Egypt: The Rough Guide, Fourth Edition (Rough Guides)

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9781858281889: Egypt: The Rough Guide, Fourth Edition (Rough Guides)
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This practical guide to Egypt includes tips on where to find the best hotels, restaurants and bars, advice on how and where to book a diving course and accounts of the Pharonic sites and Islamic monuments.

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Moving north to the Mediterranean, Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, boasts a string of beaches to which Cairenes flock in summer, and excellent seafood restaurants. Despite being founded by Alexander the Great and lost to the Romans by Cleopatra, the city today betrays little of its ancient glory; however, the ongoing underwater excavation of Cleopatra’s Palace and (possibly) the legendary Lighthouse of Pharos may once more bring an air of majesty to Alexandria. Famous too for its decadence during colonial times, romantics can still indulge here in a nostalgic exploration of the "Capital of Memory", while further along the Mediterranean coast lie the World War II battlefield of El-Alamein and the Egyptian holiday resort of Mersa Matrouh.

The Nile Delta, east of Alexandria, musters few archeological monuments given its major role in ancient Egyptian history, and is largely overlooked by tourists. However, for those interested in Egyptian culture, the Delta hosts colourful religious festivals at Tanta, Zagazig and other towns. Further east lies the Canal Zone, dominated by the Suez Canal and its three cities. Port Said and Ismailiya are pleasant, albeit sleepy places, where you can get a feel of "real Egypt" without tripping over other tourists. Suez is grim, but a vital transport nexus between Cairo, Sinai and the Red Sea Coast.

Edged by coral reefs teeming with tropical fish, the Sinai Peninsula offers superb diving and snorkelling, and palmy beaches where women can swim unmolested. Resorts along the Gulf of Aqaba are varied enough to suit everyone, whether you’re into the upmarket hotels of Sharm el-Sheikh, Na’ama Bay or Taba, or cheap, simple living at Dahab and Nuweiba. From there it’s easy to visit St Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai (where Moses received the Ten Commandments) in the mountainous interior. With more time, cash and stamina, you can also embark on jeep safaris or camel treks to remote oases and spectacular wadis.

Egypt’s Red Sea Coast has more reefs further offshore, with snorkelling and diving traditionally centred around Hurghada, while barely-touched reefs further south from Port Safaga to Mersa Allam beckon serious diving enthusiasts. Inland, the mountainous Eastern Desert harbours the Coptic Monasteries of St Paul and St Anthony, Roman quarries and other antiquities, and dramatic rockscapes seen by few apart from the nomadic Bedouin.

WHEN TO GO

Deciding on the best time for a visit involves striking a balance between climatic and tourist factors. Egypt’s traditional season runs from late November to late February, when the Nile Valley is balmy, although Cairo can be overcast and chilly. However, at these times, particularly during the peak months of December and January, the major Nile resorts of Luxor and Aswan get unpleasantly crowded. This winter season is also the busiest period for the Sinai resorts, while Hurghada is active year round.

With this in mind, March or April are good compromise options, offering decent climate and fewer visitors. In May and June the heat is still tolerable but, after that, Egyptians rich enough to do so migrate to Alex and the coastal resorts. From July to September the south and desert are ferociously hot and sightseeing is best limited to early morning or evening – though August still sees droves of backpackers. October into early November is perhaps the best time of all, with easily manageable climate and crowds.

Weather and tourism apart, the Islamic religious calendar and its related festivals can have an effect on your travel. The most important factor is Ramadan, the month of daytime fasting, which can be problematic for eating and transport, though the festive evenings do much to compensate. See "Public Holidays and Moulids" in the Basics chapter for details of its timing.

Review:

...full of indispensable advice, erudite and consumer-bright. -- The Irish Times, 30 May 1998, Dublin, Ireland

Best guidebook. -- Sunday Mirror, London, UK

Lively, up-to-date and very reliable. -- Travel and Leisure

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