Egypt’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites are like a trail through history – from the  evolution of the first seafaring mammals to the present day via the pyramids, monumental temples and tombs, early Christianity and Islamic empires. Below, we take a deep dive into each of them.

Wadi Al-Hitan (Valley of the Whales)

Littered with fossils of the earliest species of whales, Wadi Al-Hitan holds stories of a time up to 56 million years ago, long before humanity. Visiting this sprawling stretch of Saharan sand is an awe-inspiring experience thanks to the profusion of remains scattered across the landscape, including the largest intact Basilosaurus whale skeleton in the world. Meanwhile, other remnants of early marine life and plants slot together in a vivid jigsaw of life millions of years ago. Many operators run day trips from Cairo which is 150 km away.

Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur 

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only remaining wonder of the ancient world – and it really is extraordinary.  The tallest man-made structure on Earth for more than 3,800 years, it’s thought to be made of about 2.3 million bricks. The pyramid is found in one of the most famous World Heritage Sites of all, encompassing what was once the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis, as well as Giza’s instantly-recognisable monuments including The Sphinx. Though it’s inevitably busy, there are quiet corners. Dahshur’s Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid are among them, despite the fact that exploring their interiors makes for one of Egypt’s most memorable experiences

Ancient Thebes and its necropolis 

Many visitors combine Cairo’s pyramids with the ruins of the capital of Egypt’s New Kingdom (c1150-1069 BC) just outside Luxor, and travelling between the two cities is part of the fun. Take the sleeper train from Cairo or, better still, set sail along the Nile by felucca (traditional sailing boat). On arrival, it’s time to explore the enormous Temple of Karnak, either in the quiet of early morning or with the atmospheric son et lumiere show by night. Then there’s the sprawling, scorching Valley of the Kings, where the pharaohs of the New Kingdom were buried: it’s here that Howard Carter and his team discovered the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun in 1922. Save some time for the Valley of the Queens and the lavishly decorated Tomb of Nefertari, the great royal wife of Ramesses II. Due to its delicate splendour, visitors are required to book ahead and can only go inside the tomb for ten minutes per visit.

Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae 

The Nubian Monuments in southern Egypt could have disappeared into the rising waters of the Nile back in the 1960s, had it not been for a monumental effort to move them led by UNESCO. Instead, the two colossal rock temples at Abu Simbel, built by Ramesses II in around 1244 BC, were cut into large blocks and then meticulously reassembled on a man-made mountain away from the river. Twice a year, on February 22 and October 22, sunlight illuminates the statues at the back of the main temple, creating a phenomenon known as the Sun Festival. 

Abu Mena 

Once a 4th-century AD holy city, Abu Mena was built over the tomb of the martyr Menas of Alexandria and became a pilgrimage site in the late 4th century AD thanks to a spring that was said to heal visitors. Remnants of the lively town that grew up around it remain, including churches, monasteries, houses and workshops. However, due to the rising water levels and unstable clay soil, these historic buildings face significant threats. Despite attempts to control the water level, the situation has not improved significantly. As a result, visiting Abu Mena can be difficult.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery

Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, this monastery sits at the foot of the mountain where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments from God and is around 100km from the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh . Emperor Justinian built it in the 6th century AD to enclose the Chapel of the Burning Bush but now it holds an intriguing collection of ancient manuscripts and icons that’s second only in historical importance to the Vatican. Combine your visit with a walk up Mount Sinai in the cool of dawn and you’ll be rewarded with an unforgettable sunrise. 

Historic Cairo 

Though the Egyptian capital can sometimes seem like a thoroughly modern mix of skyscrapers and traffic fumes, one of the world’s oldest Islamic cities hides at its heart. During the 10th to 14th centuries, this city was one of the cultural and intellectual capitals of the world and what remains of its winding streets feel like stepping back to that time. Ancient mosques, madrasas and fountains hide here, as well as the crowded, atmospheric alleys of the Khan El Khalili bazaar, which dates back to the 14th century and is the perfect place to buy handicrafts, antiques and jewellery. 

Travel Leaders 365 can organise stress-free Egyptian odysseys. Get in touch to find out more. 

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