From iconic pyramids that rise from ancient sands and bustling medieval bazaars full of colour, to the endless desert dotted with oases of palm trees, busy cities and modern coastal holiday resorts offering some of the best diving in the world, Egypt is a living museum and a land packed with amazing attractions.
Egypt is famously the land of the pharaohs. There’s Tutankhamun, the young boy who became a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, and whose solid gold death mask is one of the most famous ancient artefacts ever found. Or Nefertiti, the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaton, who is believed to have ruled in her own right and whose beauty is the stuff of legend. Both have given unparalleled romance to the country’s history.
Most of the country’s astonishing monuments that can be visited today were built during the time of the pharaohs. The Pyramids of Giza (the sole survivors of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World), the mighty Sphinx with its body of a lion and a human head, the lotus-columned temples of Luxor and Karnak, the nearby Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, and Hatshepsut’s temple, the Deir el Bahri, have thrilled visitors to Egypt for centuries.
Further south along the Nile, past Aswan, are the temples of Abu Simbel. Built to honour the pharaoh Ramses II and his wife Nefertari, the temples are adorned with statues some 20m (66ft) high carved with unbelievable detail into the sheer rock face and gaze out over a huge stretch of water, the Nasser Lake. The temples are an incredible sight. Here, visitors can enjoy one of the spectacular sound-and-light shows that are staged at many of Egypt’s treasures nightly.
Egypt’s natural assets are equally as potent. The Nile Delta, with its intricate network of rivers that fan out just north of Cairo to reach its rocky Mediterranean coastline around Alexandria, is lush and green. In stark contrast is the sparsely populated desert with wind-polished rock formations and oases. Splitting the desert in two from the Nile Delta to Egypt’s southernmost border is the spine-like Nile River, which has provided water for the country’s population and its agriculture for millennia. The iron-clad mountains of the Sinai and the gleaming underwater landscapes of the Red Sea, complete the country’s diverse landscape.
Egypt is a land of contrasts, ancient and modern, green and barren. Beneath the surface throbs a pulsing Arab state that celebrates its heritage while embracing contemporary life, but recent turmoils, namely the Arab Spring, and another military coup have galvanised a spirit of revolution throughout the nation. Whether the country will ultimately flourish or fade under this ongoing struggle for power remains to be seen. The country is best understood not so much for its great monuments, splendid though they are, but through its people. Observing the call to prayer at sunset or bartering for a bargain in Cairo’s ancient Khan al-Khalili bazaar, taking tea and talking with one of its garrulous residents in a random coffeehouse or simply stopping awhile in a rural village, silent but for the chatter of hooves on tarmac, will give a glimpse of a country full of character, colour and fortitude.
Area: 1,001,450 sq km (386,662 sq miles); Population: 85.3 million (2013); Population density: 85.2 per sq km; Capital: Cairo (El Qahira); Government: Republic; Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Sockets take the continental European-style two-pin plugs.