Fewer than 300 boats have licenses to operate on the Nile, and after the tourist killings in the 1990s as well as some attacks on cruise ships between 1992 and 1994, many of them were moored for months with no business. The hotels in Luxor and Aswan stood as empty as haunted houses, so it’s not surprising that there has been a lack of foreign investment in tourism products in this region. Since the safety has improved and no attacks have been reported for a number of years, the biggest complaints now tend to be that in busy periods, dozens of boats can be crammed up against each other in the popular ports, so one has to walk across boats to reach shore. The Oberoi Zahra, which has brought a new standard to luxury cruising on the Nile, addresses both these issues—the crowds and the security, that is. The captain times all stops and excursions to avoid crowds and other boats. There is also a machine gun mounted on the deck. The caveat: the price is considerably higher than other boats and the sailings are six-nights, rather than four or five as most others are.
“At the distance of a few miles the Pyramids rising above the palms, looked very clean-cut, very grand and imposing, and very soft and filmy, as well. They swam in a rich haze that took from them all suggestions of unfeeling stone, and made them seem only the airy nothings of a dream—-structures which might blossom into tiers of vague arches, or ornate colonnades, may be, and change and change again, into all graceful forms of architecture, while we looked, and then melt deliciously away and blend with the tremulous atmosphere.” Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad
The Pyramids at Giza. The largest is the Great Pyramid, which was built for the Fourth Dynasty pharaoh Cheops, or Khufu (2589 to 2566 BC). For almost four centuries, until the 19th century, it stood as the tallest man-made structure in the world at 485 feet. It is believed that it took twenty-two years to finish with more than 2.3 million blocks of stone. You can enter it if you have tickets and don’t mind cramped spaces. Of all the chambers, the Grand Gallery is the most impressive. Be sure not to skip the small museum containing the solar boats. There remains debate about their exact purpose, but their scale and sophistication provide a glimpse into the ancient culture. If you want to have your photo taken on a camel, you will find men on the plateau behind the pyramids who will give you a short trot and photo op.
Memphis and Saqqâra. It is also worth going a bit farther out of town, to the pyramids at Saqqâra, where Egypt’s royalty and nobility were buried during the Old Kingdom (mid to late third millennium BC). It is the largest archaeological site in Egypt. Important discoveries are still being made here. In November 2008, Zahi Hawass announced that a new pyramid, probably belonging to Queen Sesheshet, had been uncovered. Among the monuments that you can and should visit are Djoser’s funerary complex (the Step Pyramid), the Serapeum and the double mastaba of Ptah-Hotep and Akhti-Hotep. Finally, real pharaonic fans may want to stop at Memphis, where very little remains of the once-mighty city.
Tip: The evening light show at the pyramids at Giza is worth doing.
Sound and Light Show in Giza
It sounds corny and it is touristy but visiting the pyramids at Giza and the Sphinx at night is a memorable experience. Colored lights are flashed over the monuments and the “voice” of the Sphinx recounts some of the pharaoh’s history. There’s a line about the ancient pharaoh’s wish to remain eternal and how many thousands sun rises and sun sets the Sphinx has seen that sends shivers down your back as you sit at their feet on a dry desert night. Make sure to buy tickets in advance and to check the language of the slated hour. A few English shows are done daily, along with French and Italian.
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