Nile Valley Overview
Egypt - The land of pharaohs - is one of the world’s greatest and most captivating countries. The Nile Valley is a mix of the old and the new, the classic and the innovative, and is cultural Egypt at its best. The sights along the Nile are top-of-the-list for most visitors to Egypt, especially those touching down for the first time.
The Nile is the longest river in the world, stretching the length of Egypt from its southernmost boundary to the north Mediterranean coast. The first major stop along the Nile is Alexandria, the country’s second largest city, and founded by Alexander the Great. It hugs the Mediterranean coastline to the north and forms part of the Nile Delta.
Heading south, The Nile flows past Cairo, which contains the Pyramids at Giza, one of the last remaining seven wonders of the ancient world. The Great Pyramid was built by King Cheops of the 5th dynasty around 2600 BC and stands some 515 feet high. A few steps away is the huge Sphinx with its body of a lion and a human head. Your clients can also visit Memphis and Saqqara to see the Colossus of Ramses II, the Serapeum and the ancient cemetery. Advise them to spend time in Old Cairo, with its traditional markets, and to visit city’s Egyptian Museum, which displays treasures from Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Further south, the Nile River flows through the towns of Al-Fayoum, Biba, Beni Mazar, and on to delightful El Minya, which has beautiful villas reminiscent of Tuscany, built by cotton merchants who made El Minya a wealthy town. The route then passes Asyut, Dandara and then onto Luxor and Thebes, where travelers will find the iconic Karnak Temples and the Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, the Temple of Hatshep-sut, the Colossi of Memnon and the Ramesseum.
Finally, the Nile Valley reaches Esna and Kom Ombo, both historic sites. In Aswan which has a large Nubian community, visitors will find temples, as well as one of the world’s marvels of engineering, the Aswan Dam. In Abu Simbel, there’sthe impressive Great Temple of Abu Simbel and the Temple of Hathor, which is dramatically carved into the sheer rock face.
The Dynastic Period
A quick overview of Egypt’s history will help you advise your clients when composing the perfect travel itinerary to meet their needs.
The history of Egypt stretches back to ancient times. It is a country best known the world over for its pharaohs, such as Tutankhamun, and its ancient civilizations that flourished along the banks of the Nile River, where visitors will find so many of the country’s iconic structures.
The earliest signs of civilization in Egypt date back to prehistoric times, before the pharaohs ruled the country, a period known as the pre-dynastic. The towns and cities of today trace their roots back to 8000 BC. This is the period when settlers began establishing communities on the fertile banks of the Nile River.
Next to come is the dynastic period, which is widely regarded as one of the oldest cultural periods in the world. The dynastic period earned its name from the series of dynasties that ruled the country, beginning around 3100 BC. The first pharaoh is generally believed to have been Menes, who was instrumental in forming a divided Egypt into one country.
A total of 30 dynasties ruled over Egypt during the next three millennia until the year 30 BC. Pharaohs desired a legacy of their own, and they put their own mark on Egypt by building beautiful palaces, temples, tombs and structures. It was during this time that many of the astonishing sights were constructed, sights that can still be seen today. Chief among them are the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx of the Old Kingdom, and the Temples of Luxor in the New Kingdom.
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Egypt has seen many periods of history since the ancient dynastic era. Throughout the country are impressive reminders of how the country flourished under different civilizations. While Egypt has been occupied by the Persians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, British and the French, it is the pharaohs who have left the most awe-inspiring legacy – one that makes Egypt’s present day tourism one of the country’s leading industries.
Pharaonic Egypt, meaning a land ruled by Pharaohs, began some 5,000 years ago, and is the period that truly captures the imagination of people the world over. The period comprises 30 different dynasties that displayed a phenomenal knowledge of mummification, mathematics and astronomy.
Little information remains about the kings of the 1st and 2nd dynasties. It is the kings from the 3rd dynasty onwards that really made a mark on Egypt. They reigned during the period that became known as the Old Kingdom, when the pharaohs were worshipped as gods and had phenomenal wealth. It was theywho erected massive structures that still maintain an element of mystery, with the culmination being the Pyramids and the Sphinx in Giza.
The ancient king Tutankhamun, the young boy who came to the throne in around 1333 BC, and who ruled for only ten years, still holds fascination for modern travelers.Tutankhamun’s golden death mask was unearthed when his tomb was discovered in 1922, in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor. Today, it is considered one of the world’s most fabulous treasures.
The great female pharaoh Hatshepsut was the longest ruling Egyptian king. Surprisingly, even though Hatshepsut was a woman, she was considered by her people to be a king and not a queen. Nefertiti, the wife of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, was another notable woman in Egypt’s history. Nefertiti’s life, as well as the location of her tomb, remains a tantalizing mystery.
The next period of pharaonic rule is the First Intermediate Period, which began in 2150 BC. It was followed by the Middle Kingdom from around 2000 BC when the capital became Thebes. The next period, the New Kingdom, began around 1539 BC and gave us some of the greatest pharaohs of all time, including Ahmose, Hatshepsut, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun. In 1279 BC the heroic Ramses II came to the throne where he stayed for over 67 years. Ramses IIchanged the face of ancient Egypt and defended it against invaders.
