Friday, 6 May 2022

Planning a getaway this summer? Going isn’t always better than staying

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WHY NOT STAYCATION THIS YEAR?

Planning a holiday this summer? Why not stay in Egypt? With Eid underway and summer just around the corner, it’s that time of year again when many of us start thinking about taking a much needed vacation. For some this might mean planning an escape to a far flung destination in search of a new adventure or some peace of mind, but it might be worthwhile to consider a trip somewhere closer to home.

A STAYCATION ISN’T ALL THAT BAD

Why staycation in Egypt: We tend to take it for granted, but Egypt is fortunate to play host to a long list of world-beating travel destinations that have something for everybody. Add to that inflation, climate change and a domestic tourism industry that just can’t catch a break and planning a staycation might just be the most sensible choice you can make this year.

Support the ailing tourism industry: For years Egypt’s tourism industry has been battered by a series of domestic and international crises that have left the country starved of foreign tourists. The industry accounts for around 15% of the country’s GDP and is a critical sector for the Egyptian economy and a vital source of hard currency. Up until two months ago, the sector was on the up and up. Revenues had rebounded from the covid shutdown and Russian flights were finally operating routes to the Red Sea following a six-year hiatus. But despite this brief glimmer of hope, the sector is now being hit once again by Russia’s war in Ukraine as nationals from both countries — which account for around a third of our visitors — are unlikely to be coming to our shores anytime soon. The precise impact on the Red Sea tourism industry is unclear, with some putting occupancy rates at 35%, down from 60%, and others putting that figure even lower at just 5%. With all this in mind, there are a lot of local businesses that could use a hand right now.

It’s more affordable to stay put than head overseas right now: It’s no secret that international travel isn’t cheap. Between getting your visa, booking your plane tickets, and accommodation in a foreign country, you’ll almost always be shelling out way more than you would if you took a holiday at home instead. Add to that the double whammy of rising inflation around the world and a weaker EGP, and the prospect of cross-border travel is becoming increasingly out of reach for many people.

Cutting back on those air miles would do the planet a huge favor right now: Global tourism accounts for around 8% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2018 study published in Nature, which estimates that travel-related consumption at vacation destinations has been estimated to contribute ​​1 kg of CO2 for every USD spent. These figures were brought into sharp relief with the publication of the latest UN climate report, which said that the world will need to slash its emissions by 43% by the end of the decade if we are to avert a climate crisis.

You’ll find most of what you’re looking for here anyway: The good thing is we have tons of options for travelers of all stripes. Whether you’re into history and culture or just lounging by the beach, the country has plenty to offer. It is no wonder why mns of tourists from around the world (global restrictions permitting) flock here to spend some time off.

STAYCATION FAVORITES

Best places to holiday in Egypt: If we’ve managed to convince you that a staycation is the way to go for your next trip, all that’s left to do is choose your destination. The good news is there’s no shortage of options: Whether you’re the book-on-the-beach type, a desert trekker, a would-be archaeologist, or a city-breaker, you’ll have little trouble finding the perfect local destination. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Seek out Greco-Roman monuments and the Mediterranean sea breeze in Alexandria: Egypt’s second city has long been a mainstay of summer vacations for Cairenes looking to escape the summer heat. Alexandria is a triple treat: culture, coastline, and cuisine. Check out the galleries on the ground floor of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, where you’ll find antiquities, modern art and rare books. The winding Greco-Roman catacombs of Kom el-Shuqqafa have way more to offer than you’d guess from the humble entryway (hint: they’re bigger on the inside) and should not be missed. Food in Alex means fish. You’ll get no shortage of restaurant recommendations if you ask around, but we always come back to the classic and super affordable Asmak Shaaban. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, you can don your diving kit and descend to Cleopatra’s underwater city.

Way out west in Siwa you can find esoteric healing practices and grand views: The oasis town of Siwa boasts tons of ancient tombs, temples and baths — and it's also where you’ll find some interesting present day healing practices still in use and an endless sea of of sand on the horizon. Sand baths —- where people are buried whole in the scorching hot summer near Dakrour Mountain — are used to help treat joint pain, rheumatism, infertility or impotence. Siwa’s salt lakes, which are so salty that you practically float on top of the water, are also believed to contain some sort of healing quality. Disclaimer: We can’t recommend spending more than 10 minutes at a time in the lakes or dunking your head in, unless you care to experience the corrosive powers of sodium first hand.

