Take a long tour to fully grasp splendor of Egypt

 
Published4/12/2008 4:39 PM

Very high on travel lists under the heading, "Someday I'd like to go there," is Egypt, mysterious land of pharaohs, tombs and temples.

Unfortunately for many, the dream of Egypt is often met with fears that traveling to a Middle Eastern nation is unsafe. That seems to be the view among many Americans, seniors included.

 

But the overall tourism facts are somewhat surprising. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, there were 46 million international tourist arrivals in the Middle East in 2007, an increase of five million over 2006. The UNWTO said "Saudi Arabia and Egypt (were) among the leading destinations in 2007." The Egyptian Tourist Authority in New York said Americans represented a mere drop in the bucket: 178,000 last year.

My first and only visit to Egypt was six months after Sept. 11,2001, a delicate time if there ever was one. This may bother some travelers, but for us, we soon grew accustomed to the ever-present armed guards of the Egyptian Tourist Police standing by with semiautomatic rifles. They are the government of Egypt's response to terrorism, activated after the attack on Nov. 17, 1997, at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Dier el Bahri when 57 tourists were murdered by Islamic fundamentalists.

Then there was at least one armed guard on every tour bus and two on every river boat carrying tourists on the Nile. The soldiers and guards became a reassuring part of the landscape, no more intrusive than a train of camels in silhouette at dusk across the desert horizon. We discovered the most dangerous part of our trip was crossing the streets in Cairo, where traffic regulations are disobeyed en masse. Cars, trucks and buses take on the menace of the bulls of Pamplona, Spain.

Egypt fascinates like no other land. For instance, you learn that the reason King Tut's tomb was so full of treasure is it remained buried beneath the tomb of a far superior pharaoh for hundreds of years before the archaeologist Howard Carter unearthed it in 1922. You will marvel, too, that the 450 miles between Cairo and Abu Simbel contain the remains of dozens of temples and tombs of a 5,000-year period, some well preserved, others still buried in the desert sands.

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More than 80 pyramids exist in just one 30-mile stretch of the Nile below Cairo, and roughly 1,000 sphinxes have been discovered. The Great Sphinx at Giza, the largest, is believed dedicated to Abu el-Hol, "the terrible one."

To appreciate the overall splendors of Egypt, I strongly recommend the longer tours of at least 10 days. You will want to hang out in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where most of King Tut's treasures are kept, as well as the fascinating Khan al-Khalili market, which has been selling soup to nuts since the 14th century. The aroma of spices is worth a visit in itself. You'll see men making fezzes and find shops selling wool and cotton products, jewelry embedded in gold and silver, fancy carpets, carved and decorated leather goods, brightly colored pottery, curved daggers and swords and water pipes.

The recommended way to travel the Nile, whose shores hold most of Egypt's treasures, is by river boat and by air to the far-between destinations of Aswan and Abu Simbel.

One of the most popular Egyptian trips for seniors is Elderhostel, catering to the 50-plus among us. Elderhostel's tour, Beyond the Pharaohs: Egypt Past and Present, has 12-day trips leaving the U.S. on Oct. 7, 14, 21, 28 and Nov. 11. (Many tours to Egypt shut down during the hot summer months.) The basic cost is $3,491 per person. It does not include airfare from and to the U.S., but all else is covered in the price, including planes from Cairo to Luxor where the most popular tombs are found, and from Aswan to Abu Simbel and back to Cairo.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The itinerary shows a total of six nights in Cairo, one in Alexandria and four nights sailing the Nile in the HS Radamis II, a four-deck vessel with a capacity of 150 passengers, sun deck, restaurant, three bars and a lounge. For more information, phone Elderhostel at (800) 454-5768 or log on to www.elderhostel.org/programs/programdetail.asp?RowId=1%2D166N8I.

A great source listing a variety of trips to Egypt can be found on Vacations To Go Web site, www.tourvacationstogo.com/egypt_tours.cfm. Call (800) 510-4002. Tours are listed according to days and prices, such as budget, $45 to $130 per day plus airfare; first class, $80 to $275; deluxe, $100 to $400; and luxury, $400 to $600.

John Hilferty's column for
mature travelers appears
monthly. He can be reached at
hilf@johnhilferty.com.

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