|Sharm el-Sheikh||S$ 1133|
The ancient wonders of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza; rolling sand dunes and camel trekking in the Sahara Desert; a hike up Mount Sinai; and the hotels and resorts on the warm shores of the Red Sea at Sharm el Sheikh – Egypt has a host of varied attractions to discover and explore. The North African country is easily accessible from Britain: an Egypt flight takes a mere five hours, but lands you in the middle of a completely different culture.
Travellers from Europe have been visiting Egypt for hundreds of years and remain as captivated by its charm in the 21st Century as Mark Antony was in 42 BC. The country’s ancient civilisation gives it one of the richest histories in the world – pick one of the many popular books about the Pharaohs to read on your flight to Egypt and become immersed in a culture that dates back more than 5,000 years.
But the country is very much thriving and alive today. Along with the proliferation of modern resorts on its coastlines are the attractions of the cosmopolitan cities. Cairo is seldom missed by travellers and is filled with museums, shops and bazaars; Luxor is the gateway to the Valley of the Kings and the ancient “City of Palaces;” Alexandria has monuments from Alexander the Great; and Aswan, an old trading town, is the starting point for many Nile cruises.
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Egypt’s Mediterranean coast can be cool, but the rest of the country is sizzling hot, especially in the summer. Be prepared to sweat – the desert is hot and arid.
As the heat of the summer can be unbearable, the peak season for travel to Egypt is between October and May. This time is especially appealing to many European travellers as they can jump on a short flight to Egypt and escape the winter months of their own country. Hotels will often be fully booked and prices rise during this time of year.
The least popular time to visit is during the hottest months – for good reason. However, if you plan on travelling during this time, some real bargains can be found. Avoid the southern parts, however, and stick to the coast, where breezes from the sea keep the thermometer lower. The other advantage of visiting during this time is the increased peace and quiet to be found at major tourist sites.
The month of Ramadan is often less popular with Western visitors. Many restaurants will close down for the month and alcohol is much less widely available. The up-side is that this can be another perfect time to see more of the country and its people, and less of your fellow tourists.
Spring time, between March and April, is one of the best times to visit. The weather is still very warm, but has not yet reached summertime peaks, and the tourists are dwindling off from peak season. The Khamsin wind blows in from the desert between this time, however. It is a spectacularly powerful wind that can reach 150kmph. It normally blows for a few days only, so you can either try to avoid it, or simply bunker down and enjoy the spectacle…
Domestic Egypt flights are readily available and can save a lot of time, though they are certainly not the cheapest means of getting around. Egypt Air, the national carrier, flies domestically.
Public transport is good throughout the country. Trains are reliable and safe and the rail network connects most towns. Surprisingly, however, this can be the slowest method of transport – particularly for short journeys where buses will almost always be quicker. If you are travelling long distances by train, make sure you get the fast non-stop air-conditioned wagons, rather than the slower stopping local trains.
Buses are also reliable and cheaper than trains. The network is excellent – almost anywhere you could want to go will be covered.
Service taxis, known as servees, are popular and common. Often Peugeot saloons, the large taxis will pick up passengers from popular spots, such as train stations and only depart when full – often with a dozen people in. They are an inexpensive way to travel and usually safe, but you will have little control about when you leave or how long it takes to get to your destination.