What's a Child to Do (On Tour in Egypt), Part II - Going North and South of Cairo

What's a Child to Do (On Tour in Egypt),
Part II: Going North and South of Cairo

By Jimmy Dunn

Inside a sleeper compartment

I took my first overnight train ride getting from Cairo to Luxor. Elsewhere in the world, I suppose that train travel is not so uncommon, but in the Midwestern US, many kids have never even ridden a real train. My grandfather took me from Denton, Texas to Dallas (a very short ride) on a train when I was about seven, mainly because the line was closing down. The next ride I took, when I was about 49, was the Cairo to Luxor overnight train. Ok, its not all that exciting, but for a kid, or a kid at heart, who has never ridden any long distance, it is an adventure, and not a bad way to get from Lower to Upper Egypt.

Kids will marvel at the huge columns of the Temple of Amun at Karnak

Luxor is a major tourist town in Egypt, with many attractions. Don't over do it with the kids, though, because there are many sites that will be redundant to them, and it also gets very hot in Luxor. Karnak Temple, one of, if not the largest religious complex ever built anywhere in the world, should be visited. In a normal tour, one will probably arrive at Luxor in a bus or minivan but for the kids, if possible, try taking a horse carriage or a boat down the Nile. On the other hand, one might wish to wait until evening to visit the Luxor Temple. It is well lit, and that adds something to its mystique.

Of course, there is also the Valley of the Kings and Queens on the west bank, along with various mortuary temples. Beware that the tombs here can be muggy, hot and packed with tourists. Yet, a visit to one such as that belonging to Tuthmosis III, Egypt's most successful warrior king, can be fun. And in the tomb of Khamsawet, kids will have a chance to see the bas-relief prince Khaemsawet, the son of Ramesses III, in typical clothes and hairstyle of a young, royal child.

Ramesses II and Khaemwaset in the tomb of Khaemwaset. Here, Khaemwaset wears the sidelocks of youth

However, there are also many fine non-royal tombs on the West Bank at Luxor, and some of the better ones might be more interesting to many children, because their walls depict daily, often ordinary life in ancient Egypt, including families, which are generally not depicted in royal tombs.

Younger kids will very much enjoy a different means to visit the west bank than the typical tourist bus. For a breathtaking experience, take a donkey ride above Valley of the Kings. One usually starts out on the West Bank. The ride weaves through the sugar cane fields, on up along the crest of the ridge above Deir El Bahri, over into the Valley of the Kings, and descends on the trail down by the mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. The donkeys are usually a big hit with the kids. The donkeys are kid-sized and with cushioned saddles, are comfortable to ride. Here, we recommend Jane Akshar, whose teenage daughter often accompanies the tour when there are kids involved. She also explains that, "With kids on a tour, we sometimes act out, dressing up in galabeyas and some cheap beads, and pretend to be priests and pharaohs".

Looking down on the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut from a donkey ride over the ridge

Kids will also enjoy the horse drawn carriages, known as caleches. They are all about Luxor, and difficult (nay, impossible) to avoid, but the kids will find a ride to be fun. However, use a little animal sense and try to patronize a carriage pulled by a healthy looking horse, but don't worry about tipping the horse if asked after having tipped the driver.

These horse drawn carriages can be found in most of Egypt's Nile Valley  tourist cities

For older kids of all ages, a balloon ride over the West Bank is just truly grand, but not for the real young children. However, this is something that will excite even a teenager set on not being excited, provided they can wake up early enough. The balloons depart in early morning so as to avoid the winds that often come later in the day. The view, including that of local neighborhoods where the construction of local housing is very obvious, is interesting.

A part of the small zoo at the Movenpick in Luxor

Kids will also enjoy old Sobek, the crocodile. While one may go to the Zoo in Cairo, the small one located at the Movenpick Hotel on Crocodile Island is a bit more intimate, housing a crocodile, a variety of birds, monkeys, camels and donkeys and other animals. This is a great family oriented hotel where families from Europe often come for a winter break.

A visit to McDonalds is also nice. Of course, there are McDonalds all over Egypt, but the one behind the Luxor Temple is a great place to have a happy meal and look down on the lit temple complex.

