Egypt is known as the land of pharaohs, but it has so much more to offer eco-travelers, with pyramids, oases, seas, deserts, and mountains and all are historically rich.
This may be the land of pharaohs and the Nile River, but there is so much more to Egypt that the eco-adventurous will delight in visiting. In April 2019, a group of Cairo University mass communication students developed the Egypt Invisible Map (EIM). This project identified 16 ecotourism attractions and destinations that meet UNICEF and UNDP criteria, and relied on various research papers, scientific journals, and other resources. The first thing you will notice about the list is that it includes land, sea, desert, and mountain sites. Visiting Egypt is a foray into a land of ancient history and culture, an awe-inspiring environment, and welcoming people.
PYRAMIDS ARE ONLY THE BEGINNING
It is impossible to talk about Egypt without mentioning the pyramids. The Pyramids of Giza are three pyramids built somewhere between 2550-2490 B.C. near Al-Jizah on the Nile River. The pharaohs believed they would be gods in the afterlife, so they were deemed themselves worthy of elaborate tombs filled with treasures. The Great Pyramid is Giza’s largest of the main 3, and each stone is estimated to weigh an average of between 2.5 and 15 tons. It is still a mystery as to how the ancient Egyptians moved and stacked these enormous stones. The Sphinx is a well-known statue with its pharaoh’s head and the body of a lion, believed to be guarding the massive tomb complex. One of the things visitors will notice is that the Sphinx has deteriorated over thousands of years. Some of the deterioration is just due to age, but some of it is due to negligent behavior, such as when Napoleon’s soldiers used the nose for target practice.
The Giza pyramids were built on the west bank of the Nile and were connected via a causeway to mortuary temples in a valley. They are remarkable pieces of architecture requiring sophisticated engineering, but were not built by slaves as many believe. They were built during several months each year when the Nile flooded farmland.
The pyramids are just the beginning of the wonders of a desert-filled land, however, and eco-travelers can also experience remarkable natural wonders that nature constructed.
CALL OF THE DESERTS
You can join a trip down the Nile and see how the Nile still is essential to the lives of many Egyptians. Take a cruise between Aswan and Luxor, for example. Along the Nile are night-lit monuments and temples, and during the day you can watch Egyptian farmers work the land just as they have done for thousands of years.
But Egypt also offers deserts and oases. The White Desert in the Farafra depression (Sahara el Beyda) is a place where you can find tranquility and beautiful oases, and also hot springs that break up the brown sand with plots of greenery. This desert, located in the larger Western desert, has unusual white and cream-colored calcium rock formations formed by erosive sandstorms, called ventifacts. The White Desert National Park is where visitors can stay overnight at a camp and enjoy the sight of thousands of stars in the night sky.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Black Desert, located on the African side of Egypt, which consists of black volcanic hills and dolerite deposits dotting orange sand. The black powder is the remnants of ancient volcanic eruptions. People describe it as stepping onto a different planet because of the black hills, and you can climb those hills and enjoy the views while feeling the ancient atmosphere of this land.
CALL OF THE SEAS AND RIVERS
Visits to the deserts bring eco-visitors closer to nature, but Egypt offers even more, and you can also head for the waters of Egypt where people relax along miles of beach. You may want to enjoy the waters up close and personal. El Quseir was an active port in the tenth century, and the sleepy town today is located near one of the most spectacular reef diving areas. Eco-diving is excellent at Ras Mohammed National Park on the Sinai Peninsula, where you can dive in the Red Sea. The park protects the Red Sea Reef and has two protected islands as well as a wealth of other environmental jewels, including a mangrove forest and the Red Sea Reef, an underwater haven that you can explore.
Of course, a cruise on the Nile is a trip through culture. From a choice of boat styles, selecting the traditional paddle steamer gives people a chance to enjoy this mighty river in an authentic way. There are so many ancient sites on the river banks that a Nile cruise is always a rich cultural journey. There is the Citadel of the Mountain and temples such as the well preserved Dendera Temple complex, and the Luxor temples. For true authenticity and when spending nights on a cruise boat is not preferred, however, a traditional felucca sail is recommended. A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat that has been used for thousands of years on the Nile.
CALL OF THE CULTURE
There are unlimited opportunities to experience Egyptian culture. The EIM ecotourism sites include attractions such as the Nuba in Aswan, the Tunis Village in Fayoum, and the Sant Samaan monastery in Cairo, to name but a few. Nuba is a region along the Nile, and the indigenous Nubians give you a chance to meet people who can claim a deep connection to ancient Egypt, and you can even visit a Nubian Village housing ancient ruins.
In the Tunis Village, you can mingle again with the locals, meet local potters, and eat Feteer Meshaltet (pastry dough) and Mesh (cheese) for breakfast. Then, after hectic days, the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner is where you can go to find a haven. A unique religious site that was “rediscovered” when the Zabbaleen trash collectors were relocated to the hills in 1969, it was carved into the Muqattam Hills in Cairo and has such an interesting history.
HISTORY IS CALLING
Ecotourists will find plenty of sites to visit and opportunities to enjoy other activities. The Red Sea Reef was mentioned as a place for eco-diving, but you can also go eco camping in the Wadi El Gemal National Park or eat lunch with a nomadic Bedouin tribe. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley) has entire huge fossil skeletons still lying on the land where they died. The endless ways to enjoy the cultural, historical, and environmental treasures of Egypt create one major difficulty for visitors deciding what to do!