Adventures in Ancient Egypt: Luxor, Hurghada and Cairo (Review)

Why Egypt? Isn’t it dangerous? Surely you’re not going alone as a woman? Was the most common response I had when planning a trip to Egypt. No. Egypt is no more dangerous than any other country and in my personal experience, I have felt 100% safe at all times. Egypt is a vast country; like most places it has pockets of trouble, but it also has a thriving tourism industry, amazing history, landscapes, and most importantly, some of the most hospitable people I have ever come across (not to mention stunning Arabian horses).

For me, Egypt has always held a fascination. I dreamed of one day visiting the Great Pyramids, the temples and mummies. So when I came across Ride Egypt’s Adventures of Luxor and Makadi Bay, it was an instant hit. The itinerary promised the perfect blend of history and culture, plus great riding. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Egypt today is so much more than it’s history. It is a vibrant, intoxicating, totally insane country. I fell in love with the place, its people and its animals. Go. Experience it. You won’t regret it. Although, if you’re like me, you might love it so much you go back three times in the same year…

A Note About Ride Egypt

Ride Egypt is owned and run by Emma, an English woman who moved her life to Egypt several years ago after falling in love with Belal, the Arab stallion she now owns. Ride Egypt HQ is based in Luxor where Emma lives, which means that you are truly welcomed into her family (and menagerie of animals) on a riding holiday.

Adventures of Luxor and Makadi Bay is Emma’s best selling holiday, and one I’ve ridden twice (it really is that good). You spend 4 days exploring the best of Luxor’s historical sites and village life, before spending the final 4 days letting loose in the desert and making the most of the beautiful coastline of Hurghada. The trip is ideal as a single traveller, as most of Emma’s customers are solo female travellers, which provides the advantage of travelling as part of a like-minded group.

Luxor Life

First stop, Luxor. Luxor perfectly encapsulates the contradictions of modern Egypt. The East Bank is filled with bustling streets (top tip: if you’re brave and want to pass for a real Egyptian, walk in the road, not on the pavement), blaring horns, and crammed shop fronts. Expect to wince as horse drawn carriages dive in and out of the traffic. In the evenings the markets come alive with aromas of spice and the chorus of “hello beautiful lady” from the local market traders. Whilst a group of western women will naturally attract attention, it is generally well meaning and we certainly gave as good as we got. We spent a hilarious evening bartering over spices, fabric and beautiful Egyptian metalwork. Despite the many offers of marriage, thankfully all we came away with was some local craftsmanship!

Just a short boat ride across the Nile, lies another world. The West Bank is a tranquil oasis in comparison, with village life having changed very little for many years. During our time in Luxor, we stayed at a charming Egyptian guest house just moments from the bank of the Nile. The Nile House team, led by the lovely Costa, really cannot do enough to help. A banquet is served at every meal; far too much for the number of people but completely delicious. The food in Egypt is simply stunning. Fresh and full of flavour. Throughout the trip we feasted on freshly made falafel, breads and a dazzling array of salads. The highlight however, has to be Akmed’s fried aubergine with a generous squeeze of lemon – heaven!

Horseback is without a doubt the best way to explore this area. Trotting through the sugar cane fields and weaving through the labyrinth of alleyways provides an insight into village life that would be hard to achieve alone or on a traditional tour. Wandering along you can smell the freshly baking bread mingled with the scents of the buffalo which guard every other plot and the dry baked earth. You can feel the warmth of the sun and the power of your horse underneath you, which, despite the cacophony of calls from local children and the humdrum of bustling village life, is completely relaxed and ambling along in contentment.

One of my favourite rides in Luxor takes you through the local villages to Banana Island. Not technically an island, it’s actually a banana plantation on the bank of the Nile. After a hot ride, a refreshing drink and a delicious small sweet banana straight from the tree is the perfect treat whilst admiring the Nile views.

Emma’s horses are completely at home here, whether cantering through the sugar cane fields or calmly trotting along the road, weaving through tuk tuk traffic. They are also excellent posers and we had great fun one evening dressing the horses up in their “party outfits” and heading out for a sunset ride. There are few places in the world where you can ride with the backdrop of the sun setting behind 3,400 year old statues.

One of the first things any visitor to Egypt will learn, is that the people are incredibly hospitable and love to have fun. We were treated to a party, Egyptian style, one evening with endless wine, food, and traditional Egyptian music. The entire Ride Egypt team danced all night. When the musicians finally tired we did what any normal person does in the early hours of the morning; hire a boat and ride down the Nile! This is Egypt, and the answer is always YES, no matter the request.

Emma had another surprise for us the next day. Leaving the horses behind, we tried out some new mounts for the afternoon. I think we all agreed which we preferred!

Of course the biggest attraction of Luxor is its breathtaking array of ancient Egyptian monuments and temples. Throughout the first half of the week we explored the stunning temples with Amel, our fantastic guide. Her passion and knowledge of ancient Egypt was so inspiring. Just a few of the sites we saw were Valley of the Kings, Carter’s House, Habu Temple, Karnak, Luxor Temple and Luxor Museum. The colourful tombs of Valley of the Kings were stunning, but my personal favourite had to be Habu with its intricate carvings. The pictures speak for themselves.