Pharaonic Egypt ended around 30 BC, although a form of monarchy continued for several thousand years until the country was conquered by the Romans.
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Modern day Egypt is one of the key political and cultural leaders in the Middle East. The country has a buoyant economy due to economic reforms and foreign investment, plus a rapidly evolving technology communications sector. What does this mean for your clients? During their visit, in the midst of ancient history, they’ll enjoy a full range of modern conveniences.
Egypt’s government continues to invest in the country’s infrastructure of highways, railways and waterways. This transportation network stretches from the north coast and the Nile Delta to the southern points of the Nile Valley at Aswan and Abu Simbel, into the Western Desert and across to the Red Sea coast and into Sinai.
Egypt has a population of 83 million people, one of the highest in the region. Many live in the densely populated cities of Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Aswan. Others live in rural areas near the banks of the Nile River, and are mostly engaged in agriculture. Just as it has for 10,000 years, the rich soil of the banks provides the most fertile agricultural land in Egypt. In addition to agriculture, Egypt relies on tourism, petroleum exports and capital generated by traffic using the Suez Canal.
Far fewer people live in areas like the Sahara Desert. While the desert is massive and dramatic, it presents challenges to daily life.
Sinai and the Red Sea coastal areas have large populations, especially in the major towns which have excellent infrastructures and amenities. Visitors arrive during the summer months for leisure, golf, spa and wellness getaways. Your clients will find an array of shops, restaurants, hotels, and activities operators, especially for water sports.
Egyptian society is geared very much around the family, and it is not uncommon to see all generations dining together or enjoying a day at the beach. Religion is important, with Muslims and Christians living and working together in harmony. As a visitor, your clients will always be made to feel welcome.
Romance: Sailing the Nile
Cruising on the Nile has been a popular pastime for countless visitors since the 19th century.
In 1849, Florence Nightingale was captivated by her trip on the river and wrote about it in glowing terms. Thomas Cook, the entrepreneur behind the leading travel company, was so smitten by the Nile that in 1869 he began offering cruises to his clientele, making him one of the first operators to do so.
The Nile has held a fascination for centuries and even today conjures up images of whimsical days and romantic nights on board elegant steamers. This can at least partially be attributed to English novelist Agatha Christie and her famous work “Death on the Nile”. The book was later made into a popular Hollywood film starring Peter Ustinov, with much of the filming being done in the Nile Valley.
There’s nothing quite like a touch of romance under the stars with that special person. If your clients are on a honeymoon, destination wedding, or vow renewal, they’ll be enamored by a cruise on the Nile. They’ll drift slowly past temples and sand dunes, watching the sun set together. They’ll see fishermen casting their nets, farmers tilling their fields, and flocks of birds taking flight.
Tap on the Agent Insight icon to hear one agents view on why its an ideal balance to the iconic highlights, as you can relax and watch Egypt pass you by.
These romantic experiences on the Nile may turn out to be the highlight of a couple’s holiday in Egypt.
To ensure the ultimate romantic adventure, make sure you book your clients on a cruise between Luxor and Aswan. Take care in avoiding the time of El Sadda El Shitwia, when the Esna Lock closes for two weeks each December and June. During those weeks your clients will have to use land transportation to reach Luxor from Esna.
A Variety of Ways to Sail
There are a number of ways to sail on the Nile.
Travelers can take a short hop of a few hours on a cruise boat, or on a small wooden sailing boat called a felucca. While these short trips won’t give your clients the full experience of an elegant and romantic journey drifting down the Nile, it will give them a taste of what it’s like and is a good alternative to a longer sail if your clients have a limited amount of time.
Another method to enjoying the Nile is to take a journey of several days on board one of the cruise ships or restored, ornate steamers. These are a familiar sight along the river. Many of these ships offer a luxurious 5-star experience, complete with gleaming wood paneled walls, high quality linens, and gourmet cuisine. Over the decades, these cruises have become as essential part of the Egypt tourism experience as the Pyramids.
Typically, a cruise will begin with your clients boarding the ship at Aswan, where they’ll set sail and kick back to take in the sights. Travelers can take a luxury cruise to Abu Simbel, passing by Kalabsha, Bait el-Walli, Wadi el-Subua and Amada Temple, or head north towards Luxor. Depending on their itinerary, their cruise might then sail to Kom Ombo to see the Temple of Sobek, and Hareoeris, a captivating sight from the river. Then it’s onwards to Edfu with the option to stop and tour the Temple of Horus, and thento see the Temple of Khunum. Finally, the cruise might end in Luxor, with visits to the fabulous Karnak Temples, and the Luxor Temple. Cruise passengers could also take a trip to the extraordinary Valley of the Kings, or travel beyond Luxor to see Dandara or Abydos.
Some ships may carry out a reverse itinerary, by beginning in Luxor. Whichever itinerary is chosen, your clients will sail at a slow pace. They’ll have ample time to see the sights, and enjoy the local color, such as fishing boats plying their trade, and children waving from the riverbank.
