One of the best things about living in this part of the world is the fact you can pretty much take for granted that whatever you plan, the sun will be shining. So imagine my reaction when I woke up on Friday to the patter of rain and the rumble of thunder. Normally this is quite exciting but that afternoon we had a Nile Cruise booked for a large group of us!
I packed a bag for all eventualities- sunscreen, sunglasses, a scarf and umbrellas and ordered an Uber. By this point the sun was shining and it was beautiful however, as we headed into Cairo the storm clouds gathered and soon it was pouring down. Our Uber driver continue driving at about 100kmph with his windscreen wipers barely working, squeezing between cars. At several points we were aquaplaning and Greg had to repeatedly tell him to slow down as we could hardly see. The ring road had turned into a tributary for the Nile and visibility was next to zero. Then, we started to slow down and came to a stop. We’d broken down on the ring road in a storm among flash flooding! I got the umbrellas out and we stood in the mini river trying to flag down a white taxi which soon came to our rescue and quickly got us to Dokki where our yacht was sailing from.
We made it on board in the nick of time and after completing the paperwork to say we supplied our own alcohol we set sail. The yacht was lovely and spotlessly clean.
The area at the back became our bar with tables and chairs but to be fair we spent the majority of our trip at the front taking in the views and beautiful weather.
The captain asked for a phone which he hooked up to their speakers so we had our own sound track and the staff were very efficient (perhaps too efficient!) at coming around topping up our drinks and remembering all our orders. The service was excellent.
We sailed towards Maadi, past the small islands dotted along the Nile and took in the changing scenery. It was absolutely wonderful.
Before long we were sailing back towards dock and at this point I really regretted not booking a 3hr trip! We sailed past the feluccas which were just heading out to capture the sun set.
As we docked we were reminded to collect what little remained of our alcohol, paid for the trip and, slightly tipsy, jumped into cabs to carry on our evening at the BCA in Kattameya.
By far this is one of the best experiences we have had in Cairo. From the initial email inquiries to the staff on the actual day they were very professional, friendly and relaxed. As I’ve mentioned the yacht was very clean (including the bathrooms) and the staff were discrete but always on hand. If you want to sail the Nile in a way that’s memorable for the right reasons I’d definitely recommend Yacht Christina. We paid 1450LE for the yacht for 2hrs and split the cost between all of us to include a tip. We didn’t bother with food as we were eating out afterwards but they can provide catering and, even if you’re just bringing drinks, they provide glasses/ice free of charge. Soft drinks can be bought on board at 5LE each and I really liked the fact they didn’t over-inflate these prices. Everyone agreed it was a perfect couple of hours. There were 17 of us and it still felt comfortable although it holds a maximum of 25 people. It is a perfect way for a group of family, friends or colleagues to relax taking in the wonderful views on the majestic Nile.
Warning – avoid reading if you are about to use Sea Jets and / or you get sea sick!
The first sign that our trip from Piraeus (Athens) to Milos wasn’t going to be plain sailing was that as we boarded there was a plentiful supply of sick bags. From a pile at the bar to individual ones in our seat pocket it was obvious that sea jets were well prepared. I’m not a good traveler, I always have a supply of travel sickness tablets with me even for short car journeys. With this in mind we’d booked the faster ferries in the hope that the shorter the ride the less likely I was to be ill, however in Greece it seems the opposite is true……..
The night before our ferry trip, as my anxiety grew I started to read more about the journey. Big mistake. Each search brought up horror stories of how bad sea jets are in rough seas as they are small catamarans. Greg, trying to allay my fears, checked the weather forecast and we then quickly taught ourselves about the Beaufort scale. The forecast was for light winds, ‘it’ll be fine’ Greg said. Feeling relieved I drifted off to sleep looking forward to arriving in Milos. The next morning we arrived at Piraeus at the specified time and there was already a long queue. People were drinking coffee, eating pastries and looked relaxed, surely if it was as bad as people said they’d wouldn’t look so happy. I popped my travel sickness tablets and updated my Instagram.
