Africa

A New Look at Ancient Egypt

written by | Posted on January 1st, 2011

western desert route

Egypt’s Western Desert, once crisscrossed by trading caravans moving from oasis to oasis between the Nile River and Libyan border, is a different desert experience than Sinai. The region began to get attention when the Golden Mummies were unearthed at Bawiti (a.k.a. Bahreya oasis) in 1993, and again more recently when moviegoers caught sight of the fantastic “White Desert” in the film “Cairo Time.” This is 4×4 country, which can be toured in a wide circuit, driving from Cairo to the closest desert oasis, Bahareya, to see several hundred 2,000-year-old sarcophagi, marvelously decorated and many painted gold, containing mummies with gold-painted face masks, as well as Greco-Roman sites and tombs outside town. Next in the desertscape on the road to Farafra comes the spectacular White Desert, a surreal, moon-like area whose wind-eroded surfaces of shiny chalk and limestone resemble snowdrifts and sculptures. Camping arrangements are easily made for those who want to spend the night here or base themselves in Farafra. The Oases Road then leads to Dakhla, an important town from the time of the pharaohs through the Roman and Islamic periods, and in the surrounding villages are elaborately decorated tombs and temples, as well as the fascinating old Ottoman town of Qasr.

Kharga, with its Bagawat Necropolis and excellent regional museum, is the last oasis on the Western Desert trail, before taking the road east to Luxor. One can, of course, follow this circuit in reverse, moving along at night to stay at good (roughly three-star) hotels, or clients can choose to base themselves in Dakhla or Bahareya and take day excursions from either center. Choosing Dakhla, clients have a chance to stay at one of the top places in the country: Al Tarfa Desert Sanctuary, a 20-unit, Saharan lodge with individually and elegantly styled, air-conditioned suites—two have a private pool. There’s also a magnificent Oriental-style spa, a pool, elegant dining and activities that include horseback and camel riding. Al Tarfa redefines the desert-hideaway concept of eco-friendly luxury. All-inclusive costs (accommodations, meals, excursions, spa use, taxes and service) are roughly $650 per suite.

ladies first

Making its debut in the Egyptian travel market in the luxury mode is Isram World of Travel’s 10-day Egypt…A Woman’s View tour. “We have eight departures this year scheduled April to December,” reports Eileen Hart, the company’s director of marketing and product design. “At the same time, we anticipate that all our new Woman’s View programs—Egypt, China, Peru, Turkey, Brazil and more—will have enormous appeal to women’s club groups, as well as inter-generational female family members who want to do something special together.” The Egypt tour visits Cairo for four nights at the Sofitel El Gezirah and cruises the Nile for four nights aboard the Movenpick Royal Lily, adding also a special air tour to Abu Simbel. Led by female escorts and local women guides, trips allow travelers to meet interesting Egyptian women and participate in special one-on-one cultural immersion programs. Special interest features of the Egypt…A Women’s View tour include dinner in a private home, a visit to the Gayer Anderson Museum, camel rides at the Pyramids, belly dancing lesson, and a cooking session with the executive chef of the Nile cruise. Tour prices start at $3,160 pp dbl.