Cairo tours and excursions
In busy, traffic-filled Cairo, there are few obvious organised walking tours, and none in the blistering summer months. Choose either personalised tours through some of Cairo's cultural organisations, or arrange official guides for individual tours through hotels and tourist offices, at a fixed hourly rate (plus a tip). This can include a personal guide around Giza, Islamic Cairo, or even a generic tour of Cairo’s museums.
Unofficial guides approach people in the street and range from the abysmal to excellent. Use personal judgement as rogue guides have fake ID cards. Check also that their English is competent. If unsure, decline politely but firmly. Be cautious, too, of people asking you where you are going and then telling you that it is closed – often a preamble to being steered to a friend's shop instead. One recommended walking tour company is the Community Services Association.Tel: 01068828539
Nearly every hotel can offer the standard range of bus tours for guests, usually including the highlights of the Egyptian Museum, Khan al-Khalili bazaar and Giza’s Pyramids. Safari Egypt offers full day sightseeing tours of the city with professional guides and many language options.Tel: (02) 2705 7586.
Several top-end hotels run nightly Nile dinner cruises on their own boats. Local travel agents such as Memphis Tours collect and return to your hotel, for a two-hour evening dinner cruise with belly dancing and traditional music.Tel: (02) 402 0440.
During the summer, many take the 225km (140 miles) journey northwest from Cairo to the Mediterranean port of Alexandria. Named after Alexander the Great, the attractive city is filled with Greek heritage and offers a relaxed European ambience.
Its most famous sight is the world famous Bibliotheca Alexandria, a stunning piece of contemporary architecture, housing museums, planetarium and regular cultural events. The landmark Citadel of Qaitbai was built in 1479 allegedly on the site of, and from the stones of, the Lighthouse of Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Other noteworthy attractions include the marble Kom al-Dikka (Roman Amphitheatre) and delicate mosaics.
Hourly trains from Cairo take around three hours to reach Alexandria; buses take a little longer.
Birqash Camel Market
Egypt’s largest camel market takes place just outside the village of Birqash (pronounced Bir’ash), approximately 35km (22 miles) northwest of Cairo. Each Monday and Friday morning, camel traders from all over Egypt and as far afield as Sudan, sell their beasts in a hubbub of sights, sounds and smells – a unique experience. Visitors have to pay an admission fee, and extra for a camera (a must). The most convenient way to make the 45-minute journey is by taxi. Visitors should negotiate a waiting time: most drivers will be happy to wait or come back at a pre-arranged time. It is also possible to travel by public transport.
Saqqara is about 24km (15 miles) south of central Cairo, and easily reached by bus, rented taxi, coach excursion or even by horse or camel. However, a full day should be allowed as Saqqara alone extends for a good 7sq km (3sq miles). This is where the first pharaohs were buried, although they are now overshadowed in importance by the sites of the Great Pyramids and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens in Luxor. There are several pyramids here and, because much archaeological work still remains to be done at Saqqara, it may even be that one day it becomes Egypt's most important historical site.
Memphis is about 3km (2 miles) away from Saqqara. This ancient capital is known as the oldest known royal city in the world. Founded in 3100BC during the 1st Dynasty, it was the royal capital for 500 years and remained occupied in all for a total of 4,000 years. Sadly, not much remains today of what was one of the grandest cities in the world, but the small museum and scattering of statues is a good appetiser for the more stunning remains at Saqqara.