Egypt Outdoors

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Egypt Outdoors
Geology has endowed Egypt with masterpieces as great as any pyramid. Get outside to see the jagged teeth of the Sinai Mountains, the White Desert's Dalí-esque chalk towers, and the curvaceous, winding Nile.
By Jessica Lee , AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Carlos Villoch/age fotostock
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    Diving below the Surface
    An ethereal silent world of kaleidoscopic coral canyons populated by darting rainbow-slivers of fish lies below the surface just off the shore of Egypt's Red Sea. Plumbing the depths of this underwater fantasia is a magical experience for both experienced and first-time divers. In the Straits of Gubal, the eerie Thistlegorm wreck, sunk in World War II, is now a somber underwater museum. To discover some of the world's legendary dive sites, head to Ras Mohammed National Park in the Sinai, where circus troupes of fish duck and dive among the famed coral forest cliffs of Shark Reef.
    Photo by Carlos Villoch/age fotostock
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    Discovering the Nile
    The Nile River scythes through Egypt from south to north. The ancients built their temples and towns along its palm-rimmed banks and worshipped its life-giving ebb and flow. A trip down the Nile is one of the world's great river journeys and a chance to experience Egypt's original highway. This is sightseeing at its most relaxing as you drift down the river, between the narrow corridor of lush green banks backed by a ridge of orange-hued desert dunes. Take a cruise boat or traditional dahabiyya from Aswan to Luxor, stopping off at the glorious Ptolemaic temples of Kom Ombo, Edfu, and possibly Esna along the way. Or experience the slow rhythms of the Nile like a local with a trip on a lateen-sailed felucca.
    Photo by Franz Marc Frei/age fotostock
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    Surreal Landscapes
    Take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over Luxor's West Bank to witness the bizarre juxtaposition of languid, watercolor-worthy agricultural fields and glorious ancient ruins. In Sinai, clamber through the Colored Canyon's bewitching playground of raspberry ripple–swirled rock. Then, head into the western reaches of the country to find one of nature's greatest teases. The mind-bending chalk-pinnacles of the White Desert sit like stranded icebergs that forgot the way to the Arctic. Spend the night amid this natural sculpture park of spooky white spires to see them glow hazy-apricot and blush-pink at sunset and sunrise.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge
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    Beach Bliss on the Red Sea
    Escape to one of Egypt's beaches for lazy days of hammock-swinging, swimming, and sun-lounging that will soothe your temple-plodding feet. The Red Sea coast caters to all styles of beach-lover, with luxurious resorts and rustic, miles-from-anywhere camps of traditional hoosha huts (made from bamboo and palm-thatch). Get away completely in Egypt's Deep South around Marsa Alam, where diving and kite-surfing play as big a role in beach life as sunbathing. Or head to the golden sands of the South Sinai, Egypt's capital of chilled-out beach fun. Dahab is a laid-back village dedicated to the pursuits of sand and sea. Watch sunset here, as the moon rises over the distant hills of Saudi Arabia, and you may never want to leave.
    Photo by Jessica Lee
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    Exploring the Coptic Desert Monasteries
    The metaphysical pull of the country's harsh and lonely sweeps of desert has attracted ascetics for centuries. Early fathers of the Christian church, St. Paul and St. Anthony, deserted the busy thrum of town-life to seek solitude within the country's barren lands. The hermit life soon became not-quite-so lonely as soul-seekers followed in their footsteps and monasticism as a practice began. Their legacy carries on today within the isolated monasteries of the world's oldest religious communities. Take a day trip from Cairo to the fortified monasteries of Wadi Natrun, or travel into the far reaches of the Eastern Desert to visit St. Anthony's Monastery, home to a renowned collection of Coptic secco art.
    Photo by Jessica Lee
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    Nature-Lover's Egypt
    Wildlife spotters, fishers, and birdwatchers will find an entire other world away from the monuments. At first, the vast desert lands may seem devoid of life, but in the far west, past Siwa, the Shiatta salt lake is a favored spot for flamingos. Head to sleepy Aswan, way down south, to charter a boat trip that takes in the best of natural and manmade treasures. This is the jumping-off point for Lake Nasser—one of the world's biggest artificial lakes. On boat journeys here you angle for Nile perch and keep your eyes peeled for migratory birds. Along the way, anchor at the temples of Wadi as-Subua, Amada, and Ramses II's colossal Temple of Abu Simbel.
    Photo by Jean Dubois Berranger/age fotostock
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    The Oasis Experience
    Amid the rippling dunes and swaggering stretch of parched plains, the Western Desert's oases have been a welcome sight for desert travelers through the centuries. Once important outposts on North Africa's caravan routes, these tiny enclaves of blossoming life showcase a sleepy, rural Egypt where traditional culture is still strong. Soak your weary traveling bones in the hot spring of Ain Gomma near Bawiti oasis. Explore the slumping medieval fortified town of al-Qasr. Then, head on to the dreamy palm groves of Siwa. Here, hot springs bubble from the ground, feeding shady date palm plantations, all looked over by the remnants of a once foreboding mud-brick fortress.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge
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    Hiking in the Sinai
    Moses and the Israelites walked this way. The Arab army of Caliph Omar conquered Egypt by first galloping through here. The harsh and hauntingly beautiful land bridge of the Sinai has its own distinct history and a rich Bedouin tribal culture that sets it apart. Make a beeline to the St. Katherine Protectorate Area to trek this region's most famous trails. Follow the path of Moses up Mount Sinai for sunrise or tackle Egypt's highest peak by hiking Mount St. Katherine. Sitting atop a summit, surrounded by the jagged rock waves of the Sinai Mountains, is the best way to understand the hypnotic power this region has wielded over hermits, pilgrims, and adventurers through the ages.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge
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    Not every ancient ruin in Egypt is a scrum of touts. Within easy reach of Cairo, yet a world apart, the sites of al-Fayoum remain steadfastly off the tourist trail whirl. Here, the sphinx statues of Medinet Madi continue their lone vigil guarding the long-dead city, and a fossil graveyard of ancient whales is scattered across the desert floor of Wadi al-Hitan. Way down south is the ultimate adventure for those visitors itching to experience the desert. Even today, Egypt's Great Sand Sea is one of the world's least-explored corners. Travel through the mighty dunes to Gilf Kebir, squeezed between the borders of Sudan and Libya, which is home to the famed Neolithic rock art of the Cave of the Swimmers.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge
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    Set Off on a Camel-Trekking Adventure
    If you're not in a hurry, the best way to experience Egypt's great outdoors is from the lofty perch of a camel. Traveling this way is a chance to watch the scenery slowly shift and unfurl while contemplating life's simpler joys. If you're short on time, mount your trusty steed for a sunset ride at Giza's pyramids or a short trek along Aswan's tranquil West Bank to the desert fortress of St. Simeon Monastery. For real-deal desert camel treks, the desolate interior of the Sinai Peninsula cannot be beaten. After a long day in the saddle, fall asleep under a blanket of a million stars with the craggy silhouettes of the looming mountains surrounding you. A journey here will soothe the soul as well as satisfy your camel trekking urge.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge