Cruising the Nile from Luxor to Aswan

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.

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Checking off a major bucket list item: the pyramids of Giza

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.

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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.

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DIY tour of Cairo

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.

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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.

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Stone Town, the heart of Zanzibar

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.

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A Garden of Eden called Ngorongoro

The Ngorongoro Crater is a volcanic caldera of ~20km of diameter and ~600m of depth. It is not only beautiful but also a unique redoubt of wildlife, with ~25,000 mammals. The name is believed to refer to the sound of bells of the cows that Maasais used to shepherd in the area before being “relocated to protect the ecosystem”. Our game drive in Ngorongoro was too short, as we had to deal with the issues derived from our guide loosing his entrance card (narrated in the post Arriving at Serengeti), but still intense.

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