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Egypt is a country that invokes romantic ideas of queens and pharaohs cruising up and down the Nile. Or, perhaps, you picture gigantic temples, rich royal tombs, and ancient pyramids. While that is true for ancient Egypt, what can you expect if you visit Egypt today?
Egypt has a long and rich history, still very evident in the landscape. This is now blended with a modern, bustling Islamic culture with street food and bustling bazaars. All the action is contained within the Nile Valley.
Egypt is separated from the rest of the world by the vastness of the Sahara and Libyan deserts, which also foster a unique natural environment.
From famous pyramids and ancient mummies to modern mosques and scuba resorts, here is what you can expect to see, do and eat in Egypt!
What Is Ancient Egypt Known For?
The ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs is one of the world's oldest and most sophisticated cultures. The last pharaoh was dethroned more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans. But evidence of their reign and grandeur still dominates the Egyptian landscape.
So, what was ancient Egypt known for, and what remains of it today?
The Egyptian pyramids are iconic structures. We still do not understand how these complex monuments were constructed more than 5,000 years ago. A trip to Giza, just outside Cairo, lets you visit the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. You can also see the famous Sphinx monument that guards them.
The pyramids are among the 7 wonders of the ancient world.
While Egypt is a vibrant land of the living, it's also known for its land of the dead! Central to ancient religion was a belief in an afterlife. Mummification is a special process required to prepare a person to enter the underworld.
According to ancient Egyptians, the afterlife was created when the god Osiris was killed by his brother Seth. Seth also cut up his body and buried parts of it all around Egypt. Osiris' sister-wife Isis was able to retrieve the pieces and restore his body through mummification. She then used her magic to bring Osiris back to life so that he could father their son Horus.
But Osiris could not be fully restored and came back to a kind of half-life. The afterlife, called the Duat, was created for Osiris, and all people can join him there when they die if the proper rituals, including mummification, are followed.
The best place to see mummies is at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo. You can see 20 different mummies in the Royal Mummies' Hall. Don't forget to seek out the mummified cats!
While the pyramids reach up toward the sky, most Pharaohs were buried in underground tombs. These were hidden in the deserts to prevent robbers from stealing the vast treasures that were buried with them. It was believed that the pharaoh would need this wealth in the afterlife.
The highest concentration of tombs in Egypt can be found in the Valley of the Kings just outside of Luxor. So far, 63 tombs of various different sizes have been found dating from a 500-year period. Among them is the famous tomb of King Tutankhamun. The treasures from his tomb are mostly displayed at the National Museum in Cairo.
While most of the tombs were robbed long before they were excavated by archaeologists, it's still incredible to witness their elaborate underground architecture to see the amazing paintings that adorn their walls, some still retaining their original, brightly colored paint.
The grandeur of the Egyptian temples is a sight to behold! A boat cruise down the Nile is one of the best ways to take in these iconic Egyptian structures.
The Temple of Kom Ombo is a late construction dedicated under the Ptolemaic Pharaohs in the 2nd century BC. It's a dual temple dedicated to Horus and Sobke, a crocodile god. Until recently, the Nile waters surrounding the temple were infested with crocodiles.
Several tour companies organize trips that take in all the most important historical sites. Read our review of EF Go Ahead Tours, which are active in Egypt as well as other international destinations.
What Natural Wonders Is Egypt Known For?
Egypt is known for being a desert state. But, it's also home to the fertile Nile valley, desert oasis, and the Red Sea. These all host incredible natural wonders. Here are some must-sees.
Red Sea Reef
The Red Sea was a popular tourist destination for many years thanks to its rich and colorful coral reefs. There are still many resorts along the coast. These cater to amateur scuba divers and experienced deep-sea divers.
As well as colorful coral structures, there are more than 1,200 species of fish. Many of these are not seen anywhere else in the world. Don't forget the dolphins, turtles, sharks, and manta rays.
The waters are crystal clear, and there's usually minimal wave action. These are also among some of the warmest waters in the world. Remember to leave your plastics at home since the reef is now a zero-plastic tourist destination.
