Cairo – largest city in Africa, in the entire Arab world in fact, and entry to Egypt ancient and modern – Cairo lives comfortably poised between past glories and 21st Century sensibilities. Once known as the “Mother of the World,” Cairo has been surpassing visitors’ expectations since the 14th Century and has only gotten better and better at it.
To see and do all the highlights would exhaust a well-packed two weeks. Most excursions, and ours are no exception, allocate 3 – 4 days. In that time you can
comfortably take in the premier destinations, capture the city’s unique flavor and leave a lot for the return visit you’re going to want to make. All of our tours offer a free day here so, with the services of your knowledgeable driver/guide, you’ll be able to pursue some unscheduled special interest visits. We always recommend the purchase of a good guide book (“Insight Guides” is an excellent choice with 48 pages devoted to Cairo alone) not only to explain what you’re seeing but to put it all in historical and cultural perspective.
With that said, let’s talk specifics. We schedule Cairo both at the beginning and end of our tours because, like seeing New York City, it IS and ISN’T typically “Egyptian.” Cairo is an Islamic city, founded not far from the most massive Antiquity structures, the Pyramids in nearby Giza. The Giza Plateau and the incredible Egyptian Museum are the two top “must see” sites. Incidentally, there are plans to build a new, larger Egyptian Museum – this comes as wonderful news as the existing 1902 structure has priceless objects literally stuffed into every nook and cranny. The 12th Century Citadel, begun by Salah-ad-Din (the “Saladin” of Crusades’ fame) was the home of virtually all of Egypt’s rulers, seat of government and powerful military fortress until the mid-19th Century. Look out over its ramparts and see all of Cairo at your feet and imagine how intoxicating absolute power must have been. Yet Cairo has always been diversified and multi-cultural. Coptic Cairo recaptures the ancient roots of one of the earliest branches of Christianity, while the Ben Ezra Synagogue fostered the Sephardic Rabbinical tradition.
Cairo bazaars or “souks” are famous worldwide and none more so than the Khan al-Khalili. A mecca for tourists with every conceivable souvenir to be haggled over, it borders the possibly more interesting native souks where modern Cairenes trade, eat and gossip as they have for centuries.
As Egyptian cities go Cairo is a youngster, dating only from its 641 CE founding as the conquering Arabs’ capital. Multi-millennia older, yet now almost swallowed by Cairo’s western sprawl, is the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World. The Pyramids and Sphinx complex, Egypt’s #1 attraction, never fail to mesmerize and with so much written about them through history we will only say that seeing them leaves an indelible impression. Just a short drive south are the remnants of Memphis, Egypt’s first capital founded, legend has it, by Menes, first ruler of the First Dynasty. Its enormous necropolis, Saqqarah, contains tombs, pyramids, a mausoleum for the holy Apis bulls and massive architecture, including the Step Pyramid, the world’s first stone monument.
And through it all the Nile’s constant presence reminds each visitor that without the mighty river, nothing here would have ever come to exist. The Nile, always believed to be eternal, always in reality was life. The many lives the river has seen you’ll see in Cairo.