Tips from the leisure desk: 5 day trips to escape Cairo this fall
Courtesy: Byoumfayoum

With the summer weather dwindling away, it’s easy to lose the enthusiasm for travel that often accompanies the warmer months. The urge to move, travel, see seems to wane with the looming winter when a cozy couch and warm soup (or pie) are often more appealing. But returning to what tends to become a monotonous winter routine shouldn’t be a final resolve. Fight, resist, stand up to the suction pads of the city and stay active. Here is a list of five ways to escape the city for a day, ideal for the cooler weather and to counteract a sluggish state of mind.

1. Fayoum

Slightly closer to home, located at around 100km southwest of Cairo, Fayoum culturally and historically echoes the Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras. Meanwhile, the nature is breathtaking, from sand dunes, lakes and valleys, to stretches of green, seas of flowers and a decent collection of wildlife and bird species – hello bird watchers!

What to do there

Heading out early is advisable since Fayoum offers a lot of things to see and be done in a single day. Tunis Village is a good starting point for a dangerously delicious feteer breakfast and to organize a car to take you into the desert. At the The UNESCO World Heritage site Wadi al-Hitan, (Whale Valley), you can see  centuries old whale fossils and some striking desert scenery and palettes throughout the hike.

If the weather permits, go for a swim in Magic Lake or in any of the other stunning oases found in the area. Fayoum is largely associated with pottery and the artform is likely to be spotted in more than one area; pottery workshops have been available in the past, but for immediate purposes you can stick to browsing and picking up a knickknack or two. You can choose to have lunch out in the desert – something organized by your car — or you could grab something at Sobek Lodge, overlooking the field of endless flowers, before heading back to the hellhole.

Courtesy: Byoumfayoum - Courtesy: Byoumfayoum

2. Ismailia

Known as the “city of beauty and enchantment,” Ismailia is located 120km east of Cairo, which translates to an approximately 90 minute car ride. Ismailia is an ideal choice for day trips not only because of its proximity — as a cleaner, greener and more organized city than Cairo, escaping there means a day breathing fresher air, walking prettier streets and engaging in a variety of activities sans the usual Cairo traffic stress.

What to do there

What better place to start than the Suez Canal, given that the city was built as it was being constructed. Then head to the city center and stroll through the 19th century architecture that came as a result of the presence of the Europeans associated with the canal. Despite its name, Lake Temsah doesn’t have any crocodiles and is an option for swimming, though highly recommended isn’t the way to describe it either. End the excursion with a filling meal (preferably fish) before heading back to Cairo.

Courtesy: Kareem Ragab - Courtesy: Kareem Ragab

3. Sakkara

Situated about 30km south of Cairo, the UNESCO heritage site of Sakkara holds great promise for a fun day that is also not very tiring. An ancient burial ground, it holds a smaller Sphinx and several pyramids, including the stepped Djoser pyramid. With major discoveries in recent times, Sakkara continues to offer an important slice of Egyptian history though at a milder, less crowded pace than spots like the Pyramids of Giza.

What to do there

Organizing a tour (private and shared are both options) and becoming immersed in Ancient Egypt is a reasonable way to spend a few hours, wouldn’t you say?  Your guide can adapt the tour according to the amount of time you wish to spend on it, and at the end you have the choice of visiting the Papyrus Institute to see how the paper is made. Since you’ve already come this far in extracting yourself from the city, might as well prolong it and finish up the day with a visit to the Sakkara Country Club. If it’s hot, go for a swim, if not, just enjoy some downtime with views that don’t include a cityscape.  

Courtesy: Alexandre Lima - Courtesy: Alexandre Lima

4. Wadi Degla

Apart from being a convenient escape at only 10km from the city, Wadi Degla is also a local protectorate and historically relevant. A 30km valley surrounded by limestone rocks that date back to the Eocene Epoch (that’s anywhere between 30 and 50 million years ago), there you will find fossils of a past marine environment that remain to this day. Entrance fees are minimal: Egyptians pay LE3 and foreigners pay LE5LE, car entrance fees are the same, respectively. Wadi Degla is accessible, beautiful, educational and affordable – are you sold yet?

What to do there

The best way to go about Wadi Degla is with a group of friends. Arrive in the morning and set up a barbeque or have a picnic and bask in the stark and textured surroundings, somehow both quiet and dynamic. Stark and textured, the more adventurous of the bunch may choose to walk around the valley and check out the rock formations, while the slower paced of the group can lay back and relax in the calmness of nature. Several desert animals may be spotted, including deer, mountain foxes and wild rabbits.

Courtesy: Tuline Chourbagui - Courtesy: Tuline Chourbagui

5. Geziret al Dahab

Closer still to Cairo’s city center, taking a felucca from Maadi will quickly deliver you to the green haven that is Geziret al-Dahab. A small island on Cairo’s Nile, it is essentially an expanse of green where there are no cars, traffic or other urban developments. There are stretches of agricultural fields, spotted with donkeys, cows and the occasional tractor. Of the few islands in Cairo’s Nile to have escaped urbanization – and of the few remaining agricultural lands in the city in general – this might be one of the last chances to witness any greenery in this wretched town.

What to do there

When it comes to getting out of Cairo, Geziret al-Dahab offers a quick fix and a less programmed day out. But along with the felucca ride to and from, the outing can very much satisfy your need to spend the day a bit differently. Grab a snack (though locals may end up offering you fiteer mishaltit), water, your camera and travel back to simpler times when Cairo was soaked in agricultural lands. A core part of its charm, the lack of development means there are no facilities to be found or organised activities to be had, rather it invites you to enjoy the calm, take a walk on soft, non-cement ground and if you’re any good, to snap some interesting pictures.

Courtesy: Shorouq Mohamed - Courtesy: Shorouq Mohamed

Tanya El Kashef 

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