Hidden Gems & Trusted Treasures of

Cairo, Egypt

Joy Iromuanya

What destination exceeded your expectations? For me that place was Egypt.

Tourism in Egypt stunted in 2011 after the revolution. Protestors took to the streets demanding to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak who ruled the nation for 30 years. They spoke out against poverty, unemployment, and corruption crippling their nation. Violent clashes between security forces and protestors resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and thousands injured. Because of the unrest I didn’t think it was possible to visit Egypt anytime soon.

But I always wanted to. Egypt was always a top bucket list destination because I wanted to see the Great Pyramid of GIza. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – a marvel of architecture, human ingenuity and engineering. After becoming a flight attendant, I flew with a couple of people who traveled to Egypt and had a great experience. They encouraged me to visit and recommended tour guides, Hisham Shaaban and Ahmed Mido of Egypt Holiday Tour. http://www.egyptholidaytour.com

How I Got There

This was my first time on African soil and my first time flying standby overseas, so I was still learning how to navigate standby flying. Therefore, my route was anything but seamless. First, I flew to Atlanta to meet up with a few friends who are also flight attendants. Then we flew to Munich, Germany on Delta Air Lines. We couldn’t find any flights with four open seats on any other airline, so we spent the night in Munich. The next morning, we found a couple of flights on Austrian airlines. We flew from Munich to Vienna, Austria and then Vienna to Cairo, Egypt.

**Note: As part of their benefits package, airline employees receive the privilege of flying on their airline in any open seat on any flight. If you buy a discounted international ticket on another airline that has a partnership with your airline it is still standby; you are just considered a revenue standby passenger. As an employee, you also have access to check the passenger count for the flights you are interested in traveling on so you can see how many seats are available.

Getting Around

I highly recommend hiring a driver while in Egypt. The driving there is intense and crazy, to say the least. You couldn’t pay me to drive there! Stop lights are rare, speed limits are suggestions, traffic rules are often ignored and occasionally enforced. Thankfully, safe and reliable transportation is included with Egypt Holiday Tours. My tour guides provided transportation to and from the airport and during my entire stay in Egypt. My first night in Cairo on our way to dinner, I witnessed a minor fender bender while we were stopped at a red light. Both drivers got out of their respective cars in the middle of the street and proceeded to pummel each other with their fists. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt like I was watching an episode of The Jerry Springer Show. My driver, Hisham didn’t even bat an eye.

Where I Stayed

I stayed at the Hilton Cairo World Trade Center. The hotel’s security reminded me of a military base in FPCON Charlie or a TSA checkpoint. Our driver entered this staging area and a k-9 dog walked around it. Once we were cleared, we were able to park directly in front of the hotel while we unloaded our baggage. Our belongings were screened, and we walked through a metal detector. At check-in we were upgraded to two-bedroom suites. The hotel was a little dated, but spacious and clean.

Day 1

Atlantis Restaurant & Café: We didn’t do much on our first day in Cairo because we were exhausted from flying. We went to dinner and went to bed early. This traditional Egyptian restaurant is right on the Nile River Bank. Hisham ordered for us and negotiated prices at every restaurant beforehand. The food at this restaurant was delicious, service was amazing, and I felt safe eating everything. Pictured below is Kofta, chicken, rice and vegetables. Kofta is made from ground lamb or beef mixed with onions and spices. We also had pita bread and Tahini salad. Tahini is very popular. It’s a dense paste made from crushed sesame seeds. You can eat it with pita bread, or you can make a salad dressing out of it. The dressing is a mixture of tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic and water. I would recommend this restaurant. Also alcohol is hard to find in Egypt. Egypt is a Muslim country and drinking alcohol is strictly prohibited.

Day 2

The Red Pyramid: Believed to be Egypt’s first successful construction of a “true” smooth-sided pyramid. For a long time, tourists weren’t allowed to visit because of a nearby Army base. I liked the pyramid because it wasn’t crowded, and no children were begging for money or trying to sell you souvenirs. This pyramid has a lot of stairs. You have to climb down 65 meters to enter the pyramid. It’s steep and the ceiling is low. I tried to take pictures to show you, but the pictures don’t do it justice. Inside the pyramid is also very hot and the ventilation is poor. If you have asthma, claustrophobia or bad knees you might want to sit this one out. Be sure to bring small bills when you arrive because the man sitting outside of the pyramid will not allow you to take any pictures without tipping first.

Memphis Open Air Museum and Walking Trail: My favorite part of this museum was seeing the statue of Ramesses the Great (c.1279-1213 BC, 19th Dynasty). He is regarded as one of the most powerful pharaohs in Egyptian history. During his 66-year reign he fathered 90 children, fought in multiple wars and extensively built temples and monuments in Egypt. This enormous statue was carved in limestone and once towered over 10 meters. Once standing, he is now “sleeping.” You can view it from the ground floor or above. Unfortunately, his legs were damaged during the excavation process.

Saqqara: This ancient burial ground is of more interest to archeologists than Giza. The most famous is Djoser’s Step Pyramid, dating from the 3rd dynasty (2667-2448 BC), it was the first all-stone complex ever built on earth. Scattered around the area are more than ten other pyramids and many tombs and burial temples from throughout the Pharaonic and Greek periods.

Giza Necropolis: I rode a camel for the first time as we toured the Great Pyramid of Giza, Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Sphinx of Giza. The pyramids were the largest built in ancient Egypt. It was neat to see a Seventh World of the World. My camel was peaceful and didn’t exhibit any aggression, but I felt very unstable and uncomfortable riding him.

Golden Eagle: Here we learned how ancient Egyptians made paper from the stem of the Papyrus plant. It was such a cool and interesting process. The gallery has many drawings and paintings. But they are expensive, so beware!

Day 3

Mosque of Amr ibn Al Aas: The first mosque ever built in Egypt and the whole of Africa in 642 AD. It’s still an active mosque, but when services are not taking place visitors are welcome. Amr ibn Al Aas was the Arab general who conquered Egypt from the Romans.

Museum of Egyptian Antiquities: There are over 120,000 items in this museum. You can spend all day wandering around and getting lost in Egyptian culture and history. Items from the King Tut Exhibit have been moved to the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza that is set to open next year.

Quad ride: My favorite part of the whole trip, riding ATVs for two hours and catching the most beautiful sunset in the desert. I was nervous because it was my first time driving one. I wasn’t wearing a helmet and my guide was sitting on the hood as I drove. I was so scared that I would hurt him, but he insisted on taking pictures and videos with my phone. And I’m so happy he did.

Day 4
Citadel of Qaitbay: On our last day, Blair and I took a day trip to Alexandria which is two and a half hours away. The sailor in me absolutely loved visiting this 15th century defensive fortress turned museum. It was established in 1477 AD and sits right on the Mediterranean Sea coast. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelhus (280-247 BC). It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and for many centuries it was one of the tallest man-made structures in the world. Unfortunately, the lighthouse was severely damaged by three earthquakes between AD 956 and 1323 and it is now an abandoned ruin. The last of its remnant stones were used to build the Citadel. My favorite part of the Citadel is the oil fallout. It’s a big hole in the middle of the floor. Soldiers used it to pour hot oil on enemies.

Wanting more? I know I do. There’s so much to see and do in Egypt. Please don’t be turned off by the lack of alcohol or conservative values. Come ride a Hot Air balloon over Luxor Valley and King Tut, himself, in the Valley of the Kings or take a quad ride in the desert at sunset. I was a little bummed that we weren’t able to spend five days in Egypt, but I’m so happy that I went. Hisham and Ahmed are great tour guides who will become your friend. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at traveltheworldwithjoy@gmail.