Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Egypt

Lauren all smiles in front of the pyramids of Giza Lauren fulfilling a childhood dream of seeing the pyramids of Giza © Lauren Keith

Lauren Keith, Destination Editor for the Middle East and North Africa, recently returned from a trip to Egypt.

Tell us more… As with all of my trips, Egypt was a whirlwind adventure, taking in almost the entire length of the country, from Cairo near the Nile Delta all the way to Abu Simbel near Egypt’s southern border with Sudan. Doing this in just over a week meant taking a couple of quick internal flights, but still taking it easy for long enough to relax on the sundeck of our cruise boat down the River Nile.

Defining moment? Since we were kids, we’ve all seen pictures of the Pyramids of Giza in school textbooks, in films and on TV. But standing next to the last remaining wonder of the ancient world in real life is completely surreal. As we were squishing through the sand up the Giza plateau towards them, two camels passed between the pyramids, perfectly silhouetted in the morning sun. That’s when I knew I had arrived.

Two camels silhouetted between the pyramids of Giza Landscapes don't get much more iconic than this © Lauren Keith

You’d be a muppet to miss… the Nubian villages across the Nile in Aswan. Along a dirt street lined with brightly painted shops (a downtown of sorts), we stopped at a store where herbs and spices of every colour took up most of the store’s real estate in an Instagram-worthy feast for your eyes (and your meals back at home if you dare disturb the perfectly conical formations). The Nubians are known for their hospitality, so if you linger long enough, you’re bound to be invited into a local’s house, where you can get inked with henna, stroke the pet crocodiles and put the most important words you’ve learned in Arabic to good use (shai bi-naenae min fadlik which means ‘mint tea, please’). Slow down: you’ll be here for a while.

The spice markets of the Nubian villages The picture-perfect spices in the Nubian village markets © Lauren Keith

Fave activity? Floating over Luxor’s west bank in a hot-air balloon at sunrise. Getting a bird’s-eye view of the tombs and temples was the perfect thing to do before exploring them on foot at ground level later that day. The stark divide between the lush green of the banks of the Nile and the silent sands of the desert is even more breathtaking from the air, and the theatrics of watching our balloon, fuelled with fans and fire, roar to life, glide across the landscape and come back to earth left a smile plastered to my face for the rest of the trip. Accidents have brought balloon companies in Luxor under increased scrutiny, so it’s imperative to take your tour guide’s advice and check the safety record of the operators.

A hot air balloon over the lush green landscapes along the banks of the Nile Get an aerial view of Egypt's contrasting landscapes © Lauren Keith

If you do one thing… the Valley of the Kings should be on every Egypt itinerary, but with almost 20 tombs open for exploration, it’s hard to decide which ones to pick. Let me make at least one of the choices easy for you: visit the Tomb of Seti I. Entry requires an extra ticket, and some travellers will balk at the price (LE1000, about £40), but it was one of the highlights of my trip.

Closed to the public since 1991 and only reopened at the end of 2016, the Tomb of Seti I must be the most beautiful in the entire necropolis. The immaculate, colourful bas-relief paintings that climb from each and every wall and spread across the ceilings nudge you along the narrow passageway and down two sets of stairs into the burial chamber, whose lofty, vaulted ceiling dotted with painted constellations feels as big as the night sky. It’s no surprise that Egyptian art and culture were considered to be at a high point during Seti I’s reign.

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Lauren Keith travelled to Egypt with support from Exodus Travels. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.

Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Find out what Destination Editor Megan Eaves got up to on her recent trip to Uzbekistan.