Dear travelers to Memphis, please don’t visit until you’ve understood these 12 things


1. You can’t judge a Memphis restaurant by its façade.

Some of the best meals of your life will come out of a building that looks like it should be condemned. Don’t write off an eatery because it’s in a basement, an alley, or possibly boarded up. Don’t let the ramshackle fool you. Elwood’s Shack (and some of the city’s best brisket and trout tacos) stands true to its name because it’s hidden in a Lowe’s parking lot. And our most famous restaurant, the Rendezvous, can be found in the basement of a dirty back alley, the only hints to its location being the protruding sign and the plumes of BBQ-scented smoke billowing from the pipes.

2. Memphis is also an ancient Egyptian capital. That may help explain a few things.

Our Pyramid may seem out of place to you but it’s not to us. Memphis, Tennessee was named after the ancient Egyptian city of the same name located on the Nile River, much the same as we are on the Mississippi. There are tributes to our African namesake found all throughout the city: the replica statue of Ramses and the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology at the University of Memphis, the aesthetic design of the Memphis Zoo, and the Pyramid that opened as a sports and entertainment arena in 1991 but is today a Bass Pro Shop and one of the largest retail stores in the world.

3. And yeah, we know it’s strange that we turned the Pyramid into a Bass Pro Shop, but hear us out.

After the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies moved to their new home off Beale Street in 2005, the Pyramid had gone otherwise abandoned. Often a source of hostility and embarrassment, the revival of Memphis’s most recognizable landmark was a project 10 years in the making. The outdoor retail giant may not be our most ideal use of the facility but developers estimate one million visitors (and their wallets) to Memphis each year. The city itself will get $1 million each year in tax revenue or 2% of Bass Pro sales, whichever is larger. Our Pyramid finally has life again and hope for the revitalization of the surrounding district has never been higher.

4. You may have heard about our high crime rate but visitors have little to worry about.

Our bad reputation precedes us, we know, but it’s been long known that our top tourist neighborhoods are among the safest in town. Downtown, Midtown, and East Memphis are where you will most likely spend the majority of your time and — because of a few bad apples and preconceived notions of urban city centers — are often lumped together with the city’s overall “unsafe” distinction. No popular area is completely devoid of crime but the casual visitor can relax a bit. Just be smart, as you would anywhere else.

5. We hate it when you take a carriage ride downtown.

Exhausted horses, unnecessary traffic buildup, irritated locals, and that barnyard perfume are not romantic and charming. They are a nuisance and an embarrassment. Memphians hate the tourists’ insistence on taking the horse-drawn carriage rides through their busy and bustling downtown and oh, we will judge you.

6. Please calm down with your trip planning. We’re friendly and we want you to talk to us.

Memphis is a great city for winging it. It’s easily navigable, affordable, and you won’t have trouble filling up your days (or bellies). And what you don’t know, we’ll be glad to help you with. Memphis has some of the friendliest residents in the world and we love helping out our visitors. Approach us anywhere: at the gas station, at the grocery store, on the street. Need directions? We can get you where you’re going via four or five different routes. Need restaurant recommendations? Ask ANYONE and you will get enough to last you three days. Want to know who has the best BBQ? Only ask this question if you have an hour to spare and everyone you ask will tell you something different.

7. There’s so much more to Memphis than Elvis.

Depending on where you’re from, this may be your only association with the city; but while Graceland may be Memphis’s strongest tourist attraction, there are plenty more reasons to visit. Our unique and vibrant neighborhoods, our food, our hospitality, our plethora of museums and sites dedicated to Memphis cultural and musical heritage, and one of the best zoos in the country are a few good places to start.

8. When you come to Memphis, do so on an empty stomach.

We’re very proud of our culinary offerings and want you to experience every bit of it. No matter how long your trip to Memphis is, it still won’t be enough time to consume all that sweet, Southern goodness that Memphis is famous for. And while the list of to-die-for Memphis restaurants is endless, your stomach will only stretch so far. Plan accordingly and start here.

9. You can come in the summer but it’s going to be brutal.

Summer is the most popular time for travel all around the world but if you’re coming to Memphis, prepare yourself for 100+°F temperatures and 90% humidity. It can be done but remember to stay hydrated, park in the shade, and don’t forget your sunscreen.

