No matter how intrepid or experienced a traveler you may be, visiting a country for the first time can be daunting. I’ve been traveling the world for years but how to build an itinerary for my first time in Egypt really taxed my skills and experience.

It used to be simpler to plan. As a young backpacker, I poured over Lonely Planet and Frommer guide books and carried them with me as an easy reference. In those days, before the internet (Yes, I’m dating myself) destinations still were likely to change or be overrun depending on their page descriptions and ratings. The rise of travel agents (and those with budgets to use them) made things easier. Now, everyone online has ‘expert’ opinions to share, even when they’ve only stopped in a country or destination briefly. Plus we have Open Source Chat AI too.

It’s easy to build an itinerary by deferring to experts like tour operators, cruise planners, and group trips. And more recently, build an itinerary from AI tips. I suggest you use the tools that work for you but go deeper to craft a personal itinerary. It will help guarantee a deeply satisfying trip (and was part of my previous post about traveling to Egypt for the first time solo.)

Temple hieroglyphics range from painted, shallow carved and sculptural depending on where and when they were created.

Temple hieroglyphics range from painted, shallow carved and sculptural depending on where and when they were created.

How to Build an Itinerary

There’s nothing wrong with a travel list using AI but know that it will be a ‘greatest hits’ itinerary. If that’s the kind of trip you want and time is limited, by all means, use it, but be aware of the risks. Follow the recommendations exclusively and you’ll join throngs at each step, you’ll mimic every other tourist doing the same thing. There are important refinements to consider – Your personal travel style, the time of day that’s best to visit each site, the best season, and new developments.

It’s important to note that AI has been built on dated references.

For example, Item 5 in my Chat AI list below, shows the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It’s the oldest and while it’s been reorganized over the past decade, the galleries still overflow with antiquities (There are more than 120,000 objects!) culminating in the one most famous to Western visitors, King Tut.

Minarets and mosques dot the skyline in old Cairo.

Minarets and mosques dot the skyline in old Cairo.

Consider your specific interests and who you are traveling with. Do you love winding through rows of antiquities and have a lot of time?  If not consider the relatively new National Museum of Egypt, which opened in 2021. The building and grounds were built to impress on the banks of the Nile River. The museum has important pieces but is far from exhaustive. The selected statues and artifacts follow Egyptian history and below the main floor, you can walk through climate-controlled subterranean galleries – the current resting places of some of the most famous Pharaohs. It can be appreciated in a few hours.

In my humble opinion, the National Museum of Egypt is a great introduction to Egypt’s expansive past, and venturing into the basement galleries to stand close to the royal mummies is an otherworldly experience.

The temple islands near Philae a must-visit when you go to build an itinerary for your first trip to Egypt.

The temple islands near Philae a must-visit when you go to build an itinerary for your first trip to Egypt.

