Just 10 days earlier I had marveled at the pyramids of Giza, one of those rare sights that live up to their tremendous expectations. The pink city of Petra, immortalized in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, stands to the same test. And our first impression of it, on a dark, starry night and lit up by hundreds of candles, was magical. I definitely recommend planning your trip to make sure that you can enjoy Petra by Night, which runs only certain days. Make sure to get there early (they let people in way before the official 8:30pm start time), and don’t let the high price (17 JD, ~S25), the hordes of tourists, the organizational chaos (if too many people come they just sit them in front of the first row, blocking the view), and the tacky show ruin it for you.
Maybe we should have done a bit of research before deciding to go to Jordan over Christmas. Or at least think about it for a minute, and we would have realized that the desert in the middle of the winter is bitter cold. But maybe it was blissful ignorance, because a couple of days later I’ve pretty much forgotten how cold we were, and we still managed to do everything we intended to 😉
- The pyramids of Giza
- The temples and tombs around Luxor
- Diving in the Red Sea, especially the Thistlegorm wreck
Egypt is a classic diving destination, maybe not as epic as Australia or Malaysia, but probably on par with Indonesia or Belize. And the best way to enjoy it, like all these, is on a liveaboard. We did the King Snefro 3-day trip and it was fantastic!
A cruise on the river Nile between Luxor and Aswan, stopping in several ancient sites, is a classic in any Egypt itinerary. We arrived in Luxor on a fairly comfortable overnight train from Cairo, and embarked on a 4-day cruise southbound. The word cruise is a bit of a misnomer, since these it’s rather floating hotels; all the boats do the same itinerary, and travelers from different groups get on them for sleep, food and the limited transit that actually occurs on the river, and are picked up by their respective guides at each stop. We got a pretty good deal through Imperial Egypt ($360 all inclusive); our guide was fantastic and private (absolutely recommended to really immerse yourself in the culture and history), while the boat we were put on, the Liberty, and the food on board were quite crappy. Below a quick recount of the places we visited.
It must have at some point in elementary school when I saw a picture of the pyramids and heard about the ancient Egyptians for the first time. I knew I wanted to go there one day, and I’m sure most people have felt exactly the same way. Few places on earth have this magnetic power, maybe The Chinese Great Wall, Peruvian Machu Picchu, and to a lesser extent, the Greek Parthenon, the Roman Colosseum, and the Cambodian temples of Angkor.
The pyramids of Giza are surprisingly right in the city of Cairo, about 30 min south west from the center. Our Uber dropped us off at the east gate, which is only used by individuals, mostly locals, so we avoided the large tourist groups. It was right after opening time (8am in the winter), and we barely saw anyone as we walked in on the right side of the Sphinx, the pyramids in the background. Wow, it was as amazing as I had imagined.
Cairo was the first stop in our Egypt + Jordan trip. Before hitting the pyramids, we had a day to explore the hectic capital, daunting with its 22 million people and crazy traffic.
We started the day at the famous Egyptian museum, where we tried to arrive around 8am (opening time) to avoid as much of the tourist crowds as possible. The ticket was 350 Egyptian pounds (~$20), including the mummies and camera (and I wished I had brought my student ID, because it gets you 50% off pretty much everywhere). The museum is not as massive as e.g., the Hermitage, but there is a ton of stuff and it’s not particularly well organized nor digestible. It took us over 3 hours to see just the highlights and wander around a bit. My favorites were the large sarcophagus in the old kingdom rooms, the intricate pieces in the Amarna room, all the Tutankhamun treasures, the cute dioramas of regular life in rooms 27 and 32, the creepy mummies, the matryoshka-like sarcophagus of Yuya and Tuya, and the papyrus in the eastern galleries.
3 years ago, I went to Tonga for one of the most epic experiences of my travel life – swimming with humpback whales – and I ended up suffering my biggest disappointment – there were no whales to be seen. I still had an amazing time in Tonga, exploring its gorgeous landscapes and unique culture, and I promised myself I would come back one day. A couple of weeks ago, when I saw that the whale swimming season was in full blow, I didn’t think it twice, and I booked a flight to Vava’u over Labor Day weekend. As I fly back home, I can’t erase the smile from my face, it’s been such a dream come true.
- Waitomo glowworms
- Tongariro Crossing hike
- Abel Tasman beaches and hike
- Cook National Park hike and the views from Lake Pukaki
- Road trip, and stop in so many great spots: lush hills in the North Island, Huka Falls, Punakaiki pancake rocks, Blue Pools, Lake Tekapo, etc.
At the end of our 2 week road trip around New Zealand, we spent 3 days in Queenstown. To be honest, it was one of the least impressive parts of the trip, it just couldn’t compete with the natural wonders of Tongariro, Abel Tasman or Mt. Cook. But it was a good point of entry/exit, and there was enough to do to keep us entertained, so sharing our favorites here: