Where to go

Most people arrive in Cairo, where they've come to experience the legendary pyramids and the treasures of the Egyptian Museum. Often, however, the most lasting impressions are made in Islamic Cairo, which seethes with humanity, is packed with mausoleums, mosques and markets - the most famous being the maze of the Khan El-Khalili - and bewilders your every sense. Cairo has fantastic shopping, diverse restaurants and a range of nightlife to suit everyone - from backstreet bars and midnight felucca trips, to all-night coffee shops and belly-dancing shows.

A world away from the frenetic pace of the capital city is Siwa, an oasis that time forgot until tarmac linked it to the north coast in the 1980s. Berber culture is hanging on in the dusty hamlets, where women swathed in blue blankets are ferried around in donkey carts by small boys and men maintain the verdant palm gardens. Every year the Siayha Festival draws people from far and wide to dance, feast and worship by the mountain of Jebel Dahkhur. Some of the most attractive accommodation in Egypt is found in Siwa, where eco-friendly lodges provide exquisitely sophisticated bedrooms and fabulous cuisine. Just 60 km from the Libyan border, Siwan safaris delve into the Great Sand Sea where unexpected hot springs, perfect sand dunes and star-filled nights around a camp fire are an intrinsic part of the experience.

The Great Desert Circuit links the oases of Bahariyya, Farafra and Dakhla - literal springs of life in the barren Sahara. The oasis atmosphere is totally laid-back and the people exceedingly welcoming. Notable old ruins, medieval villages and extraordinary desert safaris cause Western civilization to fade into the background; the White Desert, with its meringue-like chalky rock formations, is like nowhere else on earth.

Along the Nile Valley, pharaonic monuments reign supreme. Abydos and Dendara defy all logic with their perfect engravings and reliefs, while Luxor and the Karnak Temple have been mesmerizing travellers for millennia. The Valley of the Kings on the West Bank is surely the zenith of tomb art, and the gloriously colonial Winter Palace hotel transports guests back to Howard Carter's time.

Nile cruises, best done on an old-style dahabiya, steam down from Luxor to Aswan, passing through emerald green and turquoise blue landscapes that clash with apricot sands, down to Nubia. The temples of Philae and Abu Simbel are unmissable (particularly at night), feluccas sail around the islands in the Nile, and Nubian villages are colourfully painted with traditional designs.

Beyond the mountains of the Eastern Desert, the diving is supreme. Hurghada attracts the bulk of tourists to party and play, but further south are pristine reefs and swathes of untouched coastline dotted with appealing and environmentally aware campsites and guesthouses. Tribal communities have a part in tourism here, and there are opportunities to sip bitter coffee with nomads and visit the bizarre camel-market at Shalatein.

Over the water is Sinai, a haven for chilling by the beach and providing easy access to some of the world's best dive sites. Dahab is the traditional place to get properly laid-back, though it's more of a town these days than a village. For palm- reef huts, candle-light and cheap rooms, backpackers head a little further north to the unspoiled beaches that are a stone's throw away from Saudi Arabia.

Little visited is the Canal Zone, and - apart from the mellow atmosphere, tree-lined streets and plethora of top-class fish restaurants - that's the appealing aspect of it. Here, and in the Delta, real Egypt exists and tourists are welcome to fit in, whether it's at a folk concert in Port Said or a moulid in Tanta.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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