Egypt is the most fascinating travel destination I have ever explored. The ancient history and culture are so rich that new discoveries and theories continue to be uncovered today.
Understanding the heart and soul of Ancient Egypt is a colossal challenge. What drove its Pharaohs to build monolithic pyramids, majestic temples, royal tombs, and gigantic statues? Why was an entire funerary culture developed, a culture which included fantastical solar boats, magnificent sarcophaguses, tombs filled with highly embellished golden beds, royal thrones, death masks and fabulous jewelry?
Accordingly, the act of and reason for human and animal mummification is difficult for modern man to wrap his head around. The most amazing and hard to comprehend reality is that Egypt’s sophisticated culture occurred thousands of years ago on the banks of the Nile River that was and still is closely surrounded by uninhabitable desert.
Since the early 1900s, Egyptologists, archaeologists and wealthy private citizens alike have been studying Ancient Egypt and seeking to develop believable explanations for this mysterious, complex culture.
Recently, I visited Cairo during my 50-day solo trip around the world and took a cruise down the Nile River which turned out to be a life changing travel experience. The following is my list of must see things for the solo traveler visiting Egypt.
The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities
Commonly know as the Museum of Cairo or the Egyptian Museum, this treasure trove is filled with over 120,000 artifacts spanning from the Old Kingdom to the Greco-Roman eras. The Egyptian Museum, chronologically organized, should be everyone’s first stop. This fabulous museum gives you a great introduction to Ancient Egyptian history plus good reference points for what you’ll see as you travel down the Nile.
Highlights include the magnificent solid gold death mask of King Tutankhamen and his vast collection of tomb artifacts, the statues of Khafre and Menkaure-- the two pharaohs who built the Giza pyramids, a bust of Akhenaten-- the pharaoh known as the heretic king, wooden statues over 4,000 years old with eerie, crystal eyes, and three gigantic statues of Ramses II, Amenhotep III and his wife, Tiye. Be prepared to be awed!
2) Visit the Salah El Din Citadel in Cairo
In the center of Cairo located high upon Mokattam Hill is what was the nexus of the Egyptian government up until the 19th century. Originally, the site was a medieval Islamic fortification and currently, is referred to as the Muhammad Ali Citadel, which has a grand Islamic mosque located here by this name. Also, at the Citadel is a royal Egyptian residence, two other mosques, the Al-Gawhara Palace Museum, the Carriage Museum and the Egyptian Military Museum.
Egypt’s population today is over 80 percent Muslim due to the strong, historic influence from the Ottoman and Arab worlds. Visiting the Muhammad Ali Mosque and its outer buildings gives one an idea of how important this influence was to the history and culture of Egypt that is still prevalent today. Likewise, the mosque is stunningly elegant and the views of Cairo from Mokattam Hill are quite memorable.
3) Visit the Pyramids of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World
The Giza Pyramids have always been on my travel bucket list. Similar to before I visited the Great Wall of China, I was excited to check this destination off my list but did not expect to be completely awestruck. My tour of these majestic, mysterious structures was definitely the highlight of all my travel experiences over the last 45 years. No words can adequately explain their grandeur, simplicity and spiritual quality. One has to go there to experience exactly what I mean.
Since my return home, I have been delving more deeply into the facts surrounding these pyramids. Why were they built? Is there a spiritual purpose to their eight-sided triangular form? Why were they placed at this precise location? How were they constructed some 2,000 years ago without modern tools and equipment? What was the purpose of burying the Pharaohs in these unique tombs? These are a few of the questions I’m still seeking to logically answer. Most people visiting the Giza pyramids leave quite perplexed!
Egyptologists and interested laymen both have many theories, some being otherworldly. These mysterious, immense, man-made structures will continue to fascinate and pose deep questions until the answers are fully uncovered. The Pyramids of Giza should be on every avid traveler’s list.
4) Ride a camel in the Egyptian desert
When visiting the Giza Pyramids you’lll find many vendors selling souvenirs and offering services. One of the activities many tourists engage in is the almost obligatory camel ride. Though not very long-- thank goodness because camel riding is not the most comfortable mode of transportation-- it’s a fun and cool experience. There’s something about riding a camel in the desert at the foot of the pyramids that colors your conscious and subconscious thoughts. Don’t miss the opportunity to ride this strange animal!
My next suggestions will take you to different locations along the Nile River. A luxury river cruise is a good option to tackle these stops logistically. I chose Uniworld’s “Splendors of the Nile” cruise, which was a wonderful experience and highly recommended for the solo traveler.
5) Karnak Temple Complex
The “most select of places” is the meaning of the word Karnak which accurately describes this sacred place and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sometimes referred to as the Vatican of Ancient Egypt, Karnak is the largest known religious complex on Earth whose construction started over 3,000 years ago. The area’s outside dimensions are one mile by two miles and within the immense complex are 25 temples, chapels, three boats, sanctuaries, two obelisks, groups of large, beautifully carved columns, a sacred lake and many pharaonic, and symbolic statues. Thirty pharaohs are believed to have worshiped and built structures here.
I entered this historic place from the Avenue of Sphinxes, know as the Sacred Way, a two-mile royal road from Karnak to Luxor lined on both sides with majestic sphinxes. This sacred area was dedicated to the Theban Triad-- Amun, his wife Mut and their son, Khonsu-- who were the three gods of the Ancient Egyptian trinity. Building and worship continued here until 300 AD when Constantine the Great recognized the Christian religion and ordered the closing of all of the Egyptian pagan temples.
Highlights of this massive complex of gigantic structures are the Hypostyle Hall, Queen Hatshepsut’s Obelisk, the fantastical hieroglyphics carved everywhere, the huge pharaonic statues, the Avenue of the Sphinxes and not to be missed, the sacred Scarab statue you are encouraged to walk around for good luck or making a wish, which of course I did.
When I visited Karnak something unusual happened. I sensed a strange familiarity or connection to this place. Correspondingly, I don’t know the reason for or origin of why I experienced a déjà vu moment here. The massive size of the structures and their architectural beauty give you a sense of holiness. Maybe the centuries of prayers and rituals performed at Karnak has a profound effect on some people. I can’t say why I felt like I’d been here before but that’s what kept running through my mind.
As weird as it sounds, the kinship I sensed at Karnak was uncanny. To top it off, when I left the complex, a sweet papyrus seller insisted on giving me three papyri and a blue scarab for good luck and protection. He wouldn’t let me pay. His unfounded generosity towards me in some odd way felt like a confirmation of my unexpected déjà vu experience.
I believe travel does stretch your spiritual consciousness. Do you share this mindset? Have you ever experienced a déjà vu moment while traveling? Let me know in the comments below.
Enjoy this short video depicting the “Legend of Egypt” and stay tuned for the following two blogs sharing my continued list of top things to do in Egypt as a solo traveler.