by Dennis Bunnik
Over the years I have been lucky enough to join several of our Egypt in Depth small groups. One of my more recent trips saw me join a lovely group for their first 5 days in Egypt. And what an amazing 5 days it was!
Within our entire touring program I’m not sure if any of the other tours deliver as many ‘wow moments’ as the Egypt in Depth tour. Here’s a quick summary:
Flights from Australia generally arrive in the morning so it was just coming on lunchtime when the first of the group arrived at our hotel Le Meridien Pyramids. This is the hotel with the iconic view of the pyramids from the pool deck and the group was lucky enough to secure room upgrades to pyramid view rooms.
Rather than risk upsetting the Jetlag Gods with an afternoon nap the group set out to explore the Bent and Red Pyramids which are located about 30km from Giza. Within 3 hours of arrival they were half way up the side of the Red Pyramid looking out over the desert as our Egyptologist Ibrahim explained how this was the first of the classic shape pyramids.
Our inner Indiana Jones was realised as we clambered down the steps deep into the Red Pyramid and later ventured out to the Bent Pyramid.
The rest of the group arrived from Jordan just in time for that evening’s welcome dinner. Our group of 18 keen Australian travellers was complete and ready to explore the ancient lands. The next morning (day 2) we set off for Sakkara and the ancient capital Memphis.
The step pyramid of Sakkara is the earliest of the ancient pyramids and the site of important ceremonies where the pharaohs would need to demonstrate their strength to rule. It was here that Ibrahim arranged for us to enter a small tomb so we could get our first taste of hieroglyphics. There were amazing paintings and carvings lining the walls – both daily scenes and religious texts and paintings.
On our way back to Giza we stopped to join the locals for a falafel lunch – delicious. Then it was time for the real highlight of the day – the Great Pyramids. Words can’t adequately explain the feeling you get when you stand in front the pyramids. They still amaze me and this was my 12th visit. They look as familiar as an old friend, yet seeing them up close is like no picture you’ve ever seen. Their size is incomprehensible and their power incredible.
Ibrahim, sensing that the first time you visit the pyramids is a very special moment, ensured we had plenty of time to take it all in. For me and several of the group, this meant walking around the side to where it was quieter – here you can really marvel at their size and appreciate their power.
We drove up to get a panoramic view of the second and third pyramid and take a group photo before heading down to the Sphinx. Most travellers’ first reaction is that it’s so much smaller than they thought. This is true but really it shows how big the pyramids are which are always seen in the photos behind the Sphinx. They are a 15 minute walk apart.
That night the group came back to see the famous Sound ‘n Light show – again another of those pinch me moments where you can’t believe you’re sitting in front of the Sphinx and pyramids admiring 5,000 years of history.
On the morning of Day 3 we flew to Luxor – the epicentre of ancient Egypt and home to over 35% of all ancient sites.
Here we transferred to our hotel, the Steigenberger Nile Palace, a beautiful 5 star property right on the edge of the Nile. Ibrahim had some good news – we’d have the afternoon free to relax by the pool before heading off to see Luxor Temple. This way we’d see it in hour before sunset and then watch it lit up at night.
Luxor Temple didn’t disappoint! During daylight hours it’s beautiful but at night it’s simply stunning.
This meant we saw an unscheduled diversion through a small rural village due to traffic dramas as an opportunity to see local village life rather than a hassle. All the kids were heading to school and our unexpected drive through was a hit. We visited the massive statues known as the Colossi of Memnon and headed towards the Valley of the Kings. Alas the traffic problems continued with the road closed ahead so we changed tact. We soon found ourselves on a small boat crossing the Nile to the incredible Karnak. This is the advantage of being a small group – when things don’t go as planned it’s much easier to change things.
Karnak Temple is best described as the Vatican of ancient Egypt. It is here that the most important religious ceremonies were held and the power of the priests was at its strongest. Almost every pharaoh added to Karnak so the site is huge. For me it is one of the real highlights of Egypt and walking into the hypo-style hall for the first time is the ultimate wow-moment. This hall contains 136 giant columns up to 20 metres high covered in hieroglyphics. At the top you can still see the original colours.
After exploring Karnak and listening in awe to Ibrahim’s tales of ancient ceremonies and the various goings on in the temples & palaces we headed back to the hotel for some lunch and relaxation. Again the pool beckoned.
Our afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool overlooking the Nile before a fun trip through Luxor that evening in a horse drawn cart.
Day 5 saw us head back to the West Bank. This area is still a hive of archaeological activity with many active digs in progress and regular discoveries being made. It was amazing passing by the digs and seeing the modern day Howard Carters in action. Our first stop was the Temple of Habu. I had never visited it before so was really looking forward to it. Ibrahim had hyped it up a fair bit so I was not expecting it to live up to his lavish praise. I was blown away! This is the most incredible temple because of all the temples in Egypt this has the most vibrant colours. Where most temples wow you by their size and their carvings, they are mostly just stone.
The original colours have long since disappeared due to the ravages of time.
Habu, however, is different. Here you can still see the exquisite colours and really imagine what an amazing sight it would have been 3,500 years ago in all its glory.
From here we visited a nearby dig where they have discovered a series of tombs belonging to the nobles and artists from the time of the pharaohs. We entered several of the tombs (sorry no photos inside) and again were completely overwhelmed. One of the tombs, which involved a steep climb down 35 steps cut out of rock, looked like it was painted last month! The colours, the brush strokes and the fine workmanship were amazing.
The beautiful thing about these tombs and what made them so interesting is that they depicted daily life. The pharaohs tombs feature mainly religious scenes yet here we could see people hunting, farming, eating and even dancing & wrestling.
Unfortunately the next morning as the group set off to explore the Valley of the Kings I was heading out to the airport – work was waiting for me back home. That afternoon they were setting sail up the Nile towards Aswan on-board the luxury Movenpick MS Royal Lilly. These last few days have been action packed but some of the biggest highlights are still ahead including Abu Simbel and, of course, standing face to face with Tutankhamen’s solid gold death mask at the Egyptian Museum.
For me I can’t wait to drop in on another Egypt in Depth group.
Or check out our clips on YouTube below.