If you aren't really sure what an oasis is, a visit to the Siwa Oasis is a special experience. It's an isolated pocket of fertility in the desert near the Egyptian-Libyan border and supports a community of about 23,000. You must pass kilometers of nothingness to reach the oasis, regardless of which direction you're coming from.
When you arrive, you'll explore a sea of palm trees, with mudbrick homes spotted around. There are also 300 clear water springs, hot springs, and salt mining pools.
If you want to experience the barren desert, you can take a tour of the Great Sand Sea. Cruise over sand dunes in a 4x4 and sleep under the night sky with the stars in all their glory.
White Desert National Park
The White Desert National Park is also the perfect place to look at the stars. Plus, it's only a few hours from Cairo. It's an area of white chalk desert with elaborate rock formations that look a bit like alien spacecraft!
The landscape takes on a pink and orange glow when the sun is shining, glowing eerily under the light of the moon and stars.
The area is also rich in crystals. You may see quartz deposits as you explore. It would help if you also took in the spectacular Crystal Mountains. This is an enormous outcropping of quartz that creates a mountainous shape.
What Is Egypt Known For Today?
While ancient Egyptian culture might seem frozen in time, modern Egyptian culture is vibrant. Somehow, it manages to feel both nostalgic and very modern at the same time. Here are some of the things that modern Egypt is known for.
Before visiting any of Cairo's working mosques, go to the Mosque of ibn Tulun. Constructed in the 9th century, it's the oldest mosque in its original form in Africa. It's built on a small hill just outside of Cairo, thought to be where Noah's Ark came to rest after the flood.
Next, you should head to the Al-Fattah Al-Alim Mosque, the largest mosque in Egypt capable of holding 17,000 worshippers. Opened in 2019, it embodies what it means to be a Muslim in Egypt today.
Add to the list the Amr ibn al-As Mosque, which was built in 641 but has since been renovated several times and is still used for prayer.
You might also want to check out the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, built in Ottoman style in the 19th century. The Masjid Al Short Mosque, one of the city's most popular wedding venues, is also an excellent venue you should check out.
What Is Famous in Egypt for Shopping?
Wherever you go in Egypt, you'll find rich market bazaars, known as souks. The most famous souks are located in Cairo's historic center. Just walking the markets, looking at the exotic goods, and watching people go about their business is a major experience.
If you're buying, what should you purchase? You'll find colorful materials of high quality, often made into cotton robes. There are also affordable and fragrant incense and perfumes, elaborate blown glass pots and vases, and Kilim carpets made from wool, cotton, and silk.
You might also find souvenirs inspired by ancient Egypt, including papyrus paintings and statue replicas. You'll also find plenty of gold, mother-of-pearl decorated jewelry boxes, and other handcrafted treasures.
Egypt has a barter culture, so expect to haggle for the price you want. But don't start the negotiations too low, as you may offend locals. If you can't close a deal, don't worry about it.
You'll probably find the same products on display elsewhere in the bazaar. You will have a better idea of their value the second time around!
What Food Is Egypt Known For?
One of the best and most delicious ways to get to know a culture is to eat it! Egypt is no exception. You'll find a fusion of African and Middle Eastern tastes and plenty of welcoming hospitality.
While you should probably say yes to everything, you must try Aish Baladi, which is a fluffy Egyptian pita bread. Another must-have is Fatteh, which is Egyptian bread layered with meat, rice, and spices. Ta'amiya is a very delicious Egyptian-style falafel.
If you want something sweet, try Basbousa, which is semolina cake in sweet syrup, and Om Ali, which is a rich bread pudding. To drink, you'll be offered Karkade, which is hibiscus tea, and Yansoon, an aniseed tea.
Try the Egyptian Ahwa coffee, Aseer Asab, sugarcane juice, and Sahlab, a milk pudding drink.
Remember that because Egypt is a Muslim country, alcohol is not widely served.
Explore More With Pilot!
Now that you know what to expect from Egypt, you're probably already planning your trip! It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you'll never forget. You can ensure that you get the most out of your experience with the help of Pilot.