10. Only people from Memphis can talk shit about Memphis.

Sure, Memphis has its faults — we’ve got bad neighborhoods, bad drivers, a high crime rate, and the Pyramid is now indeed a Bass Pro Shop. But don’t you dare point all that out to us — nly we are allowed to criticize our issues and we’ll let you know it.

11. You’ll have a hard time finding a hotel in the month of May.

But that shouldn’t stop you from visiting. Memphis in May is an annual month-long festival featuring the nationally recognized Beale Street Music Festival, the World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest, and two handfuls of other festivals throughout the month. This is the best time to visit our city but plan way ahead.

12. Skip the bottles and drink the tap water.

Drawn from artesian wells, Memphis tap water has been dubbed “the sweetest, most wonderful tasting water in the world” by a nationally known water expert not to mention everyone who has ever lived in Memphis. It requires very little treatment, has a great taste, and costs a third less than other cities to deliver to residents. So drink up; it’s 100°F out there.


Travelers to Memphis: Don't visit until you know these 12 things - travels

In addition to packing your sunscreen and hiking boots, don’t forget your hand sanitizer and face masks. It is safe to travel again, but please remember to follow the local safety protocols as well as the CDC travel guidelines. For more information on how the State of Michigan is committed to keeping visitors and residents safe, visit michigan.gov.


Explore the places and businesses throughout Michigan that have taken the Pure Michigan Pledge in commitment to upholding disinfecting and social distancing protocols. If you're a tourism business that would like to take the pledge, learn more here.

To keep informed on travel information and restrictions pertaining to specific Michigan destinations and their attractions, lodging, restaurants and more, please refer to local official tourism websites. Destinations throughout Michigan are also closing their downtown streets to traffic to create safer, walkable environments that allow visitors and residents to socially distance.


Continue to protect yourself and others by following these CDC Guidelines:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home. If possible, maintain 6 feet from the household member who is sick.

Put distance between yourself and other people when you are traveling.

Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus.

Stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings.

Learn how to wear a cloth face mask or covering here.

If you feel ill while you are away from home, you can still get tested. Local testing sites can be found here.

When you return home, it is important to keep your distance from people who are at a higher risk of getting very sick.

Return to the Travel Safely page for more safety information.


Hawaii has reopened to U.S. travelers

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

Hawaii reopened to U.S. travelers on Oct. 15. International travelers from CDC-prohibited countries are still banned from entering Hawaii. However, travelers from Japan have a pre-travel testing option via approved testing providers that went into effect on Nov. 6, 2020. Travelers from Canada are also eligible for this program.

The state’s pre-travel testing program requires all visitors to take a nucleic acid amplification test, such as a PCR test, from an approved testing partner within 72 hours and obtain results before departure to Hawaii. That’s the only way to bypass the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine.

Additionally, some transpacific travelers participating in the Safe Travels program will be randomly selected to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. The tests, which are administered by the state, will be given to approximately 25% of the passengers at all three airports at no cost to travelers.

Hawaii, the Big Island

Travelers to the Big Island who participate in the state’s pre-arrival testing program to avoid a mandatory 10-day quarantine will still have to take a second, free rapid antigen test at the airport upon arrival. A second negative result will allow the traveler to bypass mandatory self-isolation.

Currently, only the Big Island requires a second test upon arrival to avoid quarantine.

Kauai

Kauai initially optied out of the state’s pre-travel testing initiative and established its own rules for entry. Travelers could either spend at least 72 hours on another island before traveling to Kauai, where they would have to take a test from one of the island’s testing partners. The other option is participating in the “resort bubble” system which allows visitors to take a test before entering the state of Hawaii and then spend at least three days at an approved resort before being able to “test out” of quarantine.

Now, as reported by the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the island wants to rejoin the statewide “Safe Travels” program as soon as April 5, 2021, which would bring Kauai’s policies in line with the other major islands. Travelers would have to adhere to the protocol outlined in the program (see below for more information) but would be allowed to travel directly to Kauai without having to quarantine if they present proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test from an approved travel partner taken within 72 hours of departure.