If spending all day lounging by the beach sounds like the ideal break to you, check out Nuweiba: Halfway between Dahab and Taba the down-tempo beaches of Nuweiba is where you can dig your toes in the sand and completely tune out the city as you stare out at the calm Red Sea water and the hazy Saudi Arabian mountain range in the distance. What makes Nuweiba’s beaches particularly special are all the camp style accommodations in Ras Shitan that sit directly on the coast and offer you immediate access to its temperate waters almost year round. Grab a book or stretch out with some yoga under a bamboo canopy to get deeper into the mood. Alternatively, If you’re looking for a little more action there are tons of hikes and desert excursions–- like Colored Canyon and Wadi Wishwashi — in close proximity that you can embark on with the help of local bedouin guides.

For the ancient history buffs, Luxor tops the list: The site where Luxor now stands was once the ancient city of Thebes, home to some of the most spectacular temples and monuments in Egypt. Often referred to as the world’s greatest open-air museum, Luxor’s ancient architecture draws scores of international tourists every year. First-time visitors should head straight to the Karnak Temple on the city’s east bank, which bears the architectural marks of successive dynasties and empires stretching back some 4k years. From there, hop over to the pharaonic tombs at the Valley of the Kings on the other side of the Nile.

Novelties in an ancient city: Luxor’s Avenue of the Sphinxes (also known as The Road of the Rams) was opened late last year following the completion of a decades-long renovation project. And pharaonic gems aren’t all the city has to offer: Venture a couple kilometers out of Luxor to visit famed Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy’s New Gourna village.

Aswan combines history and culture in a more laid back environment: A little over 200 km south of Luxor is the quieter city of Aswan, where you can explore the history at your own pace, soak in the beauty of the Nile, and learn more about the communities that live on its banks. Among Aswan’s most impressive ancient sites is the Philae Temple, which was relocated to higher ground on Agilika Island in the seventies after rising Nile waters due to the newly-built Aswan Dam threatened to submerge it. The ancient trading town of Elephantine Island — now home to several Nubian villages — is home to the Aswan Museum and boasts plenty of affordable tourist accommodation. Also worth checking out is the lush Aswan Botanical Garden on Nabatat Island, which houses hundreds of rare plant species and 25 different kinds of palm trees.

YOUR TOP 5

Your top 5 pieces of business and economic news in April:

  • ADQ enters the EGX: Abu Dhabi wealth fund ADQ acquired state-owned stakes in five EGX-listed companies for USD 1.8 bn as part of an agreement reached in March to provide Egypt with emergency liquidity in response to the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • FAB bid for EFG is off: Emirati lender First Abu Dhabi Bank dropped its bid for a majority stake in leading financial services corporation EFG Hermes.
  • IMF upgrades Egypt growth forecast: The IMF has revised upwards its Egypt growth forecast for FY 2021-2022 despite the conflict in Ukraine driving a “significant slowdown” globally.
  • Raising LNG exports to Europe: Eni signed an agreement with the state-owned EGAS to “maximize” Egyptian LNG exports to Europe and boost Eni’s local gas production.
  • Inflation at three-year high: Annual urban inflation rose to its highest level in almost three years in March as spillover effects from the conflict in Ukraine continued to hit the Egyptian economy.

HIDDEN GEMS

With so much to choose from it can be easy to leave some places overlooked: There are dozens of hidden gems across the country capable of going head-to-head with our most popular and sought after destinations. These lesser known locations rarely ever fall short on the beauty or excitement that our most in-demand vacation spots have to offer, and can sometimes be a very welcome escape from the stress of crowds that are part and parcel with the country’s more popular sites. Here’s our rundown of a few places worth giving a shot:

One of the lesser known of the Western Desert’s six oases, Dakhla is where stunning desert views, hot springs and medieval towns collide. The village of Mut is the largest town in Dakhla and where you’ll be able to walk through the remnants of the mud brick town once inhabited by Ancient Egyptian settlers. The highly sulfurous and supposedly therapeutic Bir Talata is one of the most popular of the 500 hot springs surrounding Dakhla and can also be found in Mut. Even more impressive however are the Islamic style buildings of El Qasr village where Ayyubid settlers once lived during the 12th century. Dakhla has a number of accommodation options but if you’re looking for a more comfortable experience check out El Tarfa eco-lodge. At almost 800 km away from Cairo it’s a bit of a trek, but avoiding crowds at some of the more frequented oases is well worth the journey.

