In Search of Family-Friendly Hidden Gems, in Egypt. Honestly, Egypt has never appealed to me, but with the allure of my sister & her extended family temporarily living in Cairo, off the three of us went, Billy, 6, Zia, 5 and me, ancient!! A blank canvas, an open mind, eyes on stalks and fully prepared for the eyeball-sweating heat .. sort of!
Cairo’s history is fascinating beyond belief. Indeed it’s a hussling, bussling, wobbly-pavement and hanging electricity wires city … the fact that it’s dispersed with incredbly showy shopping malls & flashy kids entertainment made it difficult to fully comprenend. Do I like it, do I not? Is it grotesque amongst so much poverty? or is it just normal for nowadays? Hmmmm ….. Hey ho, any Kenyan released into shops = pure happiness; incredible culture & history, bring in on!!
Apart from the dreaded (pretending not to like them) shopping centres, did we discover any memorable Hidden gems in Cairo? Well I’m going to add a little list of the fun things we did and what we got out of them as a family .. whether the most popular tourist attractions in the world, or hidden gems:
- The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities – An incredible museum! For those historians out there a few days would be ideal; our personal favourite section was the breath-taking collection of the infant-king Tutankamun’s belongings …. though it transpired one child doesn’t so much love being in a room with hundreds of dead bodies (Mummies!), so our visit was fairly speedy.
- The Grand Bazaar, Khan El-Khalili, in Old Cairo – A trinket market primarily set up for tourists. A huge amount of colour and buzz, a little ‘badgery’ but a great experience if you love a bit of tat-shopping, as I indeed do!! Oh and we found a little silver shop hidden amongst it all with gorgeous silver goodies!
- A little tour around some places of worship, SEVEN to be precise – Synagogues, churches, Roman Catholic churches such St. Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, The Basilica of St Therese of the Child Jesus; Islamic mosques, the Al Hakim Mosque, the Mohammed Ali Mosque in the Citadel of Saladin etc. etc., honestly it was incredibly interesting, fastinating, beautiful and inspiring, and we saw where Jesus once lay, apparently … but … note to self, don’t take 5&6 year olds around 7 places of worship, in 42 degree heat😓, in the same day …. or their mother to be honest; Billy recounts it as his worst day ever!! Three places and three ice creams would have been perfect.
- Tentmakers Street (Sharia Khayamiya) – Hidden Gem – our guide was furious we’d asked him to take us here, but we had fun and it’s a pretty cool place! Hop on a TukTuk as the road is fairly narrow and overall it’s not hassly or touristy, through sdtill full of colourful little shops with men sewing beautiful tapestries, applique, weaving …. etc.
- The vibrant craft community of Fustat – Hidden Gem – Pottery Galore, tile-making, metal-denting, paper-making and not a tourist in sight … all in the Fustat area near Coptic Cairo, I dont mind if I do!!! This was a personal highlight for me. You can pop your kids into a little paper-making course whilst you shop until you drop in some beautiful artesan galleries / shops / art studios .. there is nothing gold plated about the area, it essentially looks like an industrial area, but the talent, the talent!!
- Boutique shopping – Hidden Gem – Egyption Cotton & Essential Oils, Soaps & Salts, Silk scarves, Vintage Home Accessories, Hand-made Jewelery, Organic Food … and kiddy cooking to keep them occupied and happy whilst the retail therapy takes place – all this fun can be found in the Delga Stores, 2, Road 218, Degla, Maadi. Maadi or El-Ma’adi is an affluent, leafy suburban district south of Cairo.
- Sundowners on the Nile on a local Felucca – Hidden Gem – Super affordable. Take a coolbag of drinks, snacks and enjoy a little no-frills sail along the nile (if theres any wind!).
- The Pyramids of Giza – More than 2m limestone and granite blocks were hauled into place on the Great Pyramid. The average weight of one block is about 2.5 tons … how can this not impress you? If you are planning on going during the day, get there early to miss the crowds (and heat 😓) … but we would rather suggest you go to the incredible evening sound & light show.
As well as Cairo, the family’s highlight was a couple of nights in one of Egypt’s seven Oasis’, Al Fayoum – a complete Hidden Gem!!! A land of unspoiled nature & rich history, a place worth discovering! Only 90 km southwest of Cairo, what was so much fun here?
- The Journey – indeed this was the first discovery. Beautiful rice paddy feilds, the sunflower fields, the water buffalo & donkeys at work, the road-side food stalls and the rustic charm of the surrounding areas.
- Wadi Wadi El-7itan (Valley of Whales) – Little Boy Heaven!!! UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the earliest prehistoric whale fossils ever discovered. A fabulous little Fossil & Climate Change Museum, sand scattered with prehistopric fish bones and more than 400 X 40 million year old preserved basilosaurus and dorodontus skeletons show the clear evolution of land-based mammals into sea-going ones, as they have vestigial front and back legs.
- The Magic Lake (gorgeous) and Gabal El-Medawara – a scenic hiking option overlooking the Magic Lake, and a great place to camp and to marvel at the stars!! Here we were so, so, so lucky to spot a nearing extinction Ruppell’s Sand Fox.
- Maidum Pyramid – is believed to be the first attempt to build a pyramid
- Tunis Village – A picturesque village known for being the arts center of Al Fayoum, specializing in handcrafts and literary works. We spent two days in pottery classes and shopping, together as a family …. this was a highlight for us!
- The Petrified Forest of Fayoum – the largest petrified forest in the world, 40m high trees that have survived for thousands of years.
- A Felucca on Lake Qaroun – a beautiful evening out on this ancient natural lake.
- Sand boarding – Its an Oasis so sand dunes are all over the place, pick your spot and off you go. The most famous sand boarding spot is “Qoussour El-Arab”.
- Camel Trekking & Horse riding through the desert.
- Hold our breath and visit the Shakshouk Fishing Village.
- In Abu Boxa, fishing boats are manually produced.
- Visit Al-Agamiyin: for palm frond furniture known in Arabic as 3argoun.
- We stayed in Byoum Lakeside Hotel, I’ve never paid so little to stay anywhere in my life. It was bigger than I’m used to, but perfecly comfortable rooms, a gorgeous swimming pool and delicious food… highly recommended.
In brief, how did we find Egypt? For me the highlight of most holidays is spending time with loved ones. My sister has two gorgeous step-sons and they made this holiday awesome for me, and the ankle-biters; 24 hour entertaibnment all round, Hannes & Eduardo, legends!!!
Honestly Cairo, for me, is not a typical holiday destination I would choose, it was super sweaty, dusty and dirty, the men are infuriating but I do love ‘amazing’ and the pyramids, the churches, the museum ….. are all ‘amazing’! The people are certainly talented in arts and crafts and the food is delicious. Al Fayoum was the hidden-gem highlight for me … rustic charm and absolutely incredible.
I’m utterly delighted that we went and feel enriched as a result!