While Egypt will be forever famous for its ancient civilizations and pharaohs, it is also home to 83 million people. Much of daily urban life revolves around the cities’ souks and markets. Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili, is one of the most famous; it’s an astonishing labyrinth of shops teeming with locals and tourists alike.
The vast majority of Egyptians live and work in the cities of the Nile Valley. In these cosmopolitan centers, travelers will find trendy cafes and restaurants serving Egyptian and International cuisine, bustling souks, sports, leisure opportunities, and cultural venues showcasing art, theater, and dance.
Trendsetters are leading the way when it comes to nightlife and culture, especially in Cairo and Alexandria. Where once entertainment consisted solely of traditional music and dancing, the choice is expanding as Egyptians become more accustomed to western styles. Travelers will find concerts by worldwide rock stars and westernized classical music, musical theater, opera, and ballet. Historic sites have adopted new technology by offering sound and light shows (at the Pyramids of Giza, the Karnak Temples in Luxor, the Philae temple in Aswan, and in Abu Simbel)
Art galleries and cultural centers, conference venues, theaters, and cinemas are all growing in number. The El Sawy Culture Wheel art center in Zamalek hosts contemporary art exhibitions, and the Cairo Opera House is where the celebrated Cairo Symphony Orchestra perform. There are also cultural venues in Luxor, Aswan, Sinai and Red Sea resorts.
In Alexandria, the Opera House and Sayed Darwish Theatre have concerts and dance events. The city’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a futuristic building containing a library of millions of books and multimedia, three museums, a planetarium, four art galleries, and numerous exhibition centers.
Your clients can visit the country’s historical sites and immerse themselves in the ambiance of ancient life, while simultaneously enjoying the pleasures of modern Egypt.
The Nile Valley, the delta and the surrounding desert is a fabulous mix of vastly different natural environments and habitats. There are unique activities waiting for birdwatchers, nature lovers and eco-tourists.
Much of the Nile Valley lies in what is known as Upper Egypt, a stretch of fertile land running from the southernmost boundaries of Cairo due south to Aswan. To the north it is bordered by the Nile Delta. To the east there’s the Eastern Desert and to the west, the Western Desert.
The Nile Valley is a birdwatchers paradise. Birds have always played an important role in both day-to-day life in Egypt, and in the sacred culture of the country. Birders come to the Nile Valley to see the incredible number of species that live or winter in the region, including Little Gulls, Whiskered Terns, and the Kentish Plover. There are over 150 indigenous species of birds that live here all year round, with a further 280 or more species migrating in the summer months.
Advise your clients to be on the lookout for the Lotus Flower. Its bright petals provide a carpet of color over the Nile riverbanks in summer months. Another beautiful sight is the bright yellow pom-poms of the Acacia tree.
Middle Egypt and the northern areas of Upper Egypt enjoy a warm climate that provides a perfect environment for many species of animals, reptiles,and amphibians. The area is home to turtles, frogs, mongooses, and the Nile Monitor, an awesome if somewhat menacing prehistoric-like lizard that can grow up to six feet long.
Approaching Aswan, and beyond to Kom Ombo and Abu Simbel, the Nile Valley becomes more desert-like. The desert environment is ideal for wild Fennec foxes, the Desert Lynx, scorpions, and snakes, such as the Spitting Cobra (the iconic symbol of Pharaonic Egypt). Advise your clients to treat these creatures with respect, and to keep their distance.
For some time, the world has been taking notice of Mediterranean cuisine as being one of the healthiest ways of eating on the planet.
Your health-minded clients will be happy to learn that Egypt shares much with Mediterranean cuisine, utilizing fresh-picked vegetables and fruit, fish, seafood, and meats to create such dishes as stuffed grape leaves, shawarma, kebab, falafel, and baklava.
Egyptian cuisine also has influences from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The cuisine is enhanced by an abundance of aromatic herbs and strong spices. Cooking practices combine those used in Pharaonic times, as well as influences from the Ottomans and the French, who lived alongside the Egyptians.
Typically, a meal will start with soup, such as melokhiyah, made from green leafy vegetables, with lots of spices, garlic, and onion. Almost all meals will be served with a fresh salad, along with flatbreads like aish or pita, accompanied by dips like hummus or tahini, or the local babaghanoug, a dip made from pureed eggplant. The main course is usually fresh fish (samak), seafood or fish stew accompanied by rice. Chicken, lamb and veal are also popular, and are usually slow roasted, or grilled with herbs.
Egyptian desserts take the form of a rice pudding made with rosewater and sprinkled with spice, or yoghurt or pastries filled with figs, nuts or dates. Honey is often drenched over desserts. It’s customary to serve fresh fruit, especially figs, dates, and oranges, at the end of a meal.
Koshari is a national dish and can be found everywhere, from food carts to gourmet restaurants. Made from macaroni or spaghetti, rice, lentils and chickpeas, it’s served with a thick garlic and tomato sauce, topped with fried onions and herbs. While it may sound like an unusual combination of ingredients, most visitors find Koshari to be delicious.
Interestingly, When the Great Pyramids of Giza were excavated it was found that workers in Ancient Egypt were paid with onions and a coarse bread. These two items remain staple foods of the Egyptian diet today.