Kick back and enjoy green fields and one of the best preserved Ancient Egyptian temples in Qena. If you’re looking to try something a little different maybe consider visiting one of the country’s overlooked agricultural cities. In Qena City you can soak in the beauty of large stretches of agricultural land and a less hectic view of the Nile than you might be used to in Cairo. Maybe go for a walk on a quiet dirt road between sugar cane fields. If you’re itching for some more awe-inspiring historical sites, you can venture beyond the capital and tour the Temple of Hathor at the Dendera Temple complex, which is supposedly one the best preserved sites in the entire country. Missing from the temple however is the Dendera Zodiac, which has been at the Louvre in Paris since 1821. For more modern history check out some of the Coptic monasteries in Naqada too.

Go on a long multi-day trek through the Red Sea mountains: If you’re up for something a little more challenging and outside of your comfort zone try a hike in the Red Sea mountains near Hurghada. The hike, which is organized through a community tourism project run and headed by members of the Maaza bedouin tribe called the Red Sea Mountain Trail, runs 170 km long and takes about 10 days to complete. Along the way you’ll get the chance to experience the rough mountainous terrain tucked away from the luxury resorts that dot the Red Sea coastline. The organization only started running these trips in 2019, so it’s a relatively new endeavor that few people have ever experienced. The full 10-day trip requires some prior hiking experience and a certain level of fitness to complete but there are also shorter trips available for those who want a more basic introduction.

BEFORE YOU GO

Traveling in Egypt can be fairly straightforward if you’re heading to a popular tourist destination: All you’ll need to sort out in places frequented by other tourists is simply where you’ll be staying, how you plan to get there and maybe a few trips between sites. If you decide to venture off the beaten path then be sure to check with locals about permit requirements and areas that might be considered off limits for travelers. It would be a good idea to always keep identification on you too.

Hire a tour guide for historical sites: To get the most out of your experience it might be worth your time to enlist the help of a knowledgeable guide to show you around ancient sites and offer some context for what you’re looking at. Check out reviews of guides on TripAdvisor or you can go full tourist and book a tour with an operator like Memphis Tours. Sometimes you’ll be able to find a guide nearby the sites you’re visiting.

Options for getting around: Bus services like GoBus, BlueBus and East Delta offer services to tons of locations around the country You can check schedules online in most cases but calling to confirm that these schedules are up to date might provide an extra layer of security to your trip. If you’re heading south you can travel by train, bus or car. A sleeper train to Luxor is a fairly comfortable and sometimes scenic option to try out as well. Once you’ve reached your destination, ask your bus driver about what local transit options are available to take you on small trips if it isn’t immediately clear. If you’re in close proximity to a desert you’ll most likely find someone who can take you out for a day trip in a 4×4 car — this can often be arranged through your hotel on pretty short notice too.

Make sure you bring cash: While more and more places around the country are accepting card payment, cash is still king in many tourist locations. You’ll need cash for things like quick transit, tips, excursions and groceries.

Plan for the weather: We’re lucky to not have to deal with extreme changes in weather very frequently but it would be good to keep in mind the time of year you are planning to travel. Places in the South like Luxor and Aswan can get uncomfortably hot during peak summer months between June and August. That’s the reason why many people opt to travel during the winter months where temperatures are more moderate. On the flip side, if you’re planning on going somewhere like Alexandria you’ll want to avoid the rainy winter months and instead head there during the summer. September is an especially pleasant time to visit.

Be wary of photography in certain places: Exercising some caution over where you take photos and the type of camera you are using to snap those shots can help keep you out of trouble. People and authorities can often become apprehensive if they see someone with a professional camera taking pictures beyond typical tourist locations — and in some cases you’ll also need to purchase a special ticket to be permitted to take photos inside museums and historic sights. A cell phone is much less likely to draw attention but still be mindful of your surroundings and avoid government buildings. And definitely don't try to bring a drone.

Enterprise is a daily publication of Enterprise Ventures LLC, an Egyptian limited liability company (commercial register 83594), and a subsidiary of Inktank Communications. Summaries are intended for guidance only and are provided on an as-is basis; kindly refer to the source article in its original language prior to undertaking any action. Neither Enterprise Ventures nor its staff assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, whether in the form of summaries or analysis. © 2022 Enterprise Ventures LLC.

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