Piraeus at dawn
As the sun was rising we started to board. It was a bit chaotic as people pushed and jostled to put their cases into the luggage holders but we just threw our backpacks on top and went to get our seats. Greg reminded me that it was very similar to the ferry we’d taken in Langkawi (which had been fine) but I felt a little claustrophobic. I went to get Greg a coffee and doughnut take my mind off things, I decided I would travel on an empty stomach. As we set off a muffled announcement said we’d have an additional stop making our journey longer. Not ideal but more time to listen to podcasts. We settled down for a 4hr ride.
At first it was reasonably smooth but as we headed into open sea it was getting a bit choppier. Like when there’s turbulence on a plane I looked around the assess if anyone else was looking for escape routes but no, everyone looked fine. I put my headphones back in and closed my eyes. A couple of minutes later Greg nudged me ‘I need to go to the bathroom’. He looked a little pale and he headed to the back of the boat. About 10 minutes later I had that sense of dread. My mouth went dry and I could feel my saliva glands filling. I was about to be sick. I quickly got up, tried to run to the bathroom clutching a sick bag whilst ricocheting off seats and luckily made it in time to vomit everything I’d eaten the day before into the toilet. The toilets were like airplane toilets ie tiny and I could hear a rhapsody of people in the toilets at either side vomiting too – this in turn made me be sick again. As I left the bathroom I saw Greg and he was literally holding onto the luggage racks with both hands, trying to steady himself and white as a sheet. ‘Have you been sick?’ I asked him. He simply nodded. There was a guy next to him being sick into a bag and one of the staff members was running around with a mop. What a job!
I returned to my seat and tried to distract myself with a podcast but it didn’t work. I returned to the bathroom dodging the luggage which was falling from the racks and clambering over musical instruments. As the journey went on more and more people were ill. Staff were walking up and down with sick bags (empty and full) and mops. There was a girl near me who was just shaking and crying. I didn’t feel in danger at any point, just so sick. I looked to the back of the boat and Greg was still wedged in the same position staring into oblivion. Then the worst thing happened. I got such bad stomach pains I was almost doubled over. I’m not sure if it was because I’d pulled muscles or if it was hunger (genuinely!). So I looked at Greg’s seat and there, in a bag looking completely delicious was a big, fat, sugared doughnut. Don’t judge me for what I did next…..with my double bagged sick bag in my left hand and my right hand free I started eating the doughnut. I’m laughing writing this at how ridiculous this may seem but I was so hungry. God, that doughnut tasted like heaven.
Just as I finished it the announcement came on that we’d arrived in Milos. The 4hrs of hell was over. Once we’d docked I was reunited with Greg and we both agreed we would rebook all of our ferry tickets onto a slower, cheaper alternative. No more sick jets for us! On a more positive note Milos was absolutely beautiful, I’ll be posting about our stay there soon!
I was living in Doha during Ramadan in 2016 and 2017 so this year Ramadan, my first in Cairo, has been slightly different. I think it would be fair to say as a non-Muslim the holy month hasn’t affected my life as significantly as it did when I was in Qatar. Most shops are still open (all be it with slightly different hours), people are still working almost ‘normal’ hours, the radio is playing music and we aren’t restricted to eating and drinking behind a blacked out windows at school. We also haven’t been to as many Iftar / Suhoors as we have done previously, so on Friday we decided to try the set Iftar menu at ESCA, a restaurant I’ve wanted to go to for a while.
First off, I have to say how good the ESCA team are on social media. I made the reservation through their Facebook page and received almost immediate confirmation. Even when we arrived later than expected due to a combination of Uber cancellations and the craziest traffic, they didn’t seem to mind. The design of the restaurant is lovely. The tables are well spaced and several are divided up to give privacy, creating a more intimate feel. The floor to ceiling windows bring in natural light and the greenery allows for an outside/inside feel. Clever use of a mirrors on the ceiling reflects the lights and makes the restaurant feel spacious despite the dark furniture and fixings.
