Venture to Egypt now and you will be welcomed with open arms in a country where so many depend on tourism. Once you’d have queued for hours to glimpse Tutankhamun’s treasures or the Valley of the Kings: no longer. The strife that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 revolution has led to a dramatic drop in tourist numbers away from the ever-popular Red Sea resorts, despite being mostly focused around the north of the country and Cairo.
It still surprises first time visitors how close the great pyramids at Giza are to downtown Cairo. Cairo, the largest city in Africa and the Middle East, is nevertheless full of ancient and secret oases of calm. Luxor, ancient Thebes, has been called the world’s greatest open-air museum, while historic Alexandria and very modern Sharm El Sheikh offer contrasting coastal experiences.
The 19th-century Egyptian Museum in Cairo holds one of the greatest collections of antiquities in the world – including the treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb. A short distance away the modern story of Egypt is unfolding around Tahrir Square. The old city remains hidden behind the teeming streets. The shaded alleyways of Coptic Cairo lead to Byzantine churches and important Roman ruins such as the strikingly modern-looking Babylon fortress.
The beauties of this ancient, civilised land are perhaps best seen from the deck of the many boats that cruise along the River Nile. The town of Luxor – ancient Thebes – is divided between the East Bank of the Nile, the land of the living, and the West, the land of the dead – the Valley of the Kings, where the Pharaohs were buried in unimaginable splendour.