Why you should visit Egypt now

Excellent exchange rates, no crowds and a very warm welcome as well as toasty winter temperatures mean November is an excellent time to visit Egypt, says Liz Granirer.

Cairo, seen from the Muhammad Ali MosqueNow that Im back from my first trip to Egypt, Im finding it hard to remember exactly why I was a bit anxious about going. I must have heard Id be hustled by street hawkers, that there was some crazy three-hour drive through the desert to outrun baddies if I wanted to see the unmissable temples at Abu Simbel. Oh, and wasnt there something about terrorism?

Abu SimbelThis might not be the most obvious way to start a piece on why you should visit Egypt and, in my opinion, go soon (more on this in a moment), but as its why people arent going in their droves any more, it seems best to tackle it head on.

First and last, I never once felt threatened, uncomfortable or unsafe during my three days in Cairo or on the week-long Nile cruise that came afterward. Sure, people tried to sell me stuff near the tourist sites and occasionally, the exchange rate being what it is £23 Egyptian to £1 UK Id decide that at these throwaway prices, Id actually like two of whatever was being offered. But? The world’s oldest pyramid, the Step Pyramid at SaqqaraThat drive through the desert wasnt a race against anyone and there was no police escort. It used to be, our well-informed and ever-so-nice guide, Elia, told us, that there was no mobile-phone coverage in the desert, so if a bus broke down thered be no way of getting help. Now that issue has been resolved. So, we left very early to beat the heat of the day and stopped to watch the sun rise unmissable and, on the return, stopped again to take snaps of the Saharas largest mirage. Amazing.

My trip was booked through Orbital Travel, the river cruise experts, who also took care of arranging my Cairo stay. The great thing about using Orbital, a family-run business, is that you get taken care of as if youre a member of the clan. Youre met at the airport by an experienced guide who takes care of getting your visa, directs you to luggage pick-up and then escorts you to your transfer. Mena House HotelYou can, of course, go straight on to Luxor to pick up the cruise at this point, but if you can spare the time, Id recommend a couple of days in Cairo first. Orbital will send a guide and a driver to take you to the high points each morning Cairo Museum, Saqqara (home of the Step Pyramid, the worlds oldest), Memphis (Egypts original capital) and, of course, the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Orbital will also arrange for you to stay at Mena House Hotel, the historic and best-placed stay in the city. Aside from being based around a beautiful old hunting lodge and having seen more heads of state, crowns and Hollywood stars than you can shake a stick at, it has the enviable position of being next-door neighbour to the Pyramids. That means you can gaze at them as you munch on your generous buffet breakfast and again while youre sipping your sundowner. Trust me, youll feel sorry for everyone else.

On the deck of the MS Orbital Royal EsadoraThe cruise was, hands down, the trip of a lifetime. Our home for the week was the freshly refurbished MS Orbital Royal Esadora, whose staff must have been chosen for their smiles and good memories. Chefs remembered who had a nut allergy, who was a vegetarian (note: if you are, there are always plenty of options) and who liked having their fruit made into a pretty display. There are two on-board shops for leisurely gift shopping, evening entertainment in the lounge, and the rooftop terrace has a welcome pool and a bar. Lying on a lounger, watching Nile-side life slide by with water buffalo grazing, children playing and farmers in their ankle-length galabyas looking as if it hasnt changed in centuries, could have been entertainment enough. But of course there was a packed schedule of sightseeing excursions every day: temples, museums, statues, Karnac, the valleys of the Kings and Queens, the Aswan dam, Luxor, and visits to rug, perfume, papyrus and alabaster outlets for your essential shopping On a carriage ride through the Luxor marketplus extras like that trip to Abu Simbel, sunrise balloon trips or a personal favourite a horse and carriage ride through the Luxor market, to keep you busy.

I want to use cliches like unforgettable, unmissable and fascinating, because if you havent been, you truly are missing out. And? Now really is the best time to go and heres why: the temperatures just right in winter,the masses havent yet cottoned on that its safe to go back, so theres no queuing and no crowds, and have I mentioned that crazy-good exchange rate?

More information

Lizs trip was organised through Orbital Travel (tel 01763 274499), flights through Egypt Air and with thanks to the Egyptian Tourist Board. You can visit Liz Granirers travel blog at lizgranirershelloworld.blogspot.co.uk  

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Orbital Travel.

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Liz Granirer

Freelance journalist

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