Egypt – where it all began – Part 1

EgyptEgypt, considered by many the beginning of civilisation. Situated in the north east corner of the African continent with a population exceeding 89 million, it’s the most populated country in the Arab world. Thousands of years BC, Egypt had developed a system of writing, had its own scholars, founded a system of agriculture, formed an organised religion and had a system of government. Monuments and ruins from those days still exist in the forms of the Giza Necropolis, the Great Sphinx, the ruins of Memphis and Thebes, Temple Complex of Karnak, Valley of the Kings, burial place of the Pharos for almost 500 years and of course Cairo, home of the Pyramids. Many of these are situated along the fertile areas of the Nile Delta and prove popular destinations for the thousands that each year holiday on the many luxury Nile river ships that cruise from Aswan to Luxor and back.

Beautiful beachBut what of the modern Egypt? An area approaching 387,000 square miles of which more than 90% is desert. The main cities, in the north, Cairo the capital, a bustling metropolis of nearly 7 million inhabitants plus a further 10 million living on its outskirts make it the second largest city on the African Continent, it is also home to the famous Pyramids. Next comes Alexandria, 140 miles north basking on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea with its 20 mile coastline housing a population of nearly 5 million and famous for the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Today Egypt has four main tourist destinations, Sharm el Sheik, Hurghada, Cairo and the River Nile all popular destinations particularly for English, German and Russian tourists attracted by the all year round sunshine and warm waters of the Red Sea, the history of Egypt along the Nile and the pyramids and museums of Cairo.

Pool areaThere are two distinct areas of Egypt, the mainland and the Sinai Peninsula. Both are famed for the exquisite diving they offer with pristine coral and exotic varieties of fish. Indeed many hotels have a diving school attached where the visitor can train and obtain the PADI license that is required by the center’s organizing the diving trips.

The Sinai Peninsula, an area of 23,000 square miles has been part of Egypt since about 3,100 BC. Forming a triangle from the frontier with Israel in the north east on the Gulf of Aqaba, to the Gulf of Suez in the north west and then south to form the point at Sharm el Sheikh. The resorts of Taba, Taba Heights, Nuweiba and Dahab are stretched out along its eastern shores. Sinai has its own history and is home to many Bedouin tribes, has been fought over several times changing hands in the process. A vast desert area with many historical sites.

Camel ride anyone?One of these sites is Saint Catherine’s Monastery built in the 6th century and said to be the oldest working Christian monastery in the world. The library houses the world’s second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world and where, history tells us, Moses is said to have seen the Burning Bush. Mount Sinai known also as Mount Horeb, one of the most sacred sites in Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions, is the place the Bible tells that Moses received the 10 Commandments from God. Tourists gather every morning at the summit of the Mount, watching the sun rise, an unforgettable experience, the landscape changing colour as the sun climbs from the horizon into a nearly always clear blue sky.

Across the Gulf at nightTravelling east heads the visitor to the shores and warm waters of Dahab on the Gulf of Aqaba. Once an old Bedouin fishing village but now one of Sinai’s most revered diving areas. Boasting many modern hotels it has now moved on but there is still a Bedouin community living in the village of Asalah. Just south is Medina and Laguna areas famous for wind surfing. At night, sit by the peaceful shore line, look across the Gulf of Aqaba, see the lights of Saudi Arabia in front of you and those of Jordan to the left, reflect on life in the warm evening air and imagine what it was like in biblical times, probably not a lot different to how it is now.

Travel south and enter the modern area of Sharm el Sheikh, home to over 70,000 people. A resort incorporating several bay areas attracting thousands of tourists yearly who take advantage of the year round sunshine, where daytime temperatures in the winter rarely drop below 23c but in the summer can climb to a mercury stretching 40+C. As the advert says ‘Egypt, where the sun shines 365 days of every year’. A modern airport ‘Sharm el Sheikh International’ services the area and being only 11 miles from the main resort transfer times are short. Gardens to beachThe hotels in “Sharm” as it is referred to, are modern and of a high standard. Many of the well-known international hotel chains have come to Sharm and are bookable through the myriad of travel agents promoting the area. The buildings are impressive with large swimming pools and sun bathing areas to match set usually in beautiful landscaped gardens that in many instances lead to the hotels private area of beach laid out with loungers, umbrellas and support by a bar for that refreshing drink to keep you cool in the hot sun. For children activities and facilities galore with qualified child minders to look after them, a choice of restaurants offering international cuisine, evening entertainment with quality cabarets and much more. For those that don’t like to stay within the hotels there is a long sandy beach shelving into clear blue warm waters making this a resort for everyone. Indoor bazaarAll-inclusive is the norm so in reality the greater part of the tourist population rarely leave the area to explore other than on organized trips. Sharms main tourist area comes alive at night with its many bars, clubs, restaurants, souvenir shops, markets and even a genuine Hard Rock Cafe. Close to Sharm is Ras Muhammad National Park, a conservation area boasting more than 220 species of coral and home to more than 1,000 species of fish, 40 species of star fish and 25 species of sea urchin. Just off the coast of Ras Muhammad is the wreckage of the SS Thistlegorm, a British Merchant Navy ship sunk by German bombers in WW2. This is now a popular dive site.

150 miles south west across the Gulf of Suez finds Hurghada on the Egyptian mainland and Egypt’s largest holiday resort but that can wait for another day.

Read Part 2

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Alan Fairfax

Travel writer & cruise journalist

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