|Carbon Footprint||3.06 CO2|
Steeped in seven millennia of history, Egypt is a wonderful destination for family holidays, whether you’re looking for an educational trip spent admiring ancient treasures or a relaxing break on child-friendly beaches blessed by year-round sun. Resorts such as Sharm el Sheikh at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula have long been family holiday favourites, especially in winter – they have beautiful beaches, world-class diving and affordable luxury accommodation.
The reasons to visit Egypt are as endless and mystical as the Nile itself –the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Temple at Karnak and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens make the country a winner if you’re hoping to get the kids out of school during termtime. What head teacher would dare to put a stop to the educational trip of a lifetime (with a few days well earned R&R at the Red Sea afterwards)?!
Flight times are reasonable, there’s no jet lag, and Egypt is outside the currently expensive Eurozone – what are you waiting for?
Experience the riches of Giza – easily accessible from Cairo, the Pyramids and the Sphinx are the ultimate tick on any self-respecting sightseer’s wish list. Though impressive enough to capture the imagination of most primary-school kids, the Pyramids can be spiced up by staying on to watch the early-evening light show. Tours inside the Pyramids themselves may be scary for very young children – add in some family focus by taking a break from history to indulge in a camel, donkey or horse ride. Note that most of the better known pyramids are near Cairo. For those based in a Red Sea resort, there are bus and air tours but some entail 24hr round trips.
As well as providing easy access to nearby historical sights, Cairo itself has more than enough for a short break or to form half of a two-centre itinerary. The Egyptian Museum, home to Tutankhamun’s burial mask and all manner of mummies, is a guaranteed hit even with kids who are not normally hot on museums. About 10km from the centre of Cairo, on the west bank of the Nile, the Pharaonic Village is a ‘living museum’ of ancient Egypt that includes a replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb, discovered by Carter and Lord Carnarvon.
When you can mummy no more, the American-style Dream Park southwest of Cairo offers a dose of unadulterated themepark fun. Designed by the Universal Studios team, it has three themed zones offering everything from teacups to high-speed rollercoasters.
Don’t miss Luxor, dubbed the world's greatest open-air museum by virtue of its being home to an incredible 1/3rd of the greatest antiquities in the world. The highlight is the Valley of the Kings, where you’ll find the tombs of most of the pharaohs of Egypt of the New Kingdom, including Tutankhamun. The latter is now of limited interest (its contents are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo); the best is the quite remote tomb of Thutmose III, accessed via a long ladder. Donkey rides above the Valley can be fun but be warned that the steep trails might induce wobbly-knee syndrome… Make sure to also make the short hike to Deir el Medina, a ruined village that housed the artisans who built the royal tombs, together with their families – the workers’ own tombs with their lovely paintings of scenes from daily life in Ancient Egypt contrast strongly with the ceremonial paintings you’ll see in the royal tombs.
Luxor is also home to the sprawling Karnak temple complex with its ram sphinxes, which was part of the Ancient Egyptian capital Thebes – it’s best reached by calèche (horse-drawn carriage) from Luxor, or by felucca (traditional sailing boats) down the Nile, à la pharaoh! You can also hire a motor launch – it’s less atmospheric but faster, and kids might get the chance to steer it themselves. Also popular are hot-air balloon rides over the city and forays into the Mummification Museum, where displays include a crocodile and other mummified animals.
Head down to Aswan to see the famous High Dam that dams the world’s longest river and find out how it was constructed, and make a boat-trip to the island temple of Philae, dedicated to the goddess Isis. Note that you can return to Luxor from Aswan by 2–3-day felucca trip, stopping en route to see the temples of Kom Ombo, dedicated to the evil crocodile-god Sobok and good falcon-god Haroeris, where sacred crocodiles were once kept as pets, and Horus, dedicated to the eponymous falcon-headed god.
As one of the top three diving locations in the world, Sharm el Sheikh and the other Red Sea coast resorts of Marsa Alam and Hurghada are well equipped for family holidays involving diving with children.
Those worried about safety and terrorism in Egypt should check the latest Foreign & Commonwealth Office guidelines (fco.gov.uk).
Restaurants in resorts such as Sharm el Sheikh offer almost any kind of cuisine. Shish kebab, greens and tomato salad make a regular appearance on menus, as does locally caught fish at resorts. Generally, eating out is inexpensive – if you eat like an Egyptian. If you want imported brands of cereals, coffee, and the like, expect it to be pricey.
On escorted family holidays (see Trips tab), meals are taken in a mix of places, from hotels and local restaurants to traditional Nubian homes with local families.
The best time for family holidays in Egypt is between October and May, when temperatures are cooler in the desert and oases. The Red Sea coast can be enjoyed year-round, but outside these months the beaches get very hot and the weather can be a little too warm for some of the activities the adventure trips offer. Think very carefully about bringing young children, who find the heat more difficult to bear, in summer.
The holy month of Ramadan (generally Aug–Sept or Sept–Oct) is a special time in the Egyptian calendar, with coloured lights in the streets at night and a festive atmosphere, but working hours do change during this period tourist attractions may have more limited opening times.
Direct non-stop flights to Cairo International Airport from London take about 5hrs, and Cairo is 2hrs ahead of London.
For those heading to the beaches of the Red Sea coast, Sharm el Sheikh International Airport is well served by direct charters and budget airlines. Those booking package deals to other destinations on the Red Sea will benefit from direct charters to Taba and Marsa Alam International airports. Lastly, there are now also low-cost flights from London Gatwick to Luxor.
Numerous indirect and possibly less expensive options are also available. Search for flight deals with Expedia Flights.
Once in Egypt, you can either transfer to your resort or continue your adventure by train, felucca (boat), horse-drawn carriage, bus or domestic flight.
One tourist staple that is not recommended for family holidays is the Nile cruise, since vessels are not well equipped for families and kids will probably get bored.
Winter deals to Egypt cost anywhere from £300 to more than £1000 per adult, depending on when you go and where you stay. Ten-day escorted family holidays including flights cost from £999 per adult.
Egypt's currency is the Egyptian pound, or guineh in Arabic, commonly referred to as LE. Dollars are the most commonly acceptable alternative currency.
Egypt survives on baksheesh (a tip or 'bribe') to bolster low earnings. You are expected to tip anytime someone performs a service, no matter how small (0.5-1 LE is a reasonable amount).By Rhonda Carrier
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