The AI vs. Experience List

  1. The Great Pyramids of Giza: AI – These iconic structures are a must-visit. Marvel at the awe-inspiring pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, and don’t forget to take a camel ride in the nearby desert. E: Of course, visit the Giza Pyramids! And, if you can approach the pyramids from town for the first time. Seeing them rise into view from the modern city is a thrill.
  2. The Sphinx: AI – Located at the Giza Plateau, the Sphinx is an ancient statue with the body of a lion and the head of a human. It’s an impressive sight and an excellent photo opportunity. E: Again, don’t miss walking around the Sphinx and if you can hire a guide to learn about its original function and who built it.
  3. Luxor: AI: Visit the city of Luxor, often referred to as the world’s greatest open-air museum. Explore the Valley of the Kings, where pharaohs were buried, and visit the stunning temples of Karnak and Luxor. E: What the bots can’t experience is how close Luxor is to the Nile and that it is connected to the temple of Karnak by a long processional avenue. It’s a thrill to imagine the ancient processions along the Avenue of the Sphinxes. Also, consider what’s most important to you when visiting the Valley of the Kings. You’ll stand in line to enter King Tut’s tomb but can literally be alone in others. My guide suggested that what remains in most are almost identical.
  4. Nile River Cruise: AI: Take a cruise along the Nile River, one of the world’s most famous waterways. Enjoy the scenic beauty and visit historic sites such as Edfu Temple, Kom Ombo Temple, and Philae Temple. E: These temples each have their own personality and importance. I had the good luck to cruise the Nile for several days and found it mesmerizing to watch life unfold along the banks.
  5. Egyptian Museum, Cairo: Explore the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, home to an extensive collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, including the treasures of Tutankhamun. E: See note above.
  6. Abu Simbel Temples: Located in southern Egypt, the Abu Simbel Temples are a UNESCO World Heritage site. These colossal rock temples were built by Ramses II and are a testament to ancient engineering. E: What the Bots can’t tell you is that getting to Abu Simbel is a trip of its own. Dedicate at least a day or two to get there and back from Asswan.
  7. Alexandria: AI – Discover the coastal city of Alexandria, known for its rich history and cultural heritage. Visit the stunning Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the modern reincarnation of the ancient library of Alexandria. E: Getting to and from Alexandria is at least a 2-hour ride from Cairo. Consider whether the drive (relatively short in miles but along densely crowded roads) is the best use of your time in Egypt. I had limited days and decided to spend more time exploring Cairo. Perhaps I’ll return to see the expansive Alexandria Library.
  8. Aswan: Enjoy the relaxed ambiance of Aswan and visit the beautiful Temple of Philae, situated on an island in the Nile. Take a boat ride to the Nubian villages and experience the vibrant local culture. E: The Temple of Philae, plus getting to it and back, is a delightful boat ride. The boulder-strewn location (which the Temple was relocated to when the Aswan Dam was built) is stunning. Consider booking time at one of the hotels or restaurants that dot the banks opposite the Temple.
  9. Islamic Cairo: AI: Explore the historic district of Islamic Cairo, where you can visit landmarks like the Citadel of Saladin, the Sultan Hassan Mosque, and the Al-Azhar Mosque, one of the oldest universities in the world. E: Definitely see the Citadel but don’t miss the experience of the older mosques and walk the neighborhood they grace.
  10. Red Sea Resorts: AI- If you’re looking for some relaxation and water activities, head to the Red Sea resorts of Hurghada or Sharm El Sheikh. Enjoy pristine beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities. E: This is one of the most popular recreational areas in the region. Are you looking for beach time? Or do you want more adventure? Will there be crowds? Yes, but it’s also one of the world’s most famous dive destinations. Consider that when booking your accommodations.
The grand staircase inside the palace turned hotel on Zemelek Island in Cairo.

The grand staircase inside the palace turned hotel on Zemelek Island in Cairo.

First Time in Egypt? It’s a Treasure Hunt

No matter how you build the itinerary for your first time in Egypt, don’t miss out on what appeals to you most. Do you love ancient architecture, holy sites, culinary adventure, and literary sites as well as famous monuments? Egypt has them all.

There are cafes and hotels with stunning views of the pyramids as anyone who searches through Instagram can attest. Visit the Giza Pyramids and walk around the Sphinx by all means. I didn’t want a camel ride but enjoyed taking pictures of them and observing the comradery of the camel guides. The pyramid site is on one edge of Cairo. If you want a deeper experience stay deeper in town. There are enormous Western-style hotels near Tahir Square. I was lucky to stay on Zemelek Island, close to clubs and restaurants. The Marriott took over a historic site, created by a famous leader around the years the Suez Canal was built. The site centers on the palace and galleries where Kedive Ismail entertained Princess Eugenie from France, going so far as re-creating her apartment rooms from Paris. Staying there was enchanting and the Marriot brand has modernized the site with two new wings flanking the original buildings.

Bird spoted in the Aswan Botanical Garden

Bird spoted in the Aswan Botanical Garden

Go Beyond ‘Things to Do’

Spend time digging through ‘Things to Do’ on Trip Advisor, study pictures, and scroll through reviews. I love following itineraries on Instagram and curate them with an eye for whether the post is sponsored (perhaps with a commercial agenda) or personally highlighted. Consider that carefully. Look for the most current comments up to a year back and especially during the season you plan to visit. Then use your favorite search engine and ask questions. Don’t rely on Sponsored Ads or older articles, unless you’re researching specific items. Read through articles and blog posts by people who’ve spent time on the ground. Note what resonates with your tastes.

Glimpse of the historical Cataract Hotel from the Nile in Aswan.

Glimpse of the historical Cataract Hotel from the Nile in Aswan.

Leave Time for Serendipity When You Build an Itinerary

A world opened up to me after a chance encounter with a bookseller in an alley of the Coptic neighborhood. There I learned about the prolific and revered, Pulitzer Prize-winning Egyptian author, Naguib Mahfouz. The next day I asked my local guide about our plans for lunch and we negotiated a stop in the famous Khan el Kahalili souk, where most tourists go for souvenirs. However, I wasn’t on a buying mission. I wanted to have lunch in the cafe that Naguib Mahfouz wrote in while he lived in the neighborhood, the Khan El Khalili Coffee Shop.