The next country on my MENA tour was Egypt, with Cairo, a city of more than 20 million people, as the first stop.
However, my first connotation of the Arab metropolis was nothing but negative. (My fellow Egyptian friends recommended avoiding it.)
Cairo is one of the worst major global cities in air quality, probably even #1.
The roads are heavily jammed. Be cautious—There is no such thing as traffic lights or driving signals! Everything is chaotic and hectic, moving at a different pace.
Cairo and Egypt are simply intense, unique and charming with its thousand flavours and smells all around the corner, where modernity and tradition meet in any corner.
From Cairo, Giza to Dahab – Egypt has stolen my heart.
However, getting to Dahab, the diver’s paradise on the Red Sea, was nightmarish. With North Sinai adjoining Israel and the Gaza Strip, the area remains a “powder keg.” I have never surpassed so many checkpoints and shown my ID this many times in a few hours.
During our drive, we ought to pass 14 checkpoints and, most of the time, get out of the minivan and show our IDs.
Yet Egypt surpassed all my expectations. Two outstanding world heritage sites were as follows:
Historic Cairo is one of the world’s oldest Islamic cities, established in the 10th century. It is so rich, with its 800 monuments, dating back to the 7th century: ancient mosques, madrasas, hammams and fountains. For breathtaking Islamic architecture and, surprisingly to me, the many Coptic churches, Cairo is a treasure trove. Indeed, Christians resided in Egypt before Islam entered the country in the seventh century, making Egyptian Christians the most significant Christian minority in MENA.
2. Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur (1979)
For many reasons, the pyramids of Giza are the biggest draw for visitors to Egypt. In Hellenistic times, the Great Pyramids were listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Yet they remain the only ones still in existence, making them probably the most well-known “world heritage” sites worldwide.
The opposite turned out to be reality. Instead of recounting why Giza has earned world heritage status, I listed what surprised me as someone who has always dreamt of going and watched uncountable documentaries and movies about it. However, what astonished me was the size of the fields themselves. It is impossible to visit the pyramids by simply walking around; it is impossible!!! You need a guide/van to carry you from one pyramid to another one. While the Great Pyramid represents the largest one, there are 9 pyramids and burial sites not to be missed! A camel or horse ride might seem like a tourist trap, but it is worth it! The paranormal viewpoint is the best place to marvel at the greatness of the fields. On one right, you can astonish Cairo’s skyscrapers; in the back lay the Sahara’s endless outlays.
As I was visiting the place at an insane 47 degrees (again!) Giza was not packed by its tourist crowds nor by (the many!) pushy vendors.
You can visit the empty pyramids from the inside for an extra fee. Not to be recommended for claustrophobes, the entrance and hallway are tiny!