To quite literally leave Luxor on a high, there is an optional balloon ride excursion. The shrill call of the alarm clock battled with the call to prayer at 4.30am as we crawled out of bed, into the mini bus and away to the outskirts of Luxor. We huddled in the cool early morning air, thick with the roar of flames and instructions being yelled in Arabic. As we clambered ungracefully into the sturdy wicker baskets we were up and sailing over Luxor before we knew it.

The majestic Nile stretched as far as the eye could see, with ancient temples slowly drifting by below. It was a magical and surreal 45 minutes which ended all too soon as we drifted back to land. On arrival we were greeted with a band of traditional Egyptian music and dancing. It was impossible not to get caught up in the sense of jubilation, even if it was still only 6am.

Galloping in Hurghada

It was with a heavy heart that we piled into the Ride Egypt minibus, expertly driven by the wonderful Sabr, and left Luxor behind. We shouldn’t have worried though, as Hurghada was an altogether different adventure!

Hurghada is the opposite of Luxor in every way. A coastal resort on the Red Sea, Hurghada has profited from Sharm El Sheik’s fall from grace. Here you can find anything from budget all-inclusives to 5* luxury. Whilst I preferred the charm and sense of “real Egypt” you get in Luxor, Hurghada is a great location for riding. Gorgeous turquoise sea on one side and wide open desert on the other. It’s a paradise for experienced riders providing the opportunity to experience the full power and stamina of the Arabian horse. I’ll never forget the first time I experienced flying across the desert on a beautiful Arab stallion, rather unfortunately named Adam. On my second trip, the cheeky Ramses (more appropriately named, for he definitely knew he was a king) stole my heart.

On one day we set off on a 7 hour ride with Tito, Emma’s partner in Hurghada. I rode the energetic Shams (which means “sun” in Arabic), a stunning Arabian mare who without exaggeration jogged for the entire ride – I certainly had a sore bum the next day, but it was worth it. She was super responsive and great fun to ride, preferring to be out in front. If I could have fit her in my suitcase I would have. We stopped half way to have lunch (a picnic of traditional Arab breads, meats, cheeses and pickle) at the desert camp of a Bedouin family. Bedouins are the traditional nomadic people of the Middle East and have a strong tradition of hospitality. We sat and had tea with three generations, communicating with gestures and smiles. As we rode home, the blazing sun gradually sank below the horizon, bathing us in golden light as we had one final gallop.

That night as I closed my eyes I could still feel the dust whooshing past my face in the breeze and the thundering of hooves ringing in my ears.

Whilst Hurghada is all about the riding, Emma had another secret up her sleeve. One day she had organised a private boat trip for our group, which took us to the appropriately named “Dolphin House” area of the bay. Here the wild dolphins are famous and you stand a very good chance of being able to see and swim with them in the wild. We were lucky and saw them twice, the second time ours was the only boat around and we had the dolphins to ourselves. We snorkelled whilst the dolphins played among us. It sounds cliched, but it was truly a magical moment.

On our final morning in Hurghada we had a leisurely breakfast followed by swimming with the horses in the sea. A bucket list moment for sure, and a fitting way to end our time there.

Chaotic but Captivating Cairo

With tearful goodbyes to the rest of the group, Emma and I headed off to Cairo. On my first trip to Egypt I skipped Cairo, but this time knowing how much I wanted to see the pyramids, Emma had organised an amazing few days there. Having come straight out of the sea, onto a horse for a final desert ride in Hurghada and then on to the airport, it’s needless to say I was not looking my best when I landed in Cairo. Emma and Sabr had braved a 7 hour drive, and they were not doing much better! The brightly lit marble lobby of our hotel was quite a shock to the system after such a long day and we were relieved to see some backpackers in an equally dishevelled state in the queue ahead.

Cairo is a city on steroids. There are people and cars everywhere and it takes forever to get anywhere because the roads are constantly gridlocked with traffic. It’s an interesting place to visit, but a few days is probably sufficient.

Our first stop in Cairo was Prince Fluffy Kareem (PFK). For those who don’t know, it’s an AMAZING animal charity operating in Cairo. They treat any animal in need, but predominantly focus on the working pyramid horses and donkeys. They survive purely on the donations of their supports, and you can read more about the amazing work they do here.

After spending the morning with Marte and Emma from PFK, the two Emma’s, Sabr and I saddled up and took horses from a nearby stables up to the pyramids.

Words cannot describe riding around the Great Pyramids on horseback. It is awe-inspiring to see these huge structures, and to do so from horseback was all the more special. Leaving our horses in the shade with our guide, we clambered down the incredibly narrow ridged incline of the smallest pyramid which seemed to go on for miles until we finally reached the central burial chamber. It was surprisingly plain after the elaborately decorated tombs of Valley of the Kings, but going inside gives you a new appreciation of the sheer scale of the pyramids and what it would have taken to build them.

The time had finally come to return home. We spent our final morning admiring the fascinating artifacts in Cairo Museum, which is a must-do in Cairo, before it was goodbyes at the airport. On the plane home, I reflected on Egypt; it is a place that has given me friendships, wonderful memories, and changed my perspective on a part of the world that is so misunderstood.

– Jess