72 Hours In Cairo

21 Jan

WP_002573It’s a nation in the grips of one of the most trying times in its recent history. It toppled a dictatorship in what the world came to know as one of the major events of the Arab Spring and still, a couple years or so years on, the struggle continues.

This is Egypt. Lands that birthed ancient civilizations millennia past where dynasties ruled and truly awesome architectural marvels still stand today. It is a shame then, that a place with such a glorious past, should be going through such trying times at the present.

Still, its splendor remains a wonderment today. It’s been a place of immense curiosity for me – ever since I can remember, the pyramids have been in my dreams. Recently, the opportunity presented itself to me, to visit and I felt compelled to seize it. Sure, news headlines of clashes in Tahrir Sq. are enough to dissuade even the most fearless of travelers  (and I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to be a part of that distinguished category of brave souls) but it was a calling I yearned to heed. And thus, a couple months ago, I beheld the pyramids at Giza for the very first time. It was an immense experience.

WP_002609From the US, Egypt Air flies directly to Cairo from John F. Kenney Airport. Connections are also available via major European gateways, London Heathrow, Paris – Charles Du Gaulle and Milan – Malpensa, to list a few.  You do need a visa to enter the country but this can easily be obtained upon arrival in Cairo. Go straight to the kiosk adjacent immigration to make the purchase before proceeding to Passport Control. Depending on traffic, your journey into town should run roughly around 45 mins. or so. Hail one of the white taxis outside arrivals and make sure its metered or settle on a price before getting in. Conservatively estimated, it should run roughly around 80 Egyptian Pounds.

My choice for accommodation in Cairo was the Kempinski Nile Hotel in the Garden City area of town. It straddles the Nile (as most other hotels in the area do) and you have a choice while making a reservation to book a room facing the

Nile – I recommend it. The Kempinski is truly a treat; an excellent hotel right in the heart of town. You can see my review here. Some other recognizable choices you may elect to consider are the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah (right across the Nile in Zamalek), Hilton, InterContinental or Four Seasons.WP_002514

Not surprisingly, there’s a lot do and see in Cairo and its environs. I highly recommend arranging tours ahead of time or at the very least consult your hotel concierge for their suggestions. This is not a place to ‘wing it’ as it may prove particularly trying to navigate. Beware of unscrupulous readymade tour guides willing to take you to see the pyramids, etc, for a ‘small fee’. I consider myself a fairly savvy traveler but even I found myself in quite impressive situations where I was expertly out-haggled.

WP_002617Right in town, be sure to check out the magnificent Egyptian Museum housing a spectacular collection of antiquities. Do not miss the special exhibit featuring relics retrieved from boy-king, King Tot’s tomb. His personal items on display are in astonishingly immaculate condition, given their age.

After the Egyptian Museum, head out to Old Cairo and check out centuries old religious sites in the Coptic community. Do not miss the Hanging Church and impressive Coptic Museum. After your visit, you may proceed to the Islamic district where you can visit ancient mosques and then cap off your outing at Cairo’s grand Souk, Khan El Khalili.

The world famous pyramids and Great Sphinx at Giza are indeed are a splendor to behold. No doubt, the major attraction in the area. It’s roughly

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 45 mins outside Cairo. If time permits descend down to the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu and witness a space where a mighty king once laid millennia ago. I understand the light show at night (you can perhaps arrange as part of your tour) is very entertaining as well. I unfortunately didn’t get to see it.

Seamless excursions to majestic sites just outside Cairo, along the Nile, are possible as well. Check out the Saqqara, the WP_002684necropolis at Memphis and the ancient city itself. At Saqqara you can see the world famed Step Pyramid and at Memphis, the image of Ramses II comes to life in the ancient city. You can see various statues of the great Pharaoh spread across the area and the alabaster sphinx found outside the temple. Don’t miss the colossus inside the museum.

Further afield is the royal necropolis of Dahshur. This can also be easily added to your excursion. There you can see the Red and Bent Pyramids, both predating the pyramids at Giza. It is possible to visit the tomb inside the Red Pyramid at no extra charge. The charming city by the Mediterranean, Alexandria, can also be easily paired with a visit to Cairo.

WP_002622You’ll eat very well in Cairo. Choices are plentiful and run the gamut from casual to luxury dining. In the Garden City area, check out Osmanly restaurant at the Kempinski Hotel. Osmanly serves delicious Turkish fare and features and array of Egyptian wines to go along with your meal. El Kebabgy at the Sofitel Hotel is a fantastic choice for Egyptian grilled specialties. The food is scrumptious and the ambiance warm and inviting. Select a table on the outdoor deck for soothing views of the Nile and enjoy traditional Arabic tunes from the live band as they serenade diners. Another good choice in the Garden City area is Taboula serving up tasty Lebanese cuisine at extremely reasonable prices.

Egypt is an endlessly fascinating place. And at the heart of it, the thumping city of Cairo. To be sure, it’s not exactly for WP_002688the faint of heart. It can be chaotic and the frenzy runs at a feverish pitch at times–such as now. Amidst all this, however, is a city with charm and a lot of personality to spare. Visit. You may just be enchanted.

Tip: for US citizens venturing out to places that may be volatile or questionable, register with the US government through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at step.state.gov. It’s a pretty handy service that gives registrants up-to-date alerts on the latest goings on, so that one can plan accordingly in case of emergencies.

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3 Responses to “72 Hours In Cairo”

  1. Jose Brenes January 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Thank you darling…I read Tokyo’s last saturday…this one is next 🙂 besos

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Journeying Through Jordan | Yapping with Yomi - May 22, 2014

    […] Authors Note: If your itinerary takes you to destinations in neighboring countries, check out my entries on Israel and Egypt […]

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