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 heatšŸ˜“, 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. MaadiĀ 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 GreatĀ 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 šŸ˜“) … 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 ā€“ 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 Ruppellā€™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 andĀ off you go. The most famous sand boarding spot is ā€œQoussour El-Arabā€.
  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.Ā  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!

Our Family-Friendly Guide to The Annual Wildebeest Migration

On the prowl for the most memorable family safari, ever? It MUST include a stay in the world famous Masai Mara (Kenya) or Serengeti (Tanzania), homes to the greatest annual migration on earth!

What is the Annual Wildebeest Migration?

The annual wildebeest migration is the movement of over 1.5m wildebeest, 500,000 zebra, 200,000 Thompsonā€™s gazelle and 18,000 eland across the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania and the Maasai Mara National Reserve & surrounding conservancies, Kenya. This movement offers the viewer unbelievable experiences, both incredibly beautiful & brutal.  The migration follows the rainfall (the animals follow the green grass), therefore is weather dependent, but we thought you might find our general explanation helpful.  

First & foremost, we would like to inform you that the wildlife viewing in the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara is excellent all year round, so any time is a good time to travel to either places, you just need to know where to base yourselves (Please feel free to contact safaris@thesafaricoltd.com about this)!! Please use this only as a guideline when planning your East African safari as it is indeed weather dependentā€¦. Weā€™ve had double migrations before, early ones and late ones of course! 

Map of Annual Wildebeest Migration Route

When & Where to view the Great Migration

    • January to March – The big herds are often in theĀ South / South East SerengetiĀ  (mainly Ndutu & Kusini). CalvingĀ often takes place in Jan / Feb, therefore there are loads of young, lots of predators and great visibility. A great time to travel here.
    • April & May – The herds are now generally moving towardsĀ centralĀ Serengeti (Seronera).Ā  This is typically the time of theĀ long rains in East Africa; generally rain appears in short bursts leaving dramatic skies and beautiful sunsets and game viewing is still excellent. NB. There are someĀ great discounts available at lodges and camps throughout Kenya & Tanzania, and at The SAFARI Company, we love this time of year for photographers!Ā 
    • June – The large herds of wildebeest are generally in central Serengeti (Seronera) as well as western Serengeti (Grumeti) in June.Ā  We love this time of year, the grass is usually greet, lots of young, beautiful skies and low volumes of visitors.
    • July & AugustThey start to head north towards theĀ Mara River (the river in between the Serengeti & the Maasai Mara). July is usually when the annual wildebeest migration all kicks off. River crossings may be seen in both the Western CorridorĀ (Grumeti area) and the North (Mara River) within the Serengetiā€¦ as well as the northern Maasai Mara, The Mara Triangle and Musiara area.
    • September & October ā€“ The herds have indeed filled up the Maasai Mara plains at this time of year as they move north and then east through the Masai Mara (from The Triangle, they move through Musiara, through Mara North Conservancy, Olare Orok Conservancy, Naboisho Conservancy and the Talek area, Siana and Olderkesi, starting to cross back to Tanzania in October / November.

Though the serengeti is amazing, in our opinion, the Masai Mara is the premier game viewing reserve in the world (as its little!!). Quite simply nowhere else compares for wildlife viewing! Book a stay at one of our favourite Family- Friendly lodges on the reserve here.

Read about one of our most memorable family trips to the Masai Mara here!


Family Summer in the English Countryside

I know this is a ‘safari’ blog, but anyone who rates a safari as a perfect holiday, I’m sure will appreciate some tips on a lovely outdoorsy Family Summer in the English Countryside.

Living in Kenya, my sister & I decided to take the three ankle-biters to the UK for a Family Summer in the English Countryside. Slightly dreading the prospect, it turned out to be a roaring success and here is why … Nope we didn’t go the Legoland and Peppapig World route, we rather went the more natural route and we had a blast. Go on, do it, next summer … It’s not extortionate and just so much fun!

We based ourselves for much of the time at the most deliciousĀ Duck Cottage – Oxenwood,Ā A perfect little ‘rustic meets luxury’ little guest cottage with two delicious bedrooms, ideal for those of us stupid enough to travel with over-energetic young children. Nestled in the midst of the delumptious Wiltshire hills so very close to Heathrow as well as the market town of Marlborough, the quaint Hungerford,Ā Highclere Castle and the child-heaven Cobbs Farm … in my opinion, a little day trip to Birdworld is also worth it.

We never went to Bowood House & Gardens, Tractor Ted or Winchester Science centre .. oh we will next summer though.

On the days you need to chill, you can feast on the fresh eggs for breakfast, the kids can charge around the wee farm playing with Pixie the pony, Nelly & Nora the piggies or the waddling ducks or you can all stride out for glorious walks and rural adventures in the surrounding countryside .. gosh Tors, the gorgeous owner even brought out a water-slide one day! At the end of the day, there’s a lovely little kitchen where you can cook your supper, a little fire outside to sit by before you climb into the finest French bedlinen at night.

Pssst. In London, we loved the Aquarium, the London Eye (well one person did!), Gifford Circus was an incredibly enjoyable outing, feeding the swans on the Serpentine, the duckbus, a picnic next to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, all good, wholesome wildlife, wilderness, outdoorsy stuff.

Practicalities:

Duck Cottage – Oxenwood ā€“ The very best little 2-bedroom, 1 bathroom cottage for a family to stay in, if you’re looking for countryside. It is owned by the gorgeous and super-fun Tors who is the hostess with the mostess. Tors lives in the main house on the same land, with her husband Tom and 3 kids (about 6,9,11). We will be back.
The Marlborough area ā€“ As long as you have a car, the world is your oyster, lovely little villages nearby ideal for shopping trips, great activities for kids, lovely outdoor pubs .. or larger cities like Reading for some serious retail therapy!
For those travelling with kids – If you’re looking for somewhere cozy and lovely to stay with space, this is ideal.
For those who live in East Africa ā€“ this is a perfect summer holiday.
Weather ā€“ This is England .. who knows?
What to Pack? ā€“ As little as possible to allow for some serious retail therapy.
Price –Ā One bedroom Ā£90.00 per night including continental breakfast. Two bedrooms Ā£140.00 per night including continental breakfast. Rates for longer stays are indeed greatly reduced ā€“ please contact us directly to discuss your requirements.
My advise ā€“ As long as you have a car, this is a lovely little place to stay on your summer holiday …. or in the winter for that matter!