Maui has a voluntary test that is offered for free three days after arrival on the island. If you’re headed to Maui, you will also be required to participate in mandatory contact tracing by downloading an app on your phone.

Also, travelers who fly to Maui from another county can bypass quarantine by submitting a negative PCR test result. Those who do take this voluntary second test are eligible for a discount card.

A second test is not required for travelers to Oahu.


The CDC recommends that older adults and people of any age with serious chronic medical conditions -- the populations most at risk -- should postpone nonessential travel.

COVID-19 can spread from person to person, like the flu, through small droplets from the nose or mouth, including when an individual coughs or sneezes. People may contract COVID-19 by contaminating their hands with the virus and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth, among other ways.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days following exposure. Most people recover from COVID-19 without needing special treatment. The elderly and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The Florida Department of Health recommends everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick,
  • Wear a cloth face covering when around others,
  • Stay at home if you are sick,
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands,
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then disposing of the tissue,
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing,
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty, and,
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.


My 5 Favorite (and FREE!) Travel Apps

Travel Apps can make life so much easier when you’re on the road. They’re great for helping you track all of your travel information, find the best place to stay and the easiest way to get there. There are so many different ones out there, but here are 5 of my favorites and they’re all free!

Hopper

What It Is: A Flight Monitoring App

Why I Like It: I can watch for flights, for certain times of year and get advice on whether to buy now or wait.

How It Works: Type in where you are and where you want to go. It brings up a color-coded calendar for you to see how the costs of flights look for the next few months. Select the dates you want. Hopper evaluates all your options and gives its price prediction for that route and those dates. You can explore flight options or put the flight on a Watch List. Hopper will give you a notification when there’s a drop in price and it’s a good time to buy.

What It Is: An Itinerary Management App

Why I Like It: I forward all of my trip details – flights/trains, hotels, reservations for activities or dinners, etc. – quickly and easily via email. It collects them all in one spot so I don’t have to print everything out or try to find them in my email while I’m traveling. It also gives me notifications along the way if my flight is delayed or gate changes. Granted, I also have my airline and hotel apps too – but for convenience, I like having everything in one place sometimes. Plus, if I’m traveling with someone, or want to keep family appraised of where I am or what flight I’m on, I can easily share a trip with them.

How It Works: When I get my confirmation email, I just simply forward it to TripCase. It puts together the trip with other components based on matching dates, cities, etc.

What It Is: A Customizable Map App

Why I Like It: I can build a map of things I might want to do in a city. (Plus, I can categorize and color code it!) This gives me a visual of where things are that I want to see and where they are in relation to each other. This helps me see for instance, what area of town I should look at for a hotel. Or, where things are in relation to each other, so I can easily figure out my day and visit things that are close together instead of backtracking because I didn’t realize that the two street murals I want to photograph are actually on opposite sides of town, or that the restaurant my mom recommended was two blocks away from the museum exhibit I went to! Truthfully, I find it easiest to make the map on my computer, but I use the app to reference it on my phone while I’m traveling. I select my city and see all of the markers I’ve placed. If I click on a marker and swipe up, I can see any details – address and contact information come up automatically for many places, and sometimes –> I’ll add in notes about the days/hours it’s open or admission fees. –> I might also find a picture to insert into the map, particularly if it’s a piece of street art I’ve heard about and am trying to track down – both for a reference of what I’m looking for and where I’ll find it when I get there.

What It Is: A Transportation App

Why I Like It: This app makes it so easy to figure out how to get around in a city! When I type in a location, it gives me multiple options and lets me choose – do I want to walk? Take the subway? Get a Lyft? The only downside is that it doesn’t work in every city yet – but many major ones are here. It’s been especially nice in international cities – I’ve used it in both Paris and Melbourne with great success.

How It Works: Type in where you want to go. Look at the different options: walk, bike, Uber, Metro…Get directions. I love that the Metro directions will tell you how many stops to get to yours – it even gives you the list of other stops in between so you can follow along to make sure you’re going in the right direction. (I mean, not that I’ve ever done that but you know, just in case…) It even gives you advice on which subway car to sit in! You can get guided, turn-by-turn directions as you walk/bike/drive to your location. I especially enjoy the cheeky information of how many calories (cheeseburgers, lattes) you’ll burn by walking.

What It Is: A Budget-Tracking App

Why I Like It: I have a strict budget on my trips for my blog and let’s be honest, budgets aren’t easy to keep when you’re on vacation! It’s so easy to get distracted by everything fun when you’re traveling and keeping track of what you spent is so not fun. But this app makes it very easy! I can watch what I’m spending along the trip and even capture receipts for all those tax things at the end of the year.

How It Works: I enter my trip, dates, budget, and currency. To make an entry, I type in the amount, select cash or credit card and select a category. Then, I type in the name/description of the cost and have the options to –> take a photo of the receipt or add in a note. Then, at the end of my trip (or, end of my year) I have a quick and easy recap of all my trips and their budget including receipts!

These are some of my favorite apps, but I’d love to hear about yours – tell me in the comments below which travel app is your favorite!

As always, if you liked what you read, please consider sharing it on social media. Click on this image to share directly to Pinterest!

Note: all links are for your convenience only, I am not an affiliate of any company and do not make money off recommending them. I just want to make it easy for you to find them if you’re interested!


12 Things to Know Before Traveling to Egypt in 2018

Ian Livingston is a travel writer and regular writer based in Brooklyn, NY. In addition to serving as the editor of JohnnyJet.com, he is the chat manager for the weekly #TravelSkills chat and provides copywriting on request. He has spent nights in 63 countries. See more at ianlivingston.nyc.

At the close of last year, I arrived at Cairo International (CAI) for the second time in my life. Into the dusty sunshine I walked, a six-foot American male on his third passport, to feel again the gentle tug of history toward the main stage. Again I found great treasures of humanity sparkling bare across the Sahara’s shoulders, stretching for the starry heavens—and on a few occasions, in corners I’d not previously known to look for them.

To those that feared for my safety in December, I suggest giving Egypt a second look. There are flights leaving tomorrow. Here, in the form of twelve items to note before you go, is a place to start:

1. You need a visa, and you can buy it upon arrival
An Egyptian visa is $25 in American dollars, which are requested in cash over fragile Egyptian pounds. If you don’t have cash, your respite will be the ATM. You buy your visa from your choice among the bank windows cut into the walls of the airport, around the lines building behind immigration agents. Make sure you stick it (one side is adhesive) in your passport before you get to the front of the line (to avoid reprimand and a kick to the back of the line). And to make things easy on yourself, have at least $25 per person in cash with you when you touch down.

More on that:

  • The U.S. State Department’s page for Egypt.
The Nile Ritz-Carlton, on Tahrir Square

2. The dollar goes far in Egypt
The Egyptian pound is what you’ll trade in Egypt. As of April 2018, the U.S. dollar trades at about 18 Egyptian pounds. Here’s the up-to-date rate via XE.com.

$1 USD = 17.60 Egyptian pounds (as of April 13, 2018)

Egypt is objectively a tremendous value for Americans, Europeans and most westerners right now. A subway ride (pre-hike, see below) will run you about 11 U.S. cents. A room at the Nile Ritz-Carlton, an institution, can be secured for $186/night. Near the Pyramids, I got lunch at a Giza falafel shop called Felfela, where a very good falafel sandwich cost me three Egyptian pounds (17 U.S. cents). That may literally be the cheapest meal I’ve ever paid for.

Egyptians, of course, are on the other side of this exchange rate. The bottoming out of the tourism industry is by some coefficient related to their economic woes. On this same coefficient hangs the hope that the return of visitors in numbers to Egypt will accelerate the economy’s return.

3. The traffic in Cairo/Giza is outrageous, but taxis (and Ubers) are cheap
Outside of Southeast Asia, Cairo’s roads are the wildest I’ve come across. Transportation around the sprawling capital (population: 28 million) is typically by car for visitors and locals alike, and traffic can pile up in a hurry and stick your tires to the hot asphalt. A thirty-minute trip could take two hours without warning. Just as jarring are the streets when cars are moving, which to my visiting eye recalled the functional lawlessness of boats in a small harbor: near-misses, unexpected reversing, no discernible regard for lanes… Traffic lights were added to the mix just a few years ago. Car horns, when you consider how thoroughly they are laid on, may as well be generating electricity.

