Egypt's natural and cultural landmarks present a living, layered narrative of human civilization. The Nile River, the Great Pyramid, the Library of Alexandria -- the icons of this northeast African nation's past are etched into the collective consciousness. While the modern reality of the country encompasses the awe-inspiring legacies of its eons of history (from its native dynasties to its eras of Greek, Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Arab, Ottoman French and British control), it also includes the complexities and contradictions of a major player in 21st-century Middle East politics.
All tours begin in chaotic Cairo. With a knowledgeable English-speaking guide and driver, however, the metropolis reveals its fascinating side. In addition to legendary attractions such as the pyramids, Sphinx and Egyptian Museum, the colorful bazaars of the medieval district and Cairo’s impressive mosques, such as Sultan Hassan and Ibn Tulun, also deserve an escorted visit. A cruise along the Nile to marvel at the astounding tombs and temples of the pharaohs remains one of the classic experiences of travel. Nowadays, the intimate 235-foot, 27-cabin Oberoi Zahra has set a new standard for elegant accommodations, delicious cuisine and superbly organized shore excursions. Visit oberoihotels.com.
The country's allure extends far beyond its famous capital. The desert offers encounters with sites of biblical renown (like Mount Sinai, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments) and modern Bedouins (many trekking adventures include visits with the desert tribes). Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, holds more former glory than contemporary cachet, but its cultural landmarks are irresistible. Luxor, in the south, is home to a rich array of ancient temples, tombs and ruins, as well as exotic local cuisine. In the east, the Red Sea coast is lauded for its snorkeling and diving, and the resort town of Hurghada is the launching point for both sea and Sahara desert excursions.
The ideal time to visit Egypt is October-May, with April-May and October-November being slightly less crowded. Entry requirements include a visa, but don’t worry if your passport bears Israeli entry/exit stamps, as Egypt (like Jordan) currently imposes no travel restrictions.
CLIMATE: Hot and dry. Only the Mediterranean coast receives measurable rain. The harshest weather occurs at the beginning and end of summer, when dust storms sweep across from the Arabian Desert. The best weather is December to March, when the evenings may require a light sweater. Luxor is 10 F warmer than Cairo during the day and 5 F cooler at night.
TIME: Seven hours ahead of New York (EST).
CURRENCY: Egyptian pound (EGP). Fluctuating rate valued at EGP7 = US$1.00 as of February 2014. Note: Our suggested hotel quotes rates in US$.
U.S. EMBASSY: Cairo, Tel. 2-2797-3300.
DIRECT DIAL CODES: To phone hotels in Egypt, dial 011 (international access) + 20 (Egypt code) + city code and local numbers in listings.
GENERAL INFORMATION: Visit egypt.travel before your trip.
Four Seasons Cairo at Nile Plaza
Expansive property occupying 30 stories of the Nile Plaza complex on the east bank of the Nile, with sweeping views of both the river and the Citadel, 10 minutes’ walk from the famous Egyptian Museum.