Remember the Arab Spring? I certainly do. We had booked a trip to Egypt mere weeks before massive pro-democracy demonstrations erupted on January 25, 2011 in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Egypt’s 2011 revolution. After 18 days of intense unrest, former president Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office. Most visitors cancelled travel plans to Egypt. We decided to go ahead with our March 2011 visit. This post features my photo memories from an extraordinary trip during an extraordinary time.
Whether it was luck, risk-taking or questionable judgement, our timing—immediately after the revolution— was perfect. We arrived to a jubilant Egypt, its people brimming with optimism about the future, eager to share their excitement with the few foreign tourists in their country. We departed Egypt before the honeymoon ended and a period of political chaos and instability set in.
After ten years, Egypt still ranks right up there in my top travel favourites. Welcome to my enduring memories.
There were parking spots galore when our taxi dropped us off at the Pyramids. It was a joy strolling through this awe-inspiring complex without crowds (we found the same in the famous Egyptian Museum). For local folks selling pyramid trinkets and camel rides, hopefulness still prevailed; yet, they and all those dependent on tourism were at the cusp of a long nightmare.
Cairo’s vibrance and chaos:
I have foul memories of Cairo’s pollution and traffic. I remember the stress of trying to cross the busy streets and attempting to take the metro. Check out my Cairo Survival Guide, a lighthearted post I wrote shortly after our trip. Despite the chaos, I loved the city’s vibrance, especially in its back streets and markets.
Khan el-Khalili Bazaar
My fondest memories of Cairo are exploring Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, a labyrinth of narrow passageways in the city’s historic center. We got lost a million times, but it was great fun. Little shops sell everything from jewelry to home hardware. I ended up leaving with a leather footstool after endless bargaining and copious cups of peppermint tea.
El Fishawy Cafe
Nestled in the middle of Khan el Khalili, Cairo’s oldest cafe dates back to 1773. El Fishawy’s decor and beautiful old mirrors are a delight. It’s popular among Cairenes and tourists, but when we were there in 2011 we were the only obvious non-locals. The second photo below of Mike and Alex is a goofy reminder of how we stuck out like sore thumbs. The staff and patrons were super friendly and helpful, and I’m sure they had a good chuckle about us. I wrote a detailed post about our visit to fascinating el Fishawy.
750 dusty kilometres from Cairo, the oasis town of Siwa is one of the most isolated settlements in Egypt and feels like a step back in time. We were the only guests in our hotel and saw just a handful of foreigners wandering through town and eating at Abdu’s Restaurant, a favourite of local guides and travellers. We loved Siwa’s unhurried vibe, crumbling historic sites, and incredible location at the edge of the Great Sand Sea. We had our choice of great local guides, and we befriended Achmed from Abdu’s who ended up hanging out with us on his afternoon off. Learn more about Siwa in one of my early posts.
The White Desert
We had an amazing time on our entire Egypt trip, but our camping safari in the White Desert tops the list. For three days, we explored the dazzling white landscapes of eroded rock with local guide Magdy Badrmany. We ate traditional Bedouin fare and slept under the stars, shielded from the wind by a colourful Egyptian design screen. We encountered no other visitors, only a few camel caravans. It was magical. You can see more of our White Desert trip in my original post.
The Valley of the Kings
On our first day in Luxor, our camera battery died and we were unable to find a replacement. Unbelievably, just ten years ago, we didn’t bring cell phones on our trip! I only have two reasonable quality photos, both from our visit to the Valley of the Kings. I take some solace in the fact that no photos were allowed inside the beautiful tombs (I believe that has changed now if you buy a special photo pass). The upside, like in other places, was that we had the complex virtually to ourselves and could explore in complete peace. I’m glad we got a photo of the under-utilized guides vying for the few tourists. They had plenty of time for laughs with us, and we hired one of them for a tour. I realize how important photos are to me and for my memory of places. I remember so much less about Luxor than other places we visited. I would like to return.
We ended our time in Egypt with a few days in the laid-back Red Sea resort of Dahab. Again, I have no photos, but I do have wonderful memories of snorkelling and diving in crystal clear water and enjoying the town’s eclectic, bohemian charms. You can read more about Dahab here.
So, where are all these places I’ve featured?
Have you been to Egypt? Do you have a favourite memory? If you haven’t visited, I highly recommend it for a post-pandemic trip.