After five days in Mahe, we took the ferry to La Digue. This island is fairly different from the main one, much smaller and with a limited number of cars, everyone moves around in bicycles. And although there are hotels, most people stay in so-called self-catering rentals, which you can easily find on Airbnb. These were the spots we visited over a little under three days:
The archipelago of Seychelles was up there on my list, together with French Polynesia and the Maldives, in terms of idyllic beaches to visit. After spending a bit over a week exploring it, I have to say Seychelles didn’t disappoint; if anything, it exceeding my high expectations. The landscapes are absolutely gorgeous, the people extremely nice, the whole country surprisingly well developed, and the cost is rather reasonable. Seychelles is not a backpackers’ destination (if fact, they really check that you have legit accommodation booked for all the days you are there before letting you go through immigration), but mixing up hotels with Airbnb, renting cars and bikes to move around, and buying some meals at supermarkets, you can get a fantastic experience without an expensive package.
- 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.
- Serengeti National Park safari
- Ngorongoro Crater
- The Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhino) and more
- Stone Town and its street food
- Zanzibar beaches
NICE TO HAVE:
After an exhausting safari and a day walking the streets of Stone Town, we were completely ready to relax in our final destination: Kendwa. We chose Kendwa because it has the best swimming beach in the island, even if not as cheap as Nungwi or as scenic as Paje.
From Arusha, where our Kenya-Tanzania safari ended, we caught a flight to Zanzibar. We had booked with Coastal Aviation and didn’t realize the tiny plane would stop 5 times before getting to the island… it was like being on a public bus hehe. Stone Town, the old downtown of the capital Zanzibar, was a nice surprise. Our expectations of African towns were low after Nairobi and Arusha (later also confirmed by Dar es Salaam), but Stone Town proved to be a charming, lively city, with an exciting history. As the center of the Zanzibar Sultanate during the 19th century, it flourished driven by trade of spices and slaves, before suffering a revolution.