The Insider’s Guide: 5 Ways to Get to Know the Real Egypt

Egypt today is unique and endlessly fascinating, and you’ll want to spend some time getting to know the 21st-Century personality of this ancient land. Yes, the pyramids and Sphinx are larger than life and certainly worth a visit. So, too, is the Temple of Karnak, near the site of ancient Thebes. But, forgive us — that’s ancient history.

Here’s how to achieve some balance — and breathe in the true spirit of this modern nation that once represented the center of civilization. Egypt’s modern face is at least as interesting as its past. 

Take a ‘Revolution’ Tour in Cairo

Imagine the passionate clashes between millions of protestors and Egyptian security forces during the 2011 protests that resulted in the overthrow of then-President Hosni Mubarak. Start your walking tour at Tarik Square. Imagine it being filled with thousands of “non-violent” protestors before the scene turned ugly. Dramatic street art on nearby buildings tells the story. The “25 January Revolution” that started here lasted only two weeks and three days, and spread quickly throughout the country before nearly 850 people were killed and 6,000 injured. It’s a sobering experience.

Visit a Koshari Restaurant

These eateries serve only Koshari, a traditional mix of brown lentils with rice and macaroni, topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. It may be an “acquired taste treat,” but once you’ve had it, you’ll want to have more. That’s almost a guarantee! Also, don’t hesitate to try Egyptian “street food” whenever you can — and sample traditional desserts like Umm Ali, basbousa, or baklava. 

Enjoy a Traditional Cairo Coffee Shop

Strong, sweet and foamy, Egyptian coffee is an experience you won’t want to miss. Even if coffee is not your drink, this thick blend of fine sugar and fragrant coffee beans is a palate-pleaser. Sip it and just watch the throngs of people from a sidewalk table. If you need an energy boost after a day of sightseeing, it’s traditionally served with a side of sugar cubes.

Catch the Sunset at Siwa Oasis

It can be a long drive through the desert, but once you reach Siwa Oasis, it’s a bit like entering heaven. With groves of palm and olive trees, mineral springs, and salt lakes, this is a place to refresh both mind and body. Plan your visit during fall or winter months — summer heat can be brutal. But it is said that Alexander the Great visited here and Cleopatra herself swam in the pool that bears her name. Book a guided safari, but return to your lodgings in time to watch the sunset over the western desert. It’s magical.

Go to the Beach

Sharm El Sheikh is where you’ll find young, modern Egyptians, along with coral reefs, kite surfing, sky-diving, and any number of other active sports adventures. You can also easily book a Sinai safari or a visit to the magnificent St. Catherine’s Monastery from this resort on the Gulf of Aqaba. 

When you visit Egypt, make an effort to talk to the people wherever you go. You’ll find them friendly and willing to tell you about their country’s historic past as well as its future. 

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