After a few minutes we were brought a ‘Ramadan’ drink which was fruit based and extremely sweet, a bottle of water and the Iftar set menu. As usual I had pretty much decided on what I was going to have as soon as I booked the table, so it didn’t take long for us to place our order. We confirmed our main courses – chicken and beef – but we weren’t asked about our soup choice. When we mentioned this we were told it was tomato, the soup of the day, so it wasn’t actually a choice. Shortly after ordering the shared appetizers arrived, I really liked the small serving dishes and the portion size was generous. However, as we started to tucked into the appetisers our soup arrived. This was a bit odd as some of the starters were hot so we could either eat the hot soup and leave the starters, eat the starters and leave the soup, or eat both at the same time which wasn’t really practical. We chose to eat the soup and pushed our starters aside.
The soup was good. It tasted of fresh, earthy tomatoes with a hint of spice and had a lovely gooey ball of buffalo mozzarella dropped into it which added a creamy texture. It also a sensible sized portion keeping in mind this was one of 4 courses.
We then returned to the starters, I think it is fair to say we enjoyed some more than others. I loved the salty, cheesy, crunchy feta croquettes and single handedly I ate them all despite the lack of fig chutney. Greg really enjoyed the hawashi which he said was just the right side of spicy for him. We dipped fresh bread into hummus, tahini and aubergine, these were nice but nothing out of the ordinary. The arugula, tomato and onion salad could have been better, the arugula (actually spinach) was tough and several leaves were past their best with holes and yellow tinges to them. Also, neither of us like liver so we didn’t try the chicken liver with walnuts although it did look good!
Bizarrely, while we were in the middle of our starters our mains arrived. By now we had been in the restaurant for less than 30 minutes and it was starting to feel a little rushed. I am not sure why this happened, the staff were watching closely as we were the only people there and they could quite clearly see we hadn’t finished. We sent the main courses back but we were aware they were probably just being kept warm. Once we were ready to move onto our mains both dishes definite had the ‘wow’ factor, they were very nicely presented other than the fact the flowers had wilted and the gravy for the chicken had started to congeel as they had been kept warming in the kitchen. As we tucked in to the food these small issues faded away. Both dishes were excellent. My steak was cooked perfectly ( medium) and the sprinkle of sea salt helped bring out the flavour of the beef. The accompanying crunchy, buttery potato dauphinoise were moreish and the sweet baby carrots added a freshness to the dish.
Greg loved the roast chicken on a bed of risotto, the chicken stock gravy brought all the flavours together. The skin was crispy and again the contrast of textures worked well. By now we were getting full and I was defeated by the size of the steak!
Once again as soon as we had finished our main course the sharing dessert was brought out, it would have been nice to have a rest between courses but this didn’t seem to be the case. I am not sure if it was because we arrived ‘late’, they were closing soon ( it was just before 8pm) or if this is the usually serving style at the restaurant but for us it felt too rushed. The desserts were a bit hit and miss. We both really enjoyed the sobya semi freddo – creamy, fruity mousse encased in a white chocolate shell on a bed of kunafa, it was just sweet enough without being sickly. The dense date cake with meringue was just a bit too heavy after the previous courses but tasted nice. We really enjoyed the rich, creamy rice pudding but the menu said it was cranberry and cardamom and there was no evidence of either, it was plain creamed rice. Unfortunately the apricot tart was far too sweet for both us but if you like sugary, fruity dessert you’ll love it!
Overall it was a rather mixed experience. We really enjoyed some of the dishes, namely the feta croquettes, hawashi, both of the main courses and the sobya semifreddo but for us it just felt that the meal was over too quickly. By the time we had finished dessert we had only been in the restaurant an hour. I know that Iftar usually only runs for a couple of hours at the most, but to have been served 4 courses in under an hour seemed odd. The service was friendly and we loved the setting so we would definitely go back and try their regular menu after Ramadan. Do I recommend it? On the whole I would say yes. I think for 40OLE each (ignore the printed price on the menu, it isn’t 500LE) it is good value for money and if you maybe ask for more time between courses I think it would be a very tasty way to break your fast or just enjoy a nice meal.
