Technically all of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile is Giza, though the name is inextricably linked with the Pyramids, 9km from the river, on the edge of the desert. Truly time-strapped sightseers could conceivably stay out here and bypass Cairo entirely, but that’s missing a lot of the fun. More realistically, you’ll probably come out here on a day outing.
With more than a dozen fertile hamlets sprinkled along the Western Desert circuit road, Dakhla lives up to most visitors’ romantic expectations of oasis life. Lush palm groves and orchards support traditional villages, where imposing, ancient mud-brick forts still stand guard over the townships and allude to their less tranquil past.
Almost the entire stretch of coastline between Alexandria and Sidi Abdel Rahman is jam-packed with resorts paying homage to the modern gods of concrete construction. This is where well-to-do Cairenes and the top brass of Egypt’s military establishment come to escape the oppressive city heat of the summer.
As the closest of the oases to the Nile Valley, Al-Kharga used to have the unenviable role as a place of banishment for mischievous Nile Valley citizens. Its remote location, punishing summer heat and destructive winds meant that the oasis was synonymous with misery and exile.
In its late-19th-century raffish heyday, Port Said was Egypt’s city of vice and sin. The boozing seafarers and packed brothels may have long since been scrubbed away, but this louche period is evoked still in the waterfront’s muddle of once grand architecture slowly going to seed.
The bustling city of Al-Kharga is the largest town in the Western Desert and also the poster-child of the government’s efforts to modernise the oases. The town's wide, bare boulevards rimmed by drab concrete housing blocks are definitely not what most travellers conjure up when they picture an oasis idyll.
Stretched over about 15km, Nuweiba lacks a defined centre and a cohesive ambience, and functions primarily as a port town for travellers catching the Aqaba-bound ferry to Jordan. For a brief period following the Egypt–Israel peace treaty of 1979, however, a thriving Israeli tourism trade here meant Nuweiba could claim rivalry to Dahab as Sinai’s hippy beach paradise.
Saqqara, Memphis & Dahshur
Although most tourists associate Egypt with the Pyramids of Giza, there are known to be at least 118 ancient pyramids scattered around the country, with more being discovered every few years or so. The majority of these monuments are spread out along the desert between the Giza Plateau and the semi-oasis of Al-Fayoum.
At the centre of the oasis lies the town of Mut, named after the god Amun's consort, settled since Pharaonic times. Now a modern Egyptian town of squat block concrete buildings, it has decent facilities and makes the most convenient base for travellers. You will, however, have a richer experience of Dakhla by staying in or around Al-Qasr.