The Nile Delta
North of Cairo, the Nile River divides into two branches that enter the Mediterranean at the old ports of Damietta and Rosetta, forming one of the most fertile and most cultivated regions in the world. Laced with countless waterways, the lush, fan-shaped Delta region is a relaxing counterpoint to Cairo’s grit and the desert’s austerity.
Zagazig & Bubastis
Just outside the city of Zagazig (Egyptians say ‘za’-a-zi’) are the ruins of Bubastis, one of the country’s most ancient cities. Serious Egyptology buffs will an enjoy a visit to the temple that’s dedicated to the resident deity, the elegant cat goddess Bastet. It’s an easy outing to combine with the larger Tanis.
The largest city in the Delta, Tanta is an easy place to sample slower-paced Delta life, as it’s accessible by good trains. It’s a major centre for Sufism, and home to a large mosque dedicated to Al-Sayyed Ahmed al-Badawi, a Moroccan Sufi who fought the Crusaders in the 13th century.
Birqash Camel Market
Egypt’s largest camel market is held at Birqash (pronounced Bir’ash), a small village 35km northwest of Cairo, just on the edge of the Delta’s cultivated land. The camel market is not for the faint of heart – these beasts are not treated like beloved pets. But it can make an unforgettable day trip, especially if you’re a keen photographer.
Ras Sudr (or simply Sudr) was originally developed as the base town for one of Egypt’s largest oil refineries, though its coastline and proximity to Cairo have spurred its transition into a resort area for wealthy Cairene families. The town centre lies just off the main highway, while to the south and north lie a handful of ageing resorts interspersed with holiday villas.
The large island situated just north of the old Aswan Dam, Seheyl was sacred to the goddess Anukis. Prior to the dam’s construction, the Nile would rush noisily through the granite boulders that emerged from the riverbed just south of here, forming the First Cataract, called Shellal by the Egyptians.
Sidi Abdel Rahman
The gorgeous beaches of Sidi Abdel Rahman are the raison d’être for this growing resort hamlet, and with charter flights between Europe and nearby El Alamein (23km east), development is likely to continue. Several resorts take prime position on the sparkling waters and white sands of the Mediterranean and are the major draw – though there is little else to see or do here.
Just outside the village of San al-Hagar, 70km northeast of Zagazig, are the partly excavated ruins of Tanis, a city known as Djanet to the ancient Egyptians and Zoan to the Hebrews. The site rightly falls low on the priority list for Egyptology fans, but it is striking because it sits on the edge of lush green plantations.
Half the appeal of Qanater (‘Barrages’), is the two-hour trip on a ramshackle river bus, best done on Fridays or public holidays. Large groups of young people and smaller family parties pack the boats, and the scraggly public gardens at Qanater, a 1km patch of land between the two branches of the Nile where the 19th-century barrages are handsome pieces of engineering.
Rarely visited by tourists, northern Sinai has a barren desert interior, much of which is off limits to foreigners, and a palm-fringed Mediterranean coast backed by soft white sands sculpted into low dunes. As a crossroad between Asia and Africa, the coastal highway follows what must be one of history’s oldest march routes.