I’m going to start this review by being completely honest and saying I have a bit of a weakness for the Four Seasons brand. In Qatar we often ate breakfast at the Four Seasons pool grill and had some wonderful meals in Elements. Our first ‘Friday Brunch’ back in 2014 was at the Four Seasons, Doha and we recently enjoyed a fantastic holiday in Alexandria where we stayed at the Four Seasons San Stefano. Our staycation at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza was excellent and, having been impressed with the Italian restaurant in the FS Alexandria, we decided to try ‘Bella’, the Italian located on the 3rd floor of the hotel. The first thing you notice when you walk into Bella is the large, open kitchen on the left where you can see the chefs at work. I always like this in a restaurant firstly because I’m nosey, but secondly because I feel it shows that they have pride in their standards and are happy for customers to wander over and take a look; in fact I was encouraged to do so! To the right your eyes are drawn to the huge windows which have a wonderful view of the Nile. We’d asked for a window table but these were all taken, nether the less the view was still lovely.
The design of the restaurant is plush but relaxed and comfortable. When we were there as a couple, there were large family groups and guests with small children, it’s suitable for all.
Once we were seated the menu was brought over and after ordering we were brought a bread basket with a variety of fresh Italian breads, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It was a little disappointing when we came to order our drinks that there was no Desperados ( we’d been able to get them in all of the other F&B outlets without a problem which seemed odd) so Greg ordered a Sakkara and I enjoyed a fruity organic Egyptian rose. Greg chose eggplant parmigiana for his starter and I decided to go skip starters as I wanted dessert!
The eggplant parmigiana was fabulous. A tasty balance of soft eggplant, a well seasoned tomato sauce and good quality buffalo mozzarella drizzled with fresh basil oil. It was really nicely presented too and a perfect sized portion. I think they felt sorry for me because I didn’t have a starter and I was brought an amuse bouche of cherry tomato, basil and the creamiest, softest mozzarella pearl – simple yet so tasty. After a suitable gap our main courses were brought over.
Oh. My. Life. I had opted for veal cannelloni and it was jaw droppingly good. The veal ragu was still quite chunky yet the cannelloni was silkly soft creating a perfect mix of textures. Oh and the cheese, it was rich and salty and had melted into the oil. It was unbelievably good. In fact, I’d drive back into Cairo just to have this dish again (and I hate Cairo traffic).
I was so absorbed in my cannelloni that I didn’t pay too much attention to what Greg had ordered but he was happily tucking into his dish of Seabass with prawns. The Seabass was light and the delicate fish broth with prawns wasn’t too overpowering- each element of the dish came together well. The only negative was that the skin had been left on and it wasn’t crispy so it was a bit of a faff to remove it.
As you can see from the bill the cost of our meal including taxes and service came to just under 1400LE. Bella isn’t a cheap place to eat but it’s one of the nicest meals we’ve had since we arrived in Cairo and, for me, the cannelloni (bold statement warning) is one of the best Italian dishes I’ve ever had. The service throughout was the perfect balance of friendly, professional and discreet. My plan to skip the starter and have dessert was pointless, the cannelloni was so filling I didn’t have room for dessert – a good excuse for a return visit!
booking is recommended especially on a weekend
ask for a window table for Nile views or a kitchen view to watch the staff
ask for the daily specials
order the veal cannelloni – but leave room for dessert!
if you are planning on staying at the Four Seasons and you have valid Egyptian residency they offer very good discounted rates -call them for more information
For more information a here is a link to the website and sample menus
Having lived in Cairo for almost a year we’ve ‘done’ the main tourist sites, so when we went into the city for a staycation we were a little bit lost for ideas! Greg suggested we went to Abdeen Palace but I was a little hesitant, the reviews on Trip Advisor were mixed and we couldn’t find too much information online. However, as it was only a 10 minute taxi ride from our hotel we thought we’d give it a try. As most of you will know traffic in Cairo is crazy and this ride was no exception as we maneuvered down narrow side roads passing cats, school children, rubbish collection trucks, and scooters to the background of incessant honking and the call to prayer. The driver pointed at a huge wall and gestured to us that it was the museum. Greg and I looked at each other because it was right in the middle of a residential area and didn’t look palatial at all! Regardless, we paid our 100LE each entrance fee and an additional 10LE for a ticket permitting photography, and after a quick bag check, we wandered out into the prettiest, most tranquil gardens. Completely unexpected!