The city has a metro that is set to expand over the coming year or so, a single ride on which costs just two Egyptian pounds (that’s set to rise this year), but Americans do not use it in numbers. Arrange transfers (the nicer hotels, before and during a stay, are good sources of transfer arrangement) and leave time to get around—and fly between, for example, Cairo and Alexandria. Better yet (sort of): Uber is available in Cairo and Alexandria.

More on that:

  • Here’s how to get picked up at CAI with Uber.
  • Astra Travel can arrange airport transfers and, if you like, expedited check-in and security on your journey home.
  • The Egyptian Museum is on historic Tahrir Square (famed now as well as the epicenter of the 2011 revolution). The iconic Nile Ritz-Carlton (from just $186/night) is walking distance from both.
Pyramid of Khafre in Giza (Credit: Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash)

4. You should not skip the Pyramids and Sphinx
Nearly eight years ago to the day, I arrived in Egypt for the first time. I sprinted barefoot over Saharan sand dunes hundreds of feet high. I washed down chicken charred over fire with whiskey beneath surrealist limestone monoliths, and I slept beneath more stars than I have ever seen (still). On the same trip, I came face to face for the first time with the Pyramids of Giza, the giants of antiquity, heroes of my youth and of stage and screen.

That I was seeing them in front of me was a full-body realization, a swelling of focus, memory and adrenaline. Again on my last trip, they floored me. There are more than two million stone blocks of two-plus tons in just the Great Pyramid of Giza (the largest of the group), and that is somehow no more bizarre than its interruption of a modern landscape (Giza city’s overpopulation-driven encroachment on the plateau has temporarily been curbed, still, there is a KFC-Pizza Hut from which you can marvel at the whole complex). KFC-Pizza Hut or not, the scene commands awe. The Pyramids of Giza do not disappoint.

More on that:

  • Giza, home of the Pyramids, is a short drive from downtown Cairo.
  • Entrance to the area is 120 Egyptian pounds. A ticket inside the belly of the Great Pyramid of Giza (cramped, hot, think twice) is another 300.
  • The Giza Plateau complex includes one sphinx and six pyramids: the Great Pyramid of Giza (pharaoh Khufu) at 455 feet, the pyramid of Khufu’s son Khafre (448 feet), the pyramid of Khafre’s son Menkaure (213 feet), and three smaller pyramids built for Khufu’s queens. All are included in the Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Friday, a day to go to mosque in the Islamic faith, is a good day to visit. Traffic will be better than usual (see above).
  • The Mena House Hotel (operated by Marriott) offers some of the best views of the Pyramids anywhere. Stop in for a lunch of mezze and fire-roasted chicken.
  • You can see the Pyramids light up at night at a Sound & Light show.
  • There is still so such unknown about the Pyramids, including what’s inside this hidden 100-foot chamber!
Temple of Temple of Hathor/Nefertari at Abu Simbel, near Aswan (Credit: AussieActive on Unsplash)

5. The Pyramids and Sphinx are just the beginning of the ancient treasures
It was said to me that one third of the world’s treasures lie in Luxor—a one-hour Egyptair flight south from Cairo—alone. That third does not include the Pyramids, Sphinx, the contents of King Tut’s tomb (displayed in the Egyptian Museum and soon the Grand Egyptian Museum, see below), and more. Here are a few of the non-Pyramid wonders that will shake you (listed north to south):

  • Pyramid of Djoser, Saqarah (greater Cairo) — The first successful pyramid in the Old Kingdom’s world-famous run, completed 4,700 years ago. It is a step pyramid, and beloved by Egyptians. Here it is on a map.
  • Temple of Ramses II & Temple of Temple of Hathor/Nefertari, Abu Simbel — Built into adjacent slabs of Nile-side red rock near the Sudanese border, about an hour’s flight (it can be a day trip) from Aswan. The three-story carvings standing sentinel out front blur the line between real and imagined. The (nearly) nightly Sound & Light show throws things further into the ethereal. Both temples are part of the Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here they are on a map.
  • Luxor, Luxor — All of it. The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, Medinet Habu, Ramesseum, Karnak complex… The long and growing list of things to see in Luxor is rolled into the above UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is Luxor on a map.
  • Philae Temple, Aswan — It is on an island, which means you must arrive by boat. On approach, rock mountains bubble out of the murky Nile, which surely hides crocodiles, until the temple peaks out from behind palm fronds on a dry patch of earth. This, however—as is often the case in Egypt today (the Nile’s watery worlds are unstable)—is not the temple’s original footing. Some years ago a UNESCO-led team Jenga’d Philae Temple into 40,000+ individual pieces and rebuilt it in its Isis-honoring beauty at the current site. There is also a Sound & Light show here on some nights, and it is also part of the above UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here it is on a map.
  • Unfinished obelisk, Aswan — The biggest intact obelisk in world history, at 42m (138ft) and 1,060 tons. Cracks and foreseen instability left it abandoned in a quarry near Aswan, where visitors can now mourn and marvel at the genius of stoneworkers in ancient Egypt. Here it is on a map.
Old Cairo alight at night

6. Islamic Cairo is amazing
Cairo isn’t just old. Its most ancient footpaths map “one of the very few places in the world, really, where you have had constant, nonstop activities, 24 hours a day, for the past thousand years.” These are the words of a technical director at the American Research Center in Egypt who in 1998 helped restore the 900-year-old stone gate known as Bab Zuweila. In 2018, stepping through Bab Zuweila is like stepping into a time machine.

It is a labyrinthine mile between Bab Zuweila and the way out of Cairo’s fortified center—known as Islamic or Fatimid Cairo—via Bab al-Futuh gate. In between is a world of sharp corners and compact commerce, where at night on Muizz Street (the main artery), beneath the glow of dazzling minarets and terraces of colored glass, you might hear the laughter of young people reverberating off the walls. It is not a place for alcohol, really, but as a living, open-air museum the area has been reflecting life in Egypt without break since the 10th century. Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature, spent long days riding the area’s tides into writing inspiration until his death. Somewhere inside, there is a coffee shop that has been in operation 24 hours a day, every day, for 300 years.

More on that:

  • The whole area has been canonized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • 19 incredible photos of Islamic Cairo that will make you want to go back in time.
The Giza Plateau from the site of the under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum

7. The Grand Egyptian Museum will open this year
The Egyptian Museum opened in 1901 on Tahrir Square with a push from the French. As the archaeological riches of the Egyptian state have mounted over a century-plus of digs and discovery, the belly of the building has been stretched to a capacity not imagined in those early years. Behind the museum’s iconic amaranth face sit 120,000 treasures almost hurriedly arranged, as if the curators were urgently needed back at some dig site spewing 3,000-year-old treasures like an oil well. Another 300,000 pharaonic statues and gold-lined sarcophagi lie safely and unseen in storage. The combined significance of what’s inside is almost unfathomable. The high ceilings, the echo-ready corridors—the feeling that the world’s greatest treasures have spilled out of the earth into this temporary shelter—are part of what makes the museum such a place of pilgrimage.

In December of 2018, that will change. The Grand Egyptian Museum—a billion-dollar project at least 18 years in the making (the 2011 revolution set things back)—will open its glassy doors on a sandy ridge overlooking the Giza Plateau. Under the direction of director-general Dr. Tarek Tawfik, “phase one” will debut 23,000 square meters of interior (double the size of the Tahrir Square museum) and 5,000 pieces, some relocated from the current Egyptian Museum (like a giant statue of Ramses II) and some new to the public sphere. A second phase (target is 2020) will see 27,000 more sparkling square meters unveiled. The end goal is 50,000 pieces on display and 50,000 in storage—plus a huge courtyard (“a new green lung” for the city), an adjacent shopping center and cinema, and, if all goes well, a new face of Egyptian tourism. The icon on Tahrir Square will remain open but with less to display. That is okay. As Dr. Tawfik put it, it “will at last start to breathe again.”

More on that:

  • Heneghan Peng Architects provided the design for the Grand Egyptian Museum. Here is a detailed vision of the finished project ahead.
  • At the current Egyptian Museum, there is a 50 Egyptian pound fee for bringing a camera in (which doesn’t apply to phones). It is 150 more to see the mummy exhibit.
  • History on Howard Carter’s expedition into King Tut’s tomb.
The Nile from the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan

8. Aswan should not be missed
For a number of good reasons, Cairo/Giza is the foundation upon which most Egyptian itineraries are built. But follow the water lines and you’ll come upon a handful of Egyptian cities incubating historical warmth, bustling spice markets and disorienting snapshots of life in modern Egypt. Alexandria, Egypt’s glitzy second city, is all about proximity to its grand esplanade. Port Said, a node on the global sea network for more than a century, plumes in that Arabic way of pluming with energy, spice and dry earth. And then there is Aswan.

300,000 people) knots around a particularly slow bend in the Nile, which is wider down south than it is in Cairo. It is a waterside retreat for the soul, a place of escape and holiday for today’s Egyptians and in earlier years Winston Churchill—again and again—and Agatha Christie, who wrote “Death on the Nile” under its spell. The promised slow-down makes sense given the city’s smaller size and proximity to the water, but cultural forces are also at work: Aswan is Nubian Egypt, manifestation of the geographical and cultural transition between Egypt and Sudan. Life here is characterized by bigger smiles, darker skin and indeed gentler encounters with modernity.

From a sixth-floor balcony at the Victorian (and newly renovated) Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan—arguably the premier luxury hotel in Egypt—the Nilescape below is so still as to appear painted.

More on that:

  • Aswan is a short drive from the Unfinished Obelisk, the jetty from which to sail to Philae Temple, and several inviting Nubian villages, as well as a rough hour from Abu Simbel, home to the unmissable Temple of Ramses II & Temple of Temple of Hathor/Nefertari (and allegedly not much else, but that is okay).
The Sahara’s White Desert in 2009 (Credit: Jebbe Suchoff)

9. The Sahara is more than sand
The sun-drenched Sahara blankets more than 90% of Egyptian jurisdiction. Nineteen out of 20 Egyptians live in the gardens sprung up around the Nile’s banks and along the Mediterranean and Red Seas (a full third lives in and just outside Cairo). The rest is vast, unkempt, extreme.

The Sahara is among the world’s true wilds, but it is also not simply sand dunes to the horizon. The Egyptian Sahara is broken into four major quarters—plus two further informal divisions—and each attacks the brain’s senses of life and scale in its own way. Broken down, the Sahara is: the Western Desert (and inside it, the White and Black Deserts), the Eastern Desert, the Great Sand Sea, and the Sinai Desert.

In the White Desert, which I visited in 2009 with White Desert Tours, the landscape is defined by three-story chunks of chalk-white limestone that bend and tease the imagination. The powder-soft sand in this alien world practically begs you to walk around barefoot. It is among the most incredible places I’ve ever been.

More on that:

  • As noted below any step into the Sahara should be a mindful one, especially far from the Nile. If you’d like to veer into it, probably go with a guide like those employed by White Desert Tours.
Bread pride at Andrea Mariouteya

10. Bread (aish) is life…
In various close-ups, Egyptian cuisine looks a lot like neighboring cuisines—like Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, even Italian at times (kushari has macaroni as a base). But as a whole it is all its own, and bread—aish in Egyptian Arabic, which translates in English to “life”—is its beating heart. It is so essential to a functioning Egyptian state that the federal government subsidizes its production, and when subsidies were momentarily cut in 1977, the people rioted. As The New York Times writes, “Egyptians are generally not known as explosive people, but tell them you are raising the price of bread – of life – and beware.”

Made right, aish baladi (or simply baladi, round “peasant bread” with a pita-like pocket) is about as good as bread gets. Its natural context is a mezze spread, with which many sit-down Egyptian meals begin. A feast at Andrea Mariouteya, for example, begins with discs of oven-hot baladi, blackened flour kicking off them, alongside palm-sized bowls of hummus, baba ghanoush, tahini with lemon, stuffed olives, figs, tomatoes, and whatever else the proprietor has deemed freshest that day. Eat all you can, but save room.

More on that:

  • For some of the best bread and fire-roasted chicken in Cairo/Giza, make your way up to the hilltop New Giza location of Andrea Mariouteya.

Chicken roasting at Andrea Mariouteya

11. …but there is plenty more to eat
Heartier portions in Egypt draw often from the vegetables/fruits (tomatoes, onions, garlic, lemon), legumes (lentils, beans) and spices (cumin, coriander, mint, thyme, pepper, so many…) grown in the region. Meat (chicken, lamb) and fish were historically more expensive, which explains the impressive quality of the vegetarian dishes. The food scene today, however, particularly in Cairo, is able to transcend these historical limitations (see The Lemon Tree & Co. below). Staple Egyptian foods to look out for include:

  • Aish baladi — Peasant bread, often served with mezze
  • Ful medames — Fava beans with vegetable oil, cumin, chopped parsley, garlic, onion, lemon juice, chili pepper, and other spices
  • Kushari — Rice, macaroni and lentils topped with a spiced tomato sauce and garlic vinegar and garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions
  • Kabab wa kofta — Meats (usually lamb or beef) grilled over charcoal in a beautiful spice blend (parsley, garlic, ginger, cumin, mint)
  • Hawawshi — Spiced meat pie with onion packed inside oven-roasted bread
  • Baklava — You probably know it

More on that:

  • Here is a nice write-up on food and dining customs in Egypt.
  • The Lemon Tree & Co. in Cairo is an exceptionally fresh and inspired meal.
  • Sandy, arid Egypt now produces its own wines. Gianaclis Wineries, which grows grapes some amount of traffic from Alexandria, counts some impressive and French minds among its braintrust.
  • Here is a write-up on dukkah, a delicious and oft-appearing Egyptian spice blend (that Trader Joe’s has tried to market).
Cairo, including Cairo Tower, as seen from the InterContinental Semiramis Cairo

12. It is safer than you think
Like most places, right? In Egypt in 2018 you will find a rewiring of traffic law and social norms, as you should expect to in North Africa. You should keep your wits about you, as anywhere, and you should not stray into northern Sinai, west toward Libya or any further beyond the cities than you need to. Women will want more than need to cover up and may, based on one account, find hassle and headache on solo wanders. But let there be no doubt: Egypt in 2018 is again warmly welcoming and rewarding travelers. And for the first time in the years since the 2011 revolution, tourism is trickling back—and American travelers are helping drive the comeback. Europeans have traditionally visited in larger numbers than Americans, but in 2017—in which international visitation doubled 2016’s numbers—U.S. travelers returned at a rate greater than any other group’s.

Terrorism—the great enemy of the west—bears down as a cloud over north Sinai but over no place mentioned in this post. I understand that the qualifying tallies and motivations that define terrorism vary from brain to brain, but Cairo (which has seen two major attacks since 2013), Alexandria (one), Luxor (one), and Aswan (zero) are objectively not besieged by terrorist activity. In addition, very few visitors, under reelected president Sisi’s regime and even prior, have had their visits muddied by crime. As Lonely Planet puts it, “The incidence of crime, violent or otherwise, in Egypt is negligible compared with many Western countries, and you’re generally safe walking around day or night.” The visuals of armed military or police officers, tourism police and objects behind which to shoot bad guys tempt doubt, but it must be remembered that this is a tourist destination tragically familiar with the damage negative media attention—from a mugging of a tourist, for example—can leave in its wake. With visitation down, a priority has been placed on visitor safety.

Furthermore, and because it is common in Egypt, traveling with a tour group or an experienced operator adds an additional ring of security. Leave it at that, if you must. The smallest injection of structure in 2018 opens roads in Egypt for all to the bucket-list-worthy adventures the country has made its calling. You can flout the tourist beat and build a trip on the fly like The New York Times’s Lucas Peterson just did, but you don’t need to. In Egypt, the tourist beat of pyramids and temples should not be skipped anyway.

Through its share of political troubles, Egypt and its all-time treasures remain a beacon for all who itch to know the world. As quoted in The Telegraph, an award-wining Egypt guide views it like this: “[Egypt] never comes off your to-do list…When circumstances are not great, people may delay it – but they never take it off their list. It’s because of the history. It’s like nowhere else in the world.”

2018 might just be the year to knock it off…


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