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Cultural and Historical Holidays: Africa

Cultural and Historical Holidays: Africa

Few countries in the world can boast such a rich and complex history as Egypt. Ancient civilisations have all come and gone, from pharaohs, Assyrians and Nubians, to Greeks, Romans and Turks, leaving us numerous archaeological wonders to discover and explore.

Ride a camel around the Pyramids of Giza or a donkey to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut in the 'Valley of the Kings'. Take a horse-drawn carriage to Karnak Temple and cruise down the Nile Valley. Sail in a traditional felucca around Aswan and watch daily life on the Nile River as villagers tend their fields, adjacent to villages shaded by date palms.

From the ancient treasures of the boy-king Tutankhamen and the Great Sphinx to today's exotic sounds and smells of the Nubian bazaar and cities such as Cairo, Alexandria and Luzor, there's much to discover on an Egyptian adventure. For a break from history, head to the coast and spend a couple of days relaxing by the beach; swim and snorkel the beautiful waters of the Red Sea - one of the world's best scuba diving sites.

Or continue the adventure into the Middle East region. Watch a sunset from the summit of Mount Sinai, then cross into Jordan and explore a desert wadi on camels, be amazed by the ancient city of Petra and float away on the Dead Sea. In Syria, visit the ancient ruins of Palmyra and the mysterious Seleucid city of Apamea. Don't leave without browsing the exciting medieval bazaars of Damascus and wandering the ruins of Krak des Chevaliers, considered the greatest Crusader castle in the world.

Highlights

Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx - The Pyramids of Giza is the sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the World and possibly the world's oldest tourist attraction. The mysterious Sphinx sits nearby, a 50m long feline character carved from a single block of stone. The oldest pyramid at Giza and the largest in Egypt, the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) stood 146m high when it was completed in around 2600 BC. Experiencing the climb through such an ancient structure is unforgettable. Cheops is best seen at sunset, dawn and late at night. Take a horse ride in the area at around 5pm: the view of these ancient spectacles from a distance can offer a uniquely enchanting atmosphere.

Temples of Karnak - Karnak is an amazing complex of obelisks, columns, sanctuaries and pylons dedicated to the Theban gods and the glory of Egypt's pharaohs. Most famous of all the monuments is the stunning architectural masterpiece of Hypostyle Hall, a forest of 134 papyrus-shaped columns. The temple is easily accessible from Luxor's town centre and is best appreciated at night.

Abu Simbel - The monumental sun temple of Ramses II is the most spectacular of the Nubian antiquities that were relocated to higher ground on the shores of Lake Nasser.

The Egyptian Antiquities Museum - Discover Tutankhamen's treasures, a statue of Tawaret, the pregnant hippopotamus goddess of fertility, royal mummies and an amazing collection of monumental statues from the Old Kingdom and the Amarna era.

Aswan - Egypt's southernmost city straddles the crossroads of the ancient caravan routes. A great spot to watch feluccas glide down the Nile as the sun sets.

St Catherine's Monastery - Secluded beneath Mount Sinai, St Catherine's harbours the burning bush that appeared to Moses, among other holy relics.

Valley of the Kings - The descent into the Underworld, the Judgment of Osiris and the rebirth of the pharaoh are vividly depicted on the walls and ceilings of the royal tombs.

The Catacombs of Kom es-Shoqafa - The ghostly tombs, located beneath the Karmous quarter of Alexandria, offer a bizarre fusion of pharaonic, Greek and Roman funerary motifs that reflects the city's ancient and diverse cultures.

Bellydancing - The musicians and dancers of the centuries-old tradition of raqs sharqi (or oriental dance) will set your pulse racing. Best discovered at clubs frequented by locals.

Camel safaris - Make hoof prints into the canyons of Sinai or the dunes of the Western Desert for a true Arabian experience.

Oases - Explore the palm groves, hot springs and medieval oases of Dakhla, Siwa, Bahariya and Farafra.

Best time to go

The best time to visit Egypt is in winter between December and February, with average daily temperatures around 20°C on the Mediterranean coast and 26°C in Aswan. Winter nights drop to 8°C. In summer, maximum temperatures may reach 31°C on the Mediterranean coast and 50°C in Aswan. Best to avoid March and April when the hot and dusty Khamsin wind blows from the Sahara at up to 150km/ph. Rainfall is negligible except on the coast.

Shopping

Discover Khan-el-Khalili - Cairo's old bazaar, a World Heritage site and a great place to pick up exquisite reproductions of antiquities. Traders have been bargaining in these alleyways since the 14th century. Browse for jewellery, spices, copper utensils and Coptic cloth. Haggling is expected and often encouraged, as it is a part of Egyptian life.

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