After a couple of minutes of being surprised by how pretty it was, a gentleman in a suit came up to us. He seemed so happy we were visiting and pointed out to us the museums and declared we’d be ‘fascinated’ by the artifacts. But, before heading inside, we walked around the gardens. With only the sounds of birdsong it reminded us of Marrakesh when you walk into the peace of the riad after the chaos of the Medina.
The grounds were really well cared for, the flowers smelt lovely and we watched several fat cats stalking the pigeons! At the far right hand corner there was a bandstand built in 1921 and from this elevated position we could see more of the gardens.
After about 30 minutes of enjoying the outdoor space we headed into the museum. The palace dates from the 1800’s and now houses 5 museums, the upper floor is still used for visiting dignitaries. There is a clearly marked route taking you through each area and despite the renovation work, we managed to access most of them. Here’s a brief summary of each museum (the names of these museums differ depending on the information source you are reading from!)
We probably spent the longest time here. The exhibits showcase how weaponry has developed through the ages. There is a huge selection of daggers, swords, knives and guns. It was really interesting to see how technology has changed and led to advancements but at the same time seeing the commonality of basic designs. There was some weird and wonderful exhibits here and everything was labeled in English and Arabic.
We then went into the section where each countries medals were displayed. Some of these date back centuries and others are more recent. It shows the relationship between Egypt and other nations.
Presidential Gifts Museum
This was weirdly wonderful; a collection totally dedicated to gifts that Egyptian presidents have received over the years! From a huge portrait of Sisi made purely from thumb tacs to copies of the Quran, solid gold sail boats, paintings and football shirts. Some of them were mildly amusing in a ‘what were they thinking?!’ kind of way but it was interesting to see what world leaders send each other!!
The final stop for us was to the silverware museum, there’s a lot of silver in that room believe me!! From huge serving plates, cutlery and drinking sets the workmanship on these items was incredible.
On leaving the silverware museum we stepped outside into the gardens. There is a small gift shop and a cafe selling refreshments.
We spent about 2hrs in the museums and grounds and enjoyed ourselves. All of the rooms had wheelchair/ push-chair access and there was ice cold a/c in every room. I noticed when we were leaving there were also wheelchairs to loan and an area to store bags and push-chairs. So, if like us you’ve seen most of the main sights, or you have an interest in military history, I’d recommend you set aside a couple of hours for a visit here. At the moment the museum isn’t particularly interactive, it is much more a ‘traditional’ museum with most artifacts behind glass cases. It will be interesting to see how the renovation works progress and the future developments that are made.
* When we visited the Documents Museum was closed
* I advise you to check directly with the museum for their opening times as these aren’t 100% clear!
The recent news that Uber had been ‘banned’ in Egypt was discussed at length in the media, especially in the women’s groups I belong to. The common theme was ‘How will I get around now? Local taxis just aren’t safe’, ‘This is going to put women at the mercy of unregulated local taxis’ and ‘This is not going to help tourism!’. I feel privileged that I drive in Cairo; yes the roads are crazy but I’m too stubborn to relinquish my independence. However, for lots of people in Cairo, Uber is a fundamental part of their lives – it’s how they get to work, go shopping, meet up with friends and feel safe doing so. Luckily it doesn’t seem that the ban is imminent. It will go to through further judicial proceedings and it will be a drawn out process so, for the time being, it continues to operate as normal and that’s a huge relief for people who rely on the service for a safe taxi ride. It is also important for tourists to know they can get an Uber rather than rely on less regulated services.
However, in saying that I woke this morning to a series of tweets about a lady in Cairo who had been sexually harassed by an Uber Driver. Uber Egypt replied swiftly and have asked for further details but unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve heard people having unpleasant experiences with Uber. I was going to say ‘I’ve been lucky’ that it hasn’t happened to me, but I think that’s the wrong phrase. Luck shouldn’t come into feeling safe or not being sexually harassed. The main issues we’ve had with Uber have been;
The driver who decided to reverse for several hundred meters down Suez Road because he missed the turn.
The driver who, after many near misses and almost driving over a roundabout, pulled over and after a few minutes of searching pulled out his glasses.
The driver who drove the wrong way down a dual carriage way because ‘it was better’!
So, in the light of this news, the reports from customers and my own experiences I thought I’d write a quick guide to ensure a safer Uber ride, whether you’re a visitor to Cairo or a resident.
Check the drivers rating– when I order my Uber I usually check the drivers rating. For me, if anyone with a rating less than a 4 accepts my fare I cancel because it suggests to me there’s been issues previously.
I don’t set my location precisely where I live – the pin for my pick up location isn’t directly outside my house. For my security I drop it close by, but nobody picking me up would be able to tell which house I came from.
Check the driver matches the photo on the app – if I’m getting in by myself I always check that the Driver is the person shown on the app. Once Greg and I got into a car that we assumed was our Uber. It was only after he’d driven for a few minutes and asked where we were going we realized we’d been complacent and got into a random car and we quickly got out!!
Check the driver is using the app – it sounds obvious but a lot of drivers don’t like using the app because it uses data. Quite often they’ll turn the app off and ask for directions. If it’s somewhere I know I usually don’t mind and I’ll direct them, but if it’s not a place your familiar with insist they use the app. If they refuse, get out!.
Check the condition of the car – Cairo traffic is notorious and so too is the quality of driving and the condition of the cars. I have had many online conversations with Uber when cars have arrived with no working seatbelts. This is something for your judgement but we tend not to get in a car without working seatbelts especially if it’s a trip using a main road. If you report this to Uber you will be refunded. I asked Uber if cars have to be fitted with seatbelts in Egypt but they wouldn’t give me a definitive answer simply saying that cars have to ‘comply with local laws’.
Continue to use your own GPS – if I am going somewhere unfamiliar I always have Google Maps on ( it works offline too) so I can track where I am.
Learn and use basic Arabic– a few key words will definitely help with navigation. I don’t speak very much Arabic but when I Uber I do! Ones to know shimal (left), ya – meen (right), ala tul (straight), hena (here), shukran (thanks), ma salama ( goodbye). It’s also good to learn Arabic numbers so you can recognize car number plates.
Think about your conversation – again this is personal, you may be a naturally chatty person but sometimes this friendliness can be misinterpreted. If you don’t want to talk a quick ‘hi’ and then putting in headphones is usually works. However, I’ve had lovely drivers who want to chat and develop their English skills! A lot of drivers have Uber as a second job and many of them are genuinely interested in your Cairo experience.
Have the right change– if you’re paying cash make sure you have money similar to the quote you were given before booking the ride. It saves the hassle of not having change. I know some people don’t like to tip but if a driver has driven well, looks after his car and is professional I always tip, not a huge amount just a gesture. For example is a fare is 85LE I’ll give 100LE or if there’s 4 people and it’s 25LE give 40LE. If you pay by card have small tip 5/10LE ready for a short ride and 20LE + for a longer drive.
Be dropped off away from your home – similarly to when I get picked up I’ll get dropped off close to where I live but not directly at the door.
Check your receipt – once, after a ride, the receipt was more than I’d expected. I looked at the timings and the ride had not been ended until 10 minutes after I’d actually been dropped off! I have no idea how this happened but I was refunded. Always check and only pay what is shown on the green screen. Tolls are included in the fare, you do not need to pay extra.
Don’t answer your phone – this may or may not be a coincidence but the nuisance calls I’ve had have often been after I’ve Ubered. My advice would be to answer and if the person constantly says ‘hello’ keep the call going but don’t respond. This costs the caller and they soon get sick of it. The longest I’ve had someone shout ‘hello’ down the phone for was 12 minutes. I just left the phone on whilst I gave a running commentary of the bechamel sauce I was making for dinner. They never called back………
Rate well – if a driver has been good rate them well. If they’ve been awful rate them badly. Eventually over time the good drivers will prevail ( I hope).
Report any issues with Uber – in my experience Uber is very good and responding to complaints and questions. You can do this via their website, app or using social media.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and most of it is common sense, if you have more to add please let me know. Personally I don’t think twice about using Uber and I would always use Uber rather than a ‘normal taxi’ but there are so many scare stories and misinformation online I thought this practical advice might be useful. The vast majority of Uber drivers are kind, honest, hardworking people simply earning a living getting you to your destination safely. Please remember to report any incidents that do happen to Uber – by doing this you’re ensuring the safety of other customers.
It’s always good to get out of your comfort zone and last weekend that’s what I did with a group of my fellow colleagues and friends. At work we have a staff wellbeing group who do a great job organising various social events throughout the year and this trip was about exploring the Egyptian desert south-west of Fayoum.
In a convoy of 4×4’s we left New Cairo at 7am. After a quick briefing and a stop at a service station we headed into the desert. I’ve always found the desert fascinating and terrifying in equal measure and we spend most of the journey staring out at the ever-changing landscape and rock formations.
After about 2hrs we entered Fayoum Oasis and the shimmering blues of Qarun Lake became visible. We all excitedly reached for our cameras but, as usual, no photo could really do the view justice. It would have been a lovely place to have a quick tea break if we’d had time.
We actually saw a film crew set up here which was a rather odd sight in the middle of the desert!
Qarun Lake is the second largest lake in Egypt and is used primarily for irrigation, fishing and sailing. The drive through farm lands was beautiful and gave us a glimpse into a bygone era. Herds of sheep and goats passed us by and we could see workers in the fields. We soon came to a small crossroad with a few shops selling food and drinks. There were tuk tuk drivers available taking visitors to some of the nearby attractions around Fayoum and Tunis village. It was fascinating to see a snap shot of more rural life here.
We drove on and entered the protected area, on each side we could see the rocks rise up to form a plateau and the gorgeous blue, green and turquoise lakes.
This was our first stop and we got out to stretch our legs. There were a number of people on top of the rock formations and those of us who were feeling energetic also decided to try to climb them. There’s an ‘easy’ one and a ‘hard’ one. I chose the more difficult one but my shoes didn’t have the grip I needed and I was soon defeated. The ground is fine pebbles like shale and it’s quite hard to get a grip so decent shoes are a must …….it’s a long way down! The views were incredible.
At the bottom there were a few locals offering camel and horse rides but I didn’t take any photos of these or enquire about prices. I’m very reluctant to use animals as I’m not always convinced they are particularly well cared for but it’s up to you to make that judgement. Once we came back from our short hike, we had a quick snack of sweet tea and fatayer filled with cheese, molasses and honey. A much-needed sugar hit before heading further south.
We soon packed up and after a 30 minute drive we arrived at Samuel Dunes. This area has wonderful soft sand and the dunes are great for the adrenaline filled ‘sport’ of dune bashing. The car tires were let down and we went off-road. For the next 2 hours there were honestly times when I thought I might die. It was sheer terror mixed with laughter, gasps of breath, gritted teeth, white knuckles and a fair bit of bad language.
We were given a couple of chances to get out and basically play about on the dunes or simply enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. It was pristine, so beautiful and serene.
We also stopped as one car misjudged a dune and got stuck!
I’m not going to lie; it was scary. However, our drivers were really experienced and they worked as a group communicating with each other via walkie talkies. It is stomach churning though, being tossed up, down, left, right – an activity to be done before lunch!
After the dune bashing, with our nerves well and truly frayed we took the scenic route to ‘magic lake’.
Situated just behind the rock formations where we’d stopped previously this was where we were going for a late lunch, to swim and sand board. By now I was feeling simultaneously hungry and sick. So as soon as we arrived I drank tea and laid down!
My fellow day trippers took the chance to take a cooling dip in the water and freshen up.
This area is open to the public but Desert Adventures has a small area sectioned off and provided 2 portable, clean toilets and a shaded tent with rugs. Lunch was salad, pickles, bread, pasta, pasta sauce, kebab and kofta with fruit and Arabic desserts. It really was tasty and freshly prepared.
With our tummies full and sand in our hair we sat back and relaxed as the sun went down, although some of the more energetic found went off sand boarding! About 6pm with the sun setting behind us we headed back to Cairo.
What an amazing experience. It was a very long day but I have so many wonderful memories of stunning landscapes and great people.
I’d definitely recommend exploring this part of the Western desert. We paid 850LE each for our bespoke trip with Desert Adventures, other companies probably do these trips too. If you want to escape the chaos of the city and find peace, tranquility and get back to nature then this is something you’d enjoy.