And finally, though one may take a felucca ride in Cairo or any number of other destinations, one at twilight in Luxor affords a relaxed, wonderful view of the west bank. One might even take along a picnic dinner, which most of the hotels will arrange.

Further South

Cliffs and birds on the way to visit the Philae Temple

Aswan was once, during ancient Egyptian times, the southern border of Egypt, and though there are many sites to see here, the two main attractions are probably the Temple of Philae and the Aswan High Dam. Kids seem to like dams, and the Aswan High Dam is one of the largest in the world, creating lake Nasser, one of the largest man made lakes in the world. Philae is also very historical, being the last bastion of the ancient Egyptian religion. In fact, for a while, the ancient Egyptian religion was practiced here right alongside Christianity. It is interesting for kids because one must take a boat ride to reach this temple, which is located on an island.

Another ancient site in Aswan is the unfinished Obelisk, a huge one, that remains partially uncut from the quarry. There is also the Nubian Museum, which focuses a bit more on southern African culture.

St. Simeon Monastery is located amongst Rolling Sand Dunes

St. Simeon Monastery is located amongst Rolling Sand Dunes

Yes, here in the Nubian Village, sometimes kids like to wear baby crocs for hats - Photo courtesy Alex (http://dresners.blogspot.com/)

Another fun trip for kids and an interesting one for adults is the St. Simeon Monastery. The site itself may not be too interesting to kids, but to get there, most tours take a boat to the west bank, and then travel by camels to the monastery. But perhaps the most fun part for the kids are the wonderful desert dunes, which they seem to love to roll down.

Many kids will enjoy the Nubian Village. It is a very interesting cultural experience, with overtones of a more southern Africa, yet very much still a part of the Egyptian tradition. Here, tour groups often arrange a Nubian dinner, which may not always please finicky kids, but they will nevertheless be delighted by the warm hospitality and friendly, family oriented locals. And they will surely enjoy the baby crocs which often seem to be available.

While there may not be enough for kids to do aboard a Nile Cruiser, they will almost certainly enjoy dress-up night, which is usually a good party

After a hard days touring around Aswan, a nice break for everyone is the Old Cataract Hotel terrace. There, parents can sit and relax, while the kids frolic in the gardens.

On the Nile

Nile Cruisers, often referred to as floating hotels, are a popular form of transportation between Aswan and Luxor. They are largely self contained, because other than their port cities of Aswan and Luxor, there is not much else along the way other than the ancient sites. Regrettably though, most do not have much in the way of facilities for children. Many do have swimming pools, but not much else to entertain a child, not even a game room. Yet, it is a pleasant means of visiting the various sites between Aswan and Luxor, and many people enjoy these cruises. Therefore if kids are coming along, make some specific inquiries about the specific boat, and what sort of facilities they do have for children.

Fort Qaytbey in Alexandria

Up North

Alexandria is becoming more and more of a tourist destination, even though it does not have the antiquity sites found around Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. Nevertheless, Alex, as nicknamed by the Egyptians, is very child friendly, not surprisingly, because it is a major destination for vacationing Egyptian families. Here, the catacombs, the Roman Theater, and Fort Qaytbey all seem to interest kids.

This picture, taken by my young step son, was his favorite of his visit to Egypt. Kids love to catch adults doing what they've been told not to do.

Of course, there is also the new Library of Alexandria. It includes its own museum with artifacts from all Egyptian historical periods, as well as periodic and varied exhibits. And doubtless, kids would love to drop in on our old friend, Aymen Ibrahem, the library's senior astronomer.

There are also many sidewalk cafes, which are fun, and a stop to watch large boats being built in this ancient port city is usually a hit with children. The train to Alex is only two hours away from Cairo if one takes the turbo train, and that isenough for kids to enjoy the sights out of the window, read a book,or snooze without getting bored.

And finally, as a departing thought, get the kids a camera, even if its a cheap throw-a-way. Kids love to take pictures, and it actually makes them feel like they are more in control, and more an integral part of the family vacation.

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Last Updated: June 13th, 2011