In Search of Family-Friendly Hidden Gems, in Egypt

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!!
  6. 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.
  7. 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!).
  8. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Maidum Pyramid – is believed to be the first attempt to build a pyramid
  5. 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!
  6. The Petrified Forest of Fayoum – the largest petrified forest in the world, 40m high trees that have survived for thousands of years.
  7. A Felucca on Lake Qaroun – a beautiful evening out on this ancient natural lake.
  8. 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”.
  9. Camel Trekking & Horse riding through the desert.
  10. Hold our breath and visit the Shakshouk Fishing Village.
  11. In Abu Boxa, fishing boats are manually produced.
  12. Visit Al-Agamiyin: for palm frond furniture known in Arabic as 3argoun.
  13. 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!

Making Memories … at Ragati Log Cabins on Mt. Kenya

Making memories, special memories made from the REAL stuff; adventure, mud fights, swimming in mountain streams, fits & giggles, forest walks, crabbing, fly fishing, roasting marshmallows on the campfire … get my jist? All at Ragati Log Cabins on the slopes of Mt. Kenya.

Filled with excitement we departed for Mt. Kenya. What a beautiful drive through the Mweiga and Nyeri farmlands, past The Aberdare Country Club before winding your way up the mountain through its ever changing flora…. until you get to the most beautiful forest that is Ragati.

On their website, they state ‘You will not find anywhere wilder!’, I tend to agree. Ragati is an uncut gem; a find that will make you proud you found it first and trust me you’ll never want to get it ‘cut’!

Ragati Conservancy lies on the Southern slopes of Mt. Kenya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and consists entirely of Afro-montane forest and Afro-alpine heath. It’s ecosystem includes the Ragati river and its tributaries, and is home to an abundance of wildlife; elephant, buffalo, leopard as well as the rare mountain bongo, crowned eagle and African clawless otter. Home also to some amazing birdlife.

This  handsome wooden log cabin has a cozy sitting & dining room with a roaring fire, a large open verandah overlooking the stream trickling past, a little kitchen, four double rooms, a room with a bunk bed and a couple of bathrooms with delicious baths. There is no power and no fridge, but flickering safari lamps, solar lights and hot water… oh and a freezing river to keep your wine cool. It is truly self-catering, so I would suggest you take everything pre-prepared, but the wonderful Patrick is at hand to help with chopping, heating up and washing up, should you require.

The kids (6 of them, 3 to 10) were in adventure-heaven from beginning to end. This is mostly down to Ragati’s exceptional gillies; never did I meet 5 men so capable, so knowledgeable and so effortlessly excellent with a gaggle of such unruly children. They make Ragati proud. The kids & gillies day consisted of crabbing, fishing, exploring, adventure, swimming, mud-fights, water-fights, game-walks. All whilst the adults, 6 of us, relaxed, put the world to right, went on the odd beautiful forest meander, helped occasionally with some fly fishing, crabbing whilst overlooking a roaring waterfall, roasted marshmallows … heaven.

Ragati is truly an incredible weekend away or an incredible part of a safari.

Practicalities

Ragati Log Cabins  – Very special times. Having your own personal home, with no other guests, no wifi … where you get to spend valuable time together, as a family and with your friends …. whilst benefiting a community, the environment and the conservation area. We loved it, it is absolutely ideal for a family looking to travel alone or wuith another family or two (though you may need to add some beds and bedding)

Ragati Conservancy on the slopes of Mt. Kenya, Kenya – This is the ultimate if you are looking to experience unspoilt wilderness, whilst staying in a gorgeous log cabin, this is up there.
For those travelling to Kenya without kids Anyone looking to experience an area completely unspoiled and uninhabited, anyone looking for privacy, beautiful walks, birdlife and fishing … whilst being comfy, this is the perfect place to break up a wildlife-heavy Kenyan safari.
For those travelling to Kenya with kids – For parents who would like their kids to experience grass-root nature, for those kids interested in the outdoors, this is heaven.
Weather – The weather was beautiful, brisk clear mornings, warm days and cool nights.  The hottest month is usually December, January. The wettest month is usually April.
What to Pack? – Lots of layers asmd lots of changes of clothes for kids!! Shorts & shirts for the day, jumpers, jacket, trousers and jumpers for the evening & early morning …. swimming costumes for the brave … and lots of suncream.
Price From Kshs8,000 / USD80 per person per night, self catering rate. Children under 7 are free. This includes conservancy fees, gillies, guilded walks, camp staff, fishing fees and firewood. If you would like food to be provided, Soames (deliciously yum, yum) can supply the following:

  • Prepared meals to be collected from Soames on route for Kshs 800 / USD80 per person, per meal. Examples are Steak & Guinness pie, Spag Bog, Shepherds pie, Lasagne, Mousakka, Fish pie, Chilli, Beef Bourguignon.
  • A Chef and food preparation at the cabin – Dinner & Breakfast & Lunch from Kshs 10,575 pp if there are 10 people, Kshs 11,200 pp if there are 8 people, Kshs 11,200 pp if there are 6 people, Kshs 13,700 pp if there are 4 people. They will also sell you bottles of alcoholic drinks, cases of beer etc.

My advise – Stay here, with your kids. Not only is it amazingly beautiful, you are supporting a positive community project, a successful conservation project and you will spend proper valuable family-time….. a rarity in this day and age.