By now, most of us are pretty sure that we know the extent of what Egypt has to offer: Sinai beach camps, Aswan’s Nubian homes, Wadi el Hitan in Fayoum… the list goes on and on. We know it all… right?
Well, maybe not.
1. Wadi el Wishwashi
Location: 15 km south of Nuweiba, South Sinai
Hidden deep in the mountains of South Sinai is this unexpected but hella welcome surprise. The little green lake of Wadi el Wishwashi was created after hundreds of years of rain accumulated in a little valley surrounded by mountains. Until recently, the little oasis was the well-kept secret of the Bedouins, but these days you can make the jump into the water if you find yourself a Bedouin guide – they’ll drive you in a 4×4 from Nuweiba to the valley, where you then trek for an hour and a half through the sun-scorched mountains. It’s not for everyone, which lends itself to the wadi’s appeal: its untouched beauty and lack of screeching (and polluting) crowds.
2. Al Max Fisherman Village
This fisherman village (dubbed ‘The Venice of Egypt’ in its heyday) is settled on the Mahmoudeya canal in Alexandria and has hundreds of fishing boats zipping through daily. The Mahmoudeya canal was first created in 1820 under Mohamed Ali to bring freshwater from the Nile to Alexandria, as well as being a path for cargo ships from Cairo and Upper Egypt to the Mediterranean. Because of this direct shortcut into the harbor of Alexandria, ships could avoid going through Rosetta (رشيد) and the delta’s choppy waters.
The days of cargo ships are long over though – the only boats you’ll see now are the fishermen. And the village has obviously seen better days; nearby factories and the government’s laissez-faire attitude have taken their toll.
The temple complex of Dendera lies on the outskirts of Qena (about 60 km north of Luxor) and is one of the best-preserved temples in all of Egypt. It has chapels and shrines from the pharaohs, the Romans and early Egyptian Christians. It’s easily-accessible and beyond underrated – it easily competes with some of the best temples found in Luxor and Aswan.
Location: Marsa Alam
14 kilometres from Marsa Alam, you’ll stumble upon a bizarre-looking body of water on the Red Sea beach. This is Nayzak, which is, as its Arabic name suggests, a crater-like formation created by a meteor way back when (or at least that’s the popular theory). The crater evolved into a natural rock pool that you can swim in while gazing out at the sea.
5. Cave Church (Monastery of St. Simon)
Location: Moqattam, Cairo
The Monastery of Saint Simon was carved into the hill of Moqattam in 1975 nearحي الزبالين (Garbage City) after the Zabbaleen were evicted from Giza in 1970. The monastery was not the only church built into the hill, but grew to be the biggest church in the country (and some say the the biggest in the Middle East), seating 20,000.
6. Gilf El Kebir
Location: Sahara Desert, southwest corner of Egypt
The Gilf El Kebir is a 7,700 square kilometer sandstone plateau (basically the size of Puerto Rico) that stretches across the southernmost part of Egypt into Libya. It’s known for its wild desert beauty and prehistoric rock carvings and cave paintings that depict Neolithic (Stone Age) life in the area (PS: for the movie buffs out there, it was also the filming location of The English Patient).
7. Serapium Forest
Location: Outside of Ismailia
Eyes starved for some trees? Look no further than this manmade forest in a desert outside of Ismailia. This once barren stretch of sand now holds 500 acres of trees which are watered by Ismailia’s nutrient-high water waste. Between the constant sunshine and the water from Ismailia’s sewage, this forest grows four times as fast as a forest in Germany.
8. Desert Breath
Location: Desert near Hurghada
Desert Breath is a large-scale (25 acre) land art installation erected in the desert near Hurghada by a female Greek artist team in 1997. According to the artists, the installation represents “an exploration of infinity against the backdrop of the largest African desert.” The desert is slowly reclaiming the sand used in the project, but two decades later it still stands.
9. Sannur Cave
Location: 10 km from Beni Sueif
Discovered in the 1980s while mining for alabaster, this cave was declared a protectorate by the Egyptian government due to its rare rock formations. The cave and its stalagmites and stalactites were created by groundwater percolating through the limestone of the Galala plateau, and are dated to about 60 million years ago.
10. Gebel Elba
Location: Halayeb Triangle (250 km south of Marsa Alam)
Gebel Elba is an amazing national park on the southeast border of Egypt with Sudan (it’s currently under Egyptian control but is a point of contention between the two countries). The park is roughly the size of Belgium and has a mountain range, forests, 22 Red Sea islands, coral reefs and mangrove coastline; it also has high rainfall compared to the rest of the country. A few unusual animals found there are: the aardwolf (a hyena-like creature), the striped polecat (looks like a skunk), the Egyptian leopard, and the rock hyrax (a rabbit-like mammal without long ears), among many others.
11. Blue Desert
Location: Sinai, near Dahab
The Blue Desert, unlike the White Desert and Black desert, is actually manmade. In 1980 Belgian artist Jean Verame got permission from Sadat (and tons of paint from the UN) and painted a whole swath of Sinai desert bright blue. It’s meant to symbolize peace and was inspired by the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979.
12. Abu Dabbab Bay
Location: 30 km north of Marsa Alam
This bay sets itself apart from the rest of Marsa Alam and even the rest of Egypt for two very good reasons – this is the semi-permanent residence of Dennis and Dougal, two of Egypt’s rare dugongs (they’re thought to be only seven in Egypt total). Anytime you’re swimming or snorkeling in this bay, you have a 50/50 chance of seeing them (and almost an 100% chance of seeing a giant sea turtle!).
13. Heracleion (Sunken City of Abu Qir Bay)
Deemed one of the biggest discoveries of the 21st century, the sunken city of Heracleion used to be a bustling Egyptian port city before the sea swallowed it around 1,500 years ago. It was discovered off of Alexandria in 2001 with temples, statues, gold coins and other remnants of the city in immaculate condition.