world. As a result of this relative isolation, Berber culture has largely prevailed in the local architecture, style of dress, and distinct language; making this ancient and distant town seem like a world apart from the rest of Egypt. There are also a number of hot and cold springs in the area, as well as various ancient and colorful tombs if you would like to consider other excursions along the way to and from Siwa.
The key to a successful trip anywhere, especially when it comes to off-the-beaten-path travel, is to do research and appropriately plan. This will go a long way in helping you make the most of the ancient sites and unique sounds, culture, and history that off-the-beaten-path Egypt has to offer.