If you ever go on vacation to Egypt – which you should really consider doing at some point, because it’s an incredible place to spend your time and money – people will ask you the same questions when you return home. You’ll be asked if you saw, climbed, or entered the famous Pyramids in Giza. People will want to know if you took a cruise down the Nile, and they’ll also probably be interested in whether or not you saw the tomb of Tutankhamun or the Valley of the Kings. The answer to all of those questions will probably be ‘yes,’ because no trip to Egypt is complete without doing those things, but the fact that they get asked over and again is very telling about what people know of Egypt.
We get most of our preconceptions about Egypt from myths, legends, and entertainment. We’re taught Ancient Egyptian history as a subject while we’re at school but were not told much about what the country is like today. We see representations of famous Egyptian attractions on the reels of online slots websites, where slotsbased on Egyptian lore have proven to be very popular with players, but they tend to use the same old images to draw those players in. You can and will find multiple online slots based on Cleopatra, Tutankhamun, and the Pyramids. You won’t find any online slots at all based on Shali Fortress or the Great Sand Sea, and that’s because nobody outside the country knows they’re there.
We’d like to do something about that. If you’re heading to Egypt any time soon, we’d like you to know about what’s there beyond the obvious – so here are a few hidden gems you might wish to consider visiting!
Great Sand Sea
Having mentioned the Great Sand Sea, we should probably do you the courtesy of explaining what it is – which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an enormous expanse of sand dunes in the Sahara Desert, covering a range of over seventy-thousand square kilometers and providing spectacular scenery. It’s one of the largest dune fields in the world and has attracted all manner of legends and stories. The British Army tried and failed to find a way through it to launch a sneak attack on the Germans during the Second World War. King Cambyses of Persia is said to have lost a whole army here without a trace. In truth, nobody really knows what’s hiding in it – it remains one of the world’s least explored land areas. We don’t suggest you go trekking through it, but it’s worth seeing just for the sheer scale of it.
You probably knew this was coming. We mentioned Shali Fortress earlier, and so we should follow up on it. This crumbling 13th-century mud-brick building looks thousands of years older than it is, and yet the town that surrounds it was still populated until the 1920s. Even today, not all of the buildings are disused – some have become storage, whereas one or two even persist as houses. Shali Fortress, at eight hundred years old, might not be as ancient as some of the ancient ruins you’ll find elsewhere in Egypt, but it’s no less beautiful because of that – and nor will you find anywhere that’s been weathered as quickly and dramatically within the past hundred years.
Dahab Eel Garden
Let’s take a moment to salute the people who came up with place names in Egypt because they’ve done a great job. Just as the Great Sand Sea is precisely what it sounds like, the Eel Garden in Dahab is just what it sounds like it should be, too. It looks like a garden, but one in which you’ll find eels sticking out of the ground instead of grass. It’s possible to see them from above the water, but if you want the best possible view, you should strap on a snorkel and do a little diving. The eels are relatively accustomed to seeing humans and so will poke their heads out of the ground as you approach, but have been known to retreat if people get too close. The sight of seeing so many of them in the same pose so close together can be a little surreal.
The Cave of Beasts
We won’t mention the whole “literal name” thing again after this, but here’s yet another example of it in action. You’ll find the Cave of Beasts in Gilf Kebir, where this rustic gallery of cave paintings has existed for an estimated seven thousand years. That means the five-thousand-plus paintings you’ll find on the walls here pre-date the Pyramids and go all the way back to the Stone Age. The crude images appear to show humans and animals alternately involved in either hunting or dancing activities, with the animals large and out-of-scale compared to the humans in most cases. That might be a sign of the respect that these ancient Egyptians had for animals – or it could also be a sign that there were once some colossal animals roaming the area!
When you first see pictures of Colored Canyon in Nuweiba, you’ll naturally assume that they’re a product of Photoshop. The swirling, multicolored patterns in the rock seem too bold and elaborate to be real, and yet here they are as evidence that nature itself is the planet’s greatest artist. The rocks, which stand up to forty feet above the canyon floor, range in shade from red to yellow, passing through blue, green, and purple on the way. This spectacular phenomenon is all-natural, but we’re not going to tell you how it happened. That’s your tour guide’s job, and us telling you now would spoil the fun of finding out while you’re there! As a word of warning, Colored Canyon is miles away from anywhere. You might want to bring a battery pack with you just in case you’ve already used up your phone’s power by the time you arrive – this is a place where you’d absolutely hate to be stuck without the facility to take photographs.
Even in mentioning the above sights, we’re still focused more on the past than we are on the present. Modern Egypt is a stunning country with great hotels, luxury beaches, five-star dining, and plenty of other entertainment on offer. We might even follow up on this with another article about Egypt’s best modern-day attractions. In the meantime, add everything we’ve suggested here to your Egyptian itinerary. You won’t regret it!