Egypt’s extensive history and rich culture are undisputed. One of Africa’s most populous countries, also happens to be one of the most visited places in the Middle East. Unfortunately, very few tourists venture out the typical itineraries, which include the Great Pyramids of Giza, Luxor, Aswan, and Sharm El Sheikh. For this reason, today I introduce you to some of Egypt’s hidden gems, all located by popular towns and cities!
From Sinai: Ras Shitan
Thinking of escaping to the Sinai for a beach getaway? Consider Ras Shitan. It is blessed with the seclusion and relaxation you find in places like Dahab, but without the troves of backpackers. Ras Shitan is a string of camps sprinkled throughout the Egyptian Red Sea coast between Nuweiba and Taba. Facilities vary from no-frills huts to chalets like Basata Village’s, suiting a variety of travelers and budgets.
How to get there: Fly into Sharm el Sheikh airport and hire a small private van to drive you about 100 km north to Ras Shitan. Penny-pinching student living in Cairo? You may also hire a van from most travel agencies, split the costs between a group of friends, and head out on a road trip east to Sinai.
From Cairo: Dashur Pyramids
I’m surprised how many travelers have never heard of the Dashur pyramids. The oldest smooth-sided pyramid in the world lies here, its remoteness keeping it away from many looters throughout the centuries, which allows us to still be able to admire most of its beautiful, original outer casing today. Not too far away from the Great Pyramids of Giza, Dashur is a perfect day trip from Cairo. I assure you that the Bent Pyramid, Red Pyramid and rest of the Dashur complex will touch you deeply, as the isolation and eeriness will surely add to your experience.
How to get there: Most agencies in Cairo will offer a guided tour to Dashur. My recommendation, though, is to go to forums such as those found on Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and ask for an independent, licensed guide. They will allow for a more customized experience and as a result, a more enjoyable tour.
From Luxor: Marsa Alam
Need a break from Luxor’s temple viewing? Just head 237 km east. Barely a secret to serious divers, Marsa Alam is still one of Egypt’s hidden gems. An up-and-coming resort town, visitors have not had a negative impact on its environment (yet). Through various initiatives (encouraged by divers), Marsa Alam has managed to maintain the pristine condition of its waters. It’s a fact: Its plethora of unspoiled coral reefs will impress even the most demanding, well-traveled divers. Furthermore, dugongs, spinner dolphins and even hammerhead sharks can be easily spotted. Prefer sun-bathing instead? Its quiet sandy beaches will deliver.
How to get there: While there are regular buses connecting the Nile Valley to Marsa Alam, restrictions do not allow tourists to take them (still a mystery on why). Only way to go to this Red Sea town from Luxor is by traveling in convoy. Thus, I recommend you book a private van or mini bus and split the costs between other tourists who wish to go the same day or friends traveling with you.
From Alexandria: Siwa Oasis
Heading to Alexandria? Consider a trip to one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements. Siwa oasis, only 50 km from the Libyan border, is a gorgeous setting for a different kind of getaway. Surrounded by vast sand dunes, filled with date palms and even a beautiful lake, Siwa is probably the only place in Egypt were you can truly experience Berber culture. If you happen to visit for the first full moon of October, you will be able to experience the Siyaha Festival, which honors the oasis’ unique patron saint, Sidi Sulayman.
How to get there: Bus schedules change frequently, so I advise you visit the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forums once more for the most up-to-date information. Do know, however, that there are buses from Cairo and Alexandria to Siwa, operated by the West and Middle Delta Bus Company. If you catch a direct bus, the overnight trip from Cairo-Siwa will take about 9 hours; Alexandria-Siwa will take close to 8 hours instead.