Exploring the hidden city of Petra

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.

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Freezing in Wadi Rum

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 😉

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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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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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What to do during a layover in Dubai

Dubai is a perfect short stop on a trip to Africa. You can usually get the cheapest flights with Emirates and do a 1 day layover in the city. This is enough to see the highlights. We had a 15 hour layover on our way from LA to Nairobi, and although it was mainly at night, we decided to make the most out of it. The airport is very close to the city and the border controls are very efficient, so just 1 hour after landing, we were checking in into the Sheraton on Sheikh Ziyeed Road, the artery of the business downtown (free with SPG points!).

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