The land of the Nile is back in style
Egypt has been tempting travellers since Georgian times when Brits of sufficient means visited on extended escapades known as the Grand Tour. Tourism has continued across the centuries, only stalling during international incidents such as world wars, the Suez Crisis, and this decade’s political unrest which began with the revolution removing despotic leader Hosni Mubarak from office in 2011. Holidaygoers stopped going when they saw sustained demonstrations in the news and visitor numbers plummeted from 14 million in 2010 to nine million the following year.
But Egypt is back, with the destination appearing on lists of top places to explore in 2019. On The Go Tours is just one travel business reporting a rise in inquiries and bookings since the situation started stabilising in 2015.
“As our first destination when On The Go Tours started in 1998 we have witnessed the changes in Egypt and how tourism has been affected,” general manager Natalie James says. “During 2017 and 2018 we have seen growth of 102 per cent on group tours to Egypt and tailor-made holidays also rise by 62 per cent. We’re confident this will continue in 2019, and the benefit to customers is an experience without the crowds of a decade ago.”
While Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade still has some concerns – the Smartraveller website asks Aussies to avoid the territory flanking the Libyan border TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT and North Sinai – the legendary locations around the land of the pharaohs are again calling.
POLITICAL SITUATION NOW?
Natalie James acknowledges that the political instability since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 still affects the image of the region and inbound tourism, but travel operators aren’t seeing signs that should deter tourists making plans.
“We were the first operator back into Egypt once travel warnings lifted in 2014, have not needed to cancel any tours once we returned, and have been able to continually offer customers a safe travel experience tailored to changing events and travel warnings.”
HOW DO I GET THERE?
There are no direct flights from Australia to Egypt but Emirates and Etihad offer two-flight options via the United Arab Emirates, South African Airlines goes via Johannesburg, and local carrier EgyptAir travels to Bangkok for Asian transits.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
Webjet Exclusives general manager Brendan Sawyer says while Egypt is a GIZA PYRAMIDS year-round destination, anyone who feels the heat should avoid the summer months of June, July and August. Temperatures can be “oppressively high” making it uncomfortable exploring outdoors.
“Most visitors travel between October and April for the iconic landmarks in and around Cairo such as the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx, but December is overlooked and can be fantastic if you wish to combine mild temperatures with relatively few visitors,” he says.
“Many restaurants and shops close or scale back opening hours during the Muslim holy month, known as Ramadan, which takes place throughout June and either side into May or July, and visitors looking to indulge in local foods and stroll the bazaars are encouraged to travel outside this religious period.”
HOW DO I GET AROUND?
Planes and trains are the go for long distances. Experts recommend travellers avoid the road as traffic can be chaotic and there are challenges driving distances through the desert between significant settlements.
Phil Hoffman Travel project manager Melanie Wynne says there are regular air and train connections from Cairo to popular destinations such as Luxor and Aswan. “Cairo to Luxor takes one hour by EgyptAir, 12 hours by overnight train.” She says government-sponsored convoys are also an option to access some regions.
And what not to do? “I discourage people from using donkeys, horsedrawn carts and hot-air balloons, for animal welfare and safety reasons.”
WHERE SHOULD I GO?
Bunnik Tours marketing manager Catherine Kelly says that while Cairo and the neighbouring Giza pyramids top the Egypt to-do list, visitors should escape the big-city bustle and head for Aswan and Luxor as well as embarking on a Nile cruise.
“A river cruise gives the opportunity to tour in a relaxed fashion between these cities, and you alight at riverside temples, with a more intimate experience offered aboard a wooden dahabiya, a beautifully crafted ship with furnishings from the 1920s to 1940s,” she says.
“My absolute favourite sites are the imposing twin temples of Abu Simbel, but anticipate an early- NILE RIVER CRUISE
Most visitors come to see iconic landmarks such as Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple and the Giza pyramids; get ready to haggle at Cairo markets; and a cruise up the Nile is unforgettable.