“You are very lucky that you visited Egypt so peacefully three months back”, said my colleague in the office. Yes, Indeed, I was lucky enough to complete that 15-days trip in a peaceful environment, only facing 2-3 small demonstrations. Barely two years ago, Egypt witnessed a big revolution, rather say a big social revolution, that threw out a dictator’s three decade old dictatorship. It was the time of Arab Springs, when whole Arab Society was going through a phase of social awakening that started with Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution. There was a new hope in the people of Egypt, who believed in the charismatic leadership of their new leader. All those were social and political stories, but they badly affected the tourism sector in Egypt.
From the tourism point of view, Egypt is a very popular destination among the travelers. Ancient civilization of Egypt was in very developed state and considered among the best in the ancient world. From the mysterious world of pyramids, mummies and treasures to the ancient temples, paintings and architecture; and from luxury Nile Cruises in mighty Nile River flowing through the Great Desert of Sahara to the Exotic Sea beaches of Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea with ample of Diving and Snorkeling opportunities, Egypt is on a bucket list of every traveler, tourist and backpacker.
Post 2011 revolution, There was a steep fall in tourist arrival in Egypt. Tourism sector hit badly because of political and civil unrest. In fact, I cancelled my plan to go there in 2011. One year later, everything was coming back on the track despite of the news of scattered demonstrations. In the beginning of 2013, everything seemed alright in Egypt. That is when I planned my trip in Feb-March, 2013 for 15 days. There were some security concerned, but those were not so big to cancel my trip. I went to Egypt and enjoyed its tourist attractions, warming people, ancient culture and fellow travelers very much. Tourism was still low, but slowly getting its pace and the Egyptian People showed a good faith in that slow growth. I met so many travelers, who believed that Egypt became a safe country for travel by then. Except one small peaceful demonstration in Luxor, One in Cairo and One Train Jam on Alexandria-Cairo route, we did not notice any trouble.
Then came the last month, June 2013. Everything rolled out two years back. Egypt started burning again. There are reports of daily riots, demonstrations, clashes and even death in those clashes. The shining leader, who was a new hope for the people two years back, is now ousted from the power. Streets of Cairo are again full of outrageous mob. It is again a turbulent time for Egypt. In these scenario, when My colleague said that I was lucky enough to visit that country peacefully, I really feel very lucky.
The memories of Egypt are still fresh in my mind and I am writing about those places one by one on this blog. It will take at least one year to cover my whole trip in the blogs. I completed my trip successfully, but then the situation was different. Now, the big question is, whether you should go to Egypt or should not go to Egypt these days? There is no absolute answer for this question. Forget about various media reports and travel advisories. They only make you confuse. The answer of this question depends on your own perception, your own gust, risk taking abilities and your own adventurous mind. You should certainly avoid the badly affected areas of riots and demonstrations, but there are many places where you can still travel peacefully. The decision is only yours, but security is foremost. The outcome of this revolution is only in the lap of future, but here are some places, some ancient treasures that we all, as a backpacker or as a traveler, are losing right now, because of our security concern in Egypt:
1. The Mysterious World of Pyramids: Pyramids are the synonyms for Egypt, its biggest charm. They are ancient, everlasting and mysterious. Many of them built almost 3000 years ago, still standing tall and attracting millions of visitors from all over the world.
Current Situation: These pyramids are situated in Giza, Saqqara and Dahshur. All these places are located close to Cairo. Giza is now a suburb of Cairo. There are many riots and clashes reported in Giza. No demonstrations reported in Saqqara and Dahshur, but to reach there, we have to go via Cairo only. Cairo is the center of major demonstrations these days, and that is the main concern. Pyramid will not go anywhere. They are standing tall from last 3000 years and will be there for many more years.
2. Museums of Egypt: Egypt is the home of some masterpieces of ancient civilization. Those masterpieces are well preserved in various museums located in major cities like Cairo, Luxor and Aswan.
Current Situation: The best museum of Egypt, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, located in Tharir Square, very closed to the mob gatherings. There are daily reports of riots and clashes in its vicinity.
Luxor Museum is in the city of Luxor. The main city of Luxor generally remains peaceful, so if you can fly down to Luxor, you can visit this museum.
Aswan Museum and Nubian Museum are in the city of Aswan, most peaceful among the Egyptian Cities. You can directly fly down to Aswan Airport to enjoy this city.
3. Abu Simbel Temples: Abu Simbel is very small town in the middle of Great Sahara Desert, just 40 kms North of Egypt-Sudan Border. It is famous for its legendary temples, known as Abu Simbel Temples. These two massive rock temples are relocated from its original site by UNESCO to save them from the rising water of Nile river due to the construction of High Dam in Aswan.
There are only two way to reach here:
1. Take a Egypt Air Flight from Aswan or Cairo to reach Abu Simbel directly. It is perfectly safe and this town is peaceful.
2. Travel in police escorted convoy for about 290 kms in the desert for a day trip from Aswan City. These riots and clashes do not affect this convoy also, so you can also feel safe in this way.
4. Karnak Temple: Karnak Temple is the second most visited attraction of Egypt. It is located in the heart of Luxor City and there is no security issue to visit this temple, if you can fly down directly to Luxor.
5. Royal Tombs, Noble Tombs and Hatshepsut Temple: Many royal and their noble men’s tombs are scatted in the city of Aswan and Luxor. In Luxor, these tombs are concentrated in and around the Valley of The Kings. Hatshepsut Temple is also a architectural marvel situated in the Valley of The Kings. These tombs are thousands years old and depict some excellent paintings of ancient Egyptian Art with its well-preserved natural colors. You may come across some demonstrations in this area like I faced, or complete closure of the routes by the protestors. Better to go there with utmost care and avoid being part of any demonstrations. Just move away quickly from such places and events.
There is no issue to visit the Tomb of The Nobles in Aswan. You can still visit there without any security issue.
6. Many Other Ancient Temples: Some of the ancient temples sites Esna, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Dendera, Abydos and Luxor are still calm despite of political unrest. You can still consider to visit these ancient temples with some caution.
7. Mighty Nile River: Nile River is the lifeline of Egypt. Best place to enjoy Nile River is between Luxor and Aswan on a Luxury Nile Cruise that also includes the visit of ancient temples at Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo. There are no reported security issues in these areas.
8. Diving and Snorkeling in Red Sea: Red Sea has some of the best snorkeling and diving areas in the world with very rich marine life, colorful fishes and dense corals. Fortunately, these coastal towns are the most peaceful areas in Egypt with very low potential of security threat. Sharm-el-Sheikh, Dahab and Hurghada are perfectly safe. Only some small demonstrations are reported in Hurgaha, away from the coastal areas. You can continue enjoying the Diving and snorkeling without any security concern.
9. Evening Walk in Alexandria: Walking between the Great Library and Citadel along the Mediterranean Coast in Alexandria is one of the memorable things to do in Egypt at the time of sunset. Alexandria is one of the major center of protests and clashes between the demonstrators.
10. Oasis: There are many amazing and wonderful oasis scattered in the Great Desert of Sahara all over the Egypt. Some of the most beautiful oasis are Siwa Oasis, Bahariya Oasis, Dakhla Oasis etc. These small towns are heavily dependent on the tourists and generally keep themselves away from such riots and demonstrations. There is no security issues in visiting these oasis.
11. Desert Safari, Felucca and Caliche Ride: You can still enjoy Desert Safari near Hurghada and Luxor, Felucca Ride in Aswan and Luxor; and Caliche Ride in Aswan and Luxor without taking any tension of the civil unrest.
Conclusion: Depending on my observations and experiences in Egypt, I can say that despite of ongoing political and civil unrest, Egypt is still a perfect place to visit. Post revolution security is tightened everywhere. Main affected cities by this unrest are Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Interior of Sinai Peninsula. So, if you have any security concern, avoid these cities completely. But, rest of the cities in Egypt like Luxor, Aswan, Sherm-El-Sheikh, Hurghada are perfectly safe and have a great potential of tourism.
The only problem is that the biggest attraction of Egypt, The Pyramids, are situated in Giza and nearby Saqqara and Dahshur, all located close to Cairo. Cairo is connected to the whole world on various airlines network and the most accessible city in Egypt. But, it is also a center of major demonstrations and riots. At least 16 people were reported killed and 200 wounded in an attack on a demonstration next to Cairo University and seven people were killed in the capital’s southern Giza district earlier in the week. Till now more than 900 people are injured in this whole drama in last two months. Visiting Cairo in current situation is really a big challenge.
Aswan, Hurghada, Luxor, Sharm-El-Sheikh are also having international airports with very few international carrier. So, if you do not want to visit Cairo, and believe that Pyramids can wait for you, you can directly go to the other cities. Leave pyramid for another visit in future. Egyptian Economy is heavily dependent on tourism and people badly need some tourist to earn their bread and butter. I only request you to check out your exercises and if you can make out, do visit Egypt for the sake of many people who badly need tourists. They can not sustain one more revolution for a very long period. Tourism was already reduced by 37 % because of the revolution in 2011. When it was coming back on track slowly, it has been hit by these protests again.
We are already losing some must see destinations in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq due to these civil war and terrorism. Present conditions in Egypt are not like those countries, but, if Egypt will also continue on this path of demonstrations and riots, the travel advisories will be getting worse only. It will soon lose its charismatic image among the backpackers and adventure lovers. Whatever a common Egyptian will lose, that is their own concern, but for a backpacker, there are many things on the stake in Egypt. Whoever wins, after a prolonged civil unrest, the ultimate loser will be the travelers community.
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