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Explorer's Journal: Wandering ancient Egypt with Destination Expert Jeanie

In this edition of our Explorer’s Journal, Destination Expert Jeanie O’Halloran immerses herself into a realm of ancient civilization. Follow along as she takes you through the capital city of Cairo, Egypt’s Wonder of the World – the Pyramids of Giza – and down the Nile River from Luxor to Aswan.

Hi fellow Explorers! I’m Destination Expert Jeanie and I can’t wait to show you what I was up to while visiting one of my bucket list destinations: Egypt.

Stepping foot among the Pharaohs

Like many of you, I’ve been fascinated by stories of Pharaohs and Egypt’s ancient civilizations since I was a child. With my travel companion by my side, our first stop was Cairo, a city full of sights, sounds, and smells.

Sphinx and Pyramid of Giza in Cairo Egypt
The Great Sphinx of Giza is believed to be a spiritual guardian or Sun God that protects the pyramids and temples of Egypt. (Photo: Jeanie O’Halloran)

Our hotel had a perfect location close to the famous Tahrir Square and in front of the mighty Nile River. On our first night we headed straight to a local restaurant to try some of Egypt’s many dishes. One of my favorites is ‘Koshari,’ which is a mixture of pasta, rice, and lentils topped with chickpeas and crispy onions – delicious!

The following day we travelled across the Nile and to the city of Giza for our visit to the Pyramids. Here we had the chance to walk around these millennia-old structures, and even walk inside the structure through an ancient tunnel. Our tour was topped off by a visit to the Egyptian Museum where I got to fulfil a lifelong dream of seeing Tutankhamun’s mask. While no photos of the mask were allowed, I did get a picture of his ancient sandals and can say the king was quite fashion forward.

Koshari Egyptian food pasta & Tutankhamun ancient sandals in Cairo Egypt
Left: One of my favorite Egyptian dishes, Koshari!; Right: King Tutankhamun’s sandals. (Photos: Jeanie O’Halloran)

Ancient Egypt’s way of writing

An early-morning start took us to Cairo’s airport for a one-hour flight to the city of Luxor. Upon arrival, we were whipped off to Karnak Temple, which was once the largest and most important religious complex in ancient Egypt. Here we learned about the period of Ramesses III and the God Amun Ra (the sun), began to understand the meanings of certain hieroglyphics, and even learned the system of ancient Egyptian numerals. For example, the scarab beetle means death, rebirth, immortality, and protection in the afterlife while the Key of Life symbol (Ankh) is a teardrop-shaped cross.

Before checking into our cruise, we visited a local papyrus workshop. The image of papyrus is depicted heavily throughout Egypt’s archaeological sites as it had many uses such as making rope, sandals, baskets, mats, etc. It was fascinating to learn how the plant is transformed and the origin of our English word, paper.

Papyrus plant and SA Destination Expert Jeanie O'Halloran looking at hieroglyphics at Karnak Temple in Luxor Egypt
Left: Papyrus plant before its innovative transformation; Right: Examining at the details and hieroglyphics at Karnak Temple. (Photos: Jeanie O’Halloran)

Cruising the Nile in 'Luxor'-y (Get it?)

Departing from Luxor, my travel companion and I spent 4 nights on the airy Acamar cruise and sailed south towards Aswan. The comfort and beauty of traveling down the Nile is unsurpassed and allowed for us to conveniently stop along the route to visit some of Egypt’s most famous archaeological sites.

Our cruise offered a pool, rooftop bar, boutique, spa, small gym, and a very interesting turn-down service from the creative and friendly staff. This cruise even had wheelchair accessible cabins with ample space and a ramp to the bathroom. The meals were mostly buffet style, though we enjoyed an al fresco barbeque on the deck one night, as well as an Egyptian themed dinner which showcased some of Egypt’s delicious dishes.

Hassan (our private local guide) accompanied us as we visited various sites of interest, including the Luxor temple, Edfu temple, Kom Ombo, and Philae. We also decided to wake up before dawn one day and take the three-hour drive south from Aswan to visit Abu Simbel.

Located 50 miles from the Sudanese border, Abu Simbel is one of Egypt’s most impressive temples. What’s most impressive is that in order to prevent flooding in the early 60s, the ruins were dismantled and relocated about 200 ft. west of their original site, with the help of UNESCO. For those who don’t like long drives, Abu Simbel can also be visited on a quick day trip by plane, which departs from Aswan.

SA Destination Expert Jeanie O'Halloran at Philae Temple in Aswan Egypt
The Philae Temple is a well-preserved island-based temple complex – so gorgeous! (Photos: Jeanie O’Halloran)

Journeying through Aswan and a Nubian village

When the opportunity presented itself, I didn’t think twice about hopping on a plane for Egypt. I visited during one of the hottest months (July) where temperatures regularly surpassed 100°F – this meant touring in the early mornings and evenings, while taking advantage of the afternoon hours to relax by the pool. For those who can’t handle high temperatures, I recommend visiting between October and April.

Personally, I really enjoyed visiting Aswan. Here we disembarked the cruise and checked into a hotel. Some free time allowed us to explore independently and visit the Museum of Nubia, as well as a local perfume store. We enjoyed a sunset Felucca ride (open deck boat) and got to visit a Nubian Village on Elephantine Island.

Nubian Market and and Felucca boat ride in Elephantine Island in Aswan Egypt
Strolling through the Nubian village at Elephantine Island (left) after taking a delightful sunset Felucca boat ride there (right). (Photos: Jeanie O’Halloran)

The Nubians are an ethnic group from southern Egypt and northern Sudan, who during the course of history started a number of settlements along the Nile River. Our local guide Nuri took us on a stroll through his village, which manages to live in harmony unpoliced and dependent on agriculture and tourism. He explained a bit about his language, education, traditions, and wedding ceremonies.

To top it off, we got to enjoy a delicious meal made by his family. His son and neighbor’s kids crashed the party with some singing, dancing, and cleaned up our leftovers before running back to soccer practice!

Are you hoping to check Egypt off your bucket list too? Take on the Egypt Highlights & Nile Cruise expedition and step into the world of ancient Egypt yourself! By contacting us, we can help you organize your trip so you can experience this unforgettable adventure hassle-free.


About the author: Born and raised in Ireland, Jeanie O’Halloran has long been a part of SA Expeditions and has since become a leader of our destination team. Currently based in Santiago, Chile, Jeanie is a certified sommelier, a voracious bookworm, an avid world traveler, and she's helped many hundreds of guests explore our unique